Hear it from our staff: the best public lands for family fun


Public lands are great places for families to unplug, slow down and spend time with one another. The staff at Interior knows these special places as well as anyone and recently sent in pictures and memories of spending family time on public lands. We hope these stories will encourage more people to get out and enjoy their public lands together -- especially families with young kids. Inspiring an appreciation for parks at an early age is critical to creating the next generation of conservationists and public land enthusiasts.

Glacier National Park in Montana

A white man and woman with two young boys dressed in outdoor clothes stand on a ledge overlooking a blue lake and a range of gray mountains dotted with snow.

Rebecca is a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Her family is on a mission to visit every national park. “Everybody in the family has a favorite park. My husband and I love Glacier, our oldest son's favorite is Olympic, and our youngest son's favorite park is Yellowstone.”

North Fork of  the American Wild and Scenic River in California

A white man and two white boys with backpacks hike up a hillside covered in colorful wildflowers.

“I love adventures on public lands with my family at places that are close to home and relatively unknown. My kids bring some of their friends and together we enjoy a little challenge, mixed with the beauty and tranquility of nature,” said Josh of the Bureau of Land Management. Who else wants to tag along to the Stevens Trail along the North Fork of the American River on a day like this?

City of Rocks National Reserve in Idaho

A white woman and her two white daughter wear climbing gear and helmets and sit on a large gray rock holding ropes.

Wanting to pass on her love of climbing to her daughters, National Park Service project manager Susan has taken a summer trip to City of Rocks for the past six years. Last year’s trip included a lesson in rappelling. “Learning to rappel down from this climb was both scary and exciting experience for our girls. Camping in City of Rocks is really fun, there are many boulders and small cave like formations to explore. Going on adventures together helps us grow closer as a family.”

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico

A young white woman with brown hair wearing camouflage stands next to a tree holding a shotgun and a dead turkey.

For many families, hunting is an important tradition. Craig of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to share his hunting knowledge with his daughter Willow, who recently bagged her first wild turkey at Bosque del Apache. “Hunting connects her to her most aboriginal being and we did it in a most inspiring setting, sitting beneath an ancient cottonwood near the Rio Grande on a national wildlife refuge.”

Redwood National and State Parks in California

Two young white men and a young white woman stand at the base of a massive tree holding their arms out wide.

Zachary from the U.S. Geological Survey has a hard time picking his favorite public lands getaway. There are just too many to choose from. A recent highlight is a trip he enjoyed with his family to share the wonder of the mighty Redwoods. “To be able to get away to a place that feels like at any moment an ancient creature could emerge from the forest. What an experience!”

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico

An large African American family sit on a low rock wall in front of a sign for Vieques wildlife refuge.

Not only does U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer Bruce keep people safe, he also works hard to connect people to public lands -- especially his own family. “Prior to my employment with the FWS, they had never heard of a wildlife refuge. Now Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is one of their favorite places to visit, because of the pristine beaches and the beautiful scenery.”

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

An older photo of a young white woman and a white man carrying a baby on his back standing in front of a waterfall.

When she was just seven months old, Division of Minerals Evaluation Geologist Maggie's parents took her to Yellowstone National Park. Visiting parks has been her family’s passion ever since. “My whole extended family usually spends two weeks camping together every year. My cousins and I have spent hours playing cards at the Grand Canyon, hiking around Glacier, watching the waves crash at Acadia and pretending to be buffalos at the Badlands. Finally, two years ago, we were able to check off our 50th state by visiting Denali.” Very impressive, Maggie!

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California

An smiling Asian man holds his daughter up to look at a brown horse as a white woman in a ranger uniform looks on.

Thomas works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in California and loves taking advantage of all the public lands in the state. “We love big, grand parks like Sequoia and Yosemite, but it can be hard for my young kids to sit through a long car ride, so instead we often enjoy great hikes and participate in educational events (like the Annual Horse Tales) at our local park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in less than an hour’s drive.”

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Two young blond white men stand on a path by a stone wall overlooking a gorgeous blue mountain lake.

Even teenagers can be impressed by public lands. USGS microbiologist Dale snapped this shot of his smiling sons, Gunner and Ryker, at Crater Lake. “The incredible scenery in the park and the color contrast and reflections between the lake and the sky are something to behold. We all loved the visit and highly recommend it for others.”

Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri

A white man with thin short gray hair swimming in a river with his daughter with a dog and boat in the water behind them.

Greg has spent almost 30 years working on the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers for the National Park Service. He’s seen his three daughters grow up in the water and on the banks. “Now that they are busy teenagers and so many other things get in the way of spending time with their dad, but the river is still the one thing that we all make time to do. I will never regret the wasted time with my family on the river. It connects us all.”

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado

On a dirt path through the woods, a white man pushes a wheelchair holding a young man holding his younger brother in his lap.

With administrative responsibilities at several National Park Service locations in Colorado, Emily enjoys sharing each unique place with her family. “We recently spent a couple hours exploring the Florissant Fossil Beds. My youngest son got his first Junior Ranger Badge and was ecstatic. We were able to utilize the accessible trails so that my stepson could enjoy all the fossil beds had to offer from his wheelchair.”

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Three white women of different generations stand by a fence overlooking a wide view of the Grand Canyon.

Here are three generations taking in the timeless beauty of the Grand Canyon. For Dana of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, this trip was an opportunity to celebrate her mother’s 70th birthday and knock an item off her bucketlist. She said, “it’s an overwhelming experience to take in the canyon. Go during the sunset and watch the changing colors on the canyon walls. You will find words are really insufficient.”

Canaveral National Seashore in Florida

A Hispanic man with a black goatee standing next to an older Hispanic woman on the porch of a white house with a river and trees behind them.

Seminole Rest at Canaveral National Seashore preserves several impressive shell mounds that help tell the story of more than 3,500 years of human history. Turtle Mound was also built by Native American tribes and was later used as a lookout by Spanish explorers. This fascinating history appeals to National Park Service maintenance worker Carlos so much that he loves bringing generations of his family out to the park to learn about it.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California

A young white woman with long brown hair jumps in the air on a sidewalk below the Golden Gate bridge on a foggy day.

While on a camping trip in the area, Bry’s family took a day to explore Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Even though she works for the National Park Service, Bry is always thrilled to visit a new public land. She sent in this photo saying, “This picture describes how we usually feel when our family visits a park.”

Acadia National Park in Maine

A white woman, white man and brown dog sit together on a rock on a high hill with a view of a forested peninsula and the ocean behind them.

Jessalyn -- an Interior Procurement Analyst -- loves spending time at Acadia with her husband and dog. “As east coasters, Acadia is just the best of all worlds -- mountains, oceans, forest. Smelling the pine trees and the salt water is just our happy place. It's also very dog friendly, and the hiking isn't reserved for super-athletes.” Thanks for sharing your favorite park with us!

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

A white woman, a white man, and their young son and daughter stand in a line together in a snow covered field with a forest behind them.

A year ago, Jessica transferred to an engineering position in Redding, California, with the Bureau of Reclamation. A bonus of the move was that now her family lives close to Lassen Volcanic National Park. “My husband-Erick, son-Maddox, daughter-Eliza, dog-Jasmine and I have been to Mount Lassen several times and had a blast hiking to Bumpass Hell and sledding in the snow.”

McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area in Colorado

Two white men wearing helmets stand next to mountain bikes on a rocky desert plain with canyons behind them.

Public lands are amazing places to reconnect with family. Nico -- a geologist with the Division of Minerals Evaluation -- shared this story: “My brother, Ted, and I have always been very close, but life, families and work have taken us to two different states and we don't get to see each other as much as we would like. As such, we make it a point to get together once a year for a trip to public lands. For our 2018 brothers-get-together we went to Colorado's Western Slope, where we went biking on the famous Kokopelli Trials of McInnis Canyons.”

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

Two young white boys stand by a stone wall with a large snow covered mountain behind them.

Lora is the superintendent of a Bureau of Indian Education school and recognizes the importance of inspiring the next generation. For her sons, public lands like Mount Rainier National Park make for wonderful classrooms. “Our boys love to go on new adventures in the wilderness, view wildlife and take in the majestic beauty our national parks have to offer. Not only are we creating lifelong memories, we are teaching our children the importance of preservation and that there is new knowledge to acquire with every visit.”

Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota

A white man and white woman with their blond son and daughter sit on a rock in front of Mount Rushmore.

Though they’ve taken many vacations in the last 25 years, a national parks trip they took in 1995 still stands out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Deborah. “We went to see ‘the guys on the rocks,’ at Mount Rushmore. Through the eyes of a child, it was a vacation to remember, complete with seeing ‘grizzly cows,’ also known as buffalo, and the South Dakota Badlands. What a great country we live in!” We completely agree, Deborah.

Death Valley National Park in California

A smiling little blond girl sits on a small desert sand dune with a rocky mountain ridge in the background.

Public lands are a family tradition for John of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. “Recently, my wife, daughter and I joined my parents in Death Valley. This park is special to us in that my Dad started his 35-year-career with the National Park Service there. You can see in my daughters face that she is already cultivating a love for the national parks.”

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

On a rock ledge, a white man kneels down to check climbing equipment on a little boy while other children look on.

Annual family trips to public lands are important to many Interior employees. For Bureau of Land Management Realty Specialist Jennifer, one family isn’t enough. “This year, we traveled to Capitol Reef. We had five families join us for a total of 12 adults and 11 kids for a week of camping. Activities on the trip included hiking, exploring slot canyons, rappelling into slot canyons and enjoying local cultural and paleo resources.”

Glacier National Park in Montana

Two African American women and a tall African American man smile and stand together in front of a sign for Glacier National Park.

Ask Reclamation’s Marisol what her favorite place is and she’ll give you a quick answer. “Our family’s favorite spot is Glacier National Park. Our trip there was the first time I got to spend with my children as adults after they moved away from home, and we had the time of our lives! The beauty of Glacier will forever be in our souls.”

Powderhorn Wilderness in Colorado

A young white boy stands by a lake and fishes with a rod and reel.

There’s no better way of bringing the family together than spending time in the peace and quiet of wilderness. That’s why James of the Bureau of Land Management loves Powderhorn Wilderness. “Our family of four really enjoy getting away to this gem filled with beautiful scenery and primitive recreation. We backpack in for a couple nights, enjoy fishing, and consider how thankful we are for public lands.”

Big Bend National Park in Texas

Four young white people in hiking clothes stand on a mountaintop with a brown landscape of mountains behind them.

We’ll let Taylor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tell you about Big Bend. “Every other Christmas my family makes the 12-hour trek to Big Bend National Park where we find happiness in the solitude it provides. My three cousins and I have grown up hiking a different Basin trail every trip out and usually laugh at all of the memories made while hiking in the Chisos. Big Bend is our family's favorite place on Earth, and we are so lucky to be able to share it together as our family grows.”

Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico

A little blond girl stands on the stone base of a sign for Capulin Volcano National Monument with a mountain with a flat top rises behind her.

From famous parks like Shenandoah to little known national monuments like Capulin Volcano, the National Park Service’s Claire is excited to explore public lands with her daughter. Together, they have visited over 100 parks and her daughter has earned 150 Junior Ranger badges and patches. To the Schulers, public lands are national treasures, outdoor classrooms and common bonds for all people. Claire sums up her feelings simply: “WE LOVE OUR PARKS.”

Thanks to all of the Interior team who shared their favorite family getaways. We’re inspired by your stories and look forward to seeing everyone out on public lands and waters.


All photos were submitted by Interior employees and remain their personal property. These images are not in the public domain.