Despite the weather starting to cool down here in the United States, it’s still a good time of the year to go out and enjoy the outdoors. When we used to live in Seattle, we would try to explore all the best camping in Washington state, as well as all national parks in the west as we could.
As we’ve been driving across the United States, we’ve made it a point to see as many National Parks as we could during our trip. We love being able to experience the natural beauty of the United States.
This post was updated on November 30, 2019.
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Exploring American national parks
There are over 60 national parks in the United States, and over 70% of them are national parks in the west! The National Park Service was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1930’s, and since then, it has seen millions of visitors (international and domestic) each year.
We love visiting national parks because they give us a chance to learn about the natural environment, and see the natural diversity that the United States has to offer. During our USA road trip, we were able to visit over twelve parks, monuments, and historic sites within the National Park Service. The kids learned so much about the different locations that we were visiting.
Getting a National Park Annual Pass to visit the national parks in the West
One of our biggest tips for when you’re planning to visit multiple national parks within the span of a year is to go ahead and invest in a National Park Annual Pass. These passes cost about $85 a year, and can be purchased at any national park, or even online.
The cost of a National Park Annual Pass may seem steep, but in our opinion, it’s absolutely worth it. Entrance fees to the national parks vary. Some fees are as little as free or $5. But for popular national parks, like the Grand Canyon, entrance fees can be up to $35! For our family, we completely got our money’s worth after visiting three national parks.
Checking off the national parks in the West in your National Park Passport!
A fun thing that the National Park Service offers is a National Park Passport. These are blue booklets filled with blank pages that you can stamp whenever you visit a national park. We have one for each of our kids, and they (and we!) love stamping their National Park Passport with a dated stamp from that park. It helps us keep track of where we’ve visited.
National Park Passport books can be purchased at any national park store, or online. The standard blue booklets cost $9.95. Kids can get specialty Junior Ranger Edition passport books for $14.95, and there are also special Collector’s Edition passport books for $24.95. Our kids have so much fun putting a stamp in their National Park Passport books!
Our ten favorite national parks in the West
As we’ve traveled through the United States, we’ve been able to visit a lot of national parks. There are a lot of good National Parks guides available, but by far our favorite is the National Geographic Complete National Parks of the United States guide. It covers all the major national parks, plus the smaller ones too.
By far, our favorite parks have been the national parks in the west. In the eastern United States, a lot of the national parks are focused on American history. There is the Liberty Bell, the Freedom Trail, the Gateway Arch, and even the Statue of Liberty, to name a few. But out in the west, it’s all about nature!
We enjoy these western national parks the best because of their natural beauty and diversity. There are mountains, lakes, deserts, forests, and even volcanoes! Below is a list of our favorite national parks in the west. They’re all kid-approved and family friendly. And they’re excellent spots for hiking and camping!
Mount Rainier National Park
One of our favorite Washington activities involving national parks in the west is visiting Mount Rainier with kids. This national park, located in west-central Washington state, is actually an active volcano and has the most glaciers out of all the peaks in the contiguous United States. Mount Rainier National Park rises to around 14,000 feet in elevation, and is open to camping, hiking, climbing, and mountaineering.
Entrance into Mount Rainier National Park is $30 per vehicle. There are 2 lodges within the national park, as well as 4 campgrounds. Mount Rainier National Park is open year round, but some parts of the park may be closed in the winter due to snow. Check with the National Parks Service before making a visit during the winter months.
Olympic National Park
Another popular Washington state national park is Olympic National Park. Located in the north-western tip of Washington state, Olympic National Park is one of the national parks in the west that has it all: oceans, forests, mountains, lakes. The Hoh Rainforest, located in Olympic National Park, is the largest temperate rainforest in the United States!
Olympic National Park is open all year, and has 14 campgrounds where families can camp. However, 12 of these campgrounds are first come, first served, which means you aren’t able to reserve online ahead of time. There are also 4 lodges within the park that you can reserve. Entrance fee into this national park is $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days.
North Cascades National Park
The most underrated of the western national parks is North Cascades National Park. We visited there earlier this year, and was just blown away by how beautiful and secluded it was! Set in north-central Washington state, the park has rivers and lakes that are perfect for exploring. Taking summer hikes at North Cascades National Park with young kids is a fun way to enjoy the outdoors.
Getting into North Cascades National Park is free. There are 5 car campgrounds, as well as 3 boat-in campgrounds. There are no lodges inside the national park, but there are 2 lodges just outside of North Cascades National Park.
Crater Lake National Park
One of the prettiest parks of the western national parks to visit in the summer is Crater Lake National Park, located in southern Oregon. This giant lake was formed from the eruption of Mt. Mazama about 7,000 years ago. The iconic crystal clear blue waters of Crater Lake, fed by snow melt, make this national park a perfect place to visit. You can even find bits of snow around Crater Lake National Park in the summer!
Crater Lake National Park is open all year, but many parts of the park may be closed due to weather during the winter months. There are 2 lodges that visitors can stay at, as well 2 campgrounds that are reservable online. Park entrance fees are $25 between the months of May to October, and $15 between November to May.
Yellowstone National Park
We did a Yellowstone day trip during our epic U.S.A. road trip this summer, and we loved it. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing geysers erupting, or looking out into rainbow-colored, prismatic hot springs? While Yellowstone National Park is known for it’s famous geyser, Old Faithful, it’s also known for the abundance of wild animals that you can find at the park, like bison, elk, and bears.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the popular national parks in the west, receiving over 4 million visitors each year. Entrance fee into the park is $35 per vehicle. There are 9 lodges within Yellowstone National Park, and 12 campgrounds, 5 of which take online reservations.
Arches National Park
One of the things I love about the western national parks is its natural beauty. And if you’re into natural beauty, than visiting Arches National Park with kids is a must. We visited this park during our national park roadtrip as well, and loved hiking through the park and seeing all the stunning arches. Arches National Park is relatively small, only about 120 square miles, but it’s packed with over 2,000 arches.
There are no lodges in Arches National Park, and only 1 campground, which is reservable online. But the nearby city of Moab has plenty of lodging and camping options for families. Entrance fee into Arches National Park is $30. The park is open all year, and is busiest from May to October.
Mesa Verde National Park
Another one of the national parks in the west that we visited during our national park roadtrip is Mesa Verde National Park. We love the historical element of this national park! Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern tip of Colorado, and houses over 5,000 dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people, indigenous tribes that lived in the area from 600 to 1300 CE. Visitors to the Mesa Verde National Park can tour some of these old Ancestral Pueblo dwellings, and learn about their ancient practices and stories.
Entrance into Mesa Verde National Park is $25 between the months of May to October, and $15 the other months of the year. There is 1 lodge at Mesa Verde National Park, which you can reserve online. There is also 1 campground at the national park, which you can reserve online. We loved camping at that campground, as we saw deer every single day we were there!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Speaking of western national parks in the state of Colorado, another national park we loved visiting during our national park roadtrip this summer was Rocky Mountain National Park. Located in north-central Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to all kinds of animals, including bears, bighorn sheep, and elk. The popular Trail Ridge Road reaches a height of 12,000 feet above sea level! Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of beautiful hikes for little ones, and the views from the top of Trail Ridge Road are amazing!
Rocky Mountain National Park is open all year long, and costs $25 per vehicle for a 1 day pass, or $35 per vehicle for a 7 day pass. There are no lodges within Rocky Mountain National Park, though nearby Estes Park has an abundance of lodging options. There are 5 campgrounds within Rocky Mountain National Park, 3 of which are reservable online.
Grand Canyon National Park
We think that many of the national parks in the west are amazing. But none of them are as grand as Grand Canyon National Park! This was the last national park we visited during our national park roadtrip, and it did not disappoint. Grand Canyon National Park is located in the state of Arizona, and stretches over 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 1 mile deep. It’s enormous!
Hiking down to the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park is a multi-day excursion, so it’s not that optimal if you have kids, but you can certainly drive along the rim and enjoy the breathtaking views. Entrance into Grand Canyon National Park is $35. The park is open all year long for the South Rim, and open from May to October for the North Rim. There are 8 lodges located at Grand Canyon National Park, mostly along the South Rim. There are also 2 campgrounds located within Grand Canyon National Park, as well as a trailer village.
Redwood National Park
Probably one of our favorite western national parks memories is visiting the Redwoods with kids. Located in the northern part of the state of California, this national park is home to some of the United States’ oldest trees, the redwoods. These trees can reach heights of hundreds of feet, and many are even wider than cars! We visited this national park last year, and loved hiking through the forest among these gentle giants.
Redwood National Park is open all year long. There is no entrance fee to go into Redwood National Park. There are only two lodges available at Redwood National Park. However, there are 4 developed campgrounds within the park, as well as a large number of lodges and campgrounds outside of the national park.
Enjoying nature at the national parks in the West
We love visiting the national parks in the west. In my opinion, they are the most beautiful and unique parks within the United States. Having our National Park Annual Pass helped us enjoy all these parks at such a minimal cost. It was definitely worth the investment!
If you’re interested in visiting the United States, consider planning a visit to one of these western national parks! From the forests of Olympic National Park or Redwood National Park, to the desert splendors of Arches National Park or Mesa Verde National Park, you will not be disappointed by the magnificent natural beauty that the United States has to offer.
Have you visited any of these national parks in the west? Share your story in the comments!
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