The National Parks encompass some of the most beautiful places in the United States. Every US National Park has something great to explore for how do you choose the best US national parks for teens? From history and adventure to breathtaking overlooks and protected environments, national parks are one of the treasures of the United States and are amazing destinations for a teen adventure.
Keep reading or scroll down for some of our top ideas for national parks to visit with your teens.
What Makes the Suggestions below the Best US National Parks for Teens?
Of course, selecting the best US national park for your family depends on your family. Every teen, and every family, has a different idea of what makes the perfect vacation. If your teens is looking for hiking in epic mountains, you may want to choose something in the west. If you want the best national parks with amazing rock features – you may want to consider Utah, Arizona, or Alaska. If your teen loves the water, look for a national park where you can access the beach such at the Everglades, Hawaii or the US Virgin Islands. The suggestions are just some of our personal favorites that provide enough diversity and adventure for teens.
Oftentimes the best place to visit might be the closest National Park to your home – you can see a map of US national parks here. We love visiting Acadia National Park since it is relatively close to home for us. Choosing the parks nearest to you helps build a sense of the place you live and help teens develop and strengthen their ties to your area.
A Little About US National Parks
Since 1916, the National Park Service has welcomed visitors to some of the most beautiful places in the United States and the world. Each year they welcome around 318 million people! This means it is important to plan your trip in advance. Some parks now have permit and timed entry systems, shuttles and more to help control numbers and protect the environment. If you can, visit during the off season. If you can only visit during the summer, book your lodging far in advance.
How to Plan a National Park Trip with Kids
As soon as you decide where to go, you will need to decide important questions such as how to get there, where to stay, what activities to do and how to get around. If you start by selecting activities you will have a better sense of whether you want to camp, stay in a hotel or rent a house. Some national parks are so large that it is better to camp inside the park if possible to save driving in and out of the park each day. For most National Parks, it is best to rent a car although if there is a shuttle service (such as in Zion) you could easily stay in town and use the shuttle to get into the park.
When choosing activities at National Parks, you should look carefully at your options and decide whether you are better off booking a tour or going on your own. It’s usually cheaper to go on your own, even if you are renting equipment, but certain activities (like a cultural tour at Mesa Verde) are best done with a group.
Since National Parks get crowded and wildlife tends to be best early in the morning it is always a good idea to get up early. This is not always something teens are happy about, so you could also plan to visit later in the day. If you are visiting in the summer, visiting early and late helps you avoid the heat.
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to include your teen when you are planning a US National Parks trip. Getting your kids opinions and perspective will increase their enjoyment of the adventure, and show them that their ideas matter. See more about How to Plan the Best Adventures for Teens.
My favorite places to research National Park Travel are:
10 of the Best US National Parks for Teens
Here is a list of some of the best US National Parks for teens in no particular order. A few on the list are actually more than 1 park but are close enough that you can usually explore both. Many of these parks are also great if you’re looking for the best national parks for families with kids of all ages.
1. Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
Steaming geysers, epic wildlife and towering mountain peaks. The combined Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks are a wonderland to explore with teens. There is something here for everyone and an out of this world feeling as you drive through Yellowstone that is incomparable. If you and your teen are looking for adventure, there are many hikes and biking opportunities throughout both these parks.
Adventures: hike the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, visit the geysers, see Old Faithful, get up early and see the wildlife in Yellowstone, bike to Jenny Lake on the Trail, take the boat across Jenny Lake and hike to Inspiration Point or keep going up Cascade Canyon.
Planning: Yellowstone is a massive park. If you can, try to stay in the park, otherwise West Yellowstone offers lots of excellent lodging options. You will also want a car or you can join a tour since there is a lot of ground to cover. You can camp near the Grand Tetons, or look for a place to stay in Jackson.
2. Bryce and Zion
If you haven’t spent time in the Southwest, the canyons of both Zion and Bryce are awe-inspiring. The two parks are about an hour and a half apart so it is worth doing both at the same time. You can also visit Grand-Staircase Escalante and Capital Reef if you have time. We recommend spending a day in Bryce and more time in Zion.
Activities: hike the Narrows, Angel’s Landing, or any of the shorter trails off the main canyon in Zion, visit a slot canyon, drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and stop for short walks or overlooks, go canyoneering or rock climbing, hike down into Bryce Canyon and explore the hoodoos.
Planning: There are both camping and lodging options in Springdale outside Zion. Springdale is very easy and convenient with lots of restaurants and shops. You can stay directly outside the gate of Bryce Canyon, or do a day trip from Zion. You will likely want a car to get to Zion and to Bryce, but there are convenient shuttles in both parks.
3. Olympic National Park
This National Park has it all – stunning coastlines, gorgeous mountains and temperate rainforests. This is another big national park that needs multiple days to explore. I would suggest spending at least a day in each environment (beach, mountains, rainforest) and more if you can.
Activities: Hike in the Hoh Rainforest, hike (and camp) along the coastline at one of the many beaches, drive up to Hurricane Ridge, and explore the Sol Duc Valley.
Planning: Since the park is spread out, you will want a car and will likely want to stay in more than one location. You can fly to Seattle, rent a car and take the ferry across Puget Sound.
See guides about visiting Olympic National Park.
4. Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is spectacular and completely lives up to the hype. Until you’ve stood on the edge and peered down or climbed down into this massive canyon, it is hard to put it into perspective. This park should make everyone’s list of Best US national parks for teens or families. Luckily, it is easy to visit and you should plan at least a few days in this national park.
Activities: Bike and hike along the South Rim, visit the canyon at sunset and sunrise, hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, go rafting, take a helicopter ride
Planning: The best place to stay is at the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Since you are staying in the park, you are close enough to get up early for the sunrise. You should also plan to rent a car since the Grand Canyon itself is so big.
5. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
A true natural playground with 3.3 million acres of mountains, temperate rainforests, fjords and glaciers. This park is dynamic with whales, bears, marine life and stunning scenery. Many people visit the park by cruise ship, but you can also stay just outside the park and do a day trip into the park by boat.
Activities: Take a boat tour into the park, kayak, or catch a helicopter ride
Planning: Most people get to Glacier Bay NP by boat or fly into Gustavus. If you can stay in the Glacier Bay Lodge in the park, but there are also lots of lodging options right outside the park as well. If you want to camp, you will need to do a 30 minute orientation in order to get a permit.
6. Haleakala National Park
Drive to the top of Haleakala Crater to watch the sunset, sunrise or enjoy some star gazing, and then explore the drive between Hana and Kaupa. Your teen will love the adventure that takes you from the coast at sea level to over 10,000 feet at the crater. See more about Haleakala National Park.
Activities: Bike the roads throughout the park, watch the sunrise at Haleakala Crater then take a hike, drive the road to Hana, visit Waimoku Falls
Planning: Fly into Maui and rent a car to drive the road to Hana and visit the crater (there are tours if you don’t want/have a car). Consider staying in the upcountry Maui area.7. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
7. Rocky Mountain National Park
Amazing mountains and pristine alpine lakes, it’s clear why over 3 million people visit Rocky Mountain National Park every year. There are so many opportunities for adventures for you and your teen and you can make the adventure as epic as a multi-day backpacking trip, or as simple as booking a week of lodging in Estes Park and exploring during the day.
Activities: short and long hikes for every adventure, backpacking, biking, and rock climbing. Our favorite hikes were Emerald and Nymph Lakes and Sky Pond.
Planning: The easiest way to get here is to fly into Denver and drive up to the park. Most people stay in Estes Park just outside the main gate and there are many options for lodging, camping, and places to eat.
See more about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
8. Everglades National Park
Explore this 1.5 million acres national park in Southern Florida to see amazing wildlife. There is so much to do here and this one of a kind park is a fun and exciting place to explore with your teen. This trip is especially great if you and your teen are nature lovers. You can also combine your trip here with the beach, a drive down the Florida Keys or a visit to Biscayne National Park.
Activities: Bike, take a guided canoe ride, hike the Anhinga Trail, take an airboat ride, kayak around the ten thousand islands or go birdwatching.
Planning: Miami International Airport is 45 miles away. There is no public transportation inside the park, so you will likely want a car. There is also no lodging inside the park, but you can find lots of places to stay in Florida City or Homestead.
9. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a special place with tall waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and dramatic cliff faces like Half Dome and El Capitan. As one of the oldest parks, there is a historic aspect here and an emphasis on the importance of National Parks as an American icon. It is also a large park so needs more than just one day to explore.
Activities: Visit Yosemite Falls, hike, go horseback riding, raft on the merced river, go gold-panning or fishing.
Planning: There are several entrances to the park, so you may want to decide what to do before you decide what part of the park to visit. Fresno is the closest airport, but many people fly into San Francisco and rent a car.
10. Acadia National Park
In my opinion, Acadia should make the list of one of the best National Parks in the US, but I might be a little biased since it is the closest National Park to our home. While it doesn’t have some of the dynamic geology of some of the other parks already listed, it is full of fun activities for the whole family, and there is a range of activities for everyone. Acadia has a striking coastline and the allure of the Maine coast.
Activities: Bike the carriage roads, hike or drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, drive the park loop road, visit Jordon Pond and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, hike the Precipice and Beehive Trails.
Planning: Rent or bring your car, stay in Bar Harbor or one of the nearby towns/campsites.
See more about visiting Acadia National Park.