Last week I shared with you our three favorite National Parks in California, and today I wanted to tell you my favorite National Parks in the rest of the country. Going from west to east they are:
//Zion National Park//
I've been to Zion National Park three times and each time it's incredible. I've been here with friends, with my husband, and with our kids, and we can always find something to do. Watchman Campground is a great place to camp in the park right next to the visitor center (where you can hop on the free park shuttle) and accepts reservations. You'll also enjoy some beautiful sunsets as the light plays off of the red rocks. :) This last time with all the kids we hiked to the Upper Emerald Pools, but even if you can only make it to the lower pools, it's still quite impressive! Riverside Walk is the start of the Narrows if you're hiking from the bottom up and is another good one to do with kids, plus you get to splash around in the water!
//Grand Canyon National Park//
The Grand Canyon is definitely one of those places where pictures don't do it justice. As an adult you'll feel small and be amazed by the grandeur of it, so can you imagine what your small child would think? Most visitors will only make it to the South Rim, which is open all year. The North Rim has a limited season and is on average 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, but if you can make the trek you'll enjoy a more secluded experience. If your children are older you might want to participate in the famous mule rides or rafting trips. A great activity to do with the whole family would be to travel on the Grand Canyon Railway, which has several different packages to choose from. I've been able to go twice, but both times were just a quick stop, and the Grand Canyon really demands more time. If you do have more time to explore and hike a little, you want to be sure to exercise extreme caution in regards to heat and water intake, especially with little ones. I will never forget the story a ranger told Mike and I (who were visiting with our 8 week old son at the time) about a young couple who were hiking with their infant in some type of baby carrier and the child overheated and died. So heartbreaking! Be smart, be alert, carry water!!
//Mesa Verde National Park//
Mesa Verde is another place that I have yet to visit with my own kids, but I cannot wait! I know my little ones will love exploring all the cliff dwellings. The great thing about this park is that you can take in a lot in just one day, which is especially nice as there is nowhere to stay actually within the park boundaries, although a lodge and campgrounds are located not too far from the park entrance. Once inside the park, Spruce Tree House is a must see, being the best preserved of the cliff dwellings. And if you're the type of person who likes doing things at their own pace, it's available for self-guided tours most of the year.
//Carlsbad Caverns National Park//
We took our little dove to Carlsbad Caverns when he was 15 months old, and even at such a young age, you could tell he was enthralled by it all! We chose to hike in, and take the elevator out, which is what most park visitors do. And although we opted for a self-guided tour, there are guided tours available, some taking you to remote parts of the cave that you wouldn't normally get to see otherwise! And if you visit the park in the Summer or early Fall, you really don't want to miss the nightly bat flight, it is quite an experience! When we went we opted to stay at a KOA outside the park, which was really nice but a bit further of a drive than we were expecting.
//Dry Tortugas National Park//
The Dry Tortugas is perhaps the coolest National Park I have yet been to, and being 70 miles west of Key West, it is the southern-most National Park in the United States. Because of it's location, it's only accessible by seaplane or ferry, but not only is it unique and beautiful, it's also full of history, being home to Fort Jefferson. I visited this amazing national treasure when I was a teenager, and I cannot wait to go back with my own kids someday! I have been snorkeling in Hawai'i and the Caribbean, and I still say that this is the best snorkeling spot I've ever been to. How many other national parks are there where you can go snorkeling? In addition to the visitor centers, the fort, and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, you can even have a primitive camping experience at this park! This is definitely a place you want to have on your bucket list!