One of the best ways to experience America is by reveling in the beauty of our national parks. An ideal way to satisfy the travel bug for any family- the great outdoors are serene, relaxing and offer a wealth of activities for the youngsters. From 1872 when Congress declared Yellowstone the very first national park, the National Park System now takes up more than 380 areas that cover 83 million acres in 49 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands. Here’s a look at five family friendly national parks that will make the great outdoors a memorable trip for everyone in the family.
Olympic National Park
Just across the sound from Seattle sits Olympic National Park, a family friendly destination that offers backpacking, beaches, hiking, rain forests, hot springs and glacier-capped mountains. Mount Olympus, the center of the park, contains seven of the park’s 60 named glaciers such as Blue Glacier, which at times is covered with 100 feet of snow. The Hoh Rain Forest has trees growing up to 300 feet high, while Ozette Loop offers beach time and boardwalks. For a hike with scenery, try the Hurricane Hill Trail on Hurricane Ridge for a three-mile jaunt filled with wildflowers. Bonus wildlife include black-tailed deers and bald eagle sightings.
Olympic National Park, 600 E. Park Ave., Port Angeles, WA 98362. 360-565-3130. http://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm
Glacier National Park
If your family wants a snowy adventure, try Glacier National Park in Montana for amazing displays of nature. During the winter months you can enjoy an afternoon cross country skiing or snowshoeing through the wilderness, learn how to ice fish or hike on one of the park’s many trails. The park contains six National Historic Landmarks. The 10-mile long Lake McDonald boasts stunning views and wildlife, as does Many Glacier Trail, located on the Continental Divide. One must-see is the drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road. The engineering marvel spans 50 miles through the park’s interior to give your family stunning views of northwest Montana. Glacier National Park celebrated its 100th anniversary May 11, 2010. It was the 10th national park established.
Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT 59936. 406-888-7800. http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm
Sometimes you need to take your family underground to enjoy the beauty of America. Carlsbad Caverns in the Gaudalupe Mountains in New Mexico encompasses an underground network of caves formed more than 500,000 years ago. Just an underground hike through the stalactites jutting from the ceilings and the stalagmites and helictites can be a thing of beauty, but take a guided tour to learn more about the history of the caves and their geology. Perhaps the most memorable experience for the whole family is the Bat Flight Program. During the summer, nearly 400,000 Brazilian free-tail bats exit Carlsbad Cavern in search of a insects for dinner. View them at night as they leave in search of food or early in the morning when they return.
Carlsbad Caverns National, 3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220. 575-785-2232. http://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Get up close and personal with two of the world’s most active volcanos, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, on the Big Island in Hawaii. Get the lay of the land with your family on the Crater Rim Drive on Kilauea volcano. The 11-mile road circles the summit and passes through desert, tropical rain forests and traverses the caldera floor. While you’re there, you may see fumaroles, cinder cones, calderas and lava tubes, or you can walk through a tunnel called the Thurston Lava Tube. The park features more than 120 miles of trails or hiking. To see how volcanos can change the landscape, hike through Devastation Trail, a walk through the remains of a forest destroyed during an eruption in 1959.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii National Park, HI 96718-0052. 808-985-6000. http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm
Biscayne National Park
Dolphins and manatees and crocodiles, oh my. Biscayne National Park is the place to go if you want to take trips on a glass bottom boat, explore islands, snorkel or canoe. With more than 500 species of fish, the park’s underwater diversity will keep the whole family entertained. If you want a day of learning for the whole family, be sure to visit during Family Fun Fest, a free public program held on the second Sunday of every month from December through April.
Biscayne National Park, 9700 SW 328 St., Homestead, Florida 33033. 305-230-7275. http://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm