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Taking the Kids: (SAFELY) to national parks this summer

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Save time getting into a park (yes, lines can be long) by getting a pass in advance. There are several to choose from, including annual passes, discounted annual or lifetime passes for seniors and everyone in their car, special free passes for military and their families, veterans and Gold Star families and those with physical challenges. These are good not only for parks but national historic sites and more than 2,000 federal recreation areas.

If your kids are fourth- or fifth-graders, they can apply for the Every Kid in a Park program that will get your family in free for an entire year. (Make sure to apply before you leave home and print your pass when you visit — electronic passes aren’t accepted.)

Download the new National Park Service app with tools to explore more than 400 national parks nationwide. With interactive maps, tours, accessibility information and more. There are many other apps to help you explore, including one from REI that features trail data and hike descriptions for national parks and no cell signal is needed — Check out the “best of” lists, and Family Friendly hikes.

According to, though not free, the Just Ahead app is a terrific national park audio guide with built-in GPS so it will start narration as you drive by markers on the map. The Oh Ranger! Park Finder free app includes state parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges. You can search by activity like wildlife watching, boating, fishing.

Rangers urge that especially this summer, consider some of the less visited parks and recreation areas. (Search for a park by state, activity or your interest — anything and everything from African American and Asian heritage to the American Revolution, animals, caves and canyons, the night sky, waterfalls and women’s history.

Consider places like North Cascades National Park in the state of Washington where you can hike, bike, fish and raft down a river or maybe try Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado which touts the tallest Sand Dunes in the country. Ready to go sand surfing? Maybe canoeing in Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota?


Happy exploring. Just be safe out there!


(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia, the 13th in the kid’s guide series, was published in 2020, with The Kid’s Guide to Camping coming in 2021.)

©2021 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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