For many families, visiting a national park is a top contender when planning a family vacation. While Yosemite and Yellowstone are a real hike from New York City, there are many national state parks, national seashores (yes, it’s a thing) and national historic sites and monuments closer to home. 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!

photo: browneyes55 via Pixabay

Fire Island National Seashore

This skinny barrier island off the coast of Long Island is just 32 miles long and about three blocks wide. While you can drive to some spots on the island (the Fire Island Lighthouse is on of them), cars are not allowed in the 18 communities you'll find here. Charming boardwalks are the way to get around, and bikes are allowed as well. A popular and enjoyable way to get to Fire Island is by ferry, which you can catch at Bay Shore, Patchogue and Saville (each service a different part of the island). Things to do and see here include visiting the lighthouse, boating, swimming and birdwatching, as well as walking the Sunken Forest in Sailor's Haven. This centuries-old forest, which is naturally-pruned by the salt air is a spot for wildlife and diverse plant growth. Take the ferry to Sayville to access it. 

Airbnb nearby: With land at a premium, Fire Island rentals aren't cheap. This house is on the more affordable side, sleeps six and is near shops and a grocery store. For a bargain nearby on Long Island, check out this super kid-friendly house

Online: nps.gov

Niagra Falls State Park

It's a bit of a drive from NYC (six to seven hours) but everyone's got to see Niagra Fall at least once. Of course, you can experience the  thunderous majesty of the falls themselves a variety of ways—on the traditional boat ride The Maid of the Mist, in the Niagra Gorge in the Cave of the Winds or enjoy the falls while enjoying a meal at the Top of the Falls restaurant. But this place is about more than the falls: there are trails to hike, historical site Old Fort Niagra, a Frank Lloyd Wright House to visit, an aquarium, lock, canal and cave tours and even factory outlets to get your shop on. 

Nearby Airbnb: This cute apartment with a mid century vibe sleeps five and is in the center of the action. 

Online: niagarafallsstatepark.com

Letchworth State Park

Yes, another place known for falls, but different from its northerly neighbor. Letchworth State Park, located about 45 miles outside of Rochester, is known as "the Grand Canyon of the East" thanks to the gorge through which the Genesee River flows. The falls here are bordered by steep tree-covered hills, which are a sight to see any time, but stunning in the fall. With the mix of mist and sun, rainbow sightings here are pretty much guaranteed. The park offers 66 miles of hiking trails, guided walks, whitewater rafting and more outdoor fun. For a true bucket list experience, hop a hot air ballon for an unforgettable view. (Rides are on hold until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, but you can make a reservation now.) The Glen Iris Inn has been operating since 1914 and is a nice spot to get some food. 

Nearby Airbnb: This charming house with a large backyard and fire pit is minutes from Letchworth (you can hike directly in) and near the village center. It sleeps eight.  

Online: parks.ny.gov

Bear Mountain State Park

Closer to home, Bear Mountain State Park is a popular destination for New York city families looking for a quick getaway. There's lots to do here. 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. When Covid-19 restrictions are eased more, you can take a spin on the park's merry-go-round. You can read our full guide to visiting Bear Mountain State Park with kids here

Nearby Airbnb: This deluxe Hudson Valley house sleeps five and is a 10-minute drive to Bear Mountain. 

Online: parks.ny.gov

Hyde Park

Unfortunately, the National Historic Sites of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt's homes (as well as the FDR Presidential Library and Museum) are, as of this writing, closed due to Covid-19 and CDC regulations. (Aside from that, the FDR home is also in the process of being restored and renovated.)

Still, it's a good place to know about, due to its combination of history and natural beauty. Visitors can learn about the Roosevelt saga by touring the two homes; the exhibits at the nation’s first Presidential Library chronicle Roosevelt's work and contributions as chief executive, and there are over a thousand acres of gardens and trails to explore. Also worth noting: The Culinary Institute of America, and its restaurants, are located in Hyde Park as well and the Walkway Over the Hudson is just to the south. 

Nearby Airbnb: Try this petite house built in 1910, that has a tabletop old school video game setup!

Online: nps.gov

Gettsyburg National Military Park

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. The museum measures 22,000 square feet and features items from one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world. See items from the Battle of Gettysburg, learn about the personalities who served in the Civil War,  and view interactive exhibits, and multi-media presentations. Some elements require advance tickets, which you can get here. Living history reenactments are on hold for now, but keep an eye out for them to return when Covid-19 restrictions are loosened. 

Nearby Airbnb: This stylish place is 10 minutes from Gettysburg and sleep eight people. (It's also near Liberty Mountain Ski Resort if you want to come back in the winter.)

Online: nps.gov

National Parks Near Boston

Head north to check out all that Boston and its surrounding states have to offer in terms of national parks. 

  • The Cape Cod National Seashore is an amazing spot to vacation, especially when the summer breezes are rolling in.

  • You can take a ferry from Boston to check out the Boston Harbor Islands State and National Parks. You can even go camping there! 

  • Acadia National Park is just north of Boston in the gorgeous state of Maine. 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.

Check out all of our Boston and vicinity recommendations

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.

Read about these spots and more

feature image: Jane B. via Yelp

—Mimi O’Connor

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