Ever dream of exploring our country’s drop-dead gorgeous national parks with your kids? While we all endeavor to get our family exposed to the great outdoors, between our daily routine of school drop-offs and pick-ups, play dates, and oh, that little chore of making dinner every night, sometimes it’s not so easy to do. Well, busy parents meet Meet Craig Obey of the National Parks Conservation Association who has taken it upon himself to explore the country’s many national parks with his kiddos. Whether you’re looking for ideas to go forth into the wilderness or just want to live vicariously through Craig, read on to hear all about his family’s adventures at Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument:

The final two destinations of our summer adventure in the national parks, though neighbors, are a study in contrast. One, Mount Rainier, is a national park. The other, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, is not part of the National Park System, but easily could be. Today, it is operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Both places captivated our kids, but Rainier’s accessibility made for a much richer experience. Unlike Rainier, Mount St. Helens has no overnight accommodations–no lodge or campgrounds–making it a challenge to explore deeply with young kids, unless you want to backpack in a location remote from the park’s center–the gaping crater created by the volcano’s 1980 eruption. We were fortunate to stay at the nearby, family-run Eco Park Resort, a lodge with delightful cabins, yurts, campsites, and great food.

The premier destination at Mount St. Helens is Johnston Ridge Observatory, with its birds-eye view of the crater, its fancy theater and film, and several exhibits the kids enjoyed–particularly one that enabled them to create their own earthquake and see its intensity on a seismometer. The shortcoming is the lack of interpretive options beyond the observatory. A Forest Service ranger delivered an engaging Junior Ranger talk to the kids, which was held outdoors overlooking the mountain. But, when we all got hungry, there was no place to eat. No restaurant. No picnic tables. So, we pulled out our cooler from the car and ate sandwiches on a concrete median strip in the parking lot. It wasn’t until we visited Coldwater Lake at the end of our day that we saw there were actually picnic tables; they were simply 10 miles away from where all the visitors were!

Once you venture away from the observatory building, the hiking options for kids in this part of Mount St. Helens are limited. The hike to the valley floor is a fascinating journey, but too much for young kids–long, strenuous, and exposed. So, we hiked a ways down the trail and turned around. There are nice trails in other parts of the monument, but getting there is an hours-long, challenging journey.

Fortunately, Mount Rainier, our final park, offers a bounty of hiking options that the kids truly enjoyed. At Paradise on the south side of the mountain, we hiked the Skyline trail through glorious fields of lupine until we reached a delightful snowfield that provided us with a slippery playground, much to the viewing pleasure of two nearby marmots. We couldn’t tell what the Marmots thought of Isabelle’s wolf puppet, Logan Lightning Bolt, who accompanied us.

To read Craig Obey’s full story about visiting Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens with his family, click here for the full story.

This story originally appeared in the National Parks Conservation Association blog, the Park Advocate, at www.parkadvocate.org. Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA and its 750,000 members and supporters work together to protect our National Park System and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren. www.npca.org.

Have you visited these outdoor gems with your family? Let us know all about your experiences in the comment section below.