Having spent the past two years traveling with our family to hit more than twenty-five National Park Service sites, while working and going to school full time, we decided to make each visit an adventure. Not only did we start the quest for Junior Ranger badges (which every family should!), but we also started looking into unique experiences that could be had at the various park sites we would visit. Here are a few ideas for your family that are quite safe, but may be a little out of the box, to plan for on your future park adventures!
Kids (and most adults!) anywhere love to hop on a sled and enjoy the ride. Why should being inside a National Park or Monument be any different? Of course, you will need to check on restrictions for most parks, but with larger park units, you should be able to locate a nice spot to slide down a hill. We have gone snow sledding many times in Yellowstone, and in fact we bring them along with us on winter hikes to pull tired kiddos back to the car. But what about summer? Did you know you can SAND sled at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and at White Sands National Monument? We’ve done both, and they both offer a unique style of sledding. Sled rentals are located right at or in the parks for sand sledding. As for snow sledding, just be sure to throw in your sled before you leave home!
If your kids are “fish” like ours are, you may want to look into swimming at parks that have water available. Whether it is jumping in a chilly spring-fed lake or where the Boiling River meets the Gardner, we’ve tried many places in the parks to take a dip! By far our favorite swims are at the end of the Boiling River Trail and the Firehole River Swim Area in Yellowstone. But we have also dipped our legs in Jenny Lake in the Tetons (ICE cold), and splashed in the Medano River at the Great Sand Dunes. How about a jump in Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore? We’ve done that, too! As you can see, there are plenty of places to get wet, as long as you stick to the legal and safe locations designated by the park.
Since we are avid photographers and videographers, we have started our own kids down that path early, using waterproof and shockproof cameras to start. Did you know that kids who learn to take pictures will show more interest in nature and see more amazing sites than a kid who is buried behind his tablet in the car? Skip the cheap kid play versions of cameras and find refurbished gems like our Nikon COOLPIX S33 for less than $80. We’ve used this camera at four different sand dunes locations, as well as dropped it in the parking lot at Wind Cave National Park, and this beast is still going strong. Our older son graduated to his own video camera, a Sony Handycam that can also take quality still photos. Both of our kids love to carry them, and we have even used some of their captures on our website, Instagram, and YouTube channel!
Perhaps one of your best resources for finding things to do at the parks is to visit their respective websites through www.nps.gov. Go to the Plan Your Visit tab and then find Things to Do. Hiking and camping can be exciting for families in many ways, but if you want to get off the beaten path and do something unique, consider looking into some of the adventures we listed above!
About the Author: Nature Tech Family (@NatureTechFam) is a family of 4 that tries to inspire today’s tech-driven families to get outside more, and teaches how to use both old and new technologies to enjoy the outdoors together. Tom grew up in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and Kari was raised in the wetlands of mid-Michigan. Their love for the outdoors led them to become leaders in various wilderness schools, camps, and groups, promoting survival skills and nature training to help people feel more comfortable outside. When they started a family, they knew that being outside and seeing special places like America’s National Parks was going to be a pivotal part of their children’s upbringing. As a family they try to experience special and unique adventures to show families that if they can do it, so can anyone!
They started their blog and YouTube channel in 2015 as a means to share with others their combined 30+ years of wilderness training and experiences. Their posts and videos focus on family adventures and the gear or tools that can supplement family camping, hiking, and travel. They also hope to provide an inside look at wild animals and nature through their photography. In the end, they attempt to inspire everyone to “get up, get out, and go have an adventure!”