Experiencing National Parks as a Family

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Family Hiking Along Path By River

Minnesota is filled with a plethora of gorgeous national parks waiting for you to make family memories. Since spring has sprung, it is time to start planning your trip to the nearest national park. However, planning a trip to visit a national park with children is easier said than done. 

Twin Cities Kids Club is here to help you feel prepared for your next family trip to one of our state’s stunning parks. Join the club for discounts to activities throughout the Twin Cities.

People exploring a wild nature area by rowing boat.

Visiting National Parks with Kids:

Look into the parks’ kid-friendly options.

Most national parks create programs and events that are explicitly geared towards children -for example, a story-hour time in the morning. If you desire to do a guided tour, you will want to double-check to ensure that it is child friendly. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you are stuck somewhere with your child, and they start to have a melt-down? We have all been there, don’t worry! A two or three hour guided tour may make you feel stuck and miserable, especially if your child is unhappy about the experience. 

Park rangers always understand when you need to leave a program early because of a child’s necessities. However, some guided tours may not offer an easy exit for you and your child. The experience will leave you both cranky and unhappy by the end of the tour. 

Thankfully with some forethought, you can avoid any potential park pouts. A great website to reference when you are planning your trip is National Park Service. There are many different ideas and recommendations on programs that your children will enjoy. 

Pack the necessities

Make sure to bring things like sunscreen, water, a hat, and bug spray. You may also want to pack a lunch and bring plenty of snacks to keep your kids full (check here for healthy snack ideas). A couple of changes of clothes and a swimsuit if you are planning to get in the water. 

Your kids are sure to dirty a few outfits while exploring, and that’s just part of the fun! 

An image of a tent at Lost Lake campsite, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA

Let go of your expectations.

Your expectation might be to hike until you make it to the end of the trial. However, your child will want to experience nature in a completely different way than you do. It will be okay if you don’t finish the trail. 

This experience is about creating a fun time for the whole family, and sometimes that means slowing down and interacting with nature the way that your child will enjoy it. Most of the time, the postcard view is much less attractive to your child than the rocks and sticks underfoot. 

It is okay not to make it to the summit, and not get the picture-perfect photo. Being outside in nature and exploring is the memories that your children will cherish the most. 

Create exciting games to teach children to “Leave No Trace”

Find what your child is interested in whether that be rocks, sticks, leaves, bugs and make a game of it. Count the marked trees, birds, insects, or rocks. Try finding things that begin with each letter of the alphabet. 

Talk to your children about the importance of leaving no trace behind. Explain to them how this will help preserve the park. 

Find a way to document their findings. You can take photos of them, draw pictures, or write it down. This activity will give them a focus and keep them from trying to collect items to take home that should remain in the park. 

Be informed

If you plan to visit a park with wildlife, this can be very exciting for your child! However, you must read up about the wildlife that you can encounter in the park. You can also talk to a park ranger on ways to safely view the animals. 

Go over this information with your children to help them understand how to deal with the wildlife at the park. 

Landscape view of Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota

National Parks in Minnesota 

Time to plan your trip! Here’s a list of the national parks to help you get started. 

Voyageurs National Park

Filled with history and wilderness, Voyageurs National Park calls to the adventure-seeking type. Water makes up more than one-third of the park’s 218,000 acres, and most of the year, the park is accessible only by boat (or snowmobile during winter). 

There are more than 27 miles of scenic trails, hidden waterfalls, and ancient petroglyphs. Your water-loving children are sure to have a great time at Voyageurs Park. 

National Park Service has a list of top ten things to do at Voyageurs with children.

St. Croix State Park

St. Croix State Park is Minnesota’s largest state park with over 34,000 acres to explore! There are three different family campgrounds that you can camp on. You can take your family canoeing on flat water or easy rapids. 

You can find a list here on Tripadvisor of things to do with your kids in St. Croix. 

Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone National Monument is the home of the historic Pipestone quarries, exquisite tallgrass prairie, and the majestic Winnewissa waterfall. The American Indians have visited Pipestone for centuries and would use the red pipestone to craft pipe bowls and use them in sacred ceremonials.

Pipestone is a unique place to take your children to experience American Indian culture, nature, and waterfalls. 

Pipestone National Monument is part of the National Park System. It is located is south west Minnesota and preserves a type of rock that local natives consider sacred.

North Country National Scenic Trail 

North Country National Scenic Trail (or NCT for short) is a 4,600-mile non-motorized footpath. There are 800-miles of this trail that passes through Minnesota. Once the trail is complete, it will be the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. 

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument is a reconstructed fur trade depot, Ojibwe Village exhibit, and an 8.5-mile historic trail. You can bring your children here to submerge them in history and witness reenactments.

Your kids can participate in a junior ranger program and learn first-hand why it is vital to preserve park history. 

Minnesota National Forests

There are two different national forests that your family can explore! Superior National Forest, which has dozens of recreational opportunities year-round. The activities are endless on the more than 2.000 lakes and streams found within the forest. 

There is also the Chippewa National Forest, coving more than 666,000 acres, with more than 1,300 lakes and 923 miles of rivers and streams. With 21 developed campgrounds with running water and other modern amenities, it makes the perfect place for a family camping trip!   

Join Twin Cities Kids Club to receive discounts and events!  

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