5 National Parks To Visit With Bay Area Kids Before They Grow Up - 510 Families
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5 National Parks To Visit With Bay Area Kids Before They Grow Up

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The {510} Families crew was thrilled to be contacted by the folks behind Just Go Travel Studios because they are kindred spirit explorers of kid-friendly activities. On their website, they offer affordable, downloadable itineraries that guide families through National Parks visits.

With Spring Break coming up, and so many families telling us they don’t really have a plan, I thought we’d put together a list of you-can-do-it National Park destinations.

For the past few years, fourth graders have had free access to National Parks, and this year’s fifth graders have it too, as they may have missed their fourth-grade opportunity last summer. More details on Every Kid Outdoors.

National Parks Your Kids Will Love

Muir Woods National Monument (Marin County)

Muir Woods With Kids

A stone’s throw from the East Bay, Muir Woods is a bucket list item for many tourists who make the trek to California from all over the world. And aren’t we lucky to be able to drive there in about an hour?
What’s there: Massive Redwood trees, including fallen trees that allow you to count the rings and estimate how old they are. Careful – the average age of trees in Muir Woods is 500 years old.
More tips: For $1.99 you can get a step-by-step guide to navigating Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands >

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Lassen Volcanic National Park (near Redding, CA)

Lassen Volcanic Park with Kids

About three hours north of the 5-1-0, then a smidge east, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers close-up views of volcanic activity.
What’s there: Colorful geothermal pools and boiling water erupting from the earth, plus the hike with the funny name: Bumpass Hell Trail.
More tips: Remember that locations north of here get cold weather for real. Not a Spring Break option as the road is snow-covered until it gets cleared by National Parks Service. For $5.99, the Just Go Travel Studios guide to Lassen Volcanic Park provides must-read links, packing notes, and important information about which activities require reservations.

Joshua Tree National Park

joshua tree roadtrip

This is a very looong drive, so we have previously suggested making it a longer trip with a few days in the Palm Springs area tacked onto the end. Joshua Tree is about 8 hours driving from the Bay Area or an hour driving from the Palm Springs airport. It will be crowded during Spring Break, but for remote learning folks, the rest of Spring is a great time to make this trip.
What’s there: Otherworldly rock formations and trees make this a spectacular place to explore.
More tips: We’ve written up Joshua Tree With Kids in the past and there’s a detailed, inexpensive Trip Planner PDF here >

Channel Islands National Park (off the coast of Ventura, CA)

channel islands nps
Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura, CA | Photo courtesy National Parks Service

Are you up for an awfully big adventure? The Channel Islands are off the coast of California, south of Santa Barbara, so this longish road trip leads to a boat ride from Oxnard, or a small plane if you’re fancy. Once you’re there, there are no stores for food or gear. The National Park Service warns that there are “no remedies for poor planning once you’ve arrived.”
What’s there: Hiking, kayaking, primitive camping, and “backcountry surfing” are favorite activities for hardcore outdoors folks. For the rest of us, a guided trip hosted by Island Packers, the boat company that brings you there, is your best choice. Choose from whale watching or painted cave-themed day trips to island-hopping for backpackers. Oxnard and Ventura are lovely low-key beach towns with more affordable lodging than Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz.
More tips: See what Just Go Travel Studios offers in their $2.99 PDF Channel Islands National Park Itinerary-Santa Cruz Island (Scorpion Anchorage) >
Not for you? Read on!

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Yosemite National Park (Western Sierras)

Family-friendly Yosemite
Walk through this tree in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park | Photo: Whitney Moss

Another must-see California spectacle, Yosemite National Park is about four hours from the Bay Area.
What’s there:  Do you want to see the highest waterfall in North America? Yosemite is a breathtakingly beautiful valley created by sharply rising mountains and rock faces. Roads lace the bottom of the valley, so tourists drive around to different trailheads, and then walk up to enjoy the views of waterfalls and epic scenery.
More tips: This Trip Planner PDF is $5.99 and offers lists of activities ranked by effort along with maps and nearby attractions.

But wait, there’s more! Other places to pack into your spring break adventures, within driving distance from the Bay Area:

Crater Lake National Park – It’s so blue! 6 or 7 hours from Bay Area.
Pinnacles National Park –  Cool-looking volcanic rocks. 3 hours from Bay Area.
Sequoia National Park – Good place to meet up with Southern California friends or family.

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