Road Trips and National Parks with Little Ones

While I know there’s many opinions about little ones, it’s something I’ve steered clear from talking about for a years. First and foremost, I’m not a parent. Entering into the mommy blogger world is premature. However, you know what I’ve quickly learned? Not many talk about life with littles as an aunt and uncle. I’m not the disconnected aunt who stares at her phone or isn’t involved in my little ones lives. Far from it. I think of surprises, fun activities to do together, and love every time I get to see my nieces.

When it comes to road trips, I have memories as a kid that, well, had areas for improvement. Memories of hotel rooms without AC, getting incredibly car sick, and the stinkiest of compost toilets flood my memory banks. When I knew a family vacation was happening in the National Parks this summer, I quickly knew that I wanted their memories to be different. At the age of 5 and 2, these littles were much smaller than when I visited the parks as a little one. With a bit of preparation, we had an amazing trip and lots of fun.

Keep reading for the full post after the jump!

1. Utilize the activities the National Parks have for kids upon arrival.

Every national park has a visitor’s center close to the entrance gate of the park. Stop here and pick up a junior ranger activity book. These books are free (or available for $3.50 at Yosemite) and are filled with activities for your little ones to complete in the park. Once inside the visitor center, check to see what paved and accessible trails are available. (Most of the most popular and must see attractions in the park are handicap accessible and simultaneously perfect for little ones.) Mention the age of your children to the ranger, grab your activity books, and ask for a list of ranger programs available. These are regular programs offered by parks throughout the day. They can be sunset hikes, walks under the stars, or a nature talk in a forest grove. Ranging from 30 minutes-3 hours, there are a variety of options and provide both educational and fun experiences. Some parks have specific programs for kids that will have the Junior Ranger label on them. Once your littles have completed their activity books, they can turn them in for a junior ranger pin and place it on the front of their backpack or add it to their bandana.

2. Prepare day packs with new activities for the trip.

Creating this was so much fun and something I loved building. As I was meeting my family and driving by car, I was able to pack each little one a backpack filled with activities for the trip. I bought water bottles, markers, clipboards, coloring pages, paint with water books, paintbrushes, bubbles, embroidery floss, scissors, and snacks. Most of these items were disposable and intended for play. (Picked up from a dollar store.) While we were at each park, each child was able to pick out a patch or enamel pin they liked to add to the front of their backpack. To differentiate each child’s pack, I tied a color bandana to the handle. These packs doubled carrying hiking essentials and waters throughout the day.

3. Assess the skill level of your littles and plan hikes appropriately.

I can’t recommend this series of books enough. Offering easy day hikes, they quickly lay out the elevation gain, parking, water accessibility, and relation to other points of interest within the park. We planned for a longer hike in the morning, lunch picnic nearby at an inspiration point, and another hike in the afternoon. In between lunch and our second hike, there was typically a short drive, allowing the littles time to rest. (We found a satellite radio spa channel that quickly lulled everyone to sleep. Hello nap time!)

4. Overpack water and snacks.

Make sure to clearly read signage throughout the park. During our travel, we noticed many of the trails previously advertised water where the fountains were broken. With this in mind, overpack water. It will be used. In their day packs, I placed healthier snack options they enjoyed. We opted for Rx bars, organic fruit leathers, and pretzels to add nutritional value without offering junk food.

5. Pack swim shirts and bottoms.

When hiking throughout the park the points of destination are frequently a water source or waterfall. Avoid the need to apply sticky sunblock and instead wear a swimshirt or rashguard. Just in case your little one wants to get extra wet, pack their swim bottoms as well. This was a great call for our morning at Mirror Lake.

6. Play I Spy to avoid carsickness.

As you’ll be spending a lot of time within the car, find ways to have your littles look out rather than down on the switchbacks in the park. A simple way? Play I Spy with large objects. Another great option is to provide dry erase markers. They can draw on the windows near their seat, keeping them engaged and looking out.

Have any tips for vacationing with littles? Or just want to share a memory about aunt or uncle life?

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.



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