If you’re looking for a new kind of family vacation experience where you can see some of the country’s most beautiful sites and spend lots of time exploring the outdoors, head to one of America’s national parks.
Search any national park hashtag on Instagram or TikTok and you’ll find many families traveling around the country in an RV to visit the country’s most spectacular landmarks. Beyond the amazing natural beauty the nation’s national parks have to offer, a vacation like this is also an amazing way to bond as a family in a setting like no other.
There are 63 official national parks (visit nps.gov for the list), and 423 national landmarks, monuments and recreation areas across the country (including places like Guam and Puerto Rico), with nine locations in New Jersey alone. The list can be daunting, so we’re sharing our favorites to help you plan your summer getaway.
TAKE IN LOCAL BEAUTY
If you don’t want to travel far, try camping at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. This 70,000 acre park sits along the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is filled with lush green spots and waterfalls, and you can explore historic spots along the Old Mine Road which was constructed in the 1600s. Dingmans Campground has tent spaces and RV spots that will put you and your family right alongside the Delaware River, with easy access to hiking trails, fishing, biking and tubing spots. For more of New Jersey’s National Parks, click here.
TAKE A ROAD TRIP
If you’re up for a ride, charge their iPads and hop in the car to head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, TN. This popular mountain range is located next to the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which have all the food, mini-golf and arcade attractions and hotels you’d expect at the Jersey Shore, plus Dollywood Amusement Park, located right next to this natural beauty. The centerpiece of the park is the stunning Clingmans Dome, where visitors can drive most of the way to the top. You’ll have to walk a bit up a steep hill to get to the observation deck for 360 degree views from the 6,643-foot highest spot in Tennessee. This national park has more than 100 miles of hiking trails, swimming, biking, fishing and boating, and is also ideal to explore from the comfort of your car since Tennessee is hot in the summer. With more than 384 miles of road (a mix of paved and gravel), there is so much to see on an auto tour. This is the most visited national park so expect crowds. If you’re looking for a quieter (and closer) experience, head to Shenandoah National Park in Luray, VA. Also a great spot for those who want to drive to scenic viewpoints, this park has amazing lodging options on site, including the Big Meadows Lodge (reopening in April) nestled right in the heart of the park.
GO BIG (REALLY BIG!)
Covering more than 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone National Park is not only one of the most famous, but also one of the biggest national parks in the Lower 48 states (if you want enormous, head to Alaska, where Denali National Park & Preserve is triple that size and features massive mountains and glacial structures). There are nine lodges in the park with a variety of hotels and cabins, but they book quickly so make sure to reserve early. Yellowstone is home to unique hydrothermal attractions like the famed Old Faithful geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring, which offers a truly unique and mind blowing experience with spectacular colors that seem otherworldly. But don’t get too close since it’s a blistering 160 degrees Fahrenheit!
SEE THE FAMED FOUR PRESIDENTS
Mount Rushmore National Monument in South Dakota is a famous spot on many people’s bucket lists. Not only is the historic sculpture of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln a must-see, but it’s adjacent to multiple other parks. Badlands National Park has one of the most diverse landscapes in the country, with breathtaking rock formations and vast prairie views. Go underground at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument to learn about cave for formations or head over the border into Wyoming to see Devils Tower National Monument, a geological marvel.
GET A HISTORY LESSON
If the kids love Hamilton: An American Musical, a trip to Yorktown Battlefield (part of Colonial National Historical Park) in Virginia will give them a tangible experience of what the Revolutionary War battle was really like. It’s near popular Colonial Williamsburg, which makes history come alive.
HEAD TO MAINE
If you love the New England area, head to Acadia in Bar Harbor, Maine. While warm in the summer, it has a cool ocean breeze year-round. The centerpiece of this coastal Maine park is Cadillac Mountain, the first place in the continental U.S. to see the sunrise each morning. Hike or drive to the top of the mountain exploring the rest of the park, including Thunder Hole (a natural cove where the waves crash wildly) and the rocky beaches. Stay in one of Bar Harbor’s many charming B&Bs or New England-style inns.
HIT UP A PARK RANGER
The National Park Foundation has found a fun way to keep the kids engaged during your visit with its Junior Ranger Program. Park rangers will offer up a host of activities such as a scavenger hunt that’ll encourage the littles to explore the park like pros. The kids will even get an official badge for their efforts.