The Best Restaurants in Grand Lake CO

The Best Restaurants in Grand Lake CO

These are our family favorite restaurants in Grand Lake CO. Stop in and enjoy!

Are you planning a vacation to Grand Lake, Colorado? Click here for some awesome things to do in Grand Lake. Also if so, well then you need to eat well!

Grand Lake is a gem of a mountain town just west of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s no secret it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I love that it’s not the ski-resort type but a more of an old-fashioned, super-friendly, nature-loving town.

I’ve visited Grand Lake almost every summer since I was 8 years old. Now, I’m not going to tell you how old I am right now, but that’s enough to consider it a second home! Also, that means I’ve been to a LOT of restaurants in the area.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

The best family-friendly restaurants in Grand Lake CO. Grand Lake Restaurants you'll love! #grandlakecolorado #grandlake

My favorite Grand Lake restaurants

Restaurants, coffee shops, and good places to eat.

Breakfast / Brunch Restaurants in Grand Lake, Colorado

1. Fat Cat Cafe

Location: Inside Pancho and Lefty’s, 1120 Grand Ave, Grand Lake, CO

Food: Scottish/American breakfast/brunch/desserts

Options: Gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb

Fat Cat Cafe is my absolute favorite place to eat in Grand Lake CO. #fatcatcafe #grandlakeco

Now we have come to what is most definitely my favorite place to eat in Grand Lake, Colorado. Don’t question, just plan on making a visit to this fabulous cat-loving establishment. Why, you may ask. Well…

Can I say the absolute best homemade sausage I’ve ever tasted? Banana cream pie? Scotch eggs? Victoria sponge. Oh, yes.

The first time I ate at the Fat Cat Cafe I was immediately blown away by how good the breakfast sausage was. I had a simple sausage and eggs breakfast that came with a small cinnamon roll on the side, and I still remember it with fondness as one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Fat Cat Cafe, Grand Lake restaurants #grandlakeco #grandlakerestaurants

Fat Cat Cafe weekend brunch

The second time I experienced the Fat Cat Cafe, it was for their weekend brunch. And oh let me tell you, what an all you can eat brunch! This was before I ate keto, and so I tried just about everything.

The brunch has all the traditional breakfast foods, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. Then of course there’s fruit and ALL the homemade pies and pastries. My favorite discovery (aside from the awesome sausage I already knew about) was the banana cream pie.

Sausages at Fat Cat Cafe, Restaurants in Grand Lake CO #grandlakeco #grandlake

Now, the owner makes other pies too, mostly cream pies, but the banana cream is really to die for. I spoke with the baker, who told me she actually doesn’t use any extra sugar in the banana cream pie, but uses the good very ripe bananas and their natural sugars to sweeten it.

I could talk about the the brunch all day long, but you really should experience it for yourself. Plan not to hurry but to enjoy your meal and company. This is one place I really do splurge and don’t regret it a bit!

2. Blue Water Bakery

Location: 928 Grand Ave. Grand Lake, CO

Food: American, breakfast, lunch, coffee, pastries

Options: Gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb, vegetarian

The Blue Water Bakery is a fun place to grab a coffee and breakfast or a great salad for lunch. It has a charm all it’s own with comfortable seating inside and outside, and even it’s own garage door that’s left open in nice weather.

Usually I like to visit the bakery in the morning on one day of our visit to Grand Lake. Generally, it’s for a late breakfast and coffee then stroll along the lake front. The bakery’s often quite crowded at peak times, but I’ve always had good friendly service.

Take a seat outside with a view of the lake and sip your coffee. Alternatively, enjoy a meal and have a spirited discussion with a friend over the best fishing spots in the area. I like this place for the easy in-town location, yet close to the lake, service with character, and good food.

Boy by Grand Lake Colorado #grandlakeco #familytravel

3. The Wake Coffee Shop

Location: 1146 Lake Ave, Grand Lake, CO

Food: American, breakfast, lunch, coffee, pastries

Options: Gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb, vegetarian

Extras: Free Wifi, next to the Grand Lake Marina

Why include a coffee shop in my list of favorite restaurants in Grand Lake CO? Well, why not? The Wake Coffee Shop is small and cozy, but let me tell you why I love to go there.

For one, they are located just next to Lemmon Lodge (where we like to stay) by the Grand Lake Marina. Therefore, super-easy access, and yes, the all important free Wifi.

You may be surprised, in this mountain town, Wifi and even good cell phone service, are not in every cabin, hotel, restaurant, and hiking trail. In my opinion, that is one of the many charms of the area. However, there are times when I really need Wifi to get something done.

Therefore, I get a child and another adult family member set on an hour kayaking rental to explore the edge of the lake. Then, I take a seat in the Wake near the window to keep an eye out for them, or in one of the cozy chairs.

Grab a coffee or one of their popular breakfast burritos or a more low carb option, and I’m set to get some work done. Or have a good conversation with my grandmother or friend. There are many options.

4. Grand Lake Lodge – Huntington House Tavern

(Sunday brunch or lunch/dinner)

Location: 15500 US-34, Grand Lake, CO

Food: American, breakfast, lunch, steakhouse dinner

Options: Gluten-free, dairy-free, works well with food allergies

Extras: Amazing views overlooking Grand Lake, wheel-chair accessible

Grand Lake Lodge for brunch. Best restaurants in Grand Lake CO. #grandlakelodge #grandlakeco

When we visit Grand Lake, especially as a family group, I like to make it up to Grand Lake Lodge for a meal. It’s located up the mountain overlooking Grand Lake with beautiful pine trees and flowers to frame the fabulous views.

Usually, you’ll see some antique cars parked in the lot, and there are often car shows to check out. It’s rustic and charming, and on the National Register for Historic Places. You’ll enjoy a stroll around the deck, and maybe venture down to the chapel area for weddings and Sunday morning services.

We don’t stay at the Lodge but like to have breakfast, especially the Sunday brunch, or a steak dinner. It’s also a great place to wander around and take a family photo or two. In addition, there’s usually free coffee so enjoy your coffee and a view!

My free coffee and a view at Grand Lake Lodge #grandlakerestaurants #grandlakeco

Are you ready to explore MORE Colorado?

Looking for the perfect Colorado Family Vacation? Travel with kids to parks and fun all over the state. #familytravel #coloradovacations #familyvacations #explorermomma

Lunch / Dinner Restaurants in Grand Lake CO

As far as lunch and dinner options go, I’ve already mentioned the Fat Cat Cafe (go there!) and Grand Lake Lodge. Here are some other options I’d rank pretty high on the list of best places to eat in Grand Lake.

5. Miyauchi’s Snack Bar

Location: 1029 Lake Ave, Grand Lake, CO

Food: American, burgers, fries, ice cream

Options: General fast food options

Extras: Outdoor seating (only), lakeside view

Snack bar on the beach, Grand Lake, CO #grandlake #coloradotourism

Miyauchi’s Snack Bar is an iconic destination in Grand Lake. The sign with the ice cream cone on blue background is a beacon to those who love the mountain town.

As a kid, I remember loving Miyauchi’s. The moment we got into town I would beg to go get my favorite twist cone dipped in chocolate. So good and super-messy!

Lately, I like to visit Miyauchi’s for a burger dinner before a walk by the lake. I go for a no-bun, extra lettuce option, and everyone else loves the burgers, fries, and one of the many ice cream flavors. Even if you don’t eat a full meal there, the ice cream is hugely popular with kids and tourists.

Note: There are nuts in the ice cream so any allergies should check when ordering. My gal with a nut allergy has to opt for the soft-serve.

6. Sagebrush BBQ & Grill

Location: 1101 Grand Ave, Grand Lake, CO

Food: American, BBQ, burgers, etc.

Options: Gluten-free, low carb

Extras: Buckets of peanuts on the table

Dinner is always fun at the Sagebrush BBQ & Grill, restaurants in Grand Lake CO. #grandlakeco #grandlakecolorado

Who loves BBQ?! Ask that in my family and you’ll see just about all hands raised and ready to go. My son affectionately calls this place, “The restaurant where you can throw peanut shells on the floor!”

Indeed, throwing peanut shells on the floor and looking around with a sneaky smile could occupy him for hours. It’s the perfect way for Mom and Dad and friends to enjoy a good meal and an actual conversation!

Great Grand Lake Restaurants include the Sagebrush BBQ & Grill #grandlakerestaurants #grandlakeco

The Sagebrush BBQ & Grill is a restaurant in Grand Lake CO with many options, not just BBQ. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the pulled pork or brisket. There are also burgers, trout, panini sandwiches, salmon, fettuccini Alfredo, and a lot more!

They also have a gluten-free menu so be sure to ask for it if you had need.

7. Grand Pizza

Location: 1131 Grand Ave, Grand Lake, CO

Food: Italian, American, pizza, calzones, panini sandwiches, salads, etc.

Options: Vegetarian, gluten-free, low carb (salad)

Extras: Located on the Grand Lake boardwalk

For those looking for a great family-friendly restaurant, Grand Pizza is always popular with guests. If the kids are requesting pizza, give this Grand Lake Restaurant a try!

Personally, I love that they have gluten-free pizza crust, and quite a few interesting salad options. They have a good kid’s menu, and can you believe, 34 pizza toppings to choose from. Just look for the sign with the moose tossing the pizza dough!

8. Fish Fry!

Last but not least is not a restaurant at all! Because it is one of our regular meals while in Grand Lake, I had to include it.

If you do some fishing, hopefully you’ll get a few trout from the lake. As my son likes to say, keep one for Daddy to eat and let the others go free and in the wild! Keep enough trout for your group for an evening fish fry!

Many visitors to Grand Lake like to stay in a cabin. See my article on Things to do in Grand Lake CO for some ideas on how to book a cabin.

One of the many perks in renting a cabin is that you have a kitchen. In addition to snacks or occasional quick meals, why not utilize that kitchen for a fresh trout fish fry? When they come from the clean mountain snow runoff waters of Grand Lake, you’ll rarely taste as good a fresh trout.

Beyond the restaurants in Grand Lake CO

Did you know that Grand Lake is the deepest natural lake in Colorado? In fact, this summer when I was sitting at our favorite fishing spot, a gentleman nearby told me a fascinating story. Is it a fisherman’s legend or a proven fact? I’ve yet to find out, but either way it makes for a fun conversation!

This older fisherman claimed there’s a different sort of creature down in the deepest waters of the lake. A creature one would not normally associate with a mountain lake. What could it be?

Supposedly, fishermen have brought up Kokanee salmon, found deep when ice fishing, with a surprising creature in their stomachs. Inside the Kokanee salmon, people found small shrimp that could only have come from the ocean.

He went on to say that only a deep underwater passage could have brought such a species to our dear lake.

So, is there a deep underwater passage into Grand Lake that could possibly lead to the ocean? Some claim there is. Others are doubtful. I don’t know either way for certain, but I have to say it’s fun to speculate about!

There are so many reasons to absolutely LOVE this mountain town. Cabins, wildlife, hiking, water sports, fishing, and good family time. If you haven’t been, maybe you should!

Tag me in your travel pics on Instagram @explorermomma. I’d love to see them!

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The best family-friendly restaurants in Grand Lake CO. From coffee shops to BBQ, you'll find Grand Lake restaurants to love. #familytravel #coloradovacations #grandlakeco

 

1 Day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary

1 Day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary

Are you planning to visit Mesa Verde National Park or short on time and considering it? Don’t miss this national wonder and immaculate preservation of American history! Follow this family-friendly 1 day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary and love every minute of your self-guided tour.

Mesa Verde National Park was founded in 1906 to preserve the archeological culture and legacy of the Ancestral Pueblo people. I’ve heard many Europeans speak about their medieval castles and state Americans have nothing to compare. Not true!

The Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings are true castles, not built on a solid hilltop but dug out and built inside the sides of a cliff! In fact, the two cowboys that found it and brought it to the attention Wetherill family called it “a magnificent city”. Can you imagine? Two cowboys, minding their own business herding cattle and discover a gigantic cliff dwelling!

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Visit the American cliff castles for yourself with a 1 day Mesa Verde map itinerary. Pressed for time? Follow the map and advice for a fun-filled educational day you won't want to miss. Family vacation or a day trip from Durango, Colorado. #familytravel #mesaverde

Now, to be fair, the Utes knew about the structures before this. However, the cowboys made their “discovery” famous and got more people involved in the excavation and preservation.

In fact, in Mesa Verde National Park, you will see not only cliff dwellings but a progression of homes and religious buildings. The Puebloans lived here for more than 600 years, from around A.D. 600 to around 1300. Take that European castles! (Don’t worry, I love you too!)

Mesa Verde National Park Quick Information

Mesa Verde is one of 4 national parks in the U.S. state of Colorado. They also include Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Location: In the southwestern corner of Colorado, easily accessible from Cortez or Durango, Colorado.

Elevation: 7,000 – 8,500 feet

Safety: The park has rugged terrain with steep cliff dropoffs, deep canyons, and some narrow trails. Stay on the prepared trails and monitor children.

Park Entrance Fees: There is an entrance fee to enter the park, and I suggest you check their website for current rates. If you have a fourth grader traveling with you, find out how to get a free U.S. national parks pass here!

Mesa Verde Tours:

If you visit during summer months, the park is more crowded, but you also have the opportunity to join a group tour. If you have the time and are physically able to walk for a couple of hours and climb ladders, I highly recommend the park-run tours of Cliff Palace and the other dwellings.

Be sure to reserve your spot beforehand or check in immediately at the Visitor’s Center to find out what’s available during your visit. They are various lengths and different levels of difficulty.

The self-guided 1 day Mesa Verde map itinerary below is kid-friendly and accessible for wheelchairs. The stops and short hikes I’ve recommended are mostly paved pathways or wide well-maintained paths.

Where to stay in Mesa Verde:

Camping: Stay in one of the brilliant campsites in the national park at Morefield Campground.

Airbnb: As a family, we love to book places using Airbnb! I like to have more room, a different experience, and our own kitchen to prepare meals. Check for options in and around Durango, Colorado.

When using Airbnb, I always advise you to choose a place with plenty of good ratings. It’s nice to read a few of the past reviews to get a feel for the place. Also, it will help you be able to tell if it’s a good fit for your family.

Coupon BONUS! To get $40 off an Airbnb home booking of $75 or more or $15 off an experience of $50 or more, click on my link here!

Hotels: My kids like to stay in hotels for the exciting experiences of a free morning breakfast buffet and a swimming pool! I always look for hotels with a good swimming pool.

Mesa Verde Map

While you probably won’t be able to see the detail on this map, it will give you an idea of the locations I suggest to visit. Be sure to pick up your own map on your way into the park when you pay the entrance fee and mark it up to your heart’s content.

1 day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary, National Parks map #mesaverde #familytravel

Now, shall we begin the self-guided essential 1-day tour? Yes, please!

1 Day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary

The following plan is meant to be a self-guided tour. It consists of easy, quick stops along the way for families with young kids or those who don’t wish to go on a long hike. Use this as a guide but make it your own day trip. Grab a Mesa Verde map, and if there’s something you want to see along the way I don’t specify, by all means, explore!

1. Mesa Verde National Park Visitor and Research Center

When you enter the park, do take the time to stop in at the visitor’s center. There’s an interesting exhibit, and the rangers are knowledgeable and ready to help. Ask what to do in the current weather conditions, if any trails or sites are closed, that sort of thing.

a. Purchase tour tickets

Here you will purchase any tour tickets you wish to go on run by Mesa Verde National Park. Purchase tickets or find out more information on the guided tours if you have the time and wish to tour the Cliff House or other dwellings. Most take at least a couple of hours so keep that in mind.

b. Sign up for the Mesa Verde Junior Ranger program

I absolutely LOVE the Junior Ranger program, and it’s a perfect fit for kids wanting to learn more about the park. My daughter is a huge fan, completes EVERY activity in EVERY book and is determined to collect as many badges from U.S. national parks as possible.

My son, on the other hand, is not quite as eager but has participated in the program, and we’ve had fun with it together. It also helps keep the adults in the group on their toes and on the lookout for interesting facts.

Find a ranger and ask to sign any kids with you up for the program. They’ll have to fill out a booklet of activities and when complete they’ll be sworn in as a Junior Ranger. They get an official certificate in a small ceremony and a badge. Awesome!

c. Gift shop souvenirs

If you or the family want to stock up on souvenirs to remember the trip, this is the place to do it! Truly, they do have a good variety of books, postcards, posters, and kid collectibles. My daughter selected an adult coloring book of all the national parks with some colored pencils, and the 6-year-old found a stuffed peregrine falcon he couldn’t live without.

d. Facilities

Last, but not least, this is a good place to use the bathrooms before you set off on your adventure. There are restrooms at some of the stops but not all so I like to avoid as many panicked emergencies as possible.

2. Mancos Valley Overlook

On to stop number 2! After the visitor’s center is about 4 miles to the Mancos Valley Overlook. This is a quick stop, but one not to miss! Get out of your vehicle and walk down to take in the views. This is also right next to the Morefield Campground if you happen to be camping there.

There are some tables if you’d like to have a picnic or a snack or simply get that photo op.

Mancos Valley Overlook, enjoying the view of Mesa Verde National Park #mesaverde #familytravel

3. Montezuma Valley Overlook

This is another great point to see some different views of the park. It was a little muddy when we were there, but I made great friends with this tree. We enjoyed the stop.

Tree at Montezuma Valley Overlook, Mesa Verde NP #mesaverde #nationalparktrees

4. Geologic Overlook

Continue to drive until you make it to the Geologic Overlook. In good weather, there are good views and short well-maintained paths. Take a minute to work on the Junior Ranger packets and think about the astounding feats of architecture you’re about to see.

5. Far View Sites

Next, travel down to the Far View Sites, passing the Far View Lodge and Far View area. Do NOT accidentally turn onto the Wetherill Mesa Road. This is a great turn off to visit on the second day in the park but won’t fit into our 1 day Mesa Verde map itinerary.

The Far View Sites are surface sites, which simply means they’re above ground and not in the cliff. You can see the Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House, and Far View Tower. We were told it was one of the most populated areas from A.D. 900 -1300.

Perfect spot on the Mesa Verde map for kids

What do I like about this site? It’s a good, safe place with nice trails, and interesting places to explore for kids. They can run around, act out stories, and let imaginations run wild!

The last time we were there it was under snow so I didn’t get a good picture. Let me know how your kids enjoy it!

6. Cliff Palace Loop (6mi/10km)

The Cliff Palace Loop is one of the two main loops that take you to see the cliff dwellings and mesa sites on the Chapin Mesa. It’s a one-way loop, and I suggest going here first and earlier in the day before the large crowds arrive.

a. Cliff Palace

If you see one thing in Mesa Verde National Park, you will want to see the Cliff Palace. It’s the “enchanted castle” and iconic picture you see in anything referencing Mesa Verde.

Explorer Momma at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde NP #cliffpalace #mesaverde

Frederick Chapin, the first tourist guided by the Weatherill family to Cliff Palace, was an experienced mountaineer. He visited in 1889 and 1890 and described it in writing like this: “It occupies a great space under a grand oval cliff, appearing like a ruined fortress, with ramparts, bastions, and dismantled towers. The stones in front have broken away; but behind them rise the walls of a second story; and in the rear of these, in under the dark cavern, stands the third tier of masonry. Still farther back in the gloomy recess, little houses rest on upper ledges.”

The pathway down from the parking area is nicely paved and you even pass by a seating area for when the rangers give their guided tours. Once you get down to the viewing area there’s an amazing view of the Cliff Palace and all around the canyon.

Unfortunately, unless you have a ticket to attend one of the guided tours you won’t be able to go down the locked rusted staircase to view the dwelling up close. When traveling with kids and only a day to explore this is no problem. If you have an extra day book one of the tours.

Looking out at Mesa Verde NP, towards Cliff Palace #mesaverde

b. Balcony House

Balcony House can better be seen from the Soda Canyon Overlook trail. If you have tickets to the tour stop here or move on to see it from the trail viewpoint.

Balcony House, Mesa Verde NP

c. Soda Canyon Overlook Trail (1.2mi/1.9km)

The Soda Canyon Overlook Trail is the longest we attempted with my 6-year-old. Moreover, he called it the “really long hike”, and it was a lot of fun. Awesome views abound, but this is one of those places where Mom panic kicks in.

Soda Canyon Overlook Trail, Mesa Verde #familytravel #mesaverde

The trail goes very near the dropoff down into the canyon. Also, the telescope in the picture below is on a large rock sticking out into the canyon. While the places that meet the trail are fenced, off the trail they are not. I would advise kids know to stay on the trail on this one!

Looking though the telescope Mesa Verde NP #mesaverde #familytravel

But wow! What an experience!

7. Spruce Tree Terrace

Spruce Tree Terrace is a little café area where you can stop for lunch or a snack. We didn’t pack a picnic and found it to be a good break between loops. There are various sandwiches, hamburgers, brats, French fries, salads, cookies, and general American-style quick foods. It’s a little higher priced than you’d normally find, but hey, it’s the only thing in the park!

If you live close by or are organized to get a good picnic together before going I highly recommend that also and taking advantage of one of the many picnic areas.

In summer, needless to say, it is very HOT. Be sure to bring enough water, sun hats, non-toxic sunscreen, etc. to keep you hydrated and safe.

8. Spruce Tree House

Safety concerns with falling rocks have closed the Spruce Tree House for tours for the foreseeable future. However, you can still get a good view of it from the overlooks near the museum. This is the third largest cliff dwelling and hopefully will be open again soon! It’s one of the easiest to get down to and has paved paths for strollers and wheelchairs.

9. Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

If you have the time or just want to breeze through, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is worth a stop. Some people will really want to examine the dioramas illustrating Ancestral Pueblo life. My children did not, but we’d also been on a lot of stops!

In addition to the dioramas, there are exhibits of prehistoric artifacts, a chronology of Ancestral Pueblo culture, and other displays.

If the family needs a rest, there’s also a 25-minute informational video on the park that runs on the half-hour. In summer months, I would imagine it would be a welcome break in the air conditioning! Check it out.

10. Mesa Top Loop (6mi/10km)

Now, head over to the second loop on the map, the Mesa Top Loop. It’s good to start this one after a good lunch and everyone’s revived and excited to see more! There’s a lot more to see on our 1 day Mesa Verde map itinerary than just Cliff Palace (although it IS pretty impressive on its own!).

a. Pit house

Be sure to stop at the Pit House. This is the earliest evidence of people living in the area from about A.D. 550 to 600. They build shallow pits in the ground and covered them with pole and mud roofs and wall. In fact, the entrance would have been through the roof!

The Pit House you will see at the site is one of the best preserved anywhere with features common on all pit houses. There’s a large space used as a living room with a fire pit in the middle. Then to the side, adjoining the living room is an antechamber where they think firewood and food were stored. All the family would sleep on the floor around the fire, grandparents, parents, kids.

How would you like that? Pick up the Mesa Top flyer at the entrance for more information.

b. Square Tower House

I have to say Square Tower House is my second favorite cliff dwelling in the park, after Cliff Palace. Take a short paved trail down to the viewpoint area. The four-story tower looming over the rest of the buildings is quite impressive. The tower boasts window, flooring, doorways, and even a reed mat, feathered cloth, and a humanlike figurine were found inside.

Square Tower, Mesa Verde National Park #mesaverde #familytravel

Evidently, the residents of the 80 original rooms in this dwelling came and went using hand-and-toe holds dug out of the cliff walls. Yes, they had to climb in and out! People lived here toward the end of building in Mesa Verde, from A.D. 1200 to 1300.

c. Sun Point View

Sun Point View is a good place to stop to view many dwellings at one time. Here you will see a dozen different cliff dwellings in alcoves in the Cliff and Fewkes Canyons. Take the kids out, stretch your legs, and see how many you can spot!

d. Sun Temple

The Sun Temple is a fascinating place to explore and let the kids run around to see what they can see. Moreover, it’s another place where you can get up close and personal with one of the structures. Peek through the windows and discuss why they might have created four-foot-thick walls.

Looking through the Sun Temple window, Mesa Verde #mesaverde #familyadventure

What would they have used this D-shaped structure for? There are signs it was left unfinished, without a roof, according to the experts. But, a point of interest is the natural rock basin in the southwestern corner possibly served as a “solar marker”. Also, people from the surrounding areas could have attended ceremonies in the temple.

Sun Temple, Mesa Verde NP

11. Return to the Visitor’s Center

The Sun Temple is the last stop on the Mesa Top Loop. From there, if you have any time left explore away. If not, head back to the Visitor’s Center before it closes. When we were there it closed at 4:30, but times do vary depending on the season.

In addition, the kids can complete the Junior Ranger program with a ranger and get their certificates. The packets can be mailed in, but they love that sense of accomplishment to finish in a day. Have I mentioned we LOVE the Junior Ranger program?!

Grab the last minute souvenirs, and you’re done for the day! I hope you enjoyed this 1 day Mesa Verde map itinerary. Let me know in the comments below if it’s useful to you!

Ready to visit more National Parks?

Check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico!

10 Musts for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park with kids


1 Day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary

To be fair, this is a lot to pack into one day at Mesa Verde National Park. However, if you do only have the day you’re going to want to see as much as possible! It’s a fascinating place to discover hands-on about the ancestral Puebloan people. Forget reading about it in books, go out and explore!

The kids will love this National Park, and I have a feeling it’s a trip they will remember for a long time! Happy travels!

Lauren

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Only have a day in Mesa Verde National Park? This is the perfect family one day Mesa Verde map itinerary with the best places to be sure to see. From Cliff Palace to the Sun Temple, it's a must-see national park. #mesaverde #familytravel #usnationalparks

Hotel Booking Options:



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More information on U.S. National Parks:

  1. State and National Parks Family Bucket List
  2. Northern States National Parks Bucket List
  3. Utah and Colorado National Parks Bucket List
  4. California National Parks Bucket List
  5. How to Get a Free National Parks Pass
  6. Carlsbad Caverns with Kids: 10 Musts for an Amazing Visit
  7. Secrets of Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Top Things to do in Abilene TX

Top Things to do in Abilene TX

Things to do in Abilene TX Table of Contents

AT A GLANCE | TRIP PLANNING | THINGS TO DO | WHERE TO EAT | WHERE TO STAY | MY ABILENE STORY

At a Glance

Home to three universities, a rich downtown cultural center, and a wealth of kids activities, Abilene, Texas has something for everyone. Whether you want to return to visit friends and family, revisit the nostalgia of university years, or learn about its cultural heritage, Abilene will always have a special place in my heart. After both traveling to and living in Abilene and attending Abilene Christian University, I’ve put together this travel guide, highlighting the best of what you can see and do in this west Texas town.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Abilene, Texas Quick Information

  • Location: Abilene is a former frontier settlement, located in the state of Texas in Taylor and Jones Counties.
  • Population: 117,063 as of the 2010 census. Reported to be 121,885 in 2017.
  • Elevation: 1,719 feet
  • Currency: U.S. Dollar.
  • Electricity Socket: 220V AC electricity.

Safety: Generally speaking, Abilene is a safe place to visit. I advise all normal precautions taken when visiting a city in the United States.

Language: English is primary, also Spanish.

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There are so many fun things to do in Abilene TX with kids and families. Great for family travel, it's fun to visit friends, family, and your alma mater. #acuwildcats #abilenetx

Festivals and Celebrations: 

While I usually prefer to visit places during low tourist seasons, it’s always a goal to attend certain celebrations and festivals I’d like to experience, especially those my children would enjoy.

1. Children’s Art and Literary Festival

Abilene was recently named the Storybook Capital of America. Therefore, for children, I highly recommend visiting during the CALF or Children’s Art and Literacy Festival in early June. Every year a featured author/illustrator gives talks, reads books, and is honored. There are fun children’s art and book inspired activities throughout.

Anne of Green Gables quote, Storybook capital Abilene TX #calf #abilenetx

2. West Texas Fair and Rodeo

The West Texas Fair & Rodeo is normally held at the beginning of September. You’re sure to find the usual variety of fried fair foods like corn dogs, pork chops on sticks, funnel cakes, and if you’re lucky maybe even a fried Snickers bar. There’s usually a colorful carnival with rides for everyone to enjoy. Or if you’re me, watch others enjoy!
 
Also, you’ll get to see a tractor pull, PRCA Rodeo, and a barn full of some of the best livestock from across Texas. In true fair and rodeo fashion, there are musicians, concerts, entertainment and so much more!

3. Rattlesnake Roundup

Another local event on the opposite end of the spectrum is popular among locals and university students alike. Students love to tell stories back home about experiences at the yearly Rattlesnake Roundup in nearby Sweetwater, Texas. It happens every March with a parade and carnival, chili cookout, guided hunts (eek?), and a beard contest.

Sweetwater Texas Rattlesnake Roundup #rattlesnakes #texastourism

4. Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit

Being a Colorado girl, I always recommend a visit to Buffalo Gap when in West Texas. When I attended Abilene Christian University, it was my escape to the “mountains” or at least it had more of that feel. Buffalo Gap is about 20 miles southwest of Abilene and holds events such as the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit in April.

Abilene Trip Planning

Transportation: 

There are several modes of transportation for getting in, out, and around in Abilene.

Road near Abilene TX #texas #familytravel

By car

The easiest by far, especially when traveling as a family, is to drive in and use your own vehicle or rent a vehicle on arrival.

By air

You can fly into the Abilene Regional Airport, usually by changing planes at DFW, the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

By bus

The Greyhound bus system stops in Abilene and is a viable transportation option. For more information click here.

In and around town there is also a reliable bus system, although to be honest, with my kids I like to rely on my own vehicle unless I’m not at all pressed for time. If interested, check out the city bus map and more information here.

When to visit Abilene

While you can visit Abilene, Texas all year round, sometimes it’s smart to dodge the heat of the summer months. I specifically avoid July and August, especially if your plans involve being outside!

The best times to go to Abilene, in my opinion, are September – November or March – May. I would make an exception and go in June for the Children’s Art and Literacy Festival.

Armadillo near Buffalo Gap Texas #texasarmadillo

 

Rough Budget

As in most places, you can travel around for as cheap or as expensive as you want. Unless you stay with friends or family, accommodations, food, and activities are usually the largest expenses. Food can be cheap or expensive depending on the restaurant to grocery store frequented.

Here is a rough cost for basic commodities:

Accommodation

Budget: $35-55 (in home Airbnb or private hotel room)
Mid-Range: $110
Splurge: $200++

Try Airbnb! Use my Airbnb link here and get $40 off a home booking of $75 or more and $15 off an experience of $50 or more!

Food

(Typical Meal For One)

Fast food: $6-12
Restaurant: $10-25
Very nice restaurant: $20++

Transportation

Local bus: $free (preschoolers) – $1.50. Check their website here for current prices.
Air: $ varies, depends when you book, where traveling, etc. ~ $400
Rental vehicle: $ varies per day and size

What to Pack for Traveling West Texas

My best advice for what to pack for Abilene is to bring layers. I tend to think it’s always hot, but don’t forget when you go into a building the air conditioning is often quite strong. I almost always have a sweater with me for outside in winter and for inside and that air conditioning in spring, summer, and fall.

What to pack also depends on the occasion. Whenever traveling I always focus on comfortable shoes I can walk good distances in. Depending on the functions, it’s smart to bring sandals, excursion/tennis shoes, and dress shoes.

Fun things to do in Abilene TX with kids

As I mentioned, Abilene has a little bit of everything for everyone. Despite being in the windy center of Texas, there is still a vibrant cultural scene and family community often unexpected by visitors. Here are a few of the best places/things to do in Abilene TX with kids.

1. Visit the Grace Museum

The Grace Museum holds great memories for me of swing dances and art shows from my university days. Now, I also see it as a perfect outing with kids. Is it too hot or bad weather? Bring the kids to the Grace to explore and take in some art yourself.

Playing Things to do in Abilene TX The Grace Museum #abilenetx #familytravel

2. Go on a College Campus Tour of Abilene Christian University

Oh, ACU. There are three universities in Abilene (McMurry, Hardin Simmons, and Abilene Christian). I’ve been somewhat connected to ACU all my life as both my grandparents attended Abilene Christian College. It’s where my parents met, and then I went to school there.

Jacob's ladder, Abilene TX ACU #acu #familytravel

Jacob’s Dream by Jack Maxwell, Abilene Christian University

It’s always fun to take a tour of a university, especially if there’s a bit of nostalgia attached. Or maybe you have an interested high schooler beginning to look at colleges. Look into their website here to see what’s offered and get connected. Don’t miss out on ACU!

ACU stadium, Abilene TX #acuwildcats #familytravel

Check out my picture in Florence, Italy around 1999 on the timeline in the Hunter Welcome Center in the study abroad section! I haven’t changed at all. 😉

The funny thing is I still have and sometimes wear that black coat. It has a smooth black rock in the pocket I picked up at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland that semester. I like to hold onto it when I walk down the street and plan future trips to Ireland!

Lauren on the wall of the Hunter Welcome Center at ACU #acu #acustudyabroad

3. Get Lost in the History of Frontier Texas! Museum

Are you interested in history? Do the western settlements, cowboys, Commanches, or guns of the West hold a special fascination to you?

Frontier Texas! is the perfect place for kids to learn about life on the frontier, enjoy interactive displays, and attend the period theater performance.

Another plus for it is that it’s also a visitor’s center and has a ton of information on all the old forts of the area. Explore and enjoy!

4. Catch a Movie at the Historic Paramount Theater

Restored in 1986, the fabulous Paramount Theater is a great way to relax and enjoy the old opulence of the building while taking in a film. I used to love to go to movies here and watch the puffy white clouds painted on the blue sky ceiling.

The Paramount Theater, Abilene TX #abilenetx #familytravel

It’s the perfect outing for both kids and adults. Find tickets and movie information on their website here.

5. Explore the Abilene Zoo

Next, let’s take a tour of the Abilene Zoo. This place is just the right size for a day or afternoon outing. It’s one of my own kids’ favorite things to do in Abilene TX. It also reminds me of a special memory when I was a kid and my always thoughtful and smiling Uncle Steve brought me here.

Kids look at flamingos at the Abilene Zoo #abilenezoo #familytravel

It’s changed since then, and you’re no longer allowed to feed the giraffes the same animal crackers I munched on. Never fear! The dedicated zookeepers and volunteers help you to feed the giraffes much healthier lettuce leaves.

What a fun chance to see their giant tongues come out and watch the kids look at them eye to eye and giggle with delight. The Abilene Zoo is larger than you’d expect and well-maintained. It’s definitely a must-see with a group of kids!

Feeding the giraffe at the Abilene Zoo #abilenezoo #abilenetravel

6. Go on a Walking Tour of Downtown Abilene

While you’re at the Grace Museum or near the Paramount Theater, pull up this awesome historic walking tour of downtown Abilene put together by the Abilene Tourist Bureau. I love to wander around downtown Abilene and this is the perfect companion to orient you. It explains a bit about the area, what the buildings are, and some history.

I know not everyone gets as excited as I do about walking tours and histories. However, this one is neatly done, readily available, and free! Why not?

I’m always the one reading aloud to the group from the student travel book or Rick Steve’s travel guides until I’m told that’s enough history. Enough history!? Never. I will bring my Baedaker.

7. National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature

As I mentioned before, Abilene is the storybook capital of America. They hold the annual festival, but also most anytime you can visit the physical building that is the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. Check their website to be sure they’re open before you visit.

They hold family art activities on Saturdays, art adventures for preschoolers, and fun exhibitions on kids books, the authors and illustrators. It’s such an asset to area and fun to visit, especially for young kids.

Horton Hears a Who Abilene TX

8. Adventure to Fort Phantom Hill

Are you ready for an adventure? Plan an outing to Fort Phantom Hill. The fort was occupied by the U.S. Army from 1851 until 1854 and not long after that many of the structures burnt in a fire.

There is still much to see and learn. Today Fort Phantom Hill is one of the 8 forts and the Mexican Presidio on the Texas Forts Trail. Learn about the forts, let the kids run, and get some good photo ops among the buildings, cactus, and mesquite trees.

9. Attend a Musical Performance

Abilene is well-known for its love of music. The universities take great pride in their music programs, and it’s always fun to see an Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra or Children’s Theater performance.

My daughter especially loves live theater or a musical performance. When she was little she used to stand on a little wooden drum and direct the Lawrence Welk Band on TV and other orchestras. Music is so important to everyone, but especially children. Let them play those instruments and take it all in. Musical options in Abilene are the perfect way to do that.

10. Play at the Park

Sometimes the simple thing is the best! Take those kids to a park to run and play! There are quite a few nice public parks in Abilene. If it’s going to be warm, go early in the morning, bring the spray bottles and some water balloons and have a blast!

Will Hair Park – North Abilene

Red Bud Park – Southwest Abilene

Oscar Rose Park – West Central Abilene

Where to Eat in Abilene Texas

West Texas is home to some of the best steak and BBQ in the country. This area features a bold cuisine whether it be Tex-Mex, BBQ, or traditional American. Almost always you will find a variety of meats, with a side of ranch.

It’s perfectly fabulous for this carnivore, but for you vegetarians, there are also a good variety of salads, with a side of ranch!

Here are a few restaurants you might try during your visit:

Hickory Street Cafe – This is one of my favorite girls’ lunch out places. Get the chicken salad with grapes and cashews with a side of zucchini bread for me!

Belle’s Chicken Dinner House

The Beehive – West Texas Steakhouse

Lytle Land and Cattle – West Texas Steakhouse

Joe Allen’s Pit Bar B Que

Cypress Street Station

For a quick bite:

Rosa’s Cafe and Tortilla Factory

Heff’s Burgers

Where to Stay in Abilene TX

To be honest, we generally stay with family or friends when in Abilene. However, there are quite a few other options depending on the part of town you’d like to focus on.

1. Hotels:

When traveling with my kids I always look for a hotel with a pool and a good free hot breakfast! Score if you can find one with a waffle maker in the shape of Texas!


Booking.com

2. Bed and Breakfast-Type Options:

Sayles Ranch Guesthouses

Cedar Cottage Bed & Breakfast

3. Airbnb:

As a family, we love to book places using Airbnb! I like to have more room, a different experience, and our own kitchen to prepare meals.

When using Airbnb, I always advise you to choose a place with plenty of good ratings. It’s nice to read a few of the past reviews to get a feel for the place. Also, it will help you be able to tell if it’s a good fit for your family.

If you’d like to get $40 off an Airbnb home booking of $75 or more or $15 off an experience of $50 or more, click on my link here!

Ruidoso, New Mexico is a great destination for families!

Get ideas on things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids. Such an awesome fun family vacation!

Top 10 Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids, fun activities and more! #familytravel #ruidoso

Return to Abilene, Texas – My Abilene Story

I have many fond memories of Abilene. First, when I was younger we visited family there. We laughed, played cards, ate a lot, and had a fabulous time together.

Then later in my life, I attended Abilene Christian University as did my parents and grandparents before me!

Now, I return every year or so to see family and relive some of those treasured moments of the past. I’m thinking about it, even more, today because my parents are there this week for a church reunion/anniversary party.

Sometimes my thoughts wander to the question, will my own kids attend ACU? Will the prefer somewhere closer to home? Or farther? I’m not yet sure how I feel about it. There are so many factors that play into a university decision! It’s completely up to them, scholarships, and their plans for the future. Thank goodness we have a while, although I know the time goes quick as a blink.

I hope you enjoy your trip to Abilene.

Pin this article for later here!

Top things to do in Abilene TX for families and kids. Where to eat, where to stay, and more! Perfect for family travel. #abilenetx #familytravel

Kids Travel Journal

Kids Travel Journal

A kids travel journal is the ultimate fun and memorable activity on a family vacation! You know all that time in the car or on the airplane? Use it wisely and have your kids reflect on what they’ve seen, eaten, and experienced!

Do your kids love to look back at old photos? What about old school papers and accomplishments?

Both of my kids do, especially my daughter. She is my child who likes to write stories, make lists, and have written and physical souvenirs of past adventures. If you’ve followed this blog at all you may have seen or downloaded the original kids travel journal I created for her.

While we still LOVE it, and it’s been great for past travels and adventures, the child is ready for something new.

That’s why I put together this new journal. Next week we’re heading off on a Spring Break road trip, and it requires something new and fresh for her to put her mind to!

In a hurry?

Scroll to get the travel journal bonus! Or PIN it for later here!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

A kids travel journal is the perfect road trip or air travel activity! Give the kids something to do as they travel, make memories, and reflect on new experiences. #kidstravel #traveljournal

 

The journey, not the arrival matters.

T.S. Eliot

Poet

What’s new in this kids travel journal?

First of all, I looked at quite a few ideas from my kids and others who’d used our original journal before. How could we make it better, more user-friendly, and still super-fun and engaging for kids?

One of the first things I did was change the size of the journal. Instead of a full page, I changed it to a half-sheet printout.

Why do you ask? Well, the half-sheet size is easier to travel with. It will fit in all sizes of bags, purses, backpacks, as a bookmark in a book, you name it.

It makes it easier to pull out and write/draw on any place you go whether it be in a car, a museum, or when you sit down to rest during a hike.

Record and reflect on family vacations with this printable kids travel journal. Fun and easy to take on the go, it's perfect for road trips, air travel, or any kids' outing! #kidstraveljournal #travelprintable

Another thing that’s changed is the amount of color vs. white space.

This journal has some pictures and color, but not as much as the last one. It was done on purpose so it’s easier to print out either in black and white, full color, or grayscale, depending on your preference. This also lets the child doodle in the edges and put in their own colors.

In addition, I’ve added some more prompts to spark kids imaginations.

For example, there’s a page for the day with the weather, how I feel, and other things listed. But then there are also pages on what I ate today, where I’m sleeping, who I saw, etc.

Depending on the kid, you may want to use all the pages or just a few and make more copies based on the length of the trip.

Filling out the kids travel journal. #kidstravel #printables

List of travel journal activity pages

  • Cover Page: My Travel Journal
  • Name and contact page with space to draw a self-portrait
  • Where in the world are you going? A world map to record where you travel.
  • Where in the USA are you going? A map of the USA to record where you travel.
  • The daily page includes:
    • Today’s Date:
    • I felt
    • The weather was:
    • I learned:
    • I met:
    • Three things I did today:
    • Today I traveled by:
  • What I ate
  • Written prompts: Three words to describe today, I miss…, I tried something new today!, I felt…
  • Out my window is a place to draw what they’ve seen out their window today!
  • Tonight we are staying… (where, and place to draw it)
  • Written prompts 2: The best thing about today was…, my least favorite thing was…, three words to describe this city/town are…, three questions I have are…
  • Today I learned a new word! This page includes a word bubble with an area to draw and a field to describe what it means.
  • Today I saw this! Includes a space to draw/color and descriptive words.
  • Here is a portrait of a person I saw today.
  • Today I saw this animal.
  • Trip Reflection page

Pages of the kids travel journal with a pen. #kidstraveljournal #kidsactivities

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Author, The Lord of the Rings


New Kids Travel Journal Bonus

Sign up for Explorer Momma’s newsletter and get the NEW Kids Travel Journal as a bonus! If you’re already on our list, awesome! You can still download the journal!

Preview of the new kids travel journal #kidstravel #kidstraveljournal

How to download the kids travel journal

First, enter your first name and email in the field below. Second, open up your email, and in a few minutes or less you should receive an email. Click on the button in the email to confirm your subscription to the Explorer Momma newsletter and your bonus kids travel journal should then download to your computer.

It’s that simple! Print out the entire thing or pick and choose the pages your child would most enjoy!

What do you think of the journal?

So far the journal has met approval with my own kids. We’ll be giving it the full road trip test next week, and I can’t wait to see how it goes!

After this one, as my daughter gets older we may turn to a basic blank journal with a few travel quotes here and there.

However, for now, when they’re in elementary school, this style of a journal is still appealing. It also makes kids think a bit about their travels. Who they’ve seen, what they’ve done, cultural differences, etc.

Do please let me know if you use it with the kids in your life! I hope it’s useful, and let me know if you have any suggestions to make it even better!

PIN it here for later:

An easy to use kids travel journal is perfect for any family vacation! Whether the kids are on a road trip, airplane, or train it makes a memorable travel diary. #traveljournal #kidstraveljournal

 

More kids travel activities:

  1. The Ultimate Road Trip Activities for Kids
  2. Kids Airplane Activities: Airplane BINGO
  3. 8 Ways to Survive a Long Layover with Kids
  4. The Complete Kids Carry-On Packing List

Kids Travel Journal

The Perfect Road Trip or Air Travel Activity! Click here to check our the Original Travel Journal Printable

State and National Parks Family Bucket List

State and National Parks Family Bucket List

Preview: A State and National Parks Family Bucket List. Join guest writers as we travel around the southern and eastern areas of the United States to national and state parks!

Are you ready to add to your family bucket list? There are so many amazing natural wonders around the United States. Sometimes we overlook the opportunities for family adventures as they seem they’re in our own backyards! What kid doesn’t like to seek out mountains, streams, and wildlife? Embrace it and do some family bonding at the same time.

So onward! Let’s continue our tour around the United States in Explorer Momma’s Operation U.S. Parks, Every Kid in a Park. This is the fourth series featuring guest writers who plug their favorite parks and give tips and stories about the area. The goal is to encourage you and your family to get out, wander, hike, and appreciate these amazing destinations.

Let’s get started. We’ll continue our journey and add to your own state and national parks family bucket list!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

State and National Parks Family Bucket List, the Great Smoky Mountains to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Family adventures perfect for your next park destination! #familytravel #familyadventuretravel

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is located within driving distance of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina, making is the perfect National park for families living or visiting the East Coast. Our family are frequent visitors of Shenandoah National Park because it offers something for everyone. With three entrances (North, Middle, South) it is easy to access the 105 miles skyline drive that covers the length of the park.

We love Shenandoah National park because it features a variety of trails for all activity levels and interests. Before we had children, we would hike for miles to find hidden waterfalls and vistas overlooking the valley. Now that we have a toddler, we are still able to find shorter hikes to search for unique bugs and beautiful flowers. Shenandoah even has a handicapped accessible trail for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors. Want to linger longer? Make a reservation for their campsite, complete with a general store. Or if you’d prefer to stay in a hotel or cabin, check their website for a list of accommodations. 

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, for family travel and fun! #shenandoahnationalpark #familytravel

Park Tips

If it’s your first visit to the park, I highly recommend stopping at one of their visitor’s centers to get a detailed park map or pick up one of their $2 map booklets that feature titles such as “kid-friendly hikes” or “peaks and vistas”. We’ve used these little booklets over and over. The visitor’s centers also have interactive exhibits about animals you may encounter in the park, helping to bring nature closer to families.

Be sure to visit the park at different times of the year, Fall is certainly a favorite with the changing Fall foliage. Want to read more about where we like to go in the park? Head over to our family friendly travel blog, Pack More Into Life.

By Chelsea from Pack More Into Life

 

Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina

Chimney Rock State Park is the perfect area for a family to explore. Be prepared to give your legs a workout but it will all be worth it.

If your family is craving some time in nature, like we were, you can hike directly from the parking lot up the Four Seasons Trail. Head to the Hickory Nut Falls, which are an impressive 404 feet tall. After taking time to marvel at the falls, you can walk back along the Hickory Nut Falls trail to a very long set of stairs up to the main entrance.

Don’t worry, if this doesn’t sound like your kind of fun, you can take a shuttle from the parking lot up here. Our kids seemed up for climbing the stairs, so after a lunch stop, we just kept climbing right up to the Pulpit Rock and Chimney Rock viewpoints. The trail sign says this was 500 steps, but it actually didn’t feel like that much… There is an elevator option too. Either way, the view of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure are worth every step!

Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina is the perfect adventure with kids! Hiking and family fun. Add it to your family bucket list today! #exploremore #familyadventure

There is the possibility to climb even further, but our kids were more interested in exploring the bat cave. From there we took the shuttle bus back to the parking lot to give us all a little break. Once at the parking lot, we took time to stop at the Animal Discovery Den and hike around the Great Woodland Adventure trail (an interpretive trail for kids). The kids loved this part of the day. We especially loved that this outing gave us an opportunity to hike with our kids and included some fun things for them!

Other close parks to visit

I also have some great tips for visiting nearby Shenandoah National Park at our family travel blog, Family Can Travel.

By Celine from Family Can Travel

 

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was visited by more than 11 million people in 2017. You can bet many of those were families! Our family has been visiting the Smoky Mountains since before I could walk, and I’ve continued that tradition with my own kids. While I was a child my family enjoyed visiting the Smoky Mountain gateway towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. However, my husband and I now prefer hiking in the Smokies.

There are hiking trails suitable for families with kids of all ages including those in strollers. We recently enjoyed a great hike on the Middle Prong trail which served as a logging camp in the 1900s for the community of Tremont. The trail has numerous climbing and exploring side adventures, a gradual elevation gain of only 275 feet, and is wide with lots of room for kids to spread out.

There are three cascading waterfalls to enjoy along the way. The entire trail is probably too long for kids, but it’s a great place to explore for an hour or so and then head back

If you love wildlife, Cades Cove is a must, but be sure to take a lunch because the 11-mile loop auto trail gets backed up and wait times can be quite long. We also recommend viewing the Elk in the Cataloochee area on the southeastern section of the park.

There are so many opportunities for family fun in the Smokies, you are sure to have a great family adventure when you visit.

By Amanda from VeraVise Outdoor Living

 

Watkins Glen State Park, New York

While the Finger Lakes region may be known for its wine, it’s also an amazing area for family adventures. One destination that’s not to be missed is Watkins Glen. This adorable little town is also home to Watkins Glen State Park.

Watkins Glen State Park, Cavern Cascade, New York #iloveny #familytravel

No matter your age, you’ll fall in love with the beautifully picturesque trails and incredible waterfalls that call the park home. With over 700 acres of land, the highlight is the almost 400ft deep gorge. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, it’s home to 19 beautiful waterfalls. The trails can be tricky, but it is definitely worth a visit. Since you can see a waterfall from the entrance, you can truly spend as little or as much time as you like here! I suggest at least a couple of hours to see a few of the waterfalls, especially the Cavern Cascade where you can feel the water as it rushes into the gorge!

For families, the best time to visit would be in the summer. This is when all of their facilities are open, including their campgrounds as well as their swimming pool. You can also take advantage of their daily shuttle service from the end of June until Labor Day which will definitely help keep any little legs well rested! To reward the little ones (and big kids, of course) on completing such a great adventure, there’s an amazing ice cream shop just down the road. A delicious way to end the trek!

By Lindsay from I’ve Been Bit!

Ready to visit more national parks?

What’s on your national and state parks bucket list in our northern states?

Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, Florida

Anastasia State Park in Northern Florida is 1,600 acres of fun! With 139 campsites, bike trails, three playgrounds, fishing, boating, hiking trails, geocaching, wildlife viewing, an amphitheater for events, shelling and the beach there is plenty to keep a family busy. Especially given that it is so close to the oldest occupied city in America — historic St. Augustine!

Anastasia State Park Beach, St. Augustine, Florida #exploreflorida #floridastateparks

You can’t see the beach from the main road or parking lot. It’s like a secret waiting to be discovered. However, if you walk along the raised wooden trail (to protect the dunes) you’ll find the most amazing of beaches.

While you are visiting, go on a kayaking excursion or SUP of the Salt Run estuarine tidal marsh like we did. There you’ll see lots of wildlife including osprey, eagles, turtles and possibly a dolphin or two!  Don’t worry if you don’t have your gear, there are rentals available.

By Mary from Calculated Traveller

 

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is located in West Texas, right where the Rio Grande bends deeply to the south before Texas meets New Mexico (hence the name).

Despite being born and raised in Texas, it wasn’t until recently that I finally made it to this isolated park. We visited in the heart of summer, which concerned me (how smart can it be to drive into the desert in August?). But Big Bend is special, it’s the only park that houses an entire mountain range within its borders. The Chisos Mountains rise up from the Chihuahua Desert and are filled with hiking trails of different lengths and difficulties. 

Big Bend National Park, Texas #familytravel #familyadventure

While there are miles of trails in the desert and along the Rio Grande, we decided to save those for cooler months. We spent our three days in the mountains. We hiked the popular Lost Mine Trail and the massively long and strenuous Southern Rim Trail.

Big Bend for families

Big Bend is a family-friendly national park, in fact, plenty of friends of mine came here every summer on their family vacations. We even met a troop of boy scouts hanging out at the top of Lost Mine Trail. There are campsites for the adventurous traveler or family, and a lodge in the mountains for those (like myself) that prefer a mattress and indoor plumbing.

Whether you come alone, with a partner or a family, Big Bend is worth every ounce of effort required to get to in the isolated West Texas desert.

By Erin from Sol Salute

 

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert were a natural choice for us when visiting the USA with our kids. We traveled Route 66, and the road passes right through the park! 

We’d never visited a National Park before and this was a great introduction for us. We’re not big hikers at all, and although the park does have some hiking trails it wasn’t necessary for us to go on them to have a really good day there. 

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona old car #petrifiedforestnationalpark #familiesexplore

There’s a road that goes around the park with spots to park up in, take pictures and learn about what’s there. We went with teens but it would be great to visit with younger kids who might not walk far. We loved the fabulous scenery around with gorgeous hills and vistas with all sorts of colors peeping through. Therefore, for me, it would be worth it to visit for that alone. 

There’s so much more to see in the Petrified Forest. We loved the history with an old building that dates to when Route 66 was built and was originally built with petrified wood! There’s also an old rusty car which sits next to an older section of the road. It’s great for photos but also for the kids to poke around in and explore.

Finally, towards the end of the trail is another visitor center and lots of big bits of petrified wood around to see and learn about. We collected some worksheets about them and qualified to become junior rangers too – a highlight for us all!

By Kirsty from Lost In Landmarks

 

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

Wupatki National Monument is a huge 56 square mile site in Arizona. It protects numerous ancient pueblo and dwelling ruins. The largest pueblo in the area – and the most impressive – is the ruins of Wupatki Pueblo.

Meaning ‘tall house’ in Hopi language, Wupatki is three stories tall. It has 100 rooms and housed around 100 people at its peak in the late 12th Century. It is thought to have been the largest and richest pueblo in the region. Built from flat Moenkopi sandstone, the deep red rock structure is striking against a pure blue Arizona sky. The walls are held together by mortar and are in remarkably good condition.

 Wupatki State Park colors, Arizona #familytravel #operationusparks

The site is compact and only takes a couple of hours to fully explore so it is an ideal stop for families. It is not an over visited site and we arrived on a particularly quiet day which allowed us to enjoy the serene environment. It is also one of those parks where you are allowed to get up close to the ruins; a must for inquisitive children. 

Visitors are provided with an information booklet to read on a trail that winds around the historical site, explaining at various significant points how the pueblos were built and how the people lived, farmed and traded – in what seems an inhospitable environment! It is a fascinating place.

Our children joined the Junior Ranger program here, had a full oath ceremony, and were fully engaged throughout our visit by their excellent Junior Ranger activity booklet. Don’t miss the blowhole, a geological fissure in the ground blasting hot air into your face. We had not encountered one before. The kids loved it! 

By Sinead from Map Made Memories

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State and National Parks Family Bucket List | Fabulous family adventure destinations like Great Smoky National Park, Watkins Glen State Park, and  the Petrified Forest National Park. #familytravel #usnationalparks

Operation U.S. Parks

It is so awesome to be able to travel with all of these guest writers to the state and national parks all over the United States. I love to hear stories and plan out where I think my family would like to travel. Oh, wanderlust! Where are you planning to travel to next as a family? Have you seen the studies on how children remember their family vacations and how they bring the family closer together? Right, let’s plan a trip! 

What’s next on your bucket list?

Check out more articles on U.S. parks:

Will you add any of these to your own State and National Parks Family Bucket List? Or maybe you’ve been to some of them already?

Tag me in your pics on Instagram @explorermomma. I’d love to see them!

Northern States National Parks Bucket List

Northern States National Parks Bucket List

Preview: A Northern States National Parks Bucket List for families. Join guest writers as we travel around the states of Alaska, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming to national and state parks!

I am so excited about this group of national and state parks to share with you! Truly I have no doubt it will spark a bit of wanderlust. When I was a kid, we went to parks in Alaska, and I will never forget the time we spent there with family.  

Now join our tour around the United States in Explorer Momma’s Operation U.S. Parks, Every Kid in a Park. This is number three in a series of five posts featuring guest writers who plug their favorite parks and give tips and stories about the area. I hope to encourage you and your family to get out, wander, and experience our magnificent national and state parks.

So, moving northward, let’s continue our journey and add to your own Northern States National Parks bucket list!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Northern States National Parks for family adventures! Add to your national and state parks bucket list and visit the wildlife in Katmai National Park, Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, and more! #yellowstonetravel #katmainationalpark

Northern States National Parks

Katmai National Park, Alaska

There are some places so worth going to that getting there is half the adventure. Katmai National Park is one of those places. To get to this over 6,000 square miles of Alaskan wilderness, you must first take a flight to King Salmon. Then, from there you’ll hire a charter flight to take you to the park. The number one reason to visit this park is to see grizzly bears in the wild. 

Each summer the bears congregate at the Brooks River Falls where the migrating salmon jump UP the falls. Visitors have their own bear-viewing platform to watch all the bears’ activities. From that point, you can see the older, wiser bears who can open their mouths and magically a salmon jumps right. Also, don’t forget, there are the younger, less-experienced bears who try and try and try again just to catch a couple of salmon per day.

Katmai National Park, Northern States National Parks, Alaska #katmainationalpark #familytravel

Due to the sheer number of bears in the park (estimates are around 2200), visitors must immediately take bear training when they arrive in Brooks Camp. Bear safety is a must when people are camping among North America’s largest predator.

Katmai National Park is one of the most beautiful and unique northern states parks to visit. Definitely, it’s a journey to get there, but boy is it worth it.

By Corinne from Reflections Enroute

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Before my husband and I were married he mentioned many times how he’d like to take me to Rapid City, South Dakota. I remember being confused because I had no clue what South Dakota had to offer. Surely there were many more exotic places to explore in this world than South Dakota?

However, we took our family there on our long term RV trip across the country. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t made it sooner. Truly, the beauty of the Badlands National Park is breathtaking. The vast amount of buffalo at Custer State Park is enough to leave you speechless. Also, the amount of unique and fun family-friendly activities in the Black Hills will keep you busy and entertained for days. And of course, the majesty and iconic Mount Rushmore is a must for every family visiting the United States. 

Mount Rushmore with kids, Badlands, South Dakota #mountrushmore #badlandsnationalpark

There are so many historic and interesting things for families to do and see in this area. To begin, I had no clue how much we would love it. We started off with a 5-day reservation at a campground and kept extending it until we were there for two weeks. Even then we didn’t see it all and are already planning to come back.

Rapid City, South Dakota is a great choice for families looking for educational fun, history and natural beauty. Read more about the Badlands here: 10 reasons why South Dakota should be on your family’s bucket list.

By Hilarye at Dotting the Map

Wyoming: Northern States National Parks for Families

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park combines the otherworldliness of geothermal activity and the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Then add to that the magic of the biggest wild animals in America. You won’t be disappointed!

Both planned stops and impromptu wildlife sightings make up the bulk of activities for most tourists. In addition, there are boardwalks for accessing the geysers, hot springs, thermal pools, and waterfalls. Also, there are trails leading into the backcountry. 

Both kids and adults alike will love the variety and frequency of things to see. First to plan your trip, know it’s generally a maximum of 20 minutes between interest points. You’ll find distinctive viewpoints, mud pots, geysers, waterfall hikes, and visitor centers. If you pair that with bear, moose, elk, wolf, bison, and eagle sightings, you’ll find every day is almost always action packed!

Yellowstone National Park, mud pot view #yellowstonenationalpark #familytravel

Know before you go:

  • Yellowstone is so big, it’s hard to see all the unique features in less than two full days.
  • The ranger talks and visitor centers are free and hugely valuable.
  • Accommodations include camping opportunities and hotels.
  • Also, the park is much easier to visit in the summer when roads are open to the public. In winter, much of the park is closed to vehicle access, requiring snow coach tours or snowmobile rentals. 
  • Plan to live without phone service. Signals are hard to come by given the terrain and remoteness.
  • Problems with the amazing wild animals or geyser injuries in the park generally are caused by tourists illegally approaching. Be safe!

Fun fact: Yellowstone is so-called for the yellow-ish volcanic material – rhyolite. It can be found throughout the caldera, which is a large volcanic crater. Did you know Yellowstone is a volcano so enormous you can’t even see it?

By Jema from Half the Clothes

Yellowstone National Park in Winter

One of my favorite National Park experiences is spending a few winter days at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. In summer, the park is packed with visitors. Often, you are shoulder to shoulder trying to watch the famous geyser erupt. Winter brings tranquility and space to Wonderland.

We like to stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in winter. The roads are closed except to over-snow vehicles, so we ride in on a snow coach. The lodge is warm and inviting. A fireplace is ablaze in the lobby, and visitors read books, play board games, and discuss their day exploring. Also, the kids really love the ice skating rink just outside.

The dining room serves gourmet-casual food with an emphasis on local (well, as local as you can get in the middle of winter in Yellowstone). We love grabbing a hot drink from the bar to sip in the lobby before dinner.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming #yellowstonetrips #yellowstoneinwinter

The Best Part of Yellowstone in Winter

The best part is getting out on cross-country skis or snowshoes. My family likes the zippy ski tour down Spring Creek and walking around the Upper Geyser Basin. In winter, you can watch Old Faithful erupt without anyone else around.

From the Snow Lodge, you can take a snow coach to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and ski or snowshoe along its edge. Seeing the partially frozen Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River is magical, and watching otters slide through the snow into the river above the falls, brings a smile to your face.

There is something about being in a warm cozy lodge after a day in the snow that feels like an iconic winter experience. Even though our kids were young when we went, they remember it fondly and long to go back.

By Melynda from Yellowstone Trips

Grand Teton National Park

Hidden below America’s first National Park, Yellowstone, is Grand Teton National Park. A place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. A place to breathe.

I passed through the Grand Tetons on my way from Yellowstone the first time, and I immediately knew someday I would return. For me, it was love at first sight. I loved it there so much that I will head back next year. I plan to explore more of the area, the trails, and to find those secret places the mountains always whisper about.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming #grandtetonnationalpark #familytravel

While Yellowstone is definitely amazing in its own way, I felt that the Grand Tetons offered a little more peace and quiet. And fewer people as well. You might not be completely alone here, but who cares? You’ve got fantastic views over the mountains, beautiful lakes to watch the sunrise over, and miles and miles of hiking trails to explore. And if that’s not enough to convince you to visit, there are also plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing.

Oh, and did I mention there are gorgeous waterfalls as well?

I actually fell so much in love with this place I’ll be returning with my family next summer. It may not be the ideal time to visit if you’re looking for peace and quiet. However, I’ll be alongside family I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic trip.

I just know I would’ve just loved to visit this place when I was younger! Why? Because it’s heaven for kids with endless nature to explore.

By Helena from Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers

Interested in more National Parks?

What’s on your national and state parks bucket list in Utah and Colorado?

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado #trailridgeroad #rockymountainnational park

 

Northern State Parks

Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan

Of all the amazing family-friendly stops in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my family’s favorite destination is Tahquamenon Falls State Park. We love it so much that we convinced our entire extended family (three generations – 8 adults and 11 children) to go there with us last summer. Everyone agrees it was great fun.

Upon arrival, we immediately headed to the Upper Falls overlooks. Big and powerful, the Tahquamenon Upper Falls are a thrilling sight to behold. Also, this waterfall is especially family-friendly because most of its overlooks feature paved trails that are easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.

Tahquamenon Upper Falls, MinivanAdventures, Michigan #TahquamenonFallsStatePark #familytravel

After viewing the Upper Falls, we drove down to the parking area near the Lower Falls. We walked the trail for a short distance to take in the view of the considerably smaller Lower Falls. There are boats available for rent if you want a closer look at these falls. We did not take any boats out as we had several small children (including toddlers and a baby) in our group.

Instead, we wandered a little further along the trail where we joined several other families wading in the shallow river water. The children and the adults had a blast playing in the water and stacking rocks.

Hint:

Bring water shoes for protection from the river’s rocky bottom.

Our entire group left with fond memories of Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The children frequently ask when we will go back there, and the adults think it would be fun to return as well.

By April from Minivan Adventures

Mahoney State Park, Nebraska

Situated in the heart of the US, along the I-80 Interstate, many road-trippers pass through Nebraska without a second glance. However, by doing so, they are missing out on so many great stops, one of them being Mahoney State Park. It is one of the top 100 US State Parks. 

One of the things that makes Mahoney so fantastic is its never-ending list of things to do. First, horseback riding, ceramic making, toboggan sledding or snowshoeing in the winter. Next, you can try sleeping in teepees, miles of hiking trails, and more. Moreover, this means there is something for everyone. Also, you can spend days upon days at Mahoney State Park and still not have done everything there is to do! 

Mahoney State Park, Nebraska #familytravel #nebraskaactivities Mahoney State Park, photo credit to Nebraska Tourism

Kids love Mahoney for its gigantic indoor play zone and its AMAZING water park. Fabulously, it’s complete with wave pool and dump buckets. Also, adults can’t get enough of things like the high ropes and zip-line course, 40+ foot rock climbing wall, and nearby vineyards.

So don’t just cruise past what you thought was nothing but boring cornfields on your next cross-country road trip. Don’t forget to check out Mahoney State Park and Nebraska’s other great activities for a fun stop.

By LeAnna from Well Traveled Nebraskan

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Northern States National Parks amaze and delight kids and adults alike. Family travel to Yellowstone, Katmai National Park, and more! #familytravel #usparks

Operation U.S. Parks

So this week we’ve ventured up to some of the Northern regions of the United States. What do you think? I am so ready to plan a family trip to Alaska to see all the wildlife, the glaciers, and do some hiking! My son absolutely obsesses on puffins, sea lions, whales, and bears and cannot wait to see them in the wild for himself.

Also, we’re planning trips to Yellowstone and the Badlands this summer and fall, and I’m so excited to experience those places as a family!

What’s next on your bucket list?

Check out more articles on U.S. parks:

Have you been to any of these Northern States National Parks? What about Northern State Parks?

Tag me in your pics on Instagram @explorermomma. I’d love to see them!

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