Family Friendly Tips for National Parks. Want to enjoy the National Parks, but are a little overwhelmed? Fortunately for me, I’ve had my parents and sister to help guide the way on my first adventures. Here are some Family Friendly Tips for enjoying the National Parks.
Rangers are Your Friends – They know the ins and outs of their park. They can tell you where to park, how to get to the best shuttle bus, which hikes would be best for your family. Rangers are the ones who helped us get to that special path between Bear Lake and Alberta Falls! They also offer nice Ranger programs in the park. All are free.
Junior Ranger Program are Excellent for Kids. This is an independent program to complete on your own. Usually a small workbook, when completed children take it to a Ranger who will ask them a few short questions. When my youngest went on his Rhodes Scholar Trip with his Grandparents, he completed 5 Junior Ranger badges!
The Weather Can Change Rapidly. Watch the weather and pack layers . We found in the Rocky’s that rain was most likely in the afternoon, but the mornings were more than perfect. Sometimes I went out with 3 layers on. With the temperature changes, I took them off and on several times throughout the day.
Shuttle Buses Make Life Easier. Most National Parks use a shuttle system to reduce traffic in their parks. During the busy season, these can get quiet crowded. Most buses are loaded near Visitor’s Centers, if not, they can tell you where to pick it up.
Have a Water Bottle with You at All Times. Our family was always thirsty, so we made sure to pack reusable water bottles. Sometimes 2 per person. Due to the large size of the parks, you have to carry in the water you’ll need. We also purchased a large gallon of water to keep in our trunk, kept it filled, and refilled our own bottles as needed. Small Camelbacks also work well.
When Nature Calls.– Yep, its something you just need to be aware of…. Bathroom facilities. When nature calls, you may just need to find a tree. You’ll be happy you brought some toilet paper with you. Some trailheads (the start of the trail), have bathrooms. They are generally pretty rustic
Bring Plenty of Snacks. Bring plenty of water and filling snacks with you on your excursions. Some of the hikes are remote and only accessible by shuttle bus. You don’t want to be stuck with a tired and hungry child unable to make the hike back. Elevation changes can also make you thirstier or a bit queasy. Having additional water and snacks can help alleviate some of the discomfort.
National Parks Pass for 4th Graders- Starting in 2015 all 4th Graders can be issued a National Park pass, good for 1 year. You can read more about it here. What a great idea! *If you don’t have a 4th grader, you’ll be expected to pay the per car fee to enter the park. There are daily and weekly passes as well as discounts for military, retired, etc.
The Sun is Really Hot. It sounds so simple, but the sun is really, really hot. Different locations and higher elevations make the sun unbearable. We were always on the look-out for shady hikes or we left early in the morning to enjoy the cooler part of the day. This was helpful in Zion because of the heat and in the Rocky’s because of afternoon thunderstorms. Sunscreen and hats are also a must.
Sturdy Shoes Required. I did all of our hikes in Zion in tennis shoes and swore I’d bring my hiking boots next time. In Rocky, I did a little of both. It just depended on the hike. As soon as I switched to hiking boots, I didn’t want to go back. I don’t think I’m as sturdy as I used to be and appreciate the sturdy ankle support. On our flight to Colorado, we had one entire suitcase just filled with shoes (tennis shoes, water shoes, and hiking boots)!
Pick Up a Map. My iPhone didn’t always work when we were in the park or on our way to the park. It was always searching for service. Using a map is a Life Skill, one that your children will benefit from too. You won’t get lost if you use a real map. Well, you still might get lost…. but at least you’ll have a map!
Leave No Trace. You’ll notice that there is little to no trash in the parks. Some parks have limited trash receptacles and you need to carry all trash in and out with you. This makes for a beautiful park experience for everyone.