Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spots for kids to hike: national, state parks

National parks typically boast the region’s most stunning sights. Unfortunately, they can be crowded, and unless you live right next to one, it’s going to be a long drive. That may be fine for teenagers but may not be worth it for younger kids when you’ll spend more time on the road than the trail. In addition, long drives probably mean you’ll be staying overnight, often an expensive proposition.

If living near a national park or traveling cross country, by all means stop and hike through it. There will be a great variety of trails to choose from, and the scenery will make them highly memorable.

You’ll also need to pay an entry fee for national parks. If you plan to hike national parks regularly, you should consider purchasing a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which will get a noncommercial vehicle plus passholder and three passengers into any national park for less than $100 a year. Even less expensive versions of the pass are available for senior citizens, the disabled and National Park volunteers.

State parks sometimes are a little less scenic than national parks but still offer a variety of beautiful sights and a great adventure for kids. They’re also a lot closer than most national parks, meaning shorter drives and little need to stay overnight. You usually will have to pay a fee to enter or park your vehicle.

Such activities make a memorable end to a day hike. To keep kid’s enthusiasm charged, “review” the hike in kid-friendly ways. While you really can’t do this with infants, most toddlers and older kids will enjoy it.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.