Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Arches National Park, UT

Arches National Park boasts many wonderful sights including natural arches and interesting rock formations, but for me, the thing that will always stand out most was the intense, saturated color. The fiery orange of the landscape set against the crisp blue of the sky with bursts of colorful flowers scattered about, was almost overwhelming to my senses. I'll never forget it!

What You Need to Know

Like most National Parks, there's so much that can be done here: camping, backpacking, and the like. Be sure to check the website for all the possibilities! You could certainly spend a week or more just exploring and taking it all in. For us, though, we found it to be a great day stop on our Grand Canyon loop trip. You'd be surprised at how much you can see in just a few hours!

The entrance and Visitor's Station is at the Southern most part of the park. Spend some time in the Visitor's Center, check in with a Ranger, and then consider walking the Nature Trail to learn more about the flora you'll encounter in the park.

You can get an idea of the trails ahead of time. There are many easy, short trails along the driving route and lots of picture-taking and overlook areas, too. If you have plenty of time, definitely consider one of the longer, more difficult trails!

There are bathrooms scattered throughout the park, but there are not any restaurants. Be sure to take snacks and plenty of water.

Most of the trails are safe, but rough so strollers won't work well.

Remind kiddos to stick to the marked paths. With so much open space and rocks to climb, it's very tempting to want to go off-path. However, there are many delicate ecosystems that need us to look out for them.

For safety precautions, click here.

Check out some of the Ranger-led programs prior to setting out. Personally, I think stargazing at Arches would be amazing!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Yosemite National Park, CA

Imposing granite mountains, lush greenery, roaring waterfalls, and towering trees - Yosemite National Park in California has it all! It's no wonder this destination consistently makes the top 10 national parks destinations and boasts around 4 million visitors every year.

Mountain Trio

What You Need to Know

Due to busyness in the summer and road closures during the Fall, Spring, and Winter, finding just the right window to visit is important. We went in mid May and it was pretty much perfect. There were a couple of road closures, but it was mainly for the more remote areas of the park that will be of greater interest to serious campers and hikers. It didn't impact us at all.

For lodging, we decided to stay in Evergreen Lodge, which is in very close proximity to the park. There are also lodging and camping options within the park itself, but they can fill up very quickly. Of course, you can always stay outside the park, as well, but it adds to the drive time every day. I cannot recommend Evergreen enough. The restaurant was stellar, our cabin was the perfect blend of rustic charm and comfort, and there were lots of neat bonuses such as the game room and the natural playground.

Evergreen Lodge Playground

As for food, we ate at our lodge restaurant twice a day and in the park for lunch. As per our usual, we took snacks and water with us for the in between times. HOWEVER, it's important to note that bears are a very real threat at Yosemite so it's not recommended you keep food in your car! Take only the snacks you can keep on you and leave the rest back in your room.

Check the park website for updated information on transportation. There are shuttles servicing some areas of the park. Since it wasn't busy when we went, we preferred to drive ourselves. This worked very well for us for the time of year we went. Another thing to note about transportation - larger vehicles such as RVs are limited as to where they can go due to the steep and narrow roads.

As with many of the larger national parks, Yosemite can easily occupy you for a week. But, if you only have a day or two it's still absolutely worth a visit! I'd recommend concentrating on Yosemite Valley. Start at the Visitor's Center and check in with a ranger for up-to-date info on closures or warnings. Rangers are also great for giving recommendations!

We spent the day working our way around the loop. After the Visitor's Center, we hiked Lower Yosemite Falls, then Mirror Lake, and finally Bridalveil Falls. If you follow the loop around, you'll find lots of pull-outs for picture-taking opportunities. We ate lunch in the valley since everything there is nice and close.

Bridalveil Falls

Covered Bridge

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake Trail

Yosemite Falls

Day 2 was supposed to be devoted to the Southern portion of the park, Mariposa Grove, but it was absolutely pouring. Mariposa Grove is known for it's sequoias, but since we were planning on visiting Sequoia National Park anyway, we decided to cut our losses and head on out to get away from the rain.

Additional Resources

Learn about the Jr. Ranger booklet requirements here.

More NPS resources here.

National Park lesson plans here, courtesy of PBS.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Badlands National Park, SD

Don't let it's ominous name put you off - the Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, is a wonderful way to spend a day! Merely driving through this picturesque park is a delightful experiences with lovely overlooks and vistas - and the occasional animal sighting - but add in the many family-friendly trails and boardwalks and it makes for a great adventure.

First view of the Badlands

As with most national parks, you could certainly spend more time here, but if one or two days is all you have to spare, it's still very much worth a visit! We arrived at about 11 and left before sundown. We saw a great deal of the Northern portion of the park and felt we had ample time to experience and enjoy what it had to offer.

What You Need to Know

There are multiple entrances to the park, but I'd recommend starting off at the Ben Reifel Visitor's Center. You can learn about the park there and check in with the park rangers to learn about closures or updates.

There are multiple short trails to explore and lots of overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road. Door Trail, Window Trail, Cliff Shelf, Saddle Pass, and the Fossil Exhibit Trail are all half a mile or so. The Notch Trail is longer and more strenuous, but it involves a ladder, which is a lot of fun for kids.

Saddlepass Trail

Window Trail

Short boardwalk trail

Keep an eye out for Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and don't be surprised if you see other wildlife scattered throughout the park. We saw lots of bison and some sheep!

Consider picking up a booklet at the Visitor's Center so your kiddos can earn their Jr. Ranger badge. This badge requires participation in a ranger-led activity OR viewing the movie so leave some time for that! For something different, consider picking up a GPS activity booklet.


As for food and lodging, there is a campground and a lodge (operating seasonally) inside the park. Be sure to check online for hours and availability. Otherwise, the nearby town of Wall has food and lodging. We ate breakfast in Wall and then packed a lunch and lots of snacks (and lots and lots of water!!) to tide us over during our day in the Badlands.

590 West

Storms can pop up quickly in the park, so sneak a peek at the weather before you head out for the day. We did have a storm blow through while we were there, but it came and went and didn't slow us down, thankfully. Apparently they can be vicious with lots of lightening, so be mindful of that possibility.

Additional Resources

The Badlands National Park offers several unique educational opportunities. The first is distance learning. The second is the ability to teleconference with a park ranger! This would probably have to be done as a part of a group, so if you're a part of a co-op, it might be worth looking into! Last, but not least, consider printing off this scavenger hunt checklist at home to be completed at the park.

For further resources, Enchanted Learning has a short lesson and printout featuring a prairie dog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

The Grand Canyon is an iconic vacation spot for good reason. It's truly one of those breathtaking views that cannot be adequately captured on camera or film and each vantage point offers a different perspective. I cannot think of a better way to spend time than wandering through nature, marveling at staggering beauty.

First view of the Grand Canyon

Like many National Parks, you could find enough to do here to spend an entire week - there's a bounty of trails and programs. However, we covered most of it in two days and felt that was adequate time to capture the essence of the Grand Canyon.

The park is divided into two main sections - the North Rim and the South Rim. If you're planning a family vacation, you're focus will probably be the South Rim. The North Rim is pretty remote and has little to offer in the way of amenities. 

The park can further be divided between the right, towards Hermit's Rest, and the left, toward Desert View Dr. During our trip, we spent the first day exploring the Visitor's Center, which is about dead center, and then we followed the trail along the rim toward's Hermit's Rest. On day 2, we drove down Desert View Drive ending at the Desert View Watchtower.

Bird watching near Hermit's Rest

What You Need to Know

There is a shuttle system that will get you all the way down to Hermit's Rest in the one direction, and partly down Desert View Drive, in the other. We went during the off season and were surprised at how quickly the shuttles filled. We decided to mainly walk the trail down to Hermit's rest, taking the shuttle now and then between the longer stops, and then took the shuttle for the return trip back to the parking lot. On day 2, we skipped the shuttle altogether, opting instead to drive ourselves since the shuttles don't go all the way down Desert View Drive. Be sure to check before you go to be sure of shuttle operations and road closures specific to the time of year you'll be visiting.

Be on the lookout for ranger-led programs! We attended one right off the bat and it was a great way to learn more about the park! My kiddos are both readers, but even they can only pay so much attention to an endless array of placards - there's just something more engaging about a live person, and an expert no less.


The Grand Canyon also has Jr. Ranger booklets! For those who are interested in attaining a badge, this Jr. Ranger program requires children to participate in a ranger-led program, so plan accordingly.

The park now has a mobile app! Check it out and download it before you leave home.

The Watchtower

Far-off view of the Watchtower

For food and lodging, check the website for the most up-to-date information. Tusayan, a small community about 7 miles South of the park, has some options. We stayed in Williams, which is about an hour from the park. It had lots of food and lodging options and some interesting Route 66-related activities and stores. For both days, we ate breakfast in Williams, ate lunch at one of the Grand Canyon restaurants or snack shops, and then headed back to Williams for dinner, surviving off of our own snacks and water in between times.

Unique rock formations. 

You can hike down into the canyon, but it's tenuous and takes a lot of time - the better part of the day. Our boys were 8 and 11 when we went and even though it was May, it was hot. We decided against that particular hike, but it's certainly worth considering if you have teens and everyone is in good physical condition.

Overall, this is probably a trip better suited to bigger kiddos and teens, but little ones can certainly be accommodated, it just might be more work for mom and dad - lots of stamina and a watchful eye. The paths were all in good condition and might work for a very rugged stroller, but carriers will be your best bet here.

Tusayan Ruins
With so much to see and do in the world, I don't often find myself longing to return to a place I've already been, but the Grand Canyon has found a place on that list. I'd love to return when my boys are older teens or adults and hike into the canyon with them and maybe raft on the Colorado river. But no matter when you go or what you're able to do - or not do - you'll be sure to remember the sheer beauty and grandeur that is the Grand Canyon National Park.

Additional Resources

The park offers 2 free lesson plans! One on Geology in National Parks, and another on Stratigraphic Column Formation. In addition, browse through these "distance learning" resources for all ages!

Check out the books below or purchase them through my Amazon Affiliate links.