With Earth Day celebrated this week, the environment—and our role in protecting it—are top of mind as we plan summer family vacations. Inspired by Earth Day Network’s appeal for Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, the “most biologically diverse place in the world,” why not start by getting to know our own national parks?
America’s 58 national parks are found from sea to shining sea, and when you include all the national park service properties, the count nears 400. To narrow down this list, I asked some of the country’s most adventurous family travel writers to recommend national parks to visit this year:
Acadia – Maine – “My kids were fascinated by mussels and other sea life that normally live beneath the surface…Acadia has stunning ocean views, small mountains to climb, and the Jordan Pond House restaurant where you can dine on tea and popovers out on the lawn enjoying a fabulous view.” Terri Weeks, Maine – Acadia National Park
Gulf Islands – Florida and Mississippi – “Offers miles of beautiful beaches to build sand castles and splash in the waves, campsites, hiking trails and more. There are a number of ranger-led programs that include activities like star gazing, guided walks under a full moon, and bird walks.” Jennifer Douma Close, Gulf Islands National Seashore
Mount Rainier – Washington – “Mt. Rainier is a must-see for any nature lover. Where else can you stand on an active volcano, have a snowball fight in shorts and watch a waterfall coming off of a glacier all in one spot?” Keryn Means, Save the Meadow: Mt. Rainier Conservation Efforts
Olympic – Washington – “The Hoh rainforest and Lake Quinault are spectacular and the beaches on the Olympic National Park coast are wild. But why vacation in Olympic National Park this year, in particular? Well, fans of Bella and Edward will appreciate Twilight tours to Forks, First Beach, and other spots from the books and movies. The last Twilight movie comes out in the fall of 2012, so you know these tours are going to be more popular than ever this summer!” Jen Miner, www.TheVacationGals.com
Devil’s Tower – Wyoming – “It is really one of the most awesome natural sights there is – towers of stone, straight from the earth – attract nature lovers and supernatural enthusiasts alike. (Close Encounters of the Third Kind was filmed here.)” Jody Halsted, FamilyRambling.com
Death Valley – California, Nevada – “Offers creative families the opportunity for a scrapbook full of record-breaking photo ops… While in the northern part of the park, visit Ubehebe Crater, the site of a volcanic eruption. In the news recently, the site has recently been determined by scientists to have been active more recently than previously thought, and may still be active.” Sheri Wallace, Death Valley – Road Trip for the Record Books
Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon – California – “Their unique landscape of giant trees, caves, waterfalls, massive mountains, deep canyons and plenty of hiking trails will ensure there is something for everyone in the family. Where else can you drive or walk through the biggest and oldest trees on the planet?” Mary, King’s Canyon National Park with kids
Yosemite – California – features “jaw-dropping beauty, with sheer cliffs, beautiful valleys, waterfalls, hikes for all abilities, animals (bears!) and tons to do with kids in every season.” Debbie Abrams Kaplan, Yosemite – with Kids – in Winter
Yellowstone – Wyoming, Montana, Idaho – It’s a short backpacking trip to a “private Eden – where we dined on wild berries and played in the pool at the base of a little waterfall.” Sandra Foyt, Backpacking with Kids in Yellowstone National Park
Grand Canyon – Arizona – “it brought tears to my eyes to witness my children – my TV-addicted, blasé, here-mom-goes-again children – rendered speechless upon first viewing the Grand Canyon.” Kara Williams, Family Travel Adventures by Disney – Grand Canyon National Park
Take a moment this week to appreciate a national park near you; and remember that the land you treasure today may be the sanctuary you seek tomorrow.