Family Trips to National Parks: More Than Just a Vacation

When my husband Bryan and I first started exploring the idea of taking our children to national parks in 2016, we were surprised we could not find podcasts on the topic. As podcasts had often been a main source of preparation for our travel, we decided to create the podcast we were looking for. The goal of Everybody’s National Parks podcast is to inspire and empower families to visit the national parks, and I look forward to inspiring you here too.

Family trip to the Grand Canyon/Photo courtesy of Danielle Jacobs-Erwin

I first became interested in America’s national parks after traveling all around Madagascar, visiting its national parks and learning about the culture and environment while in the Peace Corps. When I returned home, I couldn’t wait to explore the parks in my own country. Bryan and I visited the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Redwood, and Olympic National Park upon my return. 

When our kids were little, and we were living in Washington, D.C, we visited Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia. Our children loved doing their first junior ranger booklet and were proud to earn a junior ranger badge at Richmond National Battlefield Park. Once they were old enough to hike on their own, we were excited to start exploring more parks with them. They have now been to nine of the big national parks, with many repeat visits to Shenandoah and two visits to the Smokies. They have also been to 49 National Park Service units. They can recount last-minute changes in plans, too many “remember when that crazy thing happened” stories, and they can also tell you their favorite activities and something they learned from the rangers at every park. They both say they want to become park rangers when they grow up. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll quickly discover that they also love telling park and nature-themed jokes.

Hiking Saguaro National Park with grandparents/Photo courtesy of Danielle Jacobs-Erwin

We were honored to have Ken Burns on our podcast last year for the tenth anniversary of his acclaimed documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. We had such an amazing conversation with him. Ken said, “it matters…[that you] get to Yosemite or to Shenandoah or to the rim of the Grand Canyon… the grandest canyon on Earth… it also equally matters whose hand you’re holding and who you are forming very human experiences and memories with. And if people… go and see these places, which is their inheritance, they will then be able to protect them as we go forward.” Our kids will always remember these family trips together, and we will too.


Family time at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park/Photo courtesy of Danielle Jacobs-Erwin

While visiting the parks with children is a lot different than an all adult trip, the experiences, memories, and chance to take in national parks through a child’s eyes are immeasurable. It can be intimidating to plan a family trip to a national park, but I look forward to sharing many lessons learned. Every family is different, but typically families have some similar limitations: time, money, and the concern of “what can my kids handle.” One of our biggest tips from our travels so far: less is more. You may have a wish list, but if you try to do everything, everyone will end up cranky. As the Hello Ranger Family Ambassador, I will share tips, recommendations, insights, and adventures with you. We look forward to hearing about your family adventures, too.

Header photo: Junior rangers at Shenandoah National Parks/Courtesy of Danielle Jacobs-Erwin

Danielle Jacobs-Erwin, along with my husband Bryan and their two junior rangers, host Everybody’s National Parks, an audio guide podcast promoting family adventure in national parks. “It’s like having a ranger in your pocket.”


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