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!

California National Parks Bucket List

California National Parks Bucket List

Preview: A California National Parks Bucket List for families. Join guest writers as we travel around the state of California to national and state parks!

This year my daughter is in the fourth grade, and eligible for the Every Kid in a Park pass. What this means is she gets her own national parks pass that will let our entire family into all national parks all year for free! Your child does have to be a U.S. resident to qualify, so click here to see my blog post on how to get your own free pass!

We’re in the process of planning trips for this summer so I asked travel bloggers from all over to share their experiences in U.S. state and national parks. I got many fabulous responses and will share them with you by region of the United States.

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

California National Parks Bucket List | Tips for family travel to Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Redwood National Park, and more. #nationalparks #familytravel

So, without further ado, let’s begin our journey and add to your own

California national parks bucket list!

Yay! Let’s go!

Joshua Tree National Park

One of our favorite national parks to visit as a family is the unusual and beautiful Joshua Tree National Park. It’s located in Southern California, on the way between Los Angeles and Arizona. Joshua Tree is often described as ‘otherworldly’ and indeed, it is different from anything we had ever seen before.

The park lies where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet. Indeed, its landscape is made of barren land dominated by large boulders which erosion has carved into unusual shapes. The park takes its name from the ‘Joshua trees’, yucca plants stretching their spiky arms towards the sky, typical of this area.

Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park, California #joshuatree #exploremore

You can visit Joshua Tree at any time of the year. The spring is the most popular time as it is when the desert flowers blossom. However, we went there in the summer and it was still easy to enjoy its stillness and beauty. 

If visiting in the hot season, be aware that this is an unforgiving, desert landscape and some caution is required. Suitable clothing, shoes, and sunscreen are a must as well as protection from the sun and water.

The park is easy to enjoy with kids as several of its hikes are short and some even stroller friendly. The most popular hikes with kids are the walk in the Cholla cactus garden and the loop around Skull Rock.

The park is served by 3 visitor centers, one at each entrance. I highly recommend a stop there as they rangers can give advice on how to visit safely no matter the season.

By Marta, Learning Escapes

 

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most unique and yet least visited National Parks in California. The park is famous for having every type of volcano represented in the park from shield, composite, cinder cone, to plug dome. The volcanic landscape allows visitors to explore beautiful and interesting rock formations, sulfur pools, boiling mud pots, and volcanic cones.

Lassan Volcanic National Park, California National Parks Bucket List #usnationalparks #familytravel

One of my favorite experiences in the park was getting to climb up the sides of a cinder cone. It was around sunset, and I got to see the light highlighting various spots of the volcanic ash.

The park is a great learning experience, especially for those interesting in viewing the violent and beautiful sides of nature.

By Anwar, Beyond My Front Door 

 

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park in California is an amazing destination for outdoor, family adventures. This national park is a part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and it’s named for its beautiful Sequoia trees.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world (based on its volume) and is a must-see! The giant sequoia forest is beautiful, so plan for at least one full day to explore the trees alone. The paths through the forest are all stroller accessible.

In addition to enjoying the sequoia trees, you will want to go to the underground Crystal Cave to explore cool streams and rocks. Walk around Crescent Meadow Trail and enjoy the beautiful meadow flowers, and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of a bear (I have seen several bears in the meadow over the years!).

Sequoia National Park, California National Parks Bucket List #sequoianationalpark #familytravel

Sequoia National Park Family Travel Tips

Hike to the top of Moro Rock for a magnificent view of the park from above. It is a steep climb and therefore not the best for small children on their own two feet. Babies in carriers and older children who don’t have a fear of heights will do just fine, but leave the stroller behind!

If your family enjoys camping, the Lodgepole Campground is our family’s personal favorite. It is located in Lodgepole Village, which has a small market, restaurant, and showers. Campsites are available 6 months in advance, and they go almost immediately, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid missing out!

The park’s shuttle system runs often, is family-friendly, and is the easiest way to explore multiple destinations within the park. During holiday weekends and peak season, it can be difficult to find parking, so I highly recommend considering the shuttle.

Sequoia National Park is a stunning destination, and it definitely deserves a spot on your family’s bucket list.

By Leah, An Adventure is Calling

 

DL Bliss State Park

DL Bliss State Park is home to gorgeous Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe, California. The picturesque bay is the spot of many iconic photos of the region.

The parking lot fills up quickly so arrive early in the morning!

Many visitors photograph the view from the upper lookout each day. However, only those willing to hike down to the shoreline get to enjoy all that the area has to offer. The hike is .8 miles each way on a wide paved path, but it is quite steep.

Our kids basically ran down the hill; the walk up was much slower (and hotter!), but they all made it and were so proud. We saw younger children riding back up on their parents’ shoulders, so be prepared!

DL Bliss State Park, California National Parks Bucket List #californiastateparks #dlblissstatepark

Because the path is paved, it is easily accessible for strollers as well. Down at the shoreline are restrooms, kayak rentals, swimming, guided tours of the Vikingsholm Mansion, and a small gift shop with drinks and ice cream. The tour is not stroller friendly, but it is short and doable for children of all ages. Our daughter was in awe of the historical interior design, and it was a highlight of her day.

Our children loved playing in the shallow water on the water’s edge. Also, just a few minutes beyond the mansion is an easy detour hike. It brings you to Eagle Falls which is a peaceful photo spot and a wonderful bonus.

When in Lake Tahoe, DL Bliss State Park is not to be missed!

By Sierra, Free to Travel Mama

Interested in other State and National Parks?

You do not want to miss Carlsbad Caverns National Park! Get great tips for visiting the caverns with kids.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, formations #carlsbadcavernsnationalpark #familytravel

(Pssst!! Add all of these to your California national parks bucket list today!)

King’s Canyon National Park

Part of the charm of King’s Canyon National Park is the variety of ever-shifting landscapes throughout this beautiful place.  From towering granite walls, to open vistas, to groves of giant sequoias, each new landscape is surprising and delightful.

One of the most well-known features of King’s Canyon is the General Grant sequoia tree—the second largest tree in the world.  This tree is an icon as both the official US National Christmas Tree and a living monument to veterans.

Kings Canyon National Park, California National Parks Bucket List #nationalparks #californiabucketlist

But besides groves of living sequoias, King’s Canyon also contains groves that are monuments to fallen giant sequoias from the days of logging.  The Big Stump Trail hosts the most famous stump—the Mark Twain Tree. A ladder stands against the remains of this tree so visitors can climb on top of the stump and gain a new perspective of the size of these sequoias. Kids and adults alike will love to experience the size of this fallen giant in a tactile way. They will also love attempting to count the tree rings to find its age!

Towards the backcountry of King’s Canyon, there are hikes for all ages and skill levels. From very short hikes like Roaring River Falls, longer hikes like the one to Mist Falls, to hiking overnight, there is something here for everyone. Inevitably, each hike reveals another facet of this park’s beauty. The waterfalls are particularly gorgeous and worth the journey to see them.

Whether you visit for a short or a long time, King’s Canyon National Park will leave you fascinated by its diversity of nature and the range of things to do and see!

By Abi, Happy Go Abi

 

Yosemite National Park

There are so many amazing national parks to visit in the US. Yosemite however, is a great option for those who aren’t very outdoorsy, or have younger children with them. But it does cater to the adventure junkies too. 

Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks on the list. And after even just one afternoon there – you will want to return a million times over. The thing I love about Yosemite is that it is full of amazing scenic views but also some hidden gems worth detouring for.

Tip: Bear in mind that even as late as June, parts of the park may be closed following the winter season. We had a 4-hour detour because a major road was closed. But it was so worth the wait.

Yosemite National Park, California National Parks Bucket List #yosemitenationalpark #familytravel

When it comes to ultimate views, you really can’t go past Taft Point at sunset without stopping. It’s recently made the news for both positive and negative reasons. One couple had a photograph taken of their marriage proposal by chance, and the photographer managed to track them down. However, one couple also fell from Taft Point, assumed, when taking a selfie together.

Therefore, always remember to err on the side of caution and be careful around cliff edges and lookout points. It can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention.

Other highlights for your California national parks bucket list

Other highlights include Half Dome (for rock climbing), Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. There are heaps more, but if I listed everything we would be here all day! 

A real highlight that many don’t know about is Bridgeport. We stayed at an RV park there and rented an anchored RV for the night. At sunrise, we woke up in darkness to enjoy the views from the natural hot spring rock pools at the Travertine Hot Springs. This is evidently a real local haunt as we only saw one other person there. Little kids would absolutely love it!

Yosemite is truly amazing. I need to go back to see more, just like everyone who visits and immediately falls in love with it too. 

By Toni, Enchanted Serendipity

 

Redwood National Park

Home to the tallest trees on earth, Redwood National Park is the most magical of national parks and in 2018 was 50 years old!

It was the discovery of the world’s tallest tree that led to the creation of Redwood National Park in 1968. While the tallest tree lost its title to another, the current record holder is in the vicinity. There are 40 miles of rugged coastline to explore, and you’ll find 45% of the remaining coastal redwoods here.

Redwood National Park, giant Redwoods #redwoodnationalpark #gianttrees

The biggest tree you’ll see here is Big Tree, which has a circumference of 68 feet and is estimated to be 1500 years old.

The Shrine Drive-Thru Tree is the focal point for many visitors, myself included. There are in fact THREE drive through trees on the Redwood Coast. It’s a great sight for all ages and of course fun to drive through too!

For me, though, the unique and best thing about Redwood National Park is simply being able to walk through the woods and stare in wonder at the giant trees, protected for future generations.

By Sarah, A Social Nomad 

Redwood National Park, line of cars #californianationalparks #bucketlist

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California National Parks Bucket List | Tips for amazing family travel to the Redwoods, Yosemite, and more! #californianationalparks #familytravel

Operation U.S. Parks

Does your family love to visit U.S. National and State Parks? This is such a beautiful country, and visiting parks, hiking, camping, and just being outdoors can be a huge education for kids. They need to see their beauty and learn hands-on why we must protect them and the wildlife in them.

I hope you’re enjoying our journey around the country to the U.S. Parks. Have you added to your California National Parks bucket list? Maybe it will give you and yours some inspiration to get out and plan your own visit! Happy Travels!

Check out more articles on U.S. parks:

10 Musts for Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Epic Things to Do at Niagara Falls with Kids

Secrets of Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Epic Things to do at Niagara Falls with Kids

Epic Things to do at Niagara Falls with Kids

Did you know if you go to Niagara Falls with kids you’ll experience 3,160 tons of water flowing over Niagara Falls every second? Amazingly enough, the power of Niagara Falls is capable of producing over 4 million kilowatts of electricity. Situated between the two countries, that electricity is shared by both the United States and Canada.

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

What do I love about these natural giants of power? Absolutely everything! Niagara Falls is one of those super epic impressive sites that if it isn’t on your bucket list, then WHY NOT?? To a child, the immensity of the falls is huge and one of those experiences that will stay with them forever. These are the moments I love to capture with my kiddos. As we begin this year of Operation National Parks, let’s start off with one mouth-dropping state park. This is why we travel to national parks, state parks, and the world!

The perfect family vacation is Niagara Falls with kids. State Parks and family travel are the best! #operationusparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #iloveny #explorermomma

Just the basics

Niagara Falls State Park is located on the border between the United States and Canada. It’s easy to get to from Buffalo, New York or Toronto, Ontario from the Canadian side. Because it is a U.S. State Park, it is located on the U.S. side, but you can get amazing views by crossing over into Canada as well.

TIP: I had no trouble parking and was there mid-September on a weekday. However, I was told the lots fill up quickly in summer, especially on weekends, so if you’re traveling with kids or a large group I would do my best to come on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to avoid lines and crowds.

TIP 2: If you plan to see all the attractions, save some money and purchase a Discovery Pass before you go. It gets you access to Maid of the Mists, Cave of the Winds, and pretty much everything, with about a 35% discount. Check out the Niagara Falls State Park website for the most up to date prices here.

Rainbow over the crash of the falls. Niagara Falls with kids is the perfect family vacation. #operationusparks #explorermomma

Top 10 things to do at Niagara Falls with kids

1. Cave of the Winds

From the parking lot, I meandered over to the Cave of the Winds ticket booth and building. I walked under a grand archway and enjoyed the plants and flowers smartly planned throughout. There was no line, and the friendly woman working the booth gave me a flier of attractions and suggested some options.

TIP: Conveniently, there are also restrooms right next door to the Cave of the Winds ticket area for that 5-year-old’s emergency!

The actual tour is awesome. I’m an admitted history nut and love to spend hours soaking up little bits of random facts and staring at black and white photographs. The beginning of the Cave of the Winds tour is for the general public, and presents a visual experience through displays and then a short film. It is very well done and designed to make the history of the falls come alive to not just the interested history buff, but for the energetic 12-year-old boy, or anyone.

Hurricane Deck at the falls. Cave of the Wind is a must-see experience with kids. #operationusparks #explorermomma

From there you walk over to get on the elevator to take you down to the walkway at the bottom of the falls. You’re given souvenir sandals to wear and keep (the 12-year-old boy I mentioned was super-excited about this), a bag to protect your own shoes, and a yellow poncho to protect you from the water spray. Wander around. I highly recommend it. It’s amazing!

2. Trolley

Take the Niagara Falls trolley with the family. #operationusparks #explorermomma

The trolley is a fabulous option for families to take to the major attractions and sites all over the park. You can leave your car, save your feet, and the kids love the novelty of taking the trolley to each place. All aboard!

3. Maid of the Mist

Niagara Falls Maid of the Mist boat tour. #operationusparks #explorermomma

Maid of the Mist is another must-do at Niagara Falls with kids. This time you get a blue poncho and a tourist-filled boat takes you lazily down the river past flora and fauna past Bridal Falls, Cave of the Winds, and then into the spray of the mighty Horseshoe Falls. From the bank, it looks as if the boat’s enveloped by the water at the bottom of the falls. It’s an amazing experience for sure and a great memory for kids.

4. Niagara Fall Observation Tower

While you’re at the Maid of the Mists, be sure to ride the elevator up to the Niagara Falls Observation Tower. There are some stairs to the top, but you’re rewarded with fabulous views. In addition, should you have a young up and coming bird watcher with you, this is the perfect location to see some of the local peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and other birds. We search for these birds everywhere we go thanks to our friends the Wild Kratts so this is a huge hit with our family.

The Niagara Gorge has officially been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA).

Niagara Falls with the Maid of Mist boat below. #operationuspark #explorermomma

5. Aquarium of Niagara

The Aquarium of Niagara is always a hit with kids who love marine animals. Check out the Penguin Coast exhibit and see some sharks! With over 40 exhibits you’re sure to find the California sea lion or seahorse.

6. Hiking Trails and the Discovery Center

Does your family love to hike? Briefly check out the Discovery Center then pick one of the many hikes to explore. There are convenient signs posted around with the distance of each hike, difficulty, and age appropriateness. It’s super-easy to find the best one for you as an individual or a group with different levels.

7. Walking Tour App

Do you have a teenager attached to their phone with you? Did you know the Niagara Fall State Park has its own Walking Tour app? It’s a great thing to put that pre-teen or teen in charge of downloading the app and giving the family the information it sends to you as you complete the walking tour. Just search for Official Niagara Falls Tour in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. There’s information on 17 sites as you make your way around the park and an interactive map. Depending on where you go it can even send coupons for discounts on ice cream, souvenirs, and more. Click here to learn more about the app.

Flowers with Niagara Falls mist in the background. #operationusparks #explorermomma

8. Niagara Adventure Theater

Okay, you’ve walked, hiked, and are planning to bike. Do you need a rest? The Niagara Adventure Theater provides a little break in your active schedule. When it’s time for a rest, stop at the Niagara Falls State Park Visitor Center. There you can view the half-hour presentation of “Niagara: Legends of Adventure” full of daredevils, stories, and history. It’s air-conditioned and a good place to relax for a while.

9. Biking the State Park

While I did not bike, a family with older kids can have a wonderful time biking around the state park. As you finish with the Adventure Theater look for the rentals tents just outside the Visitor Center. There are different kinds of bikes on offer, even kids bikes for ages 7-13. Ask about the best bike routes or explore on your own.

Here you can also rent wheelchairs, strollers, and kid wagons. I love that this gives everyone access and opportunity to explore the park in their own way!

10. Fireworks and Illumination days

Fireworks and illumination. Family travel at Niagara Falls. #operationusparks #explorermomma
Bryan Goff

If you’re going to get the family out at night, the fireworks and Niagara Falls’ illumination days are spectacular and very popular. Kids love the fireworks and the different displays of color on the water.

Travel Stories

I love people watching when you travel. It’s fun to see the families, individuals, and couples and imagine, what brought them to this place at this time? For example, I ran into a couple at the Cave of the Winds last week. Evidently, I’m fairly approachable being a mom, generally with at least a hint of a smile, and the ability to handle an iPhone, because I get asked all the time to take pictures for people.

This particular couple wanted their picture under the falls at Hurricane Deck, so I took the traditional smiling pose. “Great”, she says, “thanks so much!”

They gave each other a quick kiss before coming back to get the phone from me, and I managed to capture that moment with the kiss under the falls. The woman looked at the photo with the kiss, and a gigantic smile lit up her face. “This is absolutely perfect!” she says. “We’re on our honeymoon, and I’m blowing this one up to frame!”

You never know how you can make someone’s day! It definitely was a great addition to mine!

Join us for Operation U.S. Parks!

Get your free U.S. National Parks pass and join us on the U.S. Parks journey.

Congratulations! Free US National Parks pass. #operationusparks #explorermomma

Books and shows with Niagara Falls

It’s always fun to tie something kids know to their travels. If my son sees something on TV or we read a book about it beforehand, that prior knowledge makes it all that much more interesting when you actually visit. For example, “Mommy! This is where Trek fed the baby Spinosaurus!”

Films and shows


Niagara Falls With Kids Books


Are you going to Niagara Falls with kids?

Niagara Falls is one of these magical places on earth that creates an inner joy and excitement to those who experience it. Last week when I visited, I could feel the enthusiasm in people all around me! Travel establishes a bond or camaraderie with those near you like few things can. Also, it’s another teaching point for me to show my kids how to interact with others and be kind to everyone when you’re traveling or just visiting a local event.

Have you been to Niagara Falls? Tag me in your pics on Instagram @explorermomma. I’d love to see them!

Hover over the Pin and click Save for later! Then don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest here!

Niagara Falls with kids. Family travel awesomeness and things to do. #operationusparks #iloveny #explorermomma  The perfect family vacation is Niagara Falls with kids. State Parks and family travel are the best! #operationusparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #explorermomma

Thanks all!

How to get a FREE US National Parks pass

How to get a FREE US National Parks pass

There’s something magical about being a kid in a national park. Everything is new and wondrous and makes an imprint in your mind that will last a lifetime. Did you know that every single fourth grader in the United States can get a FREE Every Kid in a Park Pass? Yes, a free US National Parks pass. It’s good for the entire family for the whole year and gets you into not just National Parks but all federal lands and waters. How cool is that?! My daughter’s in fourth grade this year and has so inspired our year we’ve titled “Operation US National Parks for Families”.

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

Impact of U.S. National Parks on kids

I grew up in Colorado and feel as though Rocky Mountain National Park is my own backyard and safe haven or escape. It is and will always be near and dear to my heart, but another national park also made a huge impact and imprint on my childhood. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Homer, Alaska. We were fortunate enough to be able to travel up there to visit them a couple of times and also experience the magic that is the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Kenai Fjords National Park, glacier calving

I remember being entranced by the glacier and the huge variety of wildlife I saw in one relatively small area. We took a tour on a little tour boat, and I think my hands were on the bars at the very front with the wind blowing in my face the entire time. I leaned over to see porpoises jump next to us as we sailed along, whales breach and wave their tales in hello, colorful puffins in the rocky cliffs, the bark of sea lions lounging on rocks, a moose on the hill, and SO much more. In a time way before the Wild Kratts entered our lives this was a miracle for me to see. AND it was live and in person, real and in the wild to my mind. It was not a zoo.

Kenai Fjords National Park, sea lions

What is Operation U.S. Parks for Families?

Operation U.S. Parks for Families is a series of blog posts to be featured throughout the  2018-2019 Every Kid in a Park Pass year. The goal of this series is to inspire families to visit national parks together and provide them with ideas for amazing activities in each park they can do as a family.

Who will be featured in Operation U.S. Parks

To begin, Operation US National Parks for Families will feature some of our own fabulous past experiences at national parks. In addition, throughout the year I’ll be highlighting our CURRENT travels to different parks and federal lands. Then as an even bigger BONUS I’ll be highlighting the experiences of other families all over the country! I’m so excited about this aspect of the series so we can provide a broader picture of family experiences with different opinions, likes, dislikes, and interests!

Operation US National Parks for Families. Join our family and more as we travel the United States together. Learn how to get your free US National Parks pass! #travelwithkids #usnationalparks #everykidinapark #explorermomma

Get your FREE US National Parks Pass and join us! 

Would you like to join us for Operation US National Parks for Families Journey? We’d love to have you! Sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly updates on where we’re exploring! Will it be the caves in Carlsbad, New Mexico? Maybe, you’ll get to see and read about an adventure to the giant redwoods and sequoias of Sequoia National Park! Perhaps, if you’re really lucky, we’ll journey to Watkins Glen National Park in New York for scenery and kid-friendly hikes that could be straight out of a Tolkien book. So get your cloaks, backpacks, tents, elf-ears, or whatever you’d like to prepare and join our EPIC National Parks journey today!

How to sign up for your Every Kid in a Park Pass

How do you get your free US National Parks Pass? It is so super simple. All you do is go to the official US Government website here. Explore the website or just click on “Get Your Pass”. As I’m writing this they’ve recently updated the site for the 2018 to 2019 school year. Your fourth grader answers a few questions to make a diary entry to begin to figure out how they’d like to use their new pass. It’s super-easy and a fun activity.

free US National Parks pass, Hand on mouse

Once you sign up and complete the diary on the website, there will be a ticket to print out. Now, you can use it as your yearly pass, or you can take it to your first park or water area, show a ranger, and obtain a wallet-sized card for the year. Did I mention it’s FREE? What an awesome deal to bring families together in nature!

Congratulations! Free US National Parks pass

The next step is to take the family on hundreds of adventures until the card expires August 31, 2019 (or the current school year). Do you know what? If you miss something or don’t have time, little brother can get his own pass in the next year or two. Then you get to plan for that national park year as well!

How to use your free US National Parks Pass

If you’re going to use it you’ve got to plan your first trip! Are you going to camp in the woods? Do you want to see protected animals and wildlife? Maybe you’d just like to find your nearest park to start! Before you go read the official rules here. Then, just present your ticket as you enter the park! The park ranger will trade your printed paper copy of the ticket for an official Every Kid in a Park card, and your fourth grader will sign it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Every Kid in a park pass, free US National Parks pass

There are sooo many opportunities for exploration and fun with this pass! Literally, you’ve got hundreds of places to visit near or far, it’s up to you.

Plan your trip with Operation U.S. Parks for Families

Now, I challenge you! Get out and explore! Follow along with our blog series and gain inspiration. Yes, I formally invite you to travel along with us virtually on our Operation U.S. Parks for Families journey. You can create your own adventures, the sky’s the limit! It’s such fun to plan destinations as a family and give every member a say. Can you tell I’m excited!?

Lily Ridge Trail with free US National Parks pass

Carlsbad Caverns National Park for Families

10 Musts for visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids

Let’s travel with our free US National Parks pass!

I am so thrilled to explore our US National and State parks all over the country! My family and I will be planning and writing about our own trips using the Every Kid in a Park Pass. Also, we’ll all have the opportunity to travel virtually all over the country with other National Park loving families. Truly, I cannot wait to see the beauty of our parks and hear about the super-awesome and life-changing family experiences only nature can inspire and bring together.

My friends, I hope you follow along with us on this magnificent journey to explore our US National Parks!

I’d love to see your own adventures! Tag me in your National and State Park travel pics on Instagram @explorermomma.

Explore a National Park today!

Pin this article to save and share!

Operation US National Parks for Families. Join our family and more as we travel the United States together. Learn how to get your free US National Parks pass! #travelwithkids #usnationalparks #everykidinapark #explorermomma     Did you know you can get a FREE US National Parks pass? Find out how and join our family travel adventure around the United States. #operationnationalparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #ustravel #explorermomma

Thanks to all and HAPPY TRAVELS!

Family Camping Checklist And Must Haves

Family Camping Checklist And Must Haves

Now is the perfect time to be talking about family camping preparations because hey it’s just decided to start SNOWING! Do you know what? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Go ahead and go through your family camping checklist. There’s never a bad time to plan for a camping trip, and I’m in Colorado so since it’s 25 degrees Farenheit right now, tomorrow it should be 74 again, right? Because that’s what happens here!

This post contains affiliate links which means I make a very small percentage if you click through and purchase something. All opinions are strictly my own!

Family camping checklist, campfire pin

Let me first tell you what can happen on a badly planned family camping trip. Last summer we decided on a whim to grab that camping site that had just been released on the website in Rocky Mountain National Park at the Moraine Park Campground. What luck! That place is crazy busy in the summer and we hadn’t booked ours months in advance. We threw the tent, some food, and the kids in the car and set off to enjoy the mountains.

The BAD Camping Experience

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my Rocky Mountains, but what ensued was NOT a pleasurable experience. I did NOT use a family camping checklist. Our campsite was in the middle of a group of sites in the large campground, although at first, we didn’t think it was too close to others. We got our tent up and sent the kids to look for pinecones and bugs. Unfortunately, there’s not a river or lake or a lot to do at that campsite, and we were sort of pinned in. We’d forgotten our normal card games and had to drive out of the campground to do much hiking or other activity.

That night the ground was hard, the hole in our camping mattress painfully evident. Not that we could sleep anyway because it was so cold one of the people at the next campsite turned their car on and ran the heater ALL NIGHT. YES!! All night the hum of the car and the burr of it when the heater came back on caused none of us to get much sleep. By morning we were so tired, grouchy, and picking at one another that we picked up things and went home. It was not like a bear attacked our food and destroyed our campsite, it was just NOT the ideal family camping trip in nature.

SO what did that teach us? PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!! With kids, my sanity revolves around checklists and planning and preparing for every eventuality. Of course, so many people’s personalities are different, but even a little planning can’t hurt!

Prep the kids and test your gear with a trial run

Rocky Mountain National Park tree view

What do you mean by a trial run you may be thinking!? I mean exactly that. If you haven’t used your camping gear for a while, pull it all out and build up a grand event for the kids to CAMP IN THE BACKYARD!! Ooh! Try out some of your favorite or new camping recipes modified for your kitchen, but take it outdoors to eat in camping chairs by the tent. Test out your headlamps, flashlights, even the camp stove if you use one. Also, I like to shake out the tent and sleeping bags to air them a bit and make sure they’ve all been cleaned since the downpour and mud slosh of the last trip!

Another thing that I love about a backyard campout is that it’s a great trial run for the kids! If you have young ones who’ve never camped before it can be scary. In the backyard, it still can be but with easy access to the house. Once the tent and set up is more familiar to a child, they will be more comfortable with it in a foreign setting, your desired campground. Baby steps, right?

Family camping checklist picture, campsite

Reserve your campsite in advance

If you are headed to a national park or a popular campground, be sure to book your campsite online in ADVANCE. The Rocky Mountain National Park campgrounds open up reservations six months in advance, and if you’re planning to go there I suggest you book it as soon as you can.

First, choose your campground. What activities are there around for the kids to do? Do you want to be by a good fishing spot, a lake or a river? Do you want to be close to accessible hikes or areas for wildlife viewing? Or do you just want a space to hang out, play cards, talk, and hang out around a campfire? Some campgrounds even have games like horseshoes, putt-putt, and other things children like to do. Do you need electricity and a bathroom? Decide, what is it you want out of the campsite area?

Second, study the campground map and look at the campsite pictures if there are any. Are you a family that likes to be in the middle of things among a lot of people at a party or more separated with space and a good view? Book your campsite accordingly! If you’ve never been there, consult someone who has or Google reviews for the specific campground. Another thing, be sure the review is recent so you know there hasn’t been a fire or attack of pine beetles or something to drastically change the area!

Third, book your campsite on-line! Find the website for the campground you’ve chosen and get your reservation booked!!

Love to go hiking with your kids?

Check out these awesome Estes Park, Colorado hikes for kids and family!

Estes Park hikes for kids, mountain with golden aspens

Camping Gear

When you’re looking at gear for a camping trip a lot of it depends on the length of time you’re going to be camping and what exactly you’re wanting to do. I’ve admitted I’m no longer a hardcore, a week at a time camper with kids, but I do like a two-night trip. When you do your trial run fun backyard campout you can determine what gear you still may need to get. I would really LOVE to have this entire awesome new tent setup from Cinch!, with solar charging hookups and super easy setup and takedown. However, for our short-term camping, our old tent will probably do just fine! What kind of tent’s on your family camping checklist?

Cinch!

I highly recommend downloading my family camping checklist. You can write all over it, add things, and cross things off as you need. As a mom going in a million directions I know I need something written down clearly defining the next step. Truly, I’ve learned because I’ve had too many experiences where I’ve said oh, I’ll remember that! And then, of course, I don’t, and it gets left in the storage area in the basement.


Sign up for Explorer Momma’s newsletter and as a bonus download this amazing family camping checklist today!

Family camping checklist preview

Family Camping Food

Food! There are so many fun camping recipes on Pinterest I encourage you to find a few new ones to please the family. As a kid, I still remember how much fun it was to wrap my packet of food up in foil and throw it in the fire to cook. How in the world did the adults let me do that?! As a strict rule follower, it was a great release and rebellion for me without really rebelling. Of course, there’s always a traditional s’more to be had as well!

If you are wanting to cook with a campfire or just sit around one, always check for fire restrictions or bans at your campsite before you go!

With food, plan out your days. What will you eat for each meal? What are your snacks? Will it spoil or need to be kept iced? There are a lot of things to think about with food, and my preferred short trips make it a lot easier than a couple week campout, although that is totally doable also.

Another thing to think about is how you can keep your food away from the wildlife in the area. Can you contain it at night so the bears don’t sniff out your camp? (Often there’s a locked “bear box” assigned to campsites to keep food if that’s a problem in the area). Maybe you can tie all the food in a bag up in a tree or in your car? Although, I’ve heard of bears getting into cars as well! Talk to the ranger or campsite director about best practices in regard to food storage.

PLEASE! When you plan out your food, remember you also have to cart out all your trash or find an appropriate receptacle for it!! Leave nature and your campsite as it was when you found it!

Tent camping in the Rocky Mountains

Things to do while camping

I mentioned this briefly before, but think about what things you want to do with the kids or friends while you’re there. Find out what’s available and what will work for you all to do. Add the necessary items to your family camping checklist.

  1. Where are the best nearest hikes?
  2. Can you fish in the area? Who all needs a fishing license?
  3. Can you boat or kayak?
  4. Bring card games to play during a downpour in your tent!
  5. Frisbee, baseball, soccer, or other sports
  6. Plan a nature scavenger hunt for the kids.
  7. Give the kids an old camera and tell them to take pictures of as many different: leaves, pine cones, bugs, birds, animals, or whatever’s around, they can. My son LOVES this and can do it for hours.
  8. Create a nature journal. This is more my daughter’s style. She loves to draw and write about the things she sees. I don’t like to give it too many rules so she can be creative, but you can give suggestions. Why don’t you draw all the flowers, butterflies, or animals you find? Can you imagine a story about that tree and write it out?

Family camping trip, kids hiking

What’s left on your family camping checklist?

Family camping and camping on your own or with friends are two ENTIRELY different animals. I used to love to pack in all my gear and tent on my back 5 miles or more to the backcountry campsite where there wouldn’t be anyone else around. Peaceful. Quiet. Serene.

Add young kids to that equation, and you are headed for a disaster of high magnitude!! Now, as a family, our ideal camping experience is 2 nights at a campground site. In addition, this site is close enough to walk back to the car, but separated enough from the other campsites so you still feel the peace of the great outdoors.

You can have an amazing experience, but it does take some patience and planning. And flexibility, which is what I always have to work on!! I hope you printed your family camping checklist and will use it this summer!

Get your family outside and run! Soak in the sun and stare at the stars. Give it a chance, and planned properly with a family camping checklist, you will LOVE your time and memories made.

Now here’s a question for you! Where are some of your favorite family camping spots all over the world?

 Family camping checklist preview1

Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Are you ready to start planning the perfect summer family vacations and adventures? A lot of times I start planning much earlier in the year, but when spring hits I allow myself to really dig into the details and begin to daydream about summer days on the lake. We love to find new things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado, our absolute favorite lake retreat!

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Did you know Grand Lake is the largest natural lake (meaning not man-made) in Colorado? Also, it’s on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park so can be a great base to avoid the crowds of Estes Park and explore not only the Grand Lake area but the Park as well. There are just so many things to love about Grand Lake, from the historic boardwalk to the burger and ice cream shop on the beach, to the spectacular hikes nearby.

So let’s dig in. What are some of the best things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado as a family?

Things to do in Grand Lake Colorado for the perfect family vacation. Near Rocky Mountain National Park and perfect for hiking, fishing, kayaking, and playing! #coloradotravel #familytravel

Where to stay: Grand Lake Cabins

To start off, where should you stay in Grand Lake? There’s Grand Lake Lodge and smaller hotels around. However, we always prefer to stay in a cabin, if possible right on the lake. There are many ways to find a cabin in Grand Lake. Here are our preferences.

1. Lemmon Lodge

Lemmon Lodge, Grand Lake, CO #grandlakeco #lemmonlodge

Lemmon Lodge is by far our favorite place to rent a cabin each year. To be honest, I’ve stayed in one of their cabins almost every summer since I was eight years old. It’s the perfect family location, a group of cabins right on a private beach. Also, it has a fabulous fishing spot where the river enters the lake and a kids’ play structure. There’s even a fire pit where you can make s’mores! 

2. Airbnb

We’ve had good experiences with Airbnb in the past and you can find some good cabins. My advice is to make sure you look for places with plenty of good reviews and use your best judgment. If you are new to Airbnb you can use my link here to sign up and get $40 off your first booking. Click here for the link to sign up.

3. VRBO

Click here for their website. I’ve noticed that many Grand Lake cabins are now also listed on VRBO so it’s another good option.

Why do I love Grand Lake so much? For me, it’s the perfect little mountain town on the lake with charm and old-time character. It’s not pretentious, and nearly everyone’s friendly and ready to enjoy themselves on the lake. In addition, it’s super kid-friendly. Did I mention it’s also the most beautiful idyllic spot? So, if you get tired of reading a book in your beach chair by the lake or your kids drag you away, here are some fun and entertaining things to do. Grand Lake for kids and families.

Awesome things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

1. Trail Ridge Road

To get to Grand Lake, we like to head west from Estes Park, through Rocky Mountain National Park. A highway to the sky, Trail Ridge Road is the 48-mile portion of U.S. 34 between Estes Park and Grand Lake, Colorado. To me, this is one of the most beautiful stretches of road and mountains you will ever see. 

Not only are there views of majestic mountains, valleys, and snakelike rivers, but also a variety of wildlife and plants. You will see the pine trees, the flowers, and grass of the tundra, and so much more I can’t begin to identify. Personally, when traveling the road I’ve seen moose, elk, deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep, marmots, chipmunks, and all sorts of birds.

Trail Ridge Road, Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

In just a few minutes you travel up from Estes Park and drop 20-30 degrees. The awesome mountain tree-covered landscape changes to tundra as you go higher and higher. At the top point, 12,183 feet in elevation, the wind whips and even in summer cars drive by walls of snow.

If you’re anywhere nearby plan a day of it. Take your time and get out of the car to enjoy the scenic views or take one of the short hikes. The Alpine Visitors Center is almost at the top on the Grand Lake side and worth a stop if nothing else but for the photo op. Stop to take pictures, explore the visitor’s center, or take the Alpine Ridge trail hike at the top. It’s not a long hike, only .6 miles roundtrip; however, you gain 200 feet so can be a bit of a climb. Slow down and breathe in the views. 

One of my favorite places on earth, don’t miss Trail Ridge Road.

2. Play on the beach

Shoveling sand in Grand Lake

Here’s a great way to stay relax and enjoy the view as you read a book and drink your coffee next to the lake. There are a couple of sand beach locations, one in town and open to the public between Grand Lake Marina and Headwaters Marina. We like to stay in one of the cabins in Lemmon Lodge with its own beach and kids’ play structure. Grab a floaty and some sand castle supplies, and the kids are set for the afternoon!

My morning coffee spot Grand Lake, Colorado

3. Hike in and around Rocky Mountain National Park

There are some awesome hikes around Grand Lake, at many different levels depending on who in the family is going. I can’t think of many better things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado than some good hikes. Here are some suggestions to try with your family.

A. Adam’s Falls – easy

Adam's Falls, Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

From the East Inlet Trailhead, Adam’s Falls is a great short hike with an impressive reward at the end. I like this hike because it’s accessible to nearly everyone, and kids feel a good sense of accomplishment when they reach the falls. When I was little I remember my father hanging off the side taking pictures, and I was scared to death he was going to fall in. I think he enjoyed that. However! Since then they’ve added more stone walls to block off dangerous areas and make it more kid and family friendly. Also, it doesn’t take very long if you need an activity because it’s only .9 miles roundtrip.

B. Cascade Falls – medium

Grand Lake wildflowers

If you start at the North Inlet Trailhead, Cascade Falls is a good 6.8-mile roundtrip hike with amazing views and falls. I like it because there’s only a 430-foot elevation gain and doable with older kids. In this area, we’ve seen moose and deer and other wildlife so be on the lookout! It’s also a good trail to spot wildflowers along the trail.

C. Shadow Mountain Lookout – hard

Shadow Mountain Fire Lookout

I’m classifying this hike as hard because it’s difficult for me, and at the ages of 5 and 9 my kids would not get very far. However, it’s a beautiful hike with far-reaching views from the lookout point at the top, and I do recommend it for adults or older, experienced kids. The hike begins at the East Shore Trailhead and is about 9.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,635 feet. Good luck!

View from Shadow Mountain

There are many more hikes around, and it’s always good to ask in one of the local hiking shops which hike is good at the moment. For people who are on them all the time, they can generally tell you which ones are in good shape or difficult to navigate because of snow or mud. I also like to hear which area is their current favorite. You can get some good recommendations!

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park #grandlakecolorado #rmnp

Are you also headed to Estes Park, Colorado?

Estes Park hikes for kids, mountain with golden aspens

4. Fish with the kids on Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain

Fishing is my husband’s favorite activity when we get to Grand Lake. There are great opportunities to catch trout, especially rainbow, brown, and lake trout. I’ve been advised the best time is early morning and the best spot where the river runs into the lake. Of course, there are many great fishing spots from land or even from a boat on the lake. If you forget to purchase a Colorado fishing license, most marinas, fishing tackle shops, and even some gas stations sell them. Currently, kids and seniors fish for free, although seniors must still obtain a license. When you get your license, be sure to also grab the year’s Colorado Fishing Brochure containing regulations and information on the area.

Fishing things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

My son told me recently he’s planning to catch a lot of seaweed and sticks because he doesn’t want to put a hook in the fish. A kind soul.

5. Water activities on Grand Lake

There are many options to get you and your family out floating on Grand Lake. Truly, there are so many things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. As a family, we like to sometimes take the tour boat from the Headwater’s Marina next to the public beach. We like to take it around the lake because the drivers give you the history of the area, lake facts like depths and fishing, and they also point out all the cabins and the famous people who’ve lived there. You’ll also get random facts about which ones are accessible by road or only by boat or snowmobile.

Swimming in Grand Lake Colorado

At several of the marinas, you can rent a canoe, paddleboat, motorboat, pontoon boat, kayak or the newest fad – a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Have you tried out a stand-up paddleboard? They’re those things that look like big surfboards you stand on with a paddle. I’ve even seen people doing yoga on them, but so far I’ve been a chicken to try one. Therefore, this summer’s the time! I will get out on an SUP, and it’s really not the end of the world if you fall in, right? 😉

Kayaking on Grand Lake, Colorado #grandlake #coloradotravel

6. Go on a nature and wildlife hunt

Momma and baby moose, things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

My kids always love to go out on what we call a “nature hunt”. This is one of their favorite things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. You can do this on a hike, around town, or just as you wander around your cabin. Be on the lookout for animals such as hummingbirds, deer, elk, moose, coyotes. We try to take pictures when we can, and my daughter likes to draw a picture of each animal spotted in your journal. There are also some beautiful wildflowers and plants to see around, and we always love seeing the Colorado state flower, the Rocky Mountain Columbine.

7. Kauffman House Museum

I’m a complete history geek and love to check out local museums when we travel. The Kauffman House Museum is conveniently located near the lake just up from the public beach. It was built in 1892 and run as a hotel by the Kauffman family until 1946. Now it’s run by the Grand Lake Area Historical Society as a museum and open most days from 11 am to 5 pm. Check their website here for more information and hours.

Kauffman House Museum, Grand Lake Colorado #historiccolorado #grandlakecolorado

The museum is a fun activity for history buffs like myself and for older kids interested in how people lived in the area over 100 years ago.

8. Visit the Holzwarth Historic Site

Another interesting hike and interactive historic site for the family to visit is the Holzwarth Historic Site, also sometimes called Never Summer Ranch. The trailhead and parking area to visit the ranch is located a little over 7 miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s about 1.3 miles roundtrip from the parking lot to visit the site and historic structures.

Holzwarth Historic Site

During the summer, volunteers help visitors connect to the Holzwarth’s story, the German family who immigrated to Colorado and settle the original homestead and began the ranch. They also teach the homestead way of life and what early dude ranches were like on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park. You might even get to have your picture taken in a period giant bearskin coat!

9. Grand Lake boardwalk and shopping

Still wondering what to do in Grand Lake? Another fun activity is to wander up and down visiting the shops along the historic Grand Lake boardwalk. You may be on a mission to find your perfect cabin style souvenir or just window shop, but it’s a must-do activity for our family. There’s also a conveniently located park and play area for kids about midway down the boardwalk, so a good resting place.

There are so many other things you can find to do if you want such as putt-putt golf, bowling, making s’mores, card games, and fun restaurants to try.

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

10. Our favorite restaurant – The Fat Cat Cafe

I’ll do another post later on restaurants and food in Grand Lake, but I have to point out the Fat Cat Cafe here too. Of all the wonderful things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado, of course, you have to eat. Do NOT miss the Fat Cat! We absolutely love the food and the people who run this place. Truly, I don’t know how she does it, but the sausage, yes I said breakfast sausage, is to die for. I love pretty much any of the food, but I’d also recommend especially any of the homemade pies. Like the banana cream. The last time I was there I bought a whole one on our way out of town to take home with me it was so good.

Does spring make you want to travel?

Yesterday I walked around my backyard with my son, just sort of to survey the yard work we need to get done. I was also trying to get him to burn some energy because he’d been going crazy being inside so much lately. Did you know that children actually grow faster in spring than other times of the year? So says the book Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season by Schmidt and Felch, and I really believe it to be so. Kids have been cooped up more all winter and are ready to run and grow!

Back to our explorations, we discovered some tulip and crocus leaves starting to peak out through the old leftover fall leaves we planned to clean out. I LOVE spring flowers, lilac bushes starting to bloom, and the sun warming off the chill in the air. It’s spring, and do you know what that means? Yes, indeed, it’s time to plan a trip to Grand Lake, Colorado!

At least, that’s what it means to me. Flowers coming up through the snow are the clear signal I’m allowed to begin dreaming of our June trip to Grand Lake. It’s truly one of my favorite spots on this earth, and I hope you get to visit one day. Try out any or all of these activities, and if you discover something else awesome I’ve left out please give a shout-out in the comments below!

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Awesome things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. Perfect family vacation destination with fishing, kayaking, hiking, and more! #grandlakecolorado #ilovecolorado

Things to do in Grand Lake Colorado, Mount Baldy

Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado.

 

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