Best National Park for Kids (2016)


This year marks the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, and what better way to celebrate than with a family vacation to one of the nation's many national parks? Fourth graders across the nation can get a free park pass to access the entire park system for a year, thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program, and many national parks offer special programming for kids of all ages.

  • Acadia National Park

    Acadia National Park

    Standing atop Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard, is a big moment for many kids, and it's easy to get to by car. Kid-centric activities at Acadia include ranger-run Tidepool School, boat trips and sandy beaches to play on.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Rocky Mountain National Park

    Rocky Mountain National Park

    With family-friendly Estes Park as a base, Rocky Mountain National Park offers a whole host of activities and adventures young travelers will love. Elk sightings are almost guaranteed along scenic Trail Ridge Road, and many hiking trails are a half-mile or less. Guided horseback rides into the park give older children a chance to see more of the park than would be possible on foot.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    North Carolina, Tennessee

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, is one of the most biodiverse areas in North America – a perfect place for kids to get nose to nose with Mother Nature.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    New Mexico

    The immense network of caves within Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico seems made for curious kids, who can gawk at the wondrous formations within Big Room, crawl through the tight passageways of Spider Cave or look on as some 400,000 Brazilian free-tail bats depart for their evening feeding session.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo/Peter Jones

  • Grand Teton National Park

    Grand Teton National Park

    While nearby to Yellowstone, Grand Teton offers a completely different park experience for kids and adults. The park's Junior Ranger program includes The Grand Adventure activity guide, packed with things to do in the park, and young ones can get in intro into hiking with a boat trip across Jenny Lake following by a short trek to Hidden Falls.
    Photo courtesy of D. Lehle / NPS Photo

  • Zion National Park

    Zion National Park

    Zion National Park is filled with fantastical sights that seem right out of the pages of a storybook, including a "weeping" rock, hanging garden and emerald pools. The Zion Nature Center offers a host of exhibits and hands-on activities where kids can learn more about the park.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Yellowstone National Park

    Yellowstone National Park
    Montana, Wyoming

    Yellowstone is where the National Park system was born – the perfect place to introduce kids to the vital importance of our nation's protected lands. It's also a geological playground of geysers and fascinating geothermal features, plus abundant wildlife. The park offers Junior Ranger and Young Scientist programs, including an activity where kids predict the next eruption of Old Faithful.
    Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco / NPS Photo

  • Biscayne National Park

    Biscayne National Park

    Biscayne National Park, despite its proximity to Miami, is among the least crowded in the park system. In addition to a Junior Ranger program, kids can snorkel above a coral reef, canoe through a mangrove forest or search for wildlife on a ranger-narrated boat tour.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Grand Canyon National Park

    Grand Canyon National Park

    Gazing into the depths of the Grand Canyon is a bucket list-worthy experience for just about everyone, young travelers included. Kids love riding the Grand Canyon Railway, as well as stepping back in time on a daily ranger-led Fossil Discovery Walk from the Bright Angel trailhead.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Mesa Verde National Park

    Mesa Verde National Park

    Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park protects some 4,000 known archaeological sites, including a series of 600 cliff dwellings that will make any kid feel like Indiana Jones. The Mesa Verde Junior Ranger Station, open in late afternoon throughout the summer, offers hands-on activities to help kids learn about Ancestral Pueblo people, and camping families can borrow a free Discovery Pack for even more self-guided fun.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

10Best editors put our heads together with the National Park Foundation to nominate 20 parks as the best for kids and families. For the past four weeks, USA TODAY 10Best readers have been voting for their favorites.

The top 10 winners in the category Best National Park for Kids are as follows:

  1. Acadia National Park
  2. Rocky Mountain National Park
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  5. Grand Teton National Park
  6. Zion National Park
  7. Yellowstone National Park
  8. Biscayne National Park
  9. Grand Canyon National Park
  10. Mesa Verde National Park

Additional parks nominated in this category included Arches National Park, Denali National Park, Everglades National Park, Glacier National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Olympic National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Shenandoah National Park and Yosemite National Park.

Congratulations to all our winning national parks! Looking for a perfect national park experience for your next vacation? Visit to get ideas for exploring our more than 400 national parks.

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David French

David French

David French

10Best Editors

10Best Editors

10Best Editors