Top Reasons Why Your Family Will Love Visiting National Parks


I’m packing for our first-ever trip to Everglades National Park. It’s my kids’ winter break, and when we sat down as a family to figure out where we wanted to go, it was my wildlife-loving son who lobbied hard for the Everglades.

As I reflect on how our family evolved into one that spends lots of time outdoors in nature, one of things that made a difference–since I’m one of those thrifty moms–was the free entrance program the National Park Service offers.

It’s Free Several Times in the Year

Last spring we visited Virginia's Great Falls National Park during one of the free weekends.
You’re in luck because one of those free weekends is this weekend! There are several fee-free dates this year:

  • January 14-16
    Martin Luther King Jr. weekend
  • April 21-29
    National Park Week
  • June 9
    Get Outdoors Day
  • September 29
    National Public Lands Day
  • November 10-12
    Veterans Day weekend

Check out the list of participating sites and you’ll find a mix of not only national parks, but national monuments and national battlefields, too.

Now free entrance might have helped us start our love affair with national parks, but there are  many reasons why we keep coming back.

Things Differ With the Seasons

For example, our visit to the Everglades would be vastly different–from birds to bugs to sogginess–if we came during the summer months. Migrating birds always make certain park visits differ. Those parks with old-growth deciduous forests have a completely different look, and views, when those leaves are shed. Also, those northern parks seem to have a quiet calm during the winter months that is appealing to many.

My kids being sworn in as junior rangers at Acadia National Park in Maine. (Photo by Kristy Myers)

Junior Ranger Program

How cool is it that your kids can be sworn in as Junior Rangers?! The Junior Ranger program offers a flexible, self-guided schedule of activities your family can do while at the parks. If your kids complete the activities, they can turn it in for a certificate and a badge/patch. The best part is when they get “sworn in” by the park ranger. Bring your cameras!

Ranger-Led Activities for Your Family

Each national park has a unique list of ranger-led activities ranging from nature talks, walks and tours. Here’s an example of the ranger-led programs at Everglades National Park for when we’re there. Oftentimes there are special programs geared toward kids, like a touch-tank talk we attended with a ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Passport Program

To encourage you to learn more about and visit other parks, the National Park Service offers Passport® to Your National Parks. My kids have loved exploring the information and thoroughly enjoy taking the passport to the ranger station to get a stamp for each park they visit. Our passport is one of the things I’m packing now for our trip.

We spotted these wild ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. (Photo by Kristy Myers)

Seeing Wildlife

Of course seeing wildlife always ranks high with the kids. Through ranger-led tours and programs or with your own keen observations you’re liable to catch glimpses of all sorts of wildlife at national parks and refuges. Then, be sure to log what you spot through the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Watch website!

Do you have a favorite National Park? Would love to hear about it in the comments below because I’m always looking for the next great place to take the kids. I know I’ll share more with you upon our return, but for now I hope you’ll Be Out There at a nearby National Park during this long holiday weekend!