Every Kid in a Park Initiative: 10 National Parks for Your 4th Grader to See

©istockphoto/rcaucino

With the Every Kid in a Park ini­tia­tive tak­ing place through the 2015–2016 school year, every 4th grad­er across the nation will receive a com­pli­men­ta­ry, all-access pass to our nation’s largest assets; our Nation­al Parks. This pro­gres­sive plan will allow thou­sands of chil­dren to have their first taste of all the parks have to offer, and if you hap­pen to be so lucky to know one of these for­tu­nate 4th graders, you can tag along­side that mem­o­rable jour­ney. Here are 10 Nation­al Parks that will pro­vide the most acces­si­ble and pic­turesque adven­ture for that junior explorer:


Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park, Wyoming, Mon­tana, & Ida­ho
Tout­ed as the Nation’s first Nation­al Park, Yel­low­stone is also one of the largest. Offer­ing year-round adven­ture, Yel­low­stone has more eas­i­ly acces­si­ble scenes of nature then you can count. And whether you choose to explore the geot­her­mal attrac­tions such as Old Faith­ful or Mam­moth Hot Springs, or you study the var­i­ous wildlife includ­ing bison, deer, or griz­zly bears (from a safe dis­tance of course), one thing is guar­an­teed for any­one of any age, mem­o­ries will be made.


Grand Canyon Nation­al Park, Ari­zona
When you first think about vis­it­ing one of the largest holes on earth, it doesn’t sound very appeal­ing. But ask any­one who vis­its Grand Canyon Nation­al Park and sits at the rim over­look­ing vast dis­tances of South­west­ern sand­stone scenery; it is almost too beau­ti­ful to believe that it’s not just an elab­o­rate paint­ing hang­ing in the sky. And by imag­in­ing that scene from the eyes of an impres­sion­able youth, it’s hard not to believe in the mag­ic of the Nation­al Park system. 


Yosemite

Yosemite Nation­al Park, Cal­i­for­nia
All hail Yosemite and its glo­ry. Home to the famous Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, and El Cap­i­tan all in one beau­ti­ful view, this Nation­al Park estab­lished in 1864 and only 3 ½ hours from San Fran­cis­co, will give you days upon days of activ­i­ty for the whole fam­i­ly. And even though you prob­a­bly won’t be doing any seri­ous climb­ing with your 4th grad­er, out­side the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty Yosemite is equal­ly as famous for its Red­wood groves, stun­ning water­falls, and all around sto­ic landscape. 


Shenan­doah Nation­al Park, Vir­ginia
Like many Nation­al Parks, the mag­ic begins on the road lead­ing through Shenan­doah Nation­al Park. Sky­line Dri­ve, which is a scenic high­way and the only pub­lic road to cross through the park, takes you back to a time before rush hour and the morn­ing com­mute. While rid­ing along this 105 mile road which max­es its speed lim­it at 35 mph, check out as many of the 75 view­points as you can and take the time to appre­ci­ate all the Blue Ridge Moun­tains have to offer.


Zion Nation­al Park, Utah
Trans­lat­ed to “Heav­en on Earth”, Utah’s Zion Nation­al Park lives up to the title. From soar­ing sand­stone fea­tures to clear blue waters, Zion Nation­al Park is already akin to an adult play­ground, so imag­ine how it must seem to a child. Some adven­tures will have to be put on hold when trav­el­ing with kids to Zion, but there are still plen­ty of day hikes to explore and great resources at the vis­i­tor cen­ters in the park.


Joshua Tree Nation­al Park, Cal­i­for­nia
Although your 4th grad­er won’t con­nect the park to U2’s icon­ic 5th stu­dio album released in 1987, their trip to Joshua Tree Nation­al Park will remain as one of the coolest adven­tures of their young lives. That’s because with mas­sive boul­ders spread out through the desert land­scape, and enough guide com­pa­nies equipped for even the lit­tlest of begin­ners, Joshua Tree is a mec­ca for every age of out­doors person.


Smoky mountains

Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park, North Car­oli­na & Ten­nessee
With­in sight of Great Smoky Moun­tains Nation­al Park, it’s easy to see where they came up with the name. Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly this land of mys­ti­cism and might has a low hang­ing fog descend­ed upon it, cre­at­ing even more of a mag­i­cal des­ti­na­tion for you to explore. Beneath that fog is miles and miles of amaz­ing trails to saunter along until the sun goes down, mak­ing sure that you and your lit­tle one will sleep well at the cozy campsites.


Mount Rainier Nation­al Park, Wash­ing­ton
The Pacif­ic North­west is a unique sec­tion of the coun­try. Cas­cade Moun­tain­tops mix with swelling waters of the Pacif­ic Ocean, breath­ing life to rain­forests and vol­ca­noes alike. And per­haps for the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all that the Pacif­ic North­west has to offer, Mount Rainier stands tall as a bea­con of beau­ty. The Nation­al Park itself is lined with amaz­ing hikes across water­falls, a wel­com­ing vis­i­tor cen­ter, and 360⁰ views of Cas­cade glory.


Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park, Col­orado
There’s some­thing about the Rocky Moun­tains that instills a sense of won­der to who­ev­er gazes upon their peaks. Divid­ing the con­ti­nent in half, the Rocky Moun­tains and Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park stand as the gate­way to the west, with a pris­tine sense of free­dom that has lodged itself square­ly into the hearts of the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who have explored the well laid trails. The first time you see the Rocky Moun­tains is a mile­stone in any adventurer’s life, and pass or no pass, this is a Nation­al Park for every­one to see.


Mam­moth Caves Nation­al Park, Ken­tucky
Mam­moth Caves Nation­al Park takes you under­ground to explore the geo­log­i­cal won­ders that take place beneath our feet. Plunge into dark­ness with a guid­ed tour at Mam­moth Caves Nation­al Park and you’ll see for your­self the allure of cave explo­ration. From cave dwelling species (who mean you no harm), to huge for­ma­tions cre­at­ed by time, a trip to Mam­moth Caves Nation­al Park will be a wel­come con­trast from the pres­sures of liv­ing above ground.