10 amazing outdoor adventures near Los Angeles
While the city of Los Angeles is a tourist destination in and of itself, it is sometimes necessary to leave the city and venture somewhere new. Especially when every part of you is itching to travel right now. Fortunately, L.A. is centrally-located to many cities that offer socially-distanced activities to suit any preference. <ost restaurants offer only outdoor dining or takeout service. Many of these cities are accessible by train within a couple of hours, as Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner route runs up and down the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
Take a ferry to Catalina Island
Board the Catalina Express and in about an hour you will be transported to the town of Avalon, what was once a playground for Hollywood’s glitterati. Fancy parasailing? Here you can enjoy the ultimate social distancing activity as you glide through the air, admiring the views below. Catalina is the home to about 150 wild buffalo, which are the descendants of a small herd that was left there by a film crew in the 1920s. During the two-hour Bison Expedition with Catalina Tours, you’ll hop into an off-road vehicle and venture into the precipitous Cape Canyon, where bison and other wildlife are often spotted. For a special treat, dine on the waterfront patio at Bluewater Grill, which offers a variety of sustainable seafood options.
Hike the trails at Joshua Tree
Located at the intersection of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, Joshua Tree National Park is a mystical place. Many say that these twisted trees with pointed spines belong in a Dr. Seuss book and they wouldn’t be wrong, although that is part of the appeal. Options to explore the park are endless, and depending on your skill level you can embark on nature treks or more challenging backcountry hikes. For more adventurous types, you can traverse over different rock formations by climbing or bouldering. If you plan to stay after dark, don’t miss the myriad of stargazing opportunities-- because of its remote location, you’ll be treated to an astronomical display of stars, planets, and the Milky Way.
Ride the zip line in Santa Margarita
Imagine tasting wine on an outdoor patio and then, aided by liquid courage, traveling by zip line over acres of Pinot Noir vines with not a care in the world. Riding tandem is your partner-in-crime, laughing giddily at the incomparable feeling of soaring through the pines. At Ancient Peaks Winery, which is located in the tiny town of Santa Margarita, you can do just that. Sample wine at their tasting room and then venture out to their 14,000 acre ranch, where guests can choose among six different zip line tours of the vineyard. On a recent tour by Margarita Adventures, participants spotted a variety of wildlife; including deer, turkeys, hawks, and even a bear.
Indulge your inner beachcomber in Laguna Beach
The small enclave of Laguna Beach is well-known for its summer art festivals, which were an annual occurrence until COVID hit. For those dedicated to ocean exploits, there are plenty of opportunities to snorkel, paddleboard, or surf at one of the many beaches and coves that dot the coastline. Be sure to visit Victoria Beach at low tide, which is a beloved spot for skimboarders and also home of the Instagrammable “Pirate Tower,” a 60-foot stone turret. Another popular area along the coast is Crystal Cove, where tidepools abound. While you’re there, have lunch at The Beachcomber, which is located right on the sand. (Or, sidle up to the adjacent Bootlegger Bar at sunset.)
Walk through a unique art installation in Paso Robles
If you haven’t yet been to international artist Bruce Munro’s acclaimed art installation Field of Light at Sensorio, you are in for a treat as it has recently been extended through January 2021. Follow the pathway through an open field filled with thousands of tiny “flowers”-- solar-powered lights mounted on stems that are lit by fiber optics, their colors everchanging. Be sure to reserve tickets early, as they do sell out, and they are taking extra efforts to follow protocols related to COVID-19. While in Paso Robles visit Tin City, a small warehouse district that houses a variety of wine tasting rooms, breweries, a cidery, and even a distillery. Satisfy your appetite with one of the many food trucks lined up nearby.
Explore Balboa Park in San Diego
Balboa Park is a cultural treasure-- located in the center of the city, it has seventeen museums, several types of gardens, and is also the home of the San Diego Zoo. At over 1,200 acres, there is plenty of room to roam. Visit the Japanese Friendship Garden, the lily pond at the Botanical Building, or the artist studios at the Spanish Village, then find a spot in the sun and dive into a good book. Currently the San Diego Museum of Art has reopened with limited capacity and new safety measures, while other museums there remain closed. Dine next door at Panama 66, or venture a short distance outside of the park and ignite your palate with Mexican soul food at Barrio Star.
Spend a day on Santa Barbara’s coastline
Often referred to as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara’s stunning coastline and dedication to fine wine certainly lives up to its moniker. Stroll through the Funk Zone, the city’s arts district, and admire the colorful murals before stopping at one of the many tasting rooms in the area that make up the Urban Wine Trail. Enjoy al fresco dining at Hotel Californian’s Goat Tree, a gourmet cafe that serves creative Mediterranean-inspired dishes. The ocean also offers its pick of activities, such as fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. You can find your zen with “Soundwave Sessions”-- yoga on the beach with provided headphones, which allows you to listen to music and instruction simultaneously. (They also offer bilingual sessions en español.)
Go fishing at Big Bear Lake
Rent a pontoon boat and fish to your heart’s content on Big Bear Lake, or lounge and listen to your favorite tunes as the boat’s massive deck allows for plenty of room to relax. Or, you can opt to kayak or swim in the lake. Inhale the crisp alpine air and become one with nature as you hike Castle Rock Trail, a steep tree-lined path that winds around huge granite boulders and rewards you with sweeping panoramic views of the lake. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a bald eagle. Venture out to Big Bear Village and take your pick of restaurants, depending on your appetite. Highly recommended is The Himalayan, which serves a variety of dishes from India and Nepal.
Take the Highway 1 Discovery Route
The Highway 1 Discovery Route extends for a hundred miles along California’s Central Coast, which stretches from Monterey Bay all the way down to Ventura. Between the months of October and February, monarch butterflies migrate to groves along the coast from Pismo Beach to Morro Bay. There are a variety of ways to visit these groves, and many can be viewed from golf courses that line the coast, such as Sea Pines, a resort and nine-hole executive golf course in Los Osos. The Highway 1 Discovery Route also encompasses the Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo region, a sweet spot for wine tasting. Spend some time sampling wine in the charming town of Los Olivos, which is surrounded by vineyards, lavender farms, ranches, and orchards.
Visit California’s oldest neighborhood in San Juan Capistrano
Well-known as the former home of migrating swallows every March, San Juan Capistrano is also where the state’s oldest neighborhood, the Los Rios Historic District, is located. Wander across the dusty tracks of the Capistrano train depot, where you’ll encounter a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as a petting zoo. Stop for coffee under the trees at Hidden House, or if you’re hungry, dine on the outdoor patio at Trevor’s at the Tracks or Rancho Capistrano Winery-- both offer delectable dishes that are often accompanied by live music. Then, walk a short distance to Mission San Juan Capistrano, which has a museum and chapel on the property. The close proximity to the Amtrak station makes this a convenient day trip from L.A.
The budget guide to Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe sits on the border of California and Nevada, and offers beautiful scenery, hiking, beaches and winter sports. It is a perfect location for adventure travelers, photographers, and winter sports enthusiasts. Here is our guide to getting the best deals at Lake Tahoe. Getting There Lake Tahoe has its own airport, which can easily be accessed by flying through Denver. For the cheapest rates, look to Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, or Alaska Airlines. The nearest major city is Reno, Nevada. Where to Stay Accommodations are one of the areas where you can save while visiting Lake Tahoe. By choosing your hotel wisely you can make room in your budget for more days on the slopes. Given that there are majestic views around every bend in the road in Lake Tahoe, your hotel room will simply be a comfortable place to lay your head at night. Worth considering, is the Postmarc Hotel Spa and Resort boasts recently renovated rooms and the majority of them feature a spa tub. Listed on their website is a special for 20% off their published rates which makes this place even more endearing. Rates vary from $90-$100 without the applicable discount. If snowboarding is your sport of choice then staying at the Forest Suites Resort at Heavenly Village is convenient. The resort is right by the ski gondolas which take you to the top of the Heavenly ski slopes. The hotel is advertising a holiday sale with 30% off and a winter sale with 40%, these are some serious savings. Rates are currently $100 a night before applicable discounts. The Northern shore of Lake Tahoe is much quieter and made up of residential neighborhoods. The Tahoe Vistana Inn located North offers many amenities that make the stay even sweeter. The facilities offer a grill as well as firepits for guests to use on those cooler nights. The Inn offers its guests free usage of their bikes, paddleboards and kayaks which is a huge perk. Rates are currently $95 a night. What to Do When you arrive at Lake Tahoe head to one of the multiple Visitor Centers to look for brochures that may contain coupons for kayaking, boating and the countless number of water activities available at the lake. Lake Tahoe is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Every single viewpoint in Lake Tahoe is scenic. During the summer, you’ll gravitate to the lake and all of the water activities you can take advantage of. Kayaks and paddleboards can be rented right next to the lake, right on any beach. One of the most beautiful beaches to kayak is Sand Harbor. Hiking the Lake Tahoe area is another beautiful way to spend your day. There are multiple hikes to waterfalls in the area. Some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area are Cascade Creek Falls, Eagle Falls and Horse Tail Falls. It’s essential to pack a lunch on your hike to one of these impressive waterfalls. Sprouts Natural Foods Café has sandwiches packed chock full of the vegetables you need to nourish you as you hike. Driving out of Lake Tahoe heading South you can take a quick hike before heading home. You can hike a small part of the Pacific Crest Trail (which extends from Canada to Mexico) by hiking the Frog Lake trail. This dog-friendly trail takes you through lightly wooded forests as well as through rocky terrain. Your ultimate reward is the small lake when you reach the top and the beautiful views you get from there. Hiking frog lake is the perfect way to end your exploration of the Lake Tahoe area. Male skier skiing downhill on powder snow, Lake Tahoe, California, USA. ©Succes'S IBC/Getty Images Winter Sports The extraordinary views as you are skiing or snowboarding down the slopes are what makes Lake Tahoe such a unique place to ski. Unfortunately, affordability is not what Lake Tahoe is known for. Lift tickets can cost upwards of $130 during peak seasons. Luckily, Lake Tahoe has fifteen ski resorts which allow the budget-conscious skier to compare prices as well as the types of terrain and runs they wish to ski. When it comes to skiing, going during the week is your best bet for finding a deal. If avoiding the crowds sounds like a good idea then resorts like Homewood and Diamond Peak are under $100 during the week. Both of these resorts are family-friendly with Diamond Peak being the friendliest. At Diamond Peak children under six are free and they also offer an interchangeable ski ticket that can be used amongst the two parents. If your heart is set on the Heavenly Resort, which is the top-rated resort in Lake Tahoe, then you need to be prepared to spend a bit more. Currently, a one-day ski pass is $133 a day at Heavenly, with an Epic Day Pass. This includes 20% discounts at select quick-service restaurants at the ski resort as well as discounts on lodging.
Budget Travel guide to the Florida Keys
If you’re looking for a road trip that combines nightlife, laid back beaches, and a little Key Lime pie, the four hour drive from Miami to Key West is the perfect adventure. The Florida Keys are a chain of islands just south of Miami that stretch 125 miles, and the most ideal time to visit is during the spring months from March to May or during the fall after hurricane season has ended on November 1st. But truly, visiting the Keys is a good idea no matter what time of year. Whether it's a family vacation, a girlfriend getaway, or a solo expedition, there’s something for everyone in the Keys. Read on for a guide to where to stay, what to do, and where to eat along the way. MIAMI If you’re flying into Miami, I recommend spending at least one night on South Beach. There’s a wide range of accommodations - the Fontainebleau Miami Beach (starting at $350) or the The Setai (starting at $530) are good places to spot A-list celebrities. But if you’re craving something a little more lowkey (this is Budget Travel, after all), book a room at Miami’s favorite hostel The Broken Shaker (starting under $30 a night for a shared room) or the Selina Miami (starting at $75) that’s tucked away in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. If you’re just driving through Miami and only have a few hours to spare, find a parking garage (street parking is notoriously hard to find), and stroll down Ocean Drive. Rent a bike, watch the bodybuilders, or snap a picture in front of one of the unique lifeguard stands For the full Miami experience, book a table at one of the many restaurants along Ocean Drive like the South Beach incon, A Fish Called Avalon ($$$). For something a little more understated, check out one of my favorite restaurants near Lincoln Road mall, Taqueria Bodega ($$). The tacos are authentic and the sodas are homemade. For a real treat, use the “secret door” in the back to enjoy a hidden after hours lounge. Big brown pelicans in the Florida Keys. ©romrodinka/Getty Images KEY LARGO Once you leave the neon lights of Miami, things slow down considerably. The keys have a laid back, hippie vibe that thumbs its nose at its northern neighbor. Located about 70 miles from Miami, Key Largo is the largest section of the keys and a gateway to the rest of the Florida Keys. You won’t find any highrises in Key Largo, but you’ll find a lot of RV campsites, kitschy souvenir shops, and billboards advertising a chance to feed alligators. Accommodations range from quiet luxury to bare bones. Check out the Playa Largo Resort and Spa (starting at $219) where you can lounge in a hammock on the white sand beach and order drinks from the poolside bar. But for something a little more off the beaten path, check into any one of the condos, airbnbs, or smaller hotels along the main highway like the Coconut Palm Inn (starting at $159). Key Largo is also home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park, which is great for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. Because of its small beach area, John Pennekamp is more suited for activities, so if you’re looking for a beach with a more sandy area to lay out on, try nearby Cannon Beach or Far Beach. Big Betsy the Giant Lobster is a featured roadside attraction in Islamorada. ISLAMORADA From Key Largo head south on US Highway 1 for about 17 miles to Islamorada. The area, named by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, means “Purple Isle.” And although it’s only 20 miles long, there’s still plenty to do. For a quick bite, stop by the food truck Taco Jalisco. Locals love the Mexican eatery, and you can order tacos and hang out next door in the Florida Keys Brewing Company beer garden and listen to live music. Across the street is Morada Bay, an open air restaurant directly facing the Florida bay. You can order from the more casual beach cafe side or eat the upscale Pierre’s Lounge. Either way, enjoy a stunning sunset while sipping a Key Lime Colada or Cucumber Martini. We highly recommend the Key Lime Colada - it's a must-have. Stop in Islamorada at the Rain Barrel Artist's Village for some local handmade crafts and boutiques. You'll know you've found it when you see Betsy the Giant Lobster out front. Another must see attraction in Islamorada is Robbie’s. The marina is a hub for water activities like parasailing, jet skiing, and paddle boarding, but the main attraction is feeding the tarpon. Walk through the vibrant open air marketplace to the back of the marina, and after paying the $2.25 admission, you can buy a $4.00 bucket of fish to feed the monster tarpon that can grow up to 8 feet long. After the adrenaline rush of Robbies, settled in for the 30 mile drive to Marathon. MARATHON The road between Islamorada and Marathon is lined with iconic stilt houses, nature trails, and some of the best beaches in Florida. In Marathon, get your swimsuits and cameras ready. I recommended visiting Bahia Honda State Park. There's a $8 per vehicle entry fee (plus a county surcharge), but the views are priceless. Step onto the fine white sand, and wade out into the crystalline waters or take the short hike up the beach trail and snap pictures off the Old Bahia Honda Bridge that was built in the 1900s. Other nearby beaches to check out are Sombrero or Cocoplum Beach. After splashing around, it’s time for the final stretch to Key West, just 50 miles away. Watch the sunset from Mallory Square. Photo by Laura Brown. KEY WEST One of the most spectacular views of the road trip is driving over the famous 7 mile bridge that starts in Knights Key in Marathon and ends in Little Duck Key. The commute feels like you’re driving across the ocean, and on a sunny day the sun glitters off the turquoise waters, making it hard to look away. If you need a jolt of caffeine, head over to the Cuban Coffee Queen. There are several locations, but if you want to announce your arrival to your Instagram followers with a picture in front of the “Greetings From Key West” mural, be sure to visit the Margaret street location (284 Margaret St). Once you reach Key West, head straight to the “90 miles to Cuba” buoy. The marker is a huge attraction, and lines can get long. If it’s your first time in the Keys, it’s worth getting a photo. Don’t let the long lines dissuade you - there’s always something to keep you entertained. People in Key West are talkative and friendly, and you can buy fresh coconut water or shaved ice from one of the street vendors while you wait. Besides you’re now on Key West time, which means everything is a little slower. Key West is made for walking, but there are several ways to get around town. I recommend parking in a lot for the day and then either renting a scooter or golf cart. Not ready to brave the roads? Hop onto the Duval Loop, a free public bus that will take you around downtown Key West. Make sure you catch a sunset from Mallory Square. You can also tour Ernest Hemingway's Key West house, known for its famous 6-toed cats. If it’s your first time in Key West, it’s worth it to check out some of the well known establishments like Blue Heaven restaurant or the famous Sloppy Joes and Hog’s Breath Saloon bars. But if you want something different, check out restaurants like Santiago’s Bodega, Mo’s Restaurant, El Siboney, or Bad Boy Burrito. Some lively options for bars include Tiki House, The Rum Bar. or Captain Tony’s Saloon. It’s not a trip to Key West without some Key Lime pie. While there are many places that claim to serve the best pie, you can’t go wrong with these three: The Key Lime Pie Company, Key Lime Pie Bakery, or Kermit's Key Lime Shop. My advice? At the end of a long day of exploring Key West, pick the closest one and enjoy a cool, tart slice of pie in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Explore the giant fortress at Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo by Laura Brown. DRY TORTUGAS Key West offers a launch point for people who would like to experience one of America's most remote National Parks. Dry Tortugas National Park is located 70 miles west of Key West, and can only be accessed by boat or sea plane, both of which leave from Key West and can be booked at https://www.drytortugas.com/. Those who make the trip to Dry Tortugas will get a day of exploring an old brick coastal fortress in Fort Jefferson, or snorkel the protected coral reefs. For an additional fee, you can camp overnight at Fort Jefferson, which offers some of the best stargazing options on the East Coast. You'll see several shipwrecks from old boats that hit the reefs, and get a new appreciation for the people who lived and worked in the Florida Keys.
10 insider tips for visiting Yellowstone
Yellowstone, America’s first national park is big — 2.2 million-acres big. In addition to its size, Yellowstone divides into distinctly different regions and habitats that include geysers, fumaroles, and other geothermal features plus a canyon, a lake, and a series of limestone terraces as well as an abundance of roaming wildlife. With such vastness and variety, the park can be overwhelming. To make the most of your Yellowstone visit, follow these insider tips. 1. See Old Faithful in the early morning or in the evening. Almost everyone who enters the park heads to Old Faithful. For a more intimate experience, explore the Upper Geyser Basin in the early morning before the day visitors arrive or in the late afternoon after they leave. 2. Visit Yellowstone Lake in the afternoon. While the day visitors view Old Faithful and the surrounding area, head to 136-square-mile Yellowstone Lake, the largest in the park. Consider signing up for a guided boat tour or rent a boat on your own. 3. Take a hike. Don’t just see Yellowstone’s wonders through your car window. Walking even a ½ mile on a boardwalk or trail offers you a more complete sense of Yellowstone’s features and landscape. 4. Look for wildlife at the right times. Your best chance of spotting the park’s legendary bison as well as other critters is in the early morning or evening. 5. Explore Lamar Valley. Often less-visited than other areas, Lamar Valley’s habitat draws wildlife and the open vistas create optimum viewing conditions. You may see elk, bear, coyote, bighorn sheep, and eagles, especially if you arrive early. Consider booking the park’s early-morning Wake Up to Wildlife Tour. 6. Stop at the Visitor Centers. Each facility presents educational exhibits that focus on their region of the park. While at the centers, check for the ranger programs. 7. Look at the stars. Go outside after dark. Walk 100 yards from your lodge or drive a short distance to a turnout, then park, scan the lot for wildlife and if none is present, exit your car to look up at the dazzling display of stars. With little light pollution, the night sky is a wonder. 8. Carry a flashlight at night. Since the park keeps the outdoor lighting soft, bring a flashlight for comfort, especially when traveling with young children. 9. Bring binoculars. Stay a safe distance from the wildlife. If you want to see what a bison or elk looks like up close, view them through your binoculars. 10. Pack for multiple seasons. Even in summer low temperatures at night can hover near freezing and daytime highs shoot into the 80s. Pack layers. For more information and reservations, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311. For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
7 best US national parks to take your kids
Trying to plan a family vacation in a national park can feel overwhelming. With 62 official parks in the US and counting, there are simply too many options to go down the list, one-by-one, and tick off the best options for kids. To help narrow it down, here are our top picks for family-friendly trips in some of America’s most treasured national parks. With towering trees, colorful badlands, rocky tide pools, and epic wildlife sightings, there’s something for even the pickiest city kid on this list. Death Valley is a great place for outdoorsy families to find some sun in the winter © Armin Adams / Getty Images Death Valley When to visit: Spring, fall, winter Best for: Hiking, rock scrambling, wild west history, scenic drives, car camping Whenever you read about Death Valley, you’ll often find it described as a park of superlatives. It’s the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. It’s also the largest national park outside of Alaska by over a million acres, which means it’s a massive desert wonderland for families to explore. Most of the top attractions, though, like Badwater Basin, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Devil’s Golf Course, Zabriskie Point and Artist’s Palette, are only a short hike from the car, and many are stroller-accessible. Furnace Creek is the main hub for lodging and food in Death Valley, with several park campgrounds and hotels like The Inn at Death Valley, The Oasis at Death Valley, and The Ranch at Death Valley, all of which have swimming pools for those scorching shoulder season visits. The best time to go to Death Valley is typically the “off season” for other parks – winter – meaning it’s a wonderful option for outdoorsy families looking to escape the snow and go on a road trip! You might also like: US national parks: how to see the best of 5 epic parks in one day each Sequoia When to visit: Summer, fall Best for: Big trees, hiking, backpacking, car camping Kids will feel like they’ve entered into Jurassic Park when they gaze up, awestruck, at the giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park. This park is all about big mountains and forest bathing, and the Parks Service has done an excellent job to making the big trees as easy-to-reach and family-friendly as possible. Take Generals Highway up from Three Rivers, then look for deer and black bears on the accessible Big Trees Trail, which circles Round Meadow. Afterwards, soak up some history and learn about the park’s flora and fauna at the Giant Forest Museum before heading off to see the General Sherman Tree. Looking to take the family on a backpacking trip? Sequoia National Park has several great treks up to stunning vistas with water sources that are under 7 miles each way. There are also seven park campgrounds for those looking to car camp, plus several more in neighboring Kings Canyon. If you’re not into roughing it, The Wuksachi Lodge, located inside the park, is dog friendly and offers a full-service restaurant. For interesting wildlife and beach camping, head to the Everglades © Stefanie Grewel / Getty Images Everglades When to visit: Spring, fall, winter Best for: Wildlife viewing, boat tours, beach camping, car camping Because they’re located on the southernmost tip of Florida, the Everglades stay warm and tropical year-round, making them a prime spot for snowbirds looking to escape the frigid winter up north. Kids will love the guided airboat safaris that help visitors spot native birds and cruise right up to the park’s most notorious resident – the alligator. Stick around after the boat ride to catch a wildlife show, included with your ticket. Everglades National Park offers two drive-in campgrounds for car camping and multiple backcountry tent sites, though families looking for epic beach access, a restaurant, and a pool will want to rent a car and stay in nearby Miami, which is only a one-hour drive from the park. Yellowstone When to visit: Summer, fall Best for: Geyser gazing, wildlife viewing, car camping, hiking Imagine the look on your child’s face the first time they see the face of a 2,000-pound bison walking alongside the car. That’s the magic of Yellowstone National Park. There’s wildlife galore, ample lodging options, and many top sights require only a short stroll to reach. The multi-use trail that circumnavigates Yellowstone’s infamous Geyser Basin and Old Faithful is fully accessible for those with strollers or mobility issues and is a must see for any first-time visitor. As for lodging, Yellowstone has got you covered. With nine hotel/cabin facilities and twelve campgrounds located inside the park itself, there’s something to suit everyone’s needs. We love the historic Old Faithful Inn, finished in 1904, which features live music, a full-service restaurant, and easy access to the park’s celebrity geysers. You might also like: National Parks: 11 ways to be sustainable in Yellowstone Acadia National Park has a great Jr. Ranger program and plenty of family-friendly hikes © Jerry Monkman / Getty Images Acadia When to visit: Summer, fall Best for: Tide pools, scenic drives, fall foliage, hiking, biking, car camping With one of the most unique Junior Ranger programs in the U.S. park system, Acadia is a fantastic place to bring ocean-loving little ones. Hop onto a ranger-guided boat cruise, search for seals, and touch real sea life brought up from the water below, then head to the Carroll Homestead for pioneer games and an official Junior Ranger booklet and badge. Looking to expend some energy? Acadia also has 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of historic carriage roads, suitable for biking or those with strollers. As for accommodations, Acadia offers three NPS campgrounds that book up far in advance during summer months and fall weekends. For hotels, check out nearby Bar Harbor, with options galore, many of which have heated swimming pools and a spa to pamper tired parents. Grand Canyon When to visit: Spring, fall Best for: Scenic drives, hiking, backpacking, car camping The Grand Canyon is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list family road trips that should be on everyone’s radar. The park features one of the most robust paved trails in the entire park system, the 13-mile accessible South Rim Trail, which is virtually flat and perfect for strollers and kids of all ages. Start at the Bright Angel Lodge and continue onto the interpretive Trail of Time, where children can touch samples of rocks and learn about the unique geology of the area. Families who don’t want to hike out and back can hop onto a shuttle bus at the end of the journey and ride it back to the lodge. Horseback riding and mule tours are also a great way to explore the rich history of the canyon. Though backpacking down to the Colorado River is rated as strenuous and not suitable for small kids, Grand Canyon National Park offers three car-friendly campgrounds, two of which can be reserved in advance. Those looking to splurge on a full-service hotel within the park’s boundaries will want to book early and check out the historic Bright Angel Lodge or the panoramic views at the El Tovar Hotel. You might also like: The Grand Canyon: how to get the most from a short trip Carlsbad Caverns When to visit: Year-round Best for: Caving, bat viewing, short hikes Crawl, hike, and shimmy through spectacular, underground rock cathedrals at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With cave tours (open to ages 4 and up) spanning anywhere from one to five hours, there’s adventure to suit everyone’s attention span and ability level here. Stick around for sunset for a real treat, though. Every evening during the summer, thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats soar out of the mouth of the cave at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s a breathtaking natural wonder, and a ranger-lead talk helps explain this unique wildlife phenomenon to visitors of all ages. Though only primitive, backcountry camping is available within the park’s boundaries, nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico offers plentiful kid-friendly hotel options, many of which have a pool and free breakfast buffet.
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