Did you know there are 417 national park sites expanding across 84 million acres in the United States? That’s right; just around the corner are towering mountaintops, glimmering bodies of water or countless local wildlife just waiting for your family to enjoy their company. So what are you waiting for? Get outside and take in the beauty of this country the best way we know how: on foot.
Savage River Loop Trail, Denali National Park and Preserve
This popular riverside hiking trail is perfect for kids, at about 2 miles round-trip and offering plenty of opportunities to see wildlife (sheep, caribou and hares) and alpine-zone wildflowers.
Freeman Homestead Trail, Saguaro National Park
This short, looped trail will help your kids experience the desert without the harsh conditions. The roughly mile-long trail takes you past cactus, desert flowers and historical remains of the Freeman Homestead where the Freeman family made their home in the early 1930s.
Barker Dam Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
This trail loops a small reservoir within the park that rises and falls based on the season (winter and spring is best for full water levels!). The trail is doable for all skill levels, and be sure to keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, petroglyphs and the namesake Joshua Trees.
Petroglyph Point Trail, Mesa Verde National Park
Kids will be amazed when they find out the carvings into the rocks on this trail are thousands of years old. There are points where the trail can be a bit more difficult for younger children, so wear appropriate attire and footwear and be prepared to take it slow on certain sections.
Pinelands Trail, Everglades National Park
At 0.4 miles, the Pinelands Trail is short enough to keep even the shortest attention spans occupied, and it’s wheelchair-accessible so everyone can partake in the trip. Become engulfed in the Everglades wilderness as you pass by tropical trees, flowers and wildlife.
Pa Ka’oao Trail (White Hill Trail), Haleakala National Park
This trail is a decent climb, but doable for just about anyone eager to take in the unforgettable scenery at the top of this short trail. The hike is less than a half-mile and climbs to overlook Haleakala National Park.
Mammoth Cave Railroad Trail, Mammoth Cave National Park
This historic trail follows the now defunct railroad, which can be used for walking, running or biking. (The trail crosses the road several times, so use extreme caution with children.) After exploring the woods on this trail, don’t forget to venture under the ground to the longest known cave system in the world, Mammoth Caves.
Hike (or bike) it: http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/2113972504
Wonderland Trail, Acadia National Park
This short and easy trail leads to a stretch of the beautiful Maine coast that’s less treacherous than much of the state’s rocky coastline. Help the kids wander among the tidepools during low tide and they might catch sight of some sea creatures.
Greenstone Ridge Trail, Isle Royale National Park
This trail is 42 miles long, so don’t expect to explore the entire thing in one day. This hike will take you along the coast of a unique, nine-mile-wide island near the Canadian border, providing spectacular views of Lake Superior and maybe even some local wildlife.
Swiftcurrent Pass Trail, Glacier National Park
This easy, out-and-back hike leads to the stunning views of Redrock Lake and Redrock Falls, a treat for everyone in your family. Be careful to watch out for bears and other wildlife in the area, but the trail is usually filled with other hikers, so you won’t often be alone.
Alpine Lakes Loop Trail, Great Basin National Park
At about 2.75 miles, this looped trail is doable for just about anyone in your hiking party and will reward you with unforgettable views of the surrounding mountains and not one, but two lakes along the trail.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Trail, Carlsbad Cavern National Park
This isn’t your typical hike, as you’re doing most of it underground in the park’s namesake caverns, but the trip will be one you and your family won’t soon forget. The actual trail is pretty short, but you’ll want to take your time exploring the wonders of nature below the ground.
Rough Fork Trail, Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of the national parks for a number of reasons. With no entry fee (that’s right; it’s $0 to get in!) and lush, towering forests everywhere you look, this park is begging you to visit.
Riding Run Trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park
This hike will take you and your family through the beauty of the Ohio forest, with tall oak trees and plenty of wildlife running around. Roots and rocks on the trail might make this trail a bit difficult for the littlest ones, so it might be best suited for the older kids in the family.
Plaikni Falls Trail, Crater Lake National Park
After you’ve seen the famous Crater Lake, you’re not done with this park yet. The reward at the end of this flat and easy hike is the spectacular Plaikni Falls. The trail can get crowded since it’s so easy and short, so we recommend going early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Weston Lake Loop Trail, Congaree National Park
If you’ve ever wanted to wander through a swamp without dealing with the messiness of a swamp, this hike is for you. The trail includes solid ground and boardwalk sections where you’re elevated above the swamp, so you’ll want to keep an eye on little ones to make sure they don’t get too close to the edge.
Rankin Ridge Trail, Wind Cave National Park
Be prepared for a bit of an incline on this hike, but the trek will be well worth it as you take in countless wildflowers and enchanting panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. There are 14 interpretive stops along the way, so make sure to bring along an official trail guide to help your kids learn about the environment around them.
Porters Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Another great family-friendly trail in the free Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this easy hike passes wildflowers, a bubbling creek and historical remnants of those who lived on the land before the park was established. Some of these buildings and landmarks date back to the late 1700s, so be sure to explain the historical significance of the area to little ones passing by.
Chimneys Trail, Big Bend National Park
This trail gets its name from the rows of chimney-looking volcanic rock formations rising high above the desert ground in southwest Texas. Kids will enjoy taking in the carvings on the base of these rocks from the Indians who once lived in this area.
Broken Arch Loop, Arches National Park
While this park can get crowded, the Broken Arch Loop is one of the less traveled routes — that means you have a better chance of getting the trail to yourself. The kids can play under the arch while you take in the sights; just don’t forget to snap a photo with your children under the arch to get a sense of just how big and spectacular these arches are.
Limberlost Trail, Shenandoah National Park
This hike is actually more of a walk that meanders through the towering trees and beautiful wildflowers; it’s even stroller-friendly. Be on the lookout for wildlife — bears have been spotted in the area!
Sunrise Rim Trail, Mount Rainier National Park
At 6.5 miles, this hike could get a tad long for younger kids, but there’s a great place to stop and turn just past the first mile at Shadow Lake. If you’re up for camping, Sunrise Camp sits just along the banks of the lake and offers seven primitive camping sites for those with backcountry camping permits.
Jenny Lake Trail, Grand Teton National Park
This 7.2-mile looped hike takes you around Jenny Lake and offers incredible views of the Tetons above and shimmering water below. The trails can get crowded in the summer, so it’s a good idea to head out early in the morning before the crowds.