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The 10 Best National Parks for Kids

Incredible outdoor spaces even the pickiest kids will love.

When it comes to being kid-friendly, not all parks are equal. The trick is finding the right park that stimulates, engages, even educates your little ones – so you can explore the beauty of nature, without getting stuck halfway down a trail with a major meltdown. (Trust us, we’ve been there.)

According to our partners at the National Park Foundation, the best kids’ parks offer uniquely engaging experiences – not only to play, but to learn. They have clean, easily accessible facilities. Offer activities that don’t require training or equipment. And since one of the biggest obstacles to families is proximity, some of the best options tend to be closer to urban areas so little travel is required, giving more people access to the restorative joys of the outdoors.

With over 400 national parks in the U.S., finding the right one can be a challenge, so we asked the National Park Foundation, along with L.L.Bean Brand Ambassadors and parents-extraordinaire Madison and David Bowman, to share their thoughts on the best national parks for kids.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens (Washington, DC)

Your kids will flip for this hidden gem in our nation's capital. Boasting over 45 ponds with incredible aquatic plants and wildlife. Plus, raised boardwalks and trail access throughout the park so kids can easily explore this natural aquatic wonderland. A great spot for future birders.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Empire, MI)

The National Park Service calls it “A place in which to play, dream, refresh, create.” – and it’s all true. With 65 miles of shoreline, gorgeous towering bluffs, and immense dunes that rise above Lake Michigan for magnificent views, Sleeping Bear Dunes is not only an inspirational way for kids to experience the outdoors, it’s educational with a rich maritime, agricultural, and recreational history. If you feel like doing a little island exploring, you can also hop a ferry to nearby Manitou Island for some good food and great local sights – including a giant lighthouse and ancient shipwrecks you can spot from the shore.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens NPS/Gordon Dietzman

Canaveral National Seashore NPS/Kristen Kneifl

Canaveral National Seashore (Titusville, FL)

How do you make sure kids are occupied at a park? Take them to one with year-round fishing, boating, canoeing, surfing, swimming, hiking, camping, and historical trails. This fantastical seashore is located on a barrier island with surrounding aquatic habitats and a wonderous variety of plant and animal life. Any space lovers in your family? Treat them to the park’s view of NASA’s launch pads – or even better, plan your trip around a space launch for an unforgettable experience.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park (Mohave Desert, CA)

It’s been called mystical, dreamlike, even strange. With the park’s dual ecosystems, unique geological features, and surreal landscapes, kids will feel as if they’ve stepped into a magical fantasy world they can explore to their heart’s content. Joshua Tree is one of the most captivating natural environments in the world. And true to its name, your kids won’t go far without running into one of the many majestic Joshua trees making their mark across the terrain.

Dinosaur National Monument (Jensen, UT)

If you really want to hear your kids roar with excitement, tell them you’re bringing them to a dinosaur park – because that’s exactly what this national park in the Colorado desert is. Millions of years ago, the dinosaurs roamed this treasured land and they’ve left plenty of proof, including over 1,500 bones encased in the rocks. Whether your kid is into science, history, or just loves dinosaurs, it’s a park everyone should experience once – including adults. Keep the fun going and make your way to Split Mountain Campground at night for the park’s renown stargazing events – featuring programs led by rangers and astronomers.

“A wonderland for kiddos who love to climb and scramble around rocks.”

- Madison Bowman

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (Arco, ID)

Ever promise your kids the moon? It’s time to deliver by bringing them to this awe-inspiring landscape that will have them feeling out of this world. Formed by molten lava fields that stretch nearly 54,000 acres, this lunar-like environment feels like you’re walking on the moon – and exploring it will bring your kids so much joy. Each year, thousands of families are left inspired (and speechless) by the sheer awesomeness of this preserve. Yours could be next.

Petrified Forest National Park (Holbrook, AZ)

Your little ones will discover a treasure trove of nature, science, archeology, and fun at this desert park featuring one of the world’s largest (and most colorful) collections of petrified wood. Along with breathtaking views of the Painted Desert, petroglyphs, and opportunities to learn about fossils and ancient cultures, is an immense petrified playground waiting to be touched, climbed on, and thoroughly explored. And don’t forget to get your kicks on Route 66 - the historic one that is. Established in 1926, it’s one of America’s original highways and a portion of it runs right through the park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Mosca, CO)

Welcome to the largest sandbox in America – featuring over 30 miles of the country’s tallest dunes. This one-of-a-kind environment gives kids a beautiful blank canvas to explore freely. Go hiking along the dunes, take the kids down to Medano Creek to cool off, rent a sandboard or sled and go sand sledding or stay up to catch the nightly show with all the stars. No matter what you do, it will be an experience to remember.

Becoming a Junior Ranger

Arches National Park

Arches National Park (Moab, UT)

This red-rock wonderland offers kids simple hikes and scenic drives with extraordinary views, fun pools of collected rainwater to splash in, and the largest amount of sandstone archways and rock formations in one concentrated area – over 2,000 to be exact. It’s like nothing they’ve seen before. And it's why it’s one of the Bowman family’s favorite places to visit – and could soon be yours. Don’t feel like walking? Take the awe-inspiring 19-mile-long Arches scenic drive with a downloadable self-guided driving tour to give you information on all the sights.

Acadia National Park (Bar Harbor, ME)

With a long list of family activities, free transportation service, and comfortable proximity to town, it’s no surprise why this treasured park is considered one of the best parks for kids. Both toddlers and teens will find a myriad of fun things to do like explore trails along the iconic Atlantic coastline, swim in the tide pools, go for a bike or carriage ride, or just relax and take in the majestic scenery. Be sure to visit the famed Jordan Pond House in the park for some tea and popovers – a tradition that goes back 40 years.

“A combo of easy trails, sandy washes to play in and crazy rock formations.”

- Madison Bowman

Acadia National Park

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