When we plan vacations, we often like to tie them around a national park. Just last summer, our main destination was Great Smokey Mountains National Park. There are so many amazing and beautiful things to see.
National parks are often a big trip. What if you’re looking for a weekend away or just a day trip? That’s when it’s time to check out a state park. With over 6600 state parks located all over the United States, you’re sure to find something within a quick driving distance from your home.
1. It’s an inexpensive way to take a day trip or a weekend away. Entrance fees vary according to location, but no matter where, it’s usually inexpensive to visit a state park, especially when you compare the cost to other tourist attractions. In many states you can even purchase an annual pass for all the parks in the state. If you plan to visit often, this is the way to go. Once you’re in the park, there are many activities that don’t have any additional costs. A state park really is a fun and inexpensive way to have an adventure with your family.
2. Learn about the local wildlife. Do you want to learn about the wildlife that is native to your area? Check out your closest state park. Stop by the visitor’s center and they’ll usually have information about the wildlife you can find in the park. They’ll give you safety tips for both you and the wildlife and often will tell you the best places to see that wildlife. (Ex: Take the hiking trail around the lake and you may see or hear the family of loons that live nearby.) Even if you don’t see any animals, you’ll likely spot some of the local birds around the park. And, no matter what, you’ll definitely get a peek at the habitat that these animals call home.
3. Find hiking trails that are kid-friendly. Hiking is a such a fun activity to do together as a family and state parks are a perfect place to find kid-friendly hikes. You’ll often find short hikes that aren’t too strenuous – these are perfect for little kids. As your kids get older, you can tackle longer and more difficult trails. Hint: If you’re bringing a stroller, check to see if the park has a handicap-accessible trail. You’ll likely be able to easily bring the stroller on that trail and take even the littlest kids on a nature hike. Get the most out of your hike with these tips.
4. See unique natural wonders. We’ve seen lakes, rivers, rock formations, mountains, waterfalls, and even the headwaters of the Mississippi River in a state park. There are just so, so many amazing things to see. Did you know that even Niagara Falls is located in a state park? You will be surprised at all the natural wonders you can find in a state park.
5. Tap into the knowledge of the rangers. Do you have a question about something in the state park? Ask a ranger. Most are happy to share their knowledge with you. They’ll recommend the best places in the park to take your kids. They’ll help you best take advantage of the short time you have. They’ll answer questions about the wildlife, trees, and flowers in the park. All you have to do is ask!
6. Take advantage of free educational activities. Stop by the visitor’s center when you arrive and see what the schedule is for the day. Often, you’ll find that there are educational activities planned. The activities are as varied as the park. You may find guided hikes, lectures, films, special activities just for kids, and more. And, most of the time, these educational activities are free once you’ve paid the entrance fee to the park.
7. Learn about local history. Not only are state parks a wealth of information about nature, but they can sometimes be a wealth of information about local history. You can find Native American history, battlefields, historic homes, mills, forts, etc. There is just so much to learn!
8. Observe the night sky. Are you staying the weekend at the state park? Take advantage of the time after dark to observe the night sky. You’ll be away from all the city lights that make it hard to view the sky. So, if you’ve got a clear night, stay up a little late and do some stargazing. You can find some great tips for observing the night sky with kids here.
9. Learn about the flowers and trees native to the area. Nature abounds in a state park. Many times, if you stop by the visitor’s center, you’ll find brochures about the local trees and wildflowers. Grab a set to take along on your hikes. One of my favorite things to do is to see just how many of the native wildflowers I can find on a trip. You may also notice labels along hiking trails to help you identify the trees, shrubs, and flowers along the way.
10. Experience outdoor activities. There are so many outdoor activities that are fun to do together as a family and state parks are a great place to try some of these activities. Go fishing, rent a canoe, camp overnight, or go on a hike. Not only is the location perfect, but you may also find educational opportunities to learn about a new outdoor hobby.
Are you convinced yet? State parks are perfect locations for a family adventure. Find one nearby and check it out.
I wrote this post in conjunction with Kids to Park Day, taking place on May 21, 2016. The National Park Trust is encouraging everyone to get out a visit a park (national, state, or local) this Saturday. You can find a map of all the activities taking place all over the country here. Find a local activity and sign up on the main page here to show that you’re attending. The goal is to have 750,000 people attending all over the country!
Will you join us in attending?
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