Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: National Parks With Kids

Get Kids Outdoors Book Review:

Open Road's Best National Parks With Kids
Paris Permenter & John Bigley

Let me just start by saying that I have recently become a National Park Nut. Yup. Certifiably crazy for them. That being the case, any book with the words "National Parks" in the title is probably going to get a good review from my brainwashed, um, I mean, well saturated brain.

If you're a National Park freak and outdoorsy science-minded mom like me, then you need to have your fingers rush to the nearest online book seller and order this book up, stat. If, however, you are a casual outdoor family or perhaps only have plans to visit one or two parks any time in the forseeable future, then I still highly recommend this book, but instead you may want to actually get in your car and visit your nearest library. Be warned though, once you pick up this book, you may find yourself making a bucket list for your 6-year-old!

It was our family's trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons this summer that really sealed the deal on me becoming a National Park fanatic. At both parks the kids had an incredible experience seeing the sights and the animals and earning Junior Ranger patches. Plus, I picked up a National Parks Passport book and so far it has far too few stamps for my taste. So now I find myself buying books titled "National Parks with Kids" and trying to figure out when our next big trip will be.

The family at the Gardiner entrance of Yellowstone National Park, July 2010

But enough about my fantasies, on to the book...

This is not a huge in-depth volume on every detail of every National Park. More like an overview, the book highlights 21 of the best parks to do with a family that includes young-ish children. Though not specifically geared toward any particular age, I would say that it is especially good if you have children between the ages of 4-12. Obviously younger and older kids will still have lots to do at these parks, but the types of activities mentioned in the book lend themselves best to this mostly elementary school age group. I had to concur with most of the author's choices of parks for kids. If you are able to visit every park in the book, your kids would get to experience a world of alligators, glaciers, caves, coral reefs, gushing geysers, dinosaurs, volcanoes, Native American culture and American history, just to name a few.

Each park section includes a general map of the park and subsections with titles like "Are We There Yet?" for directions and "What's There To Do Here?" for a list of kid-friendly tours, drives, hikes and activities. The latter section also lists special ranger programs or Junior Ranger projects that may be available at that park. A wonderful piece of information to have if you're patch-happy like my boys and I are. When applicable, the writers also feature a "Where Are We Going Next" section for the parks to mention other nearby noteable destinations that your kids will also enjoy, some of them even being other NPS destinations! The authors, who have been to most if not all these parks with their own families, also can't help but point out which parks they have special personal ties to, a nice touch for those who might be on information overload and need help choosing just one or two vacation spots.

Information on the major sights, how long you'll need to see them, and how to get the best experience for your time and money buck are all well covered in this travel guide. Many of the kid-friendly activities list base prices as well so you have an idea of how expensive the trip may get. A "Where to Stay" reference is also included for each park, noting when and how many camping sites are located within park boundries (and if they have running water!) and where and how far other hotel, motel and cabin rentals are for those that enjoy the creature comforts.

This is a great book to pick up if you're interested in travelling to some National Parks and are either making a list, like me, or just trying to figure out which one would be your best best for the family. With 21 parks to cover, it is not a comprehensive guide to any of them. I'd consider it light reading and easy to flip through to get to the places that most interest you. Throw it in your tote bag and bring it out whenever you have a few boring minutes to fill and start dreaming about your next family vacation.

As far as travel guides go, this is a good entry-level book to have on the shelf. The photos are small and somewhat sparse throughout the book, but the ones included are beautiful and often show kids enjoying the experience. My advice would be use this book as a starting point to plan an adventure or two, then go out an buy a detailed book on the park(s) you plan to visit. For around $11-$13 bucks though, this is an excellent resource to start your own National Park mania or fuel your existing addiction. Maybe I'll run into you at one of the MANY parks on my list one day. Happy travelling!


  1. I am a National park nut as well and have made it my personal goal to get my kids to eery National Park. My major gripe with that book is that it only features some of the parks and I believe all the parks have something great to offer families. One of these days I will get around to writing the guide I want myself!

  2. Yes, I do wish the list was at least longer, but its a great start and I don't think everyone's as nutty for the NP's as we are! (of course, they SHOULD be, we know!)We went to a park recently that wasn't on this book's list but is almost especially geared for kids, and it was awesome! Theres a LOT of parks though, especially if you count all the "other" types like national monuments, historic sites, forests, heritage sites, etc, so that would be a VERY heavy book! I'll look forward to reading yours when you finish it, maybe I could be your first reviewer! :)


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