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How to Plan a Trip to a National Park With Grandkids 

11 tips to help maximize fun for everyone 

spinner image a grandmother showing her granddaughter a national park guidebook
Educational booklets and other resources help keep kids engaged in national parks. Stop by the visitors center to see what’s available.
Marc Romanelli/Getty

Did you know that more than 400 national parks are scattered across the country? As stalwarts of the National Park Service (NPS) and grandparents, we plan trips to national parks with our grandkids as often as possible. Some of the parks are large natural areas such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon where you can hike, see wild animals in their native habitat and camp under the stars (though more conventional lodging may be available).  

The NPS also includes historical parks and sites such as the African American Civil War Memorial, Independence Hall and Gettysburg where you and your grandchildren can learn firsthand about the nation’s history and how it’s helped shape our country today.  

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With so many options, it’s a good idea to plan what you want to do and see and learn about the kid-friendly resources when you take your grandkids to a national park. Here are some tips for a smooth and successful trip. 

1. Start by researching the parks that interest you using the NPS websiteClick on the “Find a Park” option and search by state, activity or topic, or use the national map. If possible, include your grandkids in the planning process so everyone can learn about the natural and cultural history before you decide on a park.  

2. Explore your chosen park on the NPS website for information on unique things to see and do, and logistics including camping/lodging if you’re staying overnight. In addition to NPS, websites such as Campspot, The Dyrt and KOA Campgrounds can help you find a camping option that’s right for your group. 

3. Make reservations. Certain activities, tours and hikes can sell out months in advance. Recreation.gov, the travel planning and reservation system for the parks, can tell you how far in advance you can make reservations for various activities and campsites. Note: Reservations for park lodging should be made directly with companies that operate the facilities. 

4. Are any of your grandkids in the fourth grade? If so, they can get a free yearlong Every Kid Outdoors pass to all the national parks (three family members — including grandparents — also get in free). According to the program website, fourth graders were chosen because children 9 to 11 start learning about the world around them and are open to new concepts.

spinner image students at a junior ranger program in yellowstone national park
The NPS Junior Ranger program is offered at most national parks across the country. Grandparents can participate, too.
Nature and Science / Alamy Stock Photo

5. Take part in the NPS Junior Ranger program. While in the park, kids complete a series of activities and can earn an official Junior Ranger badge and printable certificates. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the park visitor center or download it from the park website. Junior rangers are typically between the ages of 5 and 13, but grandparents can also participate in the program.  

6. Pack outdoor essentials including sunscreen, water, insect repellent, hats, sunglasses and hand sanitizer.  

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7. Get to the park early, around 8 a.m., before the crowds build up and parking becomes scarce.

8. Snacks and dining options may be available inside the park, but facilities can be crowded and expensive. Carry snacks in day packs and consider giving grandkids their own packs so they feel involved. Another option: Pack a cooler for lunch and bring a blanket for a picnic in a designated area. 

9. Stop at the visitors center. Many national parks offer interactive displays about the park, videos and educational booklets. On-site rangers can answer questions and point out shorter trails and kid-centric activities.

10. Build in some leisure time on your visit. Grandkids (and grandparents!) can get tired and lose focus. Some free time can allow grandchildren the opportunity for spontaneous activities.  

11. Take photos and let the grandkids take some of their own with your smartphone or camera. When you get home, make a photo album for yourself and send albums to your grandkids.

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