National Parks with Kids
We like goals. Family goals. Personal goals. Play goals. Work goals…in that order for the last two! Specifically, adventures to look forward to and visiting places that humble our imaginations. (Which is a powerful ask around here!) In the midst of life altering times, we decided to take on an impossible feat. The goal: VISIT ALL NATIONAL PARKS while our kids are still kids. What does that mean to us? Maybe it means, before they graduate high school. Maybe it means that our kids stay young until they are well into their 40’s and we live long enough to see these adventures through. To be honest, we are not looking at the finish line – we are enjoying the quest. Knowing, like all things, it will come to an end, so let’s live it while we are in it.
The parentals on our own have both visited a handful of National Parks already. Those don’t count. Our group quest is to visit these wonders as a family. Ideally, now that our adult brains are fully formed, learn a bit more about these places and show our kids the value of time spent in nature, digging deep – together.
First things first, we needed a system to log our adventures. We found this sweet little scratch off poster on Etsy and started with the park physically closest to us and also nearest to our hearts, Indiana Dunes National Park.
Next I’d like to fill you up on specifics about how best to visit Mammoth Caves. Where to stay. (Kids prefer a good campground with some type of a bouncy pillow/parents like the trusty old park lodge.) What to eat. (Meh…) What to do. (Diamond Caverns is a must for the best stalagmite and stalactite viewing!) (Also, ziplining!)
(And, horseback riding!)
What hikes you have to take. (Go anywhere anytime the sun is coming up and going down.) What sights you have to see. (The National Park, obvs!) But really, it’s about what moves you…and always remembering to ask for a Junior Ranger activity book before you start your tour!
Our visit happened at the beginning of the pandemic. The details were all pretty mute. We wanted to get away and breathe. We wanted to live life with some semblance of normalcy…preferably a safe distance away from others.
As a park employee and general muddy mama, I’d like to tell you that my kids are natural naturalists. They are in the same way all kids are – they know what to do outside, of course. They don’t always prefer it. They do prefer to be in charge. I concur, autonomy is supremely important. So when trying to get them to do things that aren’t their ideas, we often find resistance. Often, I follow their lead. But sometimes, outside needs strong encouragement. It may take a while but have faith, the complaints eventually stop. And busy legs start to lead to a peaceful brain. The very big starts to be dwarfed by the very small.
Eventually, we all settle in to the curiosity of it all.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir.