Get ready for National Park Week 2019! From April 20-28, celebrate all of America’s treasures that are the national parks. All across the country, the national parks will be celebrating National Junior Ranger Day (April 20), Earth Day (April 22), BARK Ranger Day (April 26) and much more! There truly is something for everyone.

National Park Week kicks off on Saturday, April 20, when entrance fees are waived for all visitors. There are 61 protected areas that make up the national parks.

The national parks are a great way to expose young hikers to nature in so many different forms. From mountains to wildlife and everything in between, there’s so much to explore.

Tips for Exploring the National Parks with Kids by Jessica Nave for Hike it Baby

Tips for Exploring the National Parks with Kids

America’s national parks have something to offer visitors of all ages. To make the most out of your trip to the park, whether it’s for an hour or a few days, plan ahead with these tips!

  • Explore the park’s website or purchase a guidebook about the national parks. With so much area to cover in each park, you will only be able to see what time allows. Plan ahead for your must-sees, whether that’s taking in a sunset at Grand Canyon National Park or hiking to a waterfall at Rocky Mountain National Park, planning ahead will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment at what you did and saw instead of disappointment about what you missed.
  • Plan for souvenirs. Leave no trace and leave everything as you found it. Instead, visit the park’s gift shop and collect souvenirs from each park you visit. Patches for backpacks or pins for bulletin boards will help keep your memories alive as well as leave the park complete for all visitors to enjoy.
  • Stop at the Visitor Center. Make sure to stop at the visitor center before you begin your exploration. Park rangers can provide you with maps and lists of daily activities to help plan your journey. They will know what trails and areas are best for young kids to enjoy.
  • Research Hike it Baby online resources before you go.  The Hike it Baby website is a great resource for gathering information on national park itineraries, and the Family Trail Guide offers kid-friendly hiking trails across the U.S. and in national parks.

National Parks Fun Facts

  • Indiana Dunes National Park just received its recognition as a national park this year. It was previously designated a national lakeshore.
  • The smallest national park is Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri.
  • California has the most national parks out of any state with 9.
  • There are 29 states with at least one or more national parks.

Accessing the National Parks All Year

To take full advantage of the national parks, here are some ways to make visiting easy and affordable.

  • Senior Pass: Seniors can purchase a lifetime pass for the national parks for $80. This pass allows free entrance for seniors and passengers in their vehicles. Seniors wishing to purchase an annual pass may do so for $20. More information can be found here.
  • America the Beautiful Pass: This annual pass is available for $80, and it allows you to enter all the national parks for a one-year time period.
  • Access Pass: This pass is available for free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
  • U.S. Military: Current U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard are eligible for free annual passes. Reserve and National Guard members are also eligible.
  • Free parks passes for 4th graders: As part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative, 4th graders are eligible to get a pass that allows them free entrance in the national parks. All 4th graders (and their families) are able to access the parks for a year from September to August of the child’s 4th grade year. The Every Kid in a Park initiative selected 4th graders to receive the free passes because research has shown that kids ages 9 to 11 are beginning to learn about the world around them, and they are open to new ideas and likely to connect to nature and history. Information for educators and parents is also available here as well as on the National Park Service site.

The year my daughter was in 4th grade, we got the 4th Grade Pass because we had plans to visit several parks that year (Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks). Unfortunately, it also happened to be the year I got laid off work. While it was unfortunate, it turned out to be the best summer of memories for our family – especially for my daughter and myself as we set off for a cross-country drive out West to visit family. We took advantage of the 4th Grade Pass and added on Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde National Parks to our road trip. The Pass is such a great opportunity for families to travel and save some money while building memories. –Vong Hamilton

Tips for Exploring the National Parks with Kids by Jessica Nave for Hike it Baby

Are you planning to visit a park during National Parks Week? We’d love to hear about your adventures in the comments below!

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Photos by Arika Bauer and Vong Hamilton.

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