The 10 Best National Park Adventures With Kids

High on the trail in the Acadia backcountry. Photo: Kurdistan/Shutterstock

By Michael Lanza

Day Hiking Acadia National Park, Maine
Ages: All (depending on hike)

Acadia seems designed for hiking with kids: Numerous trails deliver constant views many of the best hikes are relatively short; and the steep, rocky terrain often requires exciting scrambling. The 1.3-mile hump up and back down The Beehive involves an exposed ascent of a cliff via ledges and iron rungs drilled into the rock. The easy, 1.6-mile walk to Great Head leads to the top of cliffs rising straight out of a pounding sea. The relatively flat and popular 3.6-mile Ocean Path follows the rocky shore from Sand Beach to Otter Point, passing by Thunder Hole, where waves crashing into a pocket in granite create an explosive popping noise, and over Otter Cliffs, the tallest sea cliffs on Mount Desert Island. The 4.2-mile loop over the rocky domes called North and South Bubble climbs just a few hundred feet to reach postcard-like views of Jordan Pond tucked between surrounding hills. Families gunning for a more serious challenge—and views stretching from Frenchman Bay to the hills and ponds of Acadia—can take a 13.5-mile, east-west traverse of the park’s six major peaks, linking trails (and crossing some roads) from the Bear Brook Trailhead on Champlain Mountain to the parking lot north of Upper Hadlock Pond on ME 198. Blackwoods Campground is across the street from the trailhead to Cadillac Mountain, the park’s highest, and has great access to carriage trails.   

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Exploring Ancient Ruins in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Ages: All

Before having kids, I never visited Mesa Verde. The park, in the southwestern corner of Colorado, is known for its 600 cliff dwellings and 5,000 archeological sites dating back nearly 1,500 years—but long hiking trails or climbing routes were my focus back then. My wife and I finally went with our kids when our son was three and our daughter was one, and we were amazed by the 150-room Cliff Palace and other dwellings on this windswept mesa. Pitch your tent at Morefield Campground, four miles inside the park, and take the kids on the guided tours of Spruce Tree House (a half-mile) and Cliff Palace (a quarter-mile)—the latter featuring my son’s favorite moment: climbing a series of wooden ladders up a 100-foot cliff face.

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Filed To: Adventure, Hiking and Backpacking, Travel, Camping, Skiing and Snowboarding, Paddling

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