Travel with kids: US National Parks (Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Arizona)
Iris (7), Hector (11) and their parents
in the US National Parks
A great family destination, or, how to transform your kids into western cowboys. Breathtaking landscapes, large open spaces, wild animals, hamburgers and coca-cola… Let’s discover National Parks as a family!
Our five week summer tour of 2013: Idaho – Jackson – Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) – Zion National Park – Moab – Lake Powell – Brice Canyon (Utah) – Monument Valley – Grand Canyon – Antelope Canyon – Phoenix – Sedona (Arizona)
What we loved in the US National Parks with kids
Living at the rhythm of cowboys and nature in an Idaho ranch: one week of total change of scene, during which we stayed in pretty log cabins. Long horse-riding hikes, camp fire grilled marshmallows, archery, canoe and fishing… an unforgettable experience both for children and adults.
Galloping in Monument Valley with a Navajo man: a décor just like in the movies, the sweetness of our knowledgeable Navajo guide, the red sand that rises behind our galloping horses… One of the most beautiful moments of our trip. And no need to be a good horseback rider, as the guide will adapt to your level. No equipment is lent (neither riding helmet nor boots): so try to bring along at least a pair of sneakers and high socks.
Watching the sun rise from a hot-air balloon (in Sedona, Arizona): the balloon inflating in the night and the magic of a silent trip in the sky at the break of dawn. Fly above the coyotes and the herds of cattle, see the cliffs change colour… it is enchanting! Reserve by mail at Northern Light Balloons.
Spending a night at Zion National Park (Utah), in a little chalet lost in the midst of nature. After dark, as the park closes, cars stop running and give the floor to coyotes, deer, stags, and fawns… A magical experience at a very reasonable price. There is only one lodge in the park (Zion Lodge), so make sure to reserve very early.
Attending a rodeo in Jackson (Wyoming), a ‘Western town’ between Los Angeles and Yellowstone park. There, you will find the atmosphere of the Far West: stage-coaches, saloons, and the grand rodeo twice a week. After the national anthem sung while standing with one hand placed on your heart, the show can begin: calves, buffaloes, horses… the lassoes whistle and the dust flies. From June to September.
Visiting Las Vegas: the largest saloon in the world (a kind of National Park)! An utterly crazy city where hotel-casinos have spent millions of dollars to give their imagination free rain: Egyptian pyramids, Eiffel Tower, gondolas on Venetian canals… It is kitsch and the children love it. There are many fun activities for the family: visit the Venetian Hotel, admire the fountain shows at the Bellagio, see a performance by the ‘Cirque du Soleil’ (reserve well in advance), go shopping in the M&M’s and Coca-Cola stores…
Our favorite spots in the US National Parks with kids
Yellowstone National Park: the largest natural park of the USA. You must absolutely visit it. There, you will meet many animals: bison, coyotes, and even bears who, as it appears, will not hesitate to come pound at the doors of camping-cars to beg for food!
Bryce Canyon (Utah): quite a spectacular site. The children loved it even more than the Grand Canyon. You can admire the most beautiful spots from the car, but the best activity is to go walking in the gorges. It is about 2.5 hours for a return walk, quite doable from six or seven years old, of course only with a pair of good walking shoes.
Antelope Canyon (North Arizona): also gorgeous. These gorges were carved by water and wind in sandstone: their colour range is unbelievable. The site is situated within Navajo Tribal Park, and all visits are led by Navajo Indians.
US National Parks family accommodations and hotels
A practical thing when travelling with your children in the USA is that you can almost always find a room for four (with two queen beds), or even five if you add a roll-away bed. And almost all hotels have a swimming pool!
– Hotels in Monument Valley
The View: without doubt the loveliest hotel of the area, the only one actually inside the park. Astonishing sunrises and sunsets to be seen from every balcony.
A good deal at the nice Goulding’s Lodge: the family house, 140m2, all for yourselves! Don’t forget to ask for it…
– Ranch in Idaho (Harrison)
We loved the Redhorsemountain Ranch (Harrison, Idaho): the small log houses are simple, but they include a hot tub and views of the surrounding mountains. Many activities are offered – but never imposed, the food is excellent, and everyone has their own horse for the week. It was very difficult for us to leave the ranch.
– Hotels in Moab (Utah)
The Sorrel River Ranch is a truly exceptional hotel. A beautiful wooden chalet, quite luxurious but located in the heart of nature, with a breathtaking view. It is next to the Colorado river, where you can go rafting. We broke the bank but it will remain a great memory.
Also nice, the Moab Redcliffs Lodge: a large ranch near the Colorado river, with many activities in the area: horseback riding, quad rides, rafting (from five years old). The bungalows (cabins) are for four people.
– Hotel in Zion National Park (Utah)
The Zion Lodge, one of our favourite nights spent in the West USA with the children! It is the only accommodation in the park, so reserve well in advance. Pretty chalets (cabins) for families of four.
– Hotel in Sedona (Arizona)
The Enchantment Resort is a fabulous hotel: swimming pool and restaurant at the feet of the red cliffs, little gifts for children, and a overall very considerate service. Expensive, but enjoyable.
– Hotels in Las Vegas
You might as well stay on the ‘Strip’ (officially: Las Vegas Boulevard) for its animation! No problem staying in a spacious room for four at the splendid Venetian Resort, at the MGM Grand, or the Palms. But only the MGM Grand accepts to welcome five people in the same room.
Eating in the US National Parks with kids
Diners that look like the 1960s, with coke, hamburgers and ketchup, and no other vegetables than French fries… everything a kid can dream of. Families are always welcome, and children are greeted with colourings, pastel pencils, and a kid’s menu with low prices. For the adults, portions are enormous: do not hesitate to share your pizza or ask for a take away glass to bring along your unfinished orange juice…
In Williams (Arizona): the Cruiser Coffee 66. Naturally, with a Route 66 deco, very good burgers, fries ‘just like in Belgium’, a vast choice of beers (for parents). A very nice stop on the way to the Grand Canyon.
In Las Vegas:
Hard Rock Cafe, a great rock’n’roll deco with a 15 meter high ‘StratoCaster’ and the music that goes with all of that… an amazing atmosphere for kids. 4475 Paradise Road, a five minute taxi or car ride from the Strip (parking provided).
Rainforest Restaurant (in the MGM hotel): fun for children, with its tropical jungle ambiance, gaping orang-outangs, and trumpeting elephant… And even a real lion sleeping in its glass cage!
What we liked less
Camping cars: not that economical (important petrol consumption and expensive parking fares). Especially unpleasant when you cannot spend the night in a park and you end up sleeping in a sinister parking lot! Another great advantage of staying at a hotel with children is the access to a swimming pool!
While the natural sites are breathtaking, do not expect too much in terms of culture: this aspect of the Western United States will please certain people and annoy others…
Grand Canyon: way too many people. Buses everywhere, crowded walking paths… The only magical moment: the helicopter flight.
Be careful of distances. The region is immense, and the National Parks often overlap many states: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana… So once in a while we had to abandon the car and take the airplane… (use google maps to check distances).
May and June are probably the best months to travel… but there are no school holidays during that period. It can get very hot in August (easily 45°C) in Arizona or in Moab, but this kind of dry heat is quite bearable.
Don’t forget to bring
* a swimsuit, naturally
* a little notebook to write, draw, tell stories (the children’s suitcase)
* electrical plug adaptors (if you are coming from Europe)
* a pair of solid tennis shoes and high socks for horseback riding
* a complete guide for parents, like the West United States Lonely Planet
* a road map, for the pleasure of organising you itinerary
And books for the children: the Lonely Planet for children ‘Not for Parents’ Many anecdotes and fun facts for discovering the history, the culture, the gastronomy, and the major monuments of the area.
Enjoy your trip to the US National Parks with kids !