A Kid-Centric Guide to National Parks
We asked park rangers across the country to reveal their best-kept secrets — the unique experiences that every kid will love.
Illustrations by Bene Rohlmann
From snowball fights in June to hiking inside a volcano, here are nine National Park surprises worth building a trip around.
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
“The coolest thing to do is hike down to the lake and go swimming. The water is so incredibly clear and blue, and you’re hiking right down inside a volcano. Most kids will remember that for the rest of their lives.” — John Duwe, education coordinator
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
“The Trog Tour is for kids ages 8 to 12, and there are no parents allowed — just kids and rangers. They crawl around with kneepads, helmets, and lights and learn about cave geology and the animals in the cave, everything from bats to eyeless fish.” — Molly Schroer, public information officer
Isle Royale National Park in Michigan
“Everyone loves the berries here — especially thimbleberries, because they’re not something most people are familiar with. They’re reddish, like raspberries, but bigger, tart and tangy. They fit on kids’ fingers like thimbles.” — Chris Amidon, supervisory park ranger
Olympic National Park in Washington
“Hurricane Ridge averages 30 to 32 feet of snow annually, and that snowfall often sticks around until June or July. So in the summer, it’s possible to have a snowball fight at 5,000 feet, then go tide pooling down at sea level.” — Jared Low, lead coastal interpreter
Big Bend State Park in Texas
“Most are impressed by how dark the skies are here. I present a program about darkness and fear, and my co-worker hosts star parties. But you can see a beautiful night sky pretty much anywhere around here outside the developed areas.” — Bob Smith, park ranger and outreach and education specialist
Acadia National Park in Maine
“Tide pooling along Bar Harbor or Otter Cove is exciting for kids. Go at the lowest of low tide, and be sure to only pick up animals that aren’t attached, like snails, dogwinkles, crabs, and amphipods. But please don’t collect any of the creatures. Return them safely to their homes.” — Kate Petrie, park ranger
Everglades National Park in Florida
“Seeing alligators up close gets everybody excited, both kids and kids at heart. The Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley are the best spots for wildlife viewing. You don’t even need binoculars; they’re just right there.” — Allyson Gantt, park ranger and director of education
Yosemite National Park in California
“If you visit the park around a full moon, come out at night to look for rare moonbows — rainbows that form in the waterfalls’ moonlit mist.” — Alejandra Guzman, park ranger and education specialist
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
“Kids 7 and up love hiking Bearfence because it’s not just walking, it’s scrambling — they use their hands, feet, and seat to explore. And when you reach the very top, you get a 360-degree view, which is pretty rare for Shenandoah.” — Sally Hurlbert, public information officer
About the author: Based in Durango, Colorado, Kate Siber is a correspondent for Outside magazine and the author of the children’s book National Parks of the U.S.A. Her work has also appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, and National Parks magazine. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.