Confessions of a National Parks Geek
Acadia National Park, Maine
Taking a road trip with the kids to experience the national parks can be unforgettable. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park System, travel to five of our favorite parks.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and Montana
Founded 1872. The park is considered the “grand jewel” of the park system and has an amazing array of natural scenery. Almost every view is a great photo opportunity.
Keep your eyes peeled for animals. Bears (we saw four) are best and they cause the largest wildlife traffic jams. You’ll have several opportunities to see the newly recognized official mammal of the United States, the American Bison. It takes a lot of patience (and a little luck) to see other animals in Yellowstone.
Artist Point. The best tourist spot in the park – it’s a 300-foot waterfall and canyon view that lives up to its billing as a must-see stop.
Geysers, hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents) and mudpots are everywhere in the park. Some look like random fires with all the steam. Hot springs smell really bad (think stink bombs/rotten eggs), some have pretty colors and the mudpots are bubbly. Of course, don’t miss Old Faithful.
The shop at Old Faithful. The superstore of the gift shops at the park, it has everything and more. We bought many mementos and purchased a book about Yellowstone that enhanced our visit.
Zion National Park, Utah
Founded 1919. Even though temperatures reach over 115 degrees in the summer, the low humidity of the desert, the park’s steep red cliffs, and stunning waterfalls make for an exciting visit.
Sit back and enjoy the ride. The park has a shuttle system that transports you to the trails all over the park. As you go up the shuttle line, the trails continue getting better and better. The Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock trailheads are kid-friendly stops along the way. The last stop on the shuttle line is the Temple of Sinewava. This wide paved trail takes you to the Virgin River and the entrance to the Narrows, where you can play in the water on a warm day.
Hike up the Narrows. We hiked through the river into an amazing canyon that eventually closes in where you can almost touch both walls. The water was refreshing in the heat, and we wish we’d had our swimsuits.
Zion Lodge. A great option for lunch with a restaurant and snack bar, if you don’t want to pack one. There is a large lawn for picnics.
Angels Landing. The view is spectacular. Adventuresome hikers can look straight down on both sides of the mountain. Most ages can hike safely to Scout’s Landing. Past this point with older children or as an adult, hikers hold onto chains as they climb up the rocks.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Founded 1910. This park has over 1,500 square miles of wilderness and the world famous “Going to the Sun” Road.
Drive “Going to the Sun” Road. This 50-mile road features many waterfalls, vistas, hikes and more to explore. You can drive on your own or take one of two paid shuttle options. Sometimes the road opens as late as early July, when it is cleared of snow.
Take a hike on Scenic Trail on the east side of the park. This quiet trail had incredible views of the mountain ranges and lakes. All the snow was melting when we visited in June, and cool mountain water flowed off the cliffs, creating incredible waterfalls.
Get off the primary roads. Hear the squeaks of trees and chirps of birds in the quieter areas of the park. It’s exhilarating to spend several hours experiencing the park away from most visitors.
Eat at Pizza of Waterton. On the Canadian side of the park (called Waterton Lakes National Park), browse shops and enjoy a meal between hikes. Pizza of Waterton, a pizza shop near the park, has tasty pies like “The Peace Park,” “Big Bertha,” and “Wild Bear.” pizzaofwaterton.com
Acadia National Park, Maine
Founded 1916. Rocky beaches and huge cliffs are plentiful at Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi River.
Sunrise and Sunset. The highest point along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia is known for its awesome sunrises and sunsets. The sunrise at 4:50 a.m. during the summer was too early for us, and the light really did wake up the kids starting about 4:30 a.m. The sunset, however, was perfect over the park.
Bar Harbor. Acadia National Park sits next to this cute town with fun mom and pop shops and scenery. The town was settled in the 1800s.
Robbins Motel. When was the last time you stayed in a clean room with cable TV and Wi-Fi for $45-$65 a night? This 1950s hotel is just a couple of miles from the park entrance. robbinsmotel.com
The Thirsty Whale. This long running restaurant in Bar Harbor had an excellent lobster roll and clam chowder. thirstywhaletavern.com
Virgin Islands National Park, The U.S. Virgin Islands
Founded 1956. One of only two national parks in a U.S. Territory, this park has scenery and beaches with tropical temperatures year around.
Hike the park. Explore twenty hikes for different skill levels throughout the park. Our favorite with kids is hiking downhill on the Cinnamon Nature Trail and the Lind Trail, which takes you to Honeymoon Beach. Many of the hikes lead to quiet beaches and gorgeous views.
The water is gorgeous. The water is crystal clear and warm and you’ll want to relax on the beach for hours and enjoy it.
Kayak at Caneel Bay. Kayak, snorkel, play tennis and ping pong, read books, and get massages at the Caneel Bay Resort at the park.
Explore the town. Enjoy the great walkable atmosphere of St. John, a short taxi ride from the park – with tasty food, shops, desserts and more. For a fancy night out eat at Zozo’s at the Sugar Mill, St. John. zozos.net
Take a boat tour to the British Virgin Islands. It’s always fun to take a day trip beyond the park. We recommend the Bad Kitty tour, a five stop, four-island tour of the British Virgin Islands. We snorkled and toured the ancient rock formations called the baths along the way. It felt like we were experiencing a vast, untouched piece of paradise.
– Laura Powell