If you’ve never visited one America’s national parks, you have been missing out on all kinds of wonderful things. Really. You should get on it, pronto. Especially if you have kids; they’ll remember it for a lifetime. We journeyed up the road to Yellowstone, our nearest national park, last weekend and captured this direct quote from my 8 year old: “Yellowstone is the coolest place on earth!” And he’s been to Disney World, folks.
We happen to live within a 2 hour drive of 2 of the country’s greatest gems: Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. And easily within a days drive of at least half a dozen others: Zion, Arches, Mount Ranier, and Glacier to name but a few. I think that each one harbors it’s own very special kind of magic, from red rock desert to bursting geysers and mineral pools, to dense coastal forest, to jagged snow peaked mountains. I’ve fallen in love each time, in each place, over and over again.
Whether you like to enjoy the scenery from your car, or get up close and personal on a gorgeous hike or canoe trip, or learn fascinating new things from a park ranger, there is something for everyone. Stunning views, all kinds of animals, wildflowers, rare ecosystems, incredible history, all that fresh air…and plenty of unplugged time with your favorite people.
So far we’ve visited, with our 2 boys, Zion in Utah, Yellowstone and Grand Teton (it’s super cool that these are practically in our back yard), and Lewis and Clark in Oregon. They’ve participated in Junior Ranger programs at each site, where requirements might include taking a hike and drawing pictures, participating in a ranger-led class, identifying animals and tracks, and an activity booklet. Kids that complete a Junior Ranger program earn a really cool old-school patch or a pin and are specially and officially sworn in by a park ranger. So much hands-on learning and disguised as a healthy dose of adventure is pretty great.
Some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever see is preserved in America’s national parks. And some pretty impressive wildlife, including many endangered species. Word to the wise–don’t get too friendly with these big guys. They won’t be very friendly back to you.
And I think you’ll find that people visiting the national parks–they come from all over the world–are pretty friendly and easy going. Recently, while scoping out some grizzly bears in Yellowstone, a couple from Boston was eagerly adjusting their very very expensive fancy spotting scope to a kid-friendly height and let my boys take a gander at the bears way off in the distance. In their words, with proper Boston accent: “This is God’s country out here! I can’t believe it.” She’s right, I think. These places exude a kind of wild reverence, a reminder of how big and how fragile the world is.
A few pointers if you plan on visiting one of these beauties: Research the weather patterns and dress accordingly, from head to foot. Sturdy shoes, lightweight layers, hats, bug spray and sunscreen are always good suggestions. In Yellowstone and the Tetons the weather can change dramatically and quickly, so an extra warm layer is wise. Pack a cooler with plenty of your favorite snacks and lots of water–dining options are quite limited within park boundaries, at least in our experiences. Do follow the guidelines from Park Rangers–they have good reasons for advising, for example, that you keep a good distance from bison and bears. Hello. Definitely remember to bring binoculars and a camera. I promise you’ll be glad you went.
We have plans to visit Glacier, Yosemite and Mount Rainier in the next couple of years…I’m already planning the road trips! Do you have a favorite National Park recommendation for me? I’d love to add more to my list and fill our National Parks Passport with new stamps. And here’s some great news–President Obama has signed off on a special and totally cool program granting a free National Parks pass to every 4th grader in the USA for the 2015-2016 school year. You can find all the details on the awesome Every Kid in a Park initiative here. You have no excuses, now get out there and start your own adventure in one of America’s National Parks, whether major road trip or awesome stay-cation. You’ll love it.
For more of our own adventures, check out this right here.