5 Tips for Visiting National Parks With Children

Going anywhere new with children can be a challenge. You have to think about snacks, bathroom trips, what your commute will look like, do you need a change of clothes, the questions are nearly endless. And those questions don’t cover the bases when factoring in a trip to a larger-than-life national park.

Our national parks can feel intimidating when you have the responsibility of watching out for yourself and your little ones. As beautiful as they are vast, national parks are filled with roaring rivers, epic mountain ranges, tough terrain, and various kinds of wild animals. You never know what you’ll come across when venturing into them.

As intimidating as it may be, a little preparedness can go a long way in ensuring your visit to the national parks with your children is a success. All of the features offered within the national parks offer an incredibly enriching environment for your children to learn from, and it’s easy to enjoy the beautiful parts of the national parks when you know how to avoid anything difficult or dangerous they may be hiding within them.

Doing research into whatever national park you’re heading to is pivotal in ensuring you and your children are well-equipped, educated, ready for anything you may face out in the national parks. With that in mind, here are five important tips for visiting national parks with children:

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Make Safety a Priority 

Prioritizing safety with your children before you venture into a national park is incredibly important. National parks have best safety practices that they enact to keep their patrons safe. For instance, there are standard fire rules that apply across all national parks, fires of any kind are not allowed unless at an allotted “campfire” spot, and those campfires need to be attended at all times.

Engaging with wildlife is a no-no, so make sure your children know not to chase after any animals they may come across on your adventures. Parents should do research specific to the destination they choose Check your national park’s website to see if the safety practices they encourage, as sometimes they do vary.

If you’re visiting a park during peak season – which is throughout the summer, with July being the busiest month at all National Parks, this will require extra precaution. According to the Barnes Firm in New York, which specializes in accidents and personal injury, peak travel season is especially dangerous for drivers and you should time your drive around anticipated traffic to and from the park. Your children will have to account for the extra people within the park as well, so be sure to have a conversation about sticking together and letting other families do their own thing.

Bring All The Essentials

Overpacking when heading into the national parks with your children is a good idea. You never know how many snacks or water bottles you may go through on a long hike on a hot day. Make sure you check the weather and pack some rain gear in case those forecasts are wrong. We suggest having disposable rain ponchos for your children to keep them and their belongings dry.

If your children need appropriate hiking wear, such as boots or harnesses, backpacks for hiking clips, head to an outdoor sports store and stock up before your big trip. It’s also suggested to break in your new gear, so have your children run around in their boots a few times before breaking them out at the national parks.

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Start Early

Getting an early start at national parks is a good idea on a few fronts. One is to beat some of those afternoon crowds that can build, as people filter into the park more and more throughout the day. National parks are open from 5 AM to 11 PM daily, so you could head in around 7:30 or 8 and be done with your adventures before the crowd’s pile-in. Additionally, earlier in the day typically can be cooler, as the sun hasn’t risen yet. You can enjoy the climbing temperatures of the morning and be out of the park before the harsher afternoon sun hits.

Research Child-Friendly Spots Within National Parks

National parks want you to come to visit with your children and have a great time doing so. There are plenty of child-friendly activities and centers within each of the national parks, even educational sections dedicated to children who visit. When researching the national park you’re going to, look into what child-friendly spots or activities they offer and plan your days around them.

Communicate Constantly

Communication is key in a successful trip through a national park. There are many twists and turns on pathways throughout the terrains you and your children will be climbing upon, so before you get started it’s a good idea to huddle up with your family and emphasize your communication plans.

Maybe you go with the buddy system, where everyone has a partner they are responsible to stick with, or you have the faster-paced walkers in one group and the family members seeking a more leisurely stroll in another group. Walkie-talkies are great in case anyone gets lost, but just like your cell phone signal is weak in certain areas of the national park, a walkie-talkie’s range can only go so far.

So rather than rely on technology, going into the day with clear communication strategies will help ensure everyone stays safe and together while enjoying the national park.