For many families, visiting a national park is a top contender when planning a family vacation. Boston families are lucky in that we have tons of gorgeous national parks just a road trip away with mountains, caves, massive trees and waterfalls to explore. National Parks Week falls on April 17-25 this year and it’s a great time to visit with special events in the parks (and digital experiences if you want to learn from home). Scroll through for some major outdoor inspo!
Cape Cod National Seashore
Lighthouses, miles and miles of beaches and seafood joints around every corner await your visit to Cape Cod. Head to the Cape Cod Children's Museum in Mashpee if you need some indoor time or take a bike ride on the Shining Sea Bikeway when the temps allow. Check out this beach guide when you are ready for a day on the sand (there are even some areas of beach you can drive on!).
More info: nps.gov/caco
Acadia National Park, ME
Located in Maine, Acadia National Park offers trails along the granite shoreline that seem to rise from the sea. There are plenty of opportunities to learn about lobsters or search for harbor seals, the cool freshwater lakes, and frothy saltwater tidal invite exploring, and there's plenty of yummy lobster dinners within reach.
What to See & Do: Acadia offers families dozens of activities beyond hiking (though the hiking is both excellent and most often very family-friendly), which everyone will love. Pack your bikes for rides along the network of Carriage Roads, and blow their minds at Thunder Hole, a partially submerged cave that booms about an hour before high tide.
Tips & When to Go: While there is plenty to do for visitors of all ages and abilities, much of Acadia’s landscape is very rugged. If you’ve got wee ones in tow, a child’s backpack carrier just might save the trip. Late summer and early fall offer warm days, fewer crowds and typically chilly evenings, making it the perfect time for a visit.
Airbnb Nearby: Minutes away from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, this charming modern home sits on five acres of land. Grill out, cook lobsters and let the kids enjoy the great outdoors. Be sure to bring your bikes, too!
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Chances are you know someone who had hiked some of the Appalachian Trail as it's a super popular activity for New England college students. But it doesn't have to be the full-day hiking extravaganza when you bring along the kids. There are several areas of the trail that are well suited to day hikes so families can enjoy the beauty of the area without having to plan, pack and carry all the gear.
Learn more: nps.gov/appa
Airbnb nearby: This lakeside cabin is a great home base for exploring the trail nearby. You'll be just two hours from Boston but you'll feel so far away as you take in all the nature that surrounds the property.
Boston Harbor Islands National & State Park
Made up of 34 islands and peninsulas, Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park is an urban oasis just minutes from Boston’s city center. Hop aboard a park ferry and discover islands rich with opportunities for outdoor recreation, relaxation and learning. You can pick up the ferry to the Harbor Islands in Boston or Hingham.
Georges Island, which encompasses 53 acres, is the largest and most popular Boston Harbor Island accessible by ferry. The main attraction at Georges Island is Fort Warren, a national historic landmark. Take a ranger-led tour of the island to hear about its history including the haunting by the Lady in Black.
More info: bostonharborislands.org
Airbnb nearby: If you plan to take the ferry from Hingham, this beachfront home on Nantasket would be a great spot to spend some time. It sleeps 10 and you can take the ferry from there to downtown Boston in just over 20 minutes.
National Parks Near New York
Expand your road trip distance and check out some of the national and state parks that New York has to offer.
Niagra Falls is one spot that the kids should definitely see. It's beyond amazing!
Bear Mountain State Park is a popular destination for New York city families looking for a quick getaway. In addition to hiking trails for all levels, there is a lake with boat rentals, a swimming pool, an ice rink in the winter, and a Trailside Zoo that's open seven days a week.
For history buffs, Gettysburg, the site of a key turning point in the Civil War, is a key destination. The war's bloodiest battle, it is of course the inspiration for Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The military park has its own visitor center and museum, and it's recommended you hit the museum before heading to the battlefield.
National Parks Near Washington DC
If you're willing to make a longer trip out of it, there are plenty of national parks near Washington, DC that the kids will love.
Bursting with epic waterfalls, spectacular views, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded areas for a family picnic, Shenandoah National Park is a great option for families.
Assateague Island National Seashore has sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and coastal bays. Oh, and you might even see some wild horses too.
Great Falls Park offers many opportunities to explore history and nature, all in a beautiful 800-acre park only 15 miles from the Nation's Capital.