This past year turned out to be pretty epic in terms of travel for us. Our number one goal was to squeeze every bit of use out of our 4th-grade Every Kid In A Park Pass, and I think we did pretty well! We were able to visit six National Parks (for a total of nine with our EKIAP pass beginning in the fall of 2016), along with three additional National Park sites.
If you look back on our original plan, we were hoping to visit Alaska and the Mighty Five in Utah. Unfortunately, we did not make it to any of those, which is really the only disappointment I have. We decided to abandon this plan for three reasons - cost, vacation time, and visiting the desert in the middle of summer. We'll find a better time to do those...
We made a decision to scrap those in favor of Florida's parks, as well as Virgin Islands National Park. It turned out to be a shrewd decision due to the catastrophic hurricane season experienced this year in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it will be some time before St. John and Virgin Islands National Park will recover, but most of the roads and trails are now back open.
With a slight detour to Peru over spring break, we were pretty much all in for America's National Parks this year. What can we say - we're hooked! Here are our best photos from our adventures. We hope they inspire your family to get out and explore these awesome national treasures. Enjoy, and we'll see you out there!
2017 National Parks in Pictures
Mammoth Cave National Park
We visited Mammoth Cave National Park in January as part of a road trip over a long weekend. Free admission, cool tours, and not many crowds made this a great park to visit. Once in the cave, the temperature is about the same in winter and summer, so any time is a good time to visit this park.
Check out out post on visiting Mammoth Cave National Park with kids here.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Just after school let out, we drove up to Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio, to spend some time at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cedar Point for some roller coasters. This is a beautiful little park just a short drive outside of Cleveland, and it boasts gorgeous waterfalls, easy hiking with the kids, and even a train you can ride through the park if you'd like.
Read more about visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park with kids here.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Our first Florida Park of 2017 was Dry Tortugas National Park.
What. A. Place.
You can only get here by boat or seaplane, and the remoteness just makes it even more special. Home to Fort Jefferson - the largest brick structure in the Americas - Dry Tortugas was built by the U.S. Army, but was abandoned due to cost.
This is a really cool place to explore with kids because of the fun nooks and crannies of the fort, and the sweeping vistas from the top. Snorkeling is a must-do here, and you can even spend the night if you like. Also, skip the ferry and take the boat plane. It's totally worth it.
Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park is on the island of St. John and covers nearly the entire island. To really experience this park, be sure to rent a car. We rented ours at the airport in St. Thomas and just brought it over on the car ferry to St. John, which was fun for the kids. Beaches, old sugar plantations, and even artifacts from ancient native tribes are all reasons to visit. When you're done, be sure to swing by Caneel Bay resort for some gelato to cool off.
See our post on visiting Virgin Islands National Park with kids here.
Biscayne National Park
Just south of Miami is Biscayne National Park. Most of this park actually exists under water, so plan on booking a guided boat tour of the park, or take some kayaks out on the water. Its proximity to both Miami and Everglades National Park make this one pretty easy to visit.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is enormous, so plan on spending the good part of a day here. An airboat tour was absolutely the best, and the kids were grinning ear to ear through the whole thing. We started at the Shark Valley Visitor Center and then made our way across the park, stopping at Big Cypress National Preserve along the way, before arriving at Everglades City for lunch and an airboat tour.
We finished the day over at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center on our way to Bonita Springs - our favorite Gulf Coast Resort.
Read more about visiting Everglades National Park with kids here.
Other National Park sites we visited in 2017
Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
9:01 a.m. on April 19, 1995.
As Oklahomans, this park was a hard one to get through, and we were overcome with some pretty intense emotions during our visit. Even so, this is a park that everyone should experience. It's really well done, and serves as a great reminder of the resiliency and compassion of a grieving nation.
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch
We visited the Arch and the Old Courthouse right before July 4th while the courthouse was decorated with American flags from top to bottom. It was a fun surprise that we didn't know about. It was also our first trip up to the top of the Arch - America's tallest National Monument.
Big Cypress National Preserve
This park wasn't even on our list, but as we were driving from one side of the Everglades to the other, we passed right through Big Cypress, so we decided to stop. We're glad we did, because out on the boardwalk is where we spotted our first alligator of the trip!
What about 2018?
We're already looking forward to what parks might be on our list for the upcoming year. Even though we no longer have our 4th-grade pass, it's been such a fun way to bond as a family that we don't see these trips ending any time soon. And that's precisely why Every Kid in a Park is such a tremendous program for families. The purpose is clear - get families out into our parks to see them for themselves, and they'll likely keep coming back.
I know we will.
Other National Park adventures we've taken.
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