Inspired by the National Parks Service’s new “Every Kid in a Park” initiative that grants free access to parks nationwide for every fourth-grader in America, we share our picks for the best natural wonders around for every family.
Acadia National Park [Bar Harbor, ME]
Best for Families looking for a National Park–like experience, with a budding naturalist or two in tow.
The crown jewel of Maine’s sprawling parks system is one of the best places in America to catch glimpses of playful seals while fishing, hiking, and kayaking along the craggy Bar Harbor coast. After a day spent splashing through ponds and rivers, locating native salamanders and turtles, you can return to civilization and a hot meal in Bar Harbor, which is just a 10-minute drive away.
Everglades National Park [Naples, FL]
Best for The animal lover who enjoys getting a little dirty while tiptoeing by alligators.
The Everglades are home to everything from gentle manatees and fearsome alligators to millions of acres of saltwater marshes, cypress groves, and estuaries. To take in the best of it, pile into a kayak or canoe and cross Nine Mile Pond for a four- to five-hour trek home to more wildlife than you can shake a paddle at. Ditch the canoe and hit the Slough Slog at Shark River Slough to plow through mud and sawgrass, with a park ranger introducing you to every species you’ll find on the way.
Where to Stay Edgewater Beach Hotel
Adirondack Park [Lake George, NY]
Best for The family of water bugs who wants nothing more than to spend the day splashing, swimming, and paddling through some stunning Adirondacks vistas.
At 6.1-million acres, this park boasts more than 10,000 crystal-clear waterways and gorgeous old-growth forests climbing the local peaks. The mountains are famous, but the elevated lakes are an attraction well worth exploring, with boating and waterskiing topping the list at gems like the mountain-rimmed Paradox Lake. For variety, take the kids to one of the charming Adirondacks hamlet of Old Forge, which is home to the huge and well-loved Enchanted Forest Water Safari.
Where to Stay The Sagamore Resort
Dry Tortugas [Key West, FL]
Best for The explorer who can spend an entire day digging, searching, and diving in a place few of their friends will ever get the chance to visit.
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, this island treasure 70 miles west of Key West offers an amazing day trip by either means. With nineteenth-century Fort Jefferson that circles an island rimmed by stunning coral reefs, snorkeling opportunities, and the Tortugas’ droves of seabirds, a trip across Dry Tortugas affords the opportunity to build sand castles on gorgeous white sand beaches among masked gannets and rare terns. Pack a snorkel and access secluded reefs that teem with fish, turtles, and hermit crabs.
Big Cypress [Naples, FL]
Best for The plant and animal buff who appreciates the opportunity to locate rare and unusual flora and fauna.
Home to rare natural treasures, including the elusive ghost orchid, the critically endangered West Island manatee, and the agile Florida panther, Big Cypress offers wildlife you simply can’t find in the nearby Everglades. What makes the park a true standout is constantly changing landscape, meaning you can muck around in a swamp, sight snakes in the dry northern prairie, and gaze up at cypress hammocks in one daylong trek. The guided park ranger tour through the permanent art installations, boardwalks, and wildlife affords the ideal opportunity to take in the best of Big Cypress in an afternoon.
Where to Stay Edgewater Beach Resort