Love National Parks? Here Are The Best Parks for Families in 2023
The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the beauty is for beholding… and the kids are asking: Are we there yet?
Warm weather and summer break make for a perfect combo when it comes to exploring the great outdoors at one of our amazing National Parks. We recently ranked the best national parks for hiking, but if you have young kids with short legs and shorter attention spans—where do you go? Fear not! KURU Footwear has compiled a list of the Best National Parks For Families, so you can plan your next adventure with less pain.
The Best National Parks for Families in 2023
If you plan to visit a National Park this summer, you have 63 to choose from, (not to mention the hundreds of National Park sites not designated as “park”) so it may feel overwhelming. We’ve ranked the parks on several metrics to make that decision easier for groups with young kids or less-experienced hikers.
We created our list with five criteria: percentage of trails tagged as “kid friendly”, average distance, average elevation gain, average trail rating, and the average trail difficulty level. The result is a Top 10 list that includes some of the lesser-known parks—but one geared toward families looking for a hiking-heavy trip that won’t leave young ones in the dust.
1. Biscayne National Park, Florida
Billing itself as a “watery wonderland”, only 5 percent of this park is on land. Featuring mangrove forests and coral reefs, this park near Miami has several hiking trails available—although some are on islands and can only be reached by boat. Most of those hiking trails are short, gentle and low elevation, making them a great choice for groups with kids.
2. Fort Hunt Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia
No. 2 on the list is a park steeped in early U.S. history. Fort Hunt Park is on land that was once part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, and over the years it has hosted shore batteries, Conservation Corps camps, and Fort Hunt. The park is popular with people out for a picnic, and it features several easy trails, all tagged kid friendly. The offerings include the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile paved trail that connects with several other regional trails.
3. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
More than 800 years ago, indigenous people built cliff dwellings among the mesas of Colorado. Centuries later you can view these historical and archeological marvels from a range of hiking trails at Mesa Verde National Park. Many of these trails offer views of the natural beauty as well as the famous cliff dwellings, and more than 80 percent of the park’s trails are considered kid friendly. Despite the cliff setting, most trails feature little elevation gain and are safe for families.
4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
These dramatic views will surely draw comparisons to the more famous Grand Canyon. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park contains 12 miles of steep canyon terrain, so deep and steep that some areas of the gorge only rarely see sunlight. While hiking down to the river is challenging, there are many child-friendly hikes along the canyon rim and surrounding areas.
5. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
This park protects the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, and you can get a good look at these majestic trees and the park’s broad biodiversity from one of several hiking trails. The park is also known for hosting firefly viewing events in mid-May and mid-June. The floodplain features waterways for canoeing and kayaking, and for those exploring the forest on foot: 75% of the hiking trails are kid friendly.
6. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
With plenty of trails, all of which are pet-friendly, Petrified Forest National Park is a perfect place to take a hike for the whole family (including the family dog!). Maintained trails offer views of an ancient village, petroglyphs, petrified logs and more. Take in the “painted desert” landscape and see the archeological remnants of 100-room pueblo as well as a 700-year old dwelling called the “Agate House.”
7. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Life’s a beach at Indiana Dunes National Park, perched on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. In addition to 15 miles of sandy shoreline, the park features more than 50 miles of trails through sand dunes, woodlands, prairies and wetlands. Check out the birds and other wildlife, and invite the kids to experience a real-life ghost story as they tackle the Diana of the Dunes Dare.
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
With more than 125 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of paths to take at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Among the offerings is the historic Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which travels a historic route and connects to several natural and historic sites as well as the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The 20 mile-long trail is open 24 hours a day with multiple access points, and it is wheelchair, bike and stroller accessible.
9. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Visitors are drawn to Badlands National Park for stunning views of unusual geologic deposits. These rocky formations are both beautiful to look at, and the home of some of the world’s richest fossil beds. The park features trails suitable for children, as well as activities geared toward youngsters like the Junior Ranger Program or a hike along the Fossil Exhibit Trail.
10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
The centerpiece of this park is the more than 100 caves… and obviously the cave that gives the area its name: Carlsbad Cavern. If you plan to visit, keep in mind you must make a reservation by phone or online in advance. The main cavern features hiking trails, at least one of which is gentle and good for kids. There are also surface hiking trails for exploring the natural beauty of the surrounding desert.
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Methodology and Sources
To determine our ranking of the best national parks for families, we compared all 63 national parks in the United States across five key metrics. To determine the overall score, we graded each metric on a 20-point scale, then combined the scores to find a total out of 100.
The five metrics were:
- Percentage of trails that are tagged as ‘kid–friendly’ (20 points)
- Average trail length (20 points) (shorter trail average = better for kids)
- Average trail rating (20 points)
- Average trail difficulty rating (20 points)
- Average trail elevation gain (20 points)
If two or more national parks tied, we used the park with the highest percentage of child-friendly trails as the winner. We also excluded any national parks with two or fewer trails, or where adequate data was missing.
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