With weekend sporting events, school field trips, and work and social commitments, it can often be hard for even the most well intentioned of families to take time out of their busy schedules for a vacation. Thankfully, the U.S. offers an array of natural wonders in the form of its national park system right in your own backyard. With National Park Week every year in mid-April, it's the perfect time to discover one of the country's outdoor gems. With 58 national parks spread across 27 different states, these protected wildlife areas have provided millions of travelers with breathtaking scenery and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that get passed down from generation to generation. If outdoor sports is your family's thing, some of the best hiking, swimming, and fishing is located in national parks, or if you're simply looking to relax and enjoy the views, they also offer plenty of camping opportunities and scenic lookouts.
Here we take a look at some of America's most family-friendly national parks.
Glacier National Park, Montana
While it's cool climate and snow-capped mountains may not be the hot tropical locale for the typical family vacation, it doesn't make the views and options for recreational activity any less spectacular. If snow isn't your thing, visit Glacier National Park toward the end of June for the most moderate temperatures. For a true winter adventure head out during the winter months to enjoy an afternoon of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through the wilderness or simply take a hike on one of the park's many trails. Hidden Lake Nature Trail is one of the most popular and is a 1.5-mile uphill trek from Logan Pass southwest to Hidden Lake Overlook, which offers a beautiful view of the lake and McDonald Valley. After you're done hitting the trails, rent a surrey bike at Pat's Waterton store and enjoy peddling around the town. A surrey bike has a flat seat and a canopy and can hold up to three people, so it is great for families and is one of the best ways to see the area. The park also boasts six historical national landmarks and has ranger-led programs for kids up to grade 12 that teach children about the geologic activities that have shaped the land.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Located in the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns features some of the most spectacular underground attractions in the world. The park contains an underground network of 113 caves and fascinating rock formations that were formed over 500,000 years ago. Take a guided tour to learn more about the caves' geology and history or be your own guide to take in the natural wonders at your own pace. Two different tours leave from the visitor center, but try the Big Room route for the best view of the cavern's most famous features. It is a one-mile, self-guided underground stroll around the perimeter of the largest room in the cave, and takes you by the Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and Painted Grotto. Don't forget to sign up for the "Bat Flight Program," which can become the most memorable experience for families. The caverns are home to hundreds of thousands of bats and this program is coordinated with their schedules so you can experience them firsthand. When you've had your fair share of underground activities, head over to Rattlesnake Springs for barbecuing and picnicking.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone is not just the world's first national park, it is also one of the most family-friendly. It's full of amazing sights and wildlife and is easily accessible by car or foot, which makes it easy for traveling with small children. Head over to the famous geyser Old Faithful to catch one of the national park system's most awe-inspiring wonders or drive along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This 23-mile long canyon runs along the Yellowstone River and cuts through the heart of the park. It is best explored along the North and South Rim roads. If you're looking for a guided experience, hop on one of the Historic Yellow Bus Tours. The tours take place in colorful 1937 buses and can range from one hour to one day depending on your time preference. If it's sunny, you'll get to bask in the sun as your guide rolls back the soft-top convertible. Another family favorite is the Roosevelt Old West Dinner Cookout, which starts with an hour-long trail or stagecoach ride before sitting down to a homey meal with live entertainment.
Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Not only is Hawaii one of the top family vacation destinations, it is also home to one of the most family-friendly national parks. The main attraction of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is you guess it -- volcanoes, but it also offers over 120 miles of world-class hiking trails and a wide range of additional recreational opportunities. Located on the "Big Island" of Hawaii, this national park houses two of the world's most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Be prepared to witness stunning volcanic features like lava tubes, some of which you can actually walk right through. Take the family for a trip on Kipuka Puaulu, a short one-mile trail that showcases more recent lava flow, as well as one of the richest concentrations of native plants and birds. Then make your way over to the Devastation Trail for a walk though the remains of a forest destroyed during an eruption in 1959. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provides the perfect balance of educational opportunities for kids, the world's greatest geologic wonders for adults and a delightful climate.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
How do you know Biscayne is a top destination for families? For starters, they actually have their own free Family Fun Fest program. The program is a celebration of the park's wonders with stories, superheroes, and cool park activities that take place on the second Saturday of each month from December to April. Don't worry if you miss the fest, there are still plenty of opportunities for family bonding in the park. Young ones will love looking at the park's cool creatures, including manatees and sea turtles, during a snorkeling adventure or take a kid-friendly ride on a glass-bottom boat. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center also has exhibits and even some touch tanks where kids can talk to rangers about Biscayne's unique ecosystems. If you're feeling really adventurous, test your seas legs by going scuba diving. The park has one of the only wall dives in the Florida Keys and offers impressive up-close views of marine life. Families can also choose from a variety of activities ranging from canoeing and camping to swimming and ranger-led talks, so there is sure to be something for everyone.