Spring visit to a national park with a toddler in tow
January 5, 2013 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Which national park should we hit with our toddler this spring?

Last March we took our 8 month old along on a trip to Zion National Park. It was a great experience! We stayed at the lodge in the park so we could head back to the room for naps, and she was easy to carry in our Ergo. The weather was great and since it was the off-season the park wasn't super crowded.

We'd love to replicate this experience at another wonderful national park. Obviously weather can be unpredictable, and now we're dealing with a toddler who walks and runs, but is still willing to ride in a carrier sometimes (we now have a structured backpack style carrier). We love hiking and photography.

Any advice?
posted by eliina to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
well I guess Yosemite is an obvious answer, but if you camp/stay in the valley ie Curry Village area, its a vast, flat area surrounded by astounding views. there are foot and bike paths, tons of families and kids and plenty of 'resources' to fit the comfort level you want/need/can afford.

when I first read this question I did not see the 'with' and thought 'whoa, who would ask about hitting their kid here?'
posted by supermedusa at 2:05 PM on January 5, 2013

Great Sand Dunes? The surging water would be around in the spring and there is a lodge near the entrance.
posted by buttercup at 2:07 PM on January 5, 2013

I would advise against Yellowstone - there are signs everywhere about how you will almost certainly be scalded to death if you leave the paths. I remember thinking while we were wandering around there that it would be a total nightmare to try to keep little kids corralled.
posted by something something at 2:39 PM on January 5, 2013

When our oldest daughter was 2, we took two weeks and toured Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. We even went into Waterton Park in Canada. She enjoyed the thermal features of Yellowstone the best -- they were so exciting. Yellowstone can get crowded, and you definitely will have to keep a close eye on a young one, but we had a lot of fun. Plus, there are a lot of places that offer food -- including the ice cream shop at Old Faithful. This is useful for bribery. Just use common sense and invest in a kid leash if necessary. The only part where I felt uneasy with her was here. I'm afraid of heights, though, so I would have been uneasy even if I was by myself.

Glacier has some great ranger-led hikes where you ride on a boat to get to the hiking location. She really enjoyed those as well and we found that they worked great with a toddler's attention span. We'd all enjoy the boat ride and then strap her into the backpack carrier when we got to our hiking destination. We also took her by the stables to pet the horses and she liked that too.
posted by Ostara at 2:47 PM on January 5, 2013

My first thought was Glacier as well, though the time of year gives me pause.

Perhaps the Redwood National (and/or State) Parks? Kids love it. My parents took us there when we were little, and the memories have stayed with me decades later.

Big Sur would also be lovely (another place that holds strong memories from family trips when I was a wee lass).

The desert parks in springtime can be extraordinary, so that might be another option. But I think for the little one, the ooh-and-ahh of the big trees might be more enchanting than desert majesty.
posted by nacho fries at 3:01 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fairly kid-friendly; Cades Cove is a lovely place to explore and there are gazillions of miles of hiking trails and many of the less-challenging Quiet Walkways to explore in the backcountry. There's virtually no lodging within the park (the only exception I know of is the LeConte Lodge, which requires reservations and a vertical one-mile hike... the lodge supplies are packed in on a llama train). There are, however, tons of accommodations in the gateway towns of Pigeon Forge & Sevierville, TN (touristy) and Townsend, TN (quiet), Bryson City (quiet) and Cherokee (touristy) NC. You would likely see bear, deer and raptors of all descriptions. It would be unsurprising to see foxes, otters, beaver, boar, bobcat, and if you're very lucky maybe a hellbender. As for timing, well, it's always lovely here but the rhododendron peaks in late June/early July.
posted by workerant at 4:12 PM on January 5, 2013

Sequoia National Park is beautiful and the enormous trees are surreal.
posted by mmascolino at 5:01 PM on January 5, 2013

Moab, Utah is right smack-dab between Arches and Canyonlands; both parks have hikes that are more like "short walks"; Arches in particular has a couple of hikes where the payoff is close enough to the parking lot that you can easily turn back if your child gets a little cranky. Spring would also be a good time because you're just barely hitting the beginning of the busy travel season, and it's also not too hot yet.

If you stay in Moab you're about five minutes' drive from Arches and about 20 minutes' drive from part of Canyonlands, and there are also two state parks to explore as well. And it is impossible to take a bad photo there. (I was just there last week and am depressed as all hell I'm not still there.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2013

Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. 20 mile long beaches, great scenery, easy forest hikes, lots of fantastic cultural experiences and whale watching if your toddler is a brave one and likes big animals.

Lots of options for accomodations including cottages and weekly rentals as well as camping. Just a real gem
posted by salishsea at 8:11 PM on January 5, 2013

Seconding Great Smoky Mountains--if you do go, stay in Townsend instead of Gatlinburg.

Mammoth Cave also has a nice lodge and lots of cave walks and hiking both, as well as a nice river tour aboard a paddleboat. And Carlsbad Caverns is also pretty neat, with hundreds of thousands of bats that emerge at dusk from the Bat Cave.

I'd suggest the Everglades, because the animal watching there is fantastic (your toddler would LOVE the Anhinga Trail). However, the lodge down at Flamingo has been closed for a while--you'd be better off waiting until he/she is old enough to camp. There may be a lodge or other accommodations at Everglades City, though...not sure.
posted by tully_monster at 9:30 PM on January 5, 2013

Newberry National Volcanic Monument has lakes, waterfalls, forests, ancient lava flows, and the view from the top of Paulina Peak on a clear morning is astonishing. It is also a short drive from there to Crater Lake National Park which is more amazing in person than the pictures.
posted by wobh at 10:04 PM on January 5, 2013

We've been taking (the now 4 year old) mini-foodgeek to Yosemite/Tuolumne/Joshua Tree/Pinnacles since he was about 3 months old. Yosemite is crazy easy with a kid - beautiful scenery, lots of interesting stuff to do, a beach in the middle of the valley, friendly staff, etc. We almost always camp when we're there but we've also stayed in the various tent cabins. Avoid Curry Village at all costs, the tent cabins are nearly touching each other and they don't allow cooking/campfires. Housekeeping camp also reminds me of a refuge camp but at least they have campfire rings and more space between cabins.
posted by foodgeek at 10:31 PM on January 5, 2013

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