Oregon Goes Boom at Newberry Volcano in Bend

What to do in Bend with kids, walk on a volcano.
Kids love volcanoes so add Newberry National Volcanic Monument to your Oregon road trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What to do in Bend with Kids

In-between Crater Lake and Columbia River Gorge, I found Bend, Oregon, located where the ponderosa pine forest transitions to the high desert. I did a little research and found Bend is a favorite outdoor destination throughout the seasons. Then I found a national park site where my kids could climb a volcano. Sold!

After we arrived in Bend, we spent the day at the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. With two different locations, it features lakes, hot springs, lava flows, a lava cave and a cinder cone in the middle of the Deschutes National Forest.

What to do at the Newberry Volcano

The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is divided into two areas, each with it’s own visitor center with seasonal hours and staffed with U.S. Forest Rangers.

Lava Lands Visitor Center

If limited on time start at the Lava Lands Visitor Center, located at the northern end of the monument closest to Bend. Conveniently located of U.S Route 97. It features a 3-D topographic map and introductory movie.

What to do in Bend with kids, hike to the Newberry Fire lookout.
Hike to the Newberry Fire Lookout when exploring the volcano. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit, we hopped the shuttle bus ($2 per person, round trip) to the top of Lava Butte, a 500-foot tall cinder cone volcano. A must-do for the family, we hiked up to the Lava Butte Lookout, an historic and active U.S. Forest Service fire lookout since 1913.

Staffed by an official fire lookout that scans the forest for tiny columns of smoke before they turn into raging infernos. During our visit, a volunteer Forest Ranger told us about the eruption 7,000 years ago that formed the butte and its crater. On the way back to the shuttle bus stop, we hiked the easy .25-mile hike along the Lava Butte Rim.

Climb a Volcano with your kids when you explore Oregon. Got all the family fun in the outdoors conveniently located between major destinations.

If visiting the Newberry National Volcanic Monument during the summer season (May 1 to Labor Day), explore the Lava River Cave, Oregon’s longest lava tube. An unguided tour that descends 55 steps into an unlit one-mile long cavity created by a massive lava flow.

Lava River Cave requires a 2-mile roundtrip hike and you must carry two light sources. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the season. A ranger-led tour starts at 3 p.m. and reservations are made day of the tour.

Newberry Caldera

Located in a historic Forest Service guard station, Paulina Visitor Center is at the southern end of the monument, off Paulina Lake Road or County Road 21. During the summer season a forest ranger hands out maps and Junior Forest Ranger booklets. Staffed weekends only during the spring and fall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the summer most days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What to do in Bend with kids, visit Paulina Cabin.
Stop off at Paulina Cabin for more information when you visit. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit, we hiked to the Big Obsidian Flow, a 1-mile loop moderate trail with a 500-foot elevation gain. The obsidian, or Black Glass, was formed 1,300 years ago and is the youngest lava flow in Oregon. This area has a vault toilet and picnic tables along with seasonal (summer) interpretive rangers.

Another hike for families, and especially waterfall-loving Moms, is the Paulina Falls trail. A .25-mile easy trail leads to an 80-foot twin falls. Both hikes have parking areas.

Within the the Newberry caldera, I found two lakes with hot springs, Paulina Lake and East Lake. Boating is permitted though both lakes have a 10-mph speed limit. Kayaks and paddle boards can be rented nearby.

What to do in Bend with kids, hike the big obsidian flow.
Hike a big pile of obsidian at Newberry Volcanic National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Newberry National Volcanic Monument with Kids

Since the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is managed by the United States Forest Service, kids can earn a Junior Forest Ranger badge. Pick up a booklet at the Lava Lands Visitor Center or the Paulina Visitor Center. The booklet focuses on activities for kids 7 to 12, though I always help my younger kids.

The Junior Forest Ranger badge is rather painless, with a few easy to complete activities. Most kids (my two boys 8 and 12 did it with no real complaints) should finish it under an hour. It doesn’t require attending a ranger program but kids have to interview a ranger.

Cool Facts about Newberry 

Located on the eastern edge of the Cascade mountain range and known for its volcanic activity, the Newberry Caldera is a 1,200 square mile volcano. About the size of Rhode Island, the Newberry Caldera is still active with seismic and geothermal activity. Ordinarily kids would snooze through this but mention seismic anything when standing next to a volcano and they start to listen.

The Newberry Caldera is thought to be 500,000 years old when the top layer of the earth collapsed and formed the crater. Subsequent eruptions formed cinder cones and lava flows.

Named after John Newberry, who explored the area in 1855 for the Pacific Railroad, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument was dedicated in 1990. Astronauts trained at Newberry during NASA’s Apollo program.

Where to Stay in Bend

I found lots of options in dining, lodging and camping in Bend. During my visit, I stayed at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes ($$-$$$), located at 3075 N. Business 97 in Bend.

Stay at Riverhouse on the Deschutes and what to do in Bend with kids.
During our visit we stayed at Riverhouse on the Deschutes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers the ultimate base. The newly renovated rooms feature sophisticated, modern details with a convenient location perfect for family travelers. Centrally located, the Riverhouse on the Deschutes offers quick access to enjoy Bend’s outdoor adventures.

I found six campgrounds in the Deschutes National Forest, some of the sites are reservable.

Where’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Located 95 miles east from Crater Lake National Park and 140 miles south from Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Lava Lands Visitor Center is 12 miles south of Bend, Oregon. During my visit, I stayed in Bend, with the largest selection of lodging and dining in central Oregon.

Newberry National Volcanic is open year-round though the visitor centers are open seasonally from May 1 to October 31. The monument requires admission, use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a day use pass for $5 per vehicle, good at all designated parking lots.

Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

If you plan on exploring Lava River Cave, the lava tube, you will be asked if you have visited a cave, like Oregon Caves National Monument in southern Oregon. You can not wear any clothing, including shoes, that’s been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome.

White-Nose Syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. A fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity that’s killed 6 million bats since it’s discovery in 2006. Since the fungus can survive in the soil for years, rangers forbid visitors from entering the cave with the same clothing or shoes from another cave.

Know Before You Go:

  • Wear appropriate shoes for hiking on the lava flows, like hiking or athletic shoes. I slipped a couple of times even with hiking sandals.
  • The lava flows offer little in shade. Wear a hat, light-colored clothing and bring plenty of water if hiking in the summer.
  • The shuttle bus to the top of Lava Butte takes exact change only and kids under 2 ride for free.
  • Kids under 6 earn a Smokey Bear pin by completing the Smokey’s Helper Booklet.


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Discover Utah’s Bryce Canyon to Share Fun and Adventure

Discover Utah's Bryce Canyon with kids
Discover the pink spires at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Discover Utah’s technicolor show where the delicate pink of a sunrise pops into vermillion red then rusts into a sunset orange. Bryce Canyon National Park offers expansive views at every turn in the trail. The Paunsaugunt Plateau’s dramatic scenery is a hiker’s dream and draws visitors from around the world.

History of Bryce Canyon National Park

What started as an inland sea approximately 40 million years ago until 20 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau began to rise and dry out. Bryce Canyon’s rainbow-colored limestone layers actually represent different eras of time.

Explore the Bryce Canyon River when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Catch the Bryce Canyon River as it snakes through the firs at the bottom of the canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bryce Canyon is located on the top portion of the Grand Staircase, a sequence of sedimentary rock layers in northern Arizona and southern Utah. It offers a geologic survey of 525 million years displayed in exposed rock. Where Grand Canyon National Park represents the bottom of the Grand Staircase, Zion National Park offers a glimpse of the center.

Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon Pioneer and Bryce Canyon’s namesake, settled in the area and at times seemed obvious to its haunting beauty. Bryce Canyon National Park earned its national park designation in 1928.

What to do in 2 hours

On my first visit, I had limited time so after grabbing a map at the Visitor Center I hopped a complimentary park shuttle. At the Sunrise Point stop, I headed to the Rim Trail, a paved path running next to the edge. To walk from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point is an easy 1.0-mile hike.

NOTE: This path doesn’t feature a fence next to the canyon but is approximately 10 feet off the rim’s edge.

Walk through Bryce Canyon Lodge when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
The historic Bryce Canyon Lodge offers guests rooms steps away from the rim of the canyon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For more adventurous families, the Navajo Trail offers an up-close look at Bryce’s rock formations as the trail takes hikers into Bryce Amphitheater’s slot canyon. It starts at Sunset Point and is a 1.3-mile moderate trail.

I walked over to the Bryce Canyon Lodge to tour the historic park building. Inside I found restrooms along with a large gift shop, a restaurant and a ballroom that hosts ranger programs.

Explore Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park for family fun and adventure. With cabins, hikes and horseback rides, families can make memories together as they discover the pink spires of Utah.

After exploring from Sunrise to Sunset Points, I headed for Inspiration Point. Close but yet another vantage point of the Bryce Amphitheater then boarded the shuttle bus for the roundtrip ride back to the visitor center.

Family Fun in Bryce Canyon National Park

For older kids who love adventure, explore Bryce Canyon by horseback with a one-and-half hour guided tour that takes small groups to Fairy Castle and back. A three-hour tour explores the Peek-a-Boo Loop by horseback as well.

Take a hike when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Kids love to hike and Bryce Canyon National Park offers several family hiking trails. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bryce Canyon National Park hosts two summer festivals. An Annual Astronomy Festival in June and an Annual Geology Festival in July for visitors looking for specialized programming.

Bryce Canyon National Park features night sky programming. The park’s dark rangers, who specialize in the night sky, host programs to see a world beyond the naked eye.

Outfitted with high-powered telescopes, dark rangers point viewfinders on the Milky Way and nursery nebulae. On full moons, dark sky rangers guide visitors through Bryce Canyon on moonlit hikes.

Bryce Canyon with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Lodging in Bryce Canyon National Park

Stay in a historic cabin when you explore Bryce Canyon with kids.
Reserve a cabin steps from Bryce Canyon’s rim to make memories with your kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For lodging in the park, the rustic Bryce Canyon Lodge offers rooms in the 1925 historic lodge listed on the Register of Historic Places. The Bryce Canyon Lodge features a restaurant, a pizzeria along with lodge rooms and a few suites.

For guests looking for more space, western cabins are located steps from the canyon’s edge and the lodge. They offer rustic elegance in a more private setting.

Where’s Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is located approximately 270 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the south and 270 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the north. Both cities offer international airports.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a difference landscape and included in national park itineraries. It’s located 85 miles from Zion National Park. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 158 miles away.

Bryce Canyon National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per private vehicle.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers a free seasonal shuttle bus from the visitor center every 15 minutes and stops at the lodge, the campgrounds and Sunset, Bryce, Inspiration and Sunset Points.

Know Before You Go:

  • Bryce Canyon has frequent thunderstorms during Monsoon season, June through August. For your safety, when thunder roars, head indoors.
  • Bryce Canyon doesn’t have a partial fence around the canyon like Grand Canyon. Hike with the kids within arm’s reach.
  • Take it easy at Bryce Canyon, elevations range from 6,600 to 9,100 ft
  • Seasonal road closure can occur during the winter.

Discover a Land of Destruction at Mount St. Helens


Explore Mount St. Helens with kids.
Explore Mount St. Helens with kids to learn about the 1980 eruption that blew off a mountaintop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mount St. Helens, once a recreational playground for Washington, until one quiet Sunday morning in 1980 when the snowcapped mountain vaporized. A mudslide decimated a forest and a crater remained where a peak once stood. A scar in the landscape recovers and a trip to Mount St. Helens with kids is a must for your Washington road trip.

What happened at Mount St. Helens 

In 1792 British explorer Captain George Vancouver officially named Mount St. Helens after Baron St. Helens, an ambassador. Though the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation’s name translates into the smoker, suggesting a history of volcanic activity.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids while in Washington.
A one-mile wide crater dominates the landscape at Mount St. Helens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

On March 20, 1980, a 4.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Mount St. Helens and jumpstarted the volcanic activity. The next week, steam started to vent. Volcanologists flew in from around the world to watch Mount St. Helens from every vantage point. By the end of April, a bulge appeared on the north side of the mountain.

After weeks intense monitoring, Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, in a fury that geologists compared to Mount Vesuvius. Another earthquake, a 5.1-magnitude, melted the snowpack into a violent mudslide and pulverized the top of the stratovolcano into a cloud of black ash.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and learn about the 1980 eruption.
During our visit, we attended a ranger program to learn about the fateful day in May 1980. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

For the next 9 hours, a plume of ash soared 12 to 16 miles into the atmosphere that turned day into night. The eruption generated 3.9 million cubic yards of material, like ash, pumice, trees and boulders, that rushed 17 miles downstream.

In all, the eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people. In its wrath, it destroyed 47 bridges, 15 miles of railroad, 185 miles of highway and 250 homes. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.

Explore Washington's Mount St. Helens with your kids to learn about the 1980 eruption along with the continued volcanic activity that rocks the area. Top of your adventure with a stay in a cozy off-the-grid cabin to ignite the imagination of your kids.

After the eruption, Mount St. Helens went from a 9,677-foot snow-capped peak to a 8,363-foot mountain with a one-mile wide, horseshoe-shaped crater. Since the 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens continues to rumble, with intermittent episodes of venting steam and erupting lava domes. The majority of the area is closed to visitors so scientists can continue to monitor the volcanic activity.

What to do in 3 hours at Mount St. Helens 

Drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory’s visitor center, at the end of State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway) and walk through the exhibits detailing the eruption. Watch one of the dramatic films and attend a ranger program, if available. Our program offered amazing historic photos of the eruption.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids.
Take a hike and see how the landscape recovers at Mount St. Helens. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids need to move so we hiked the Eruption Trail, a .5-mile trail from the Visitor Center. See the lava dome and the crater along with a pumice plain and landslide deposit. If time permits, stop at the Loowit Viewpoint, just west of the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Mount St. Helens with Kids

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is a must for school-age kids with geologic exhibits and live seismographs. The visitor center offers two different films, perfect for school-age kids. Though the movies might be intense for preschoolers and too loud for babies.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids during your vacation to Washington.
My kids earned a Junior Ranger badge during our visit to Mount St. Helens with special Junior Ranger programming. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, my kids attended a Junior Ranger program that explained the eruption in a way a kid could understand. The program took less than an hour and parents are welcome to stay or explore the monument on their own.

Family Fun at Mount St. Helens 

Due to the delicate nature of the recovering landscape and the continued seismic activity, I found limited recreational activities at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory. Visit other nearby locations.

  • Coldwater Lake Recreation Area offers a picnic area, an interpretive trail and a boat launch.
  • Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake is a Washington State Park that offers exhibits on the 1980 eruption. Located 6 miles from Castle Rock along State Route 504, it’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer season.
  • Try the eastside or southside of Mount St. Helens for more recreational activities, like Lava Canyon, Ape Cave or Spirit Lake viewpoints.
  • Eco Park Resorts offers horseback tours, the closest to Mount St. Helens, that ride through the blast zone.

Camping near Mount St. Helens 

For my visit to Mount St. Helens, I decided to stay as close as possible. At Eco Park Resort, just 25 miles west from the Johnston Ridge Observatory, I found several cozy, off-the-grid cabins along with tent and RV camping that unplugged my kids and recharged my spirit.

Visit Mount St. Helens with kids and stay in a nearby cabin.
We stayed in an off-the-grid cabin, minutes from the Johnston Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With a flicker of the gas-powered lights, my kids, 9, 13 and 14, and I settled in for the night under our cozy patchwork quilts. Set in a pristine landscape in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, it’s hard to believe the destruction that happened here 37 years ago.

Our cabin featured a pair of bunk beds that’s my boys fought over (in a good way) and a full-sized bed, each dressed with a cozy quilts for the brisk Washington nights. Since the cabins lack electricity, two gas-powered, wall-mounted lamps lighted our cabin. The flickering glow ignited my boys’ pioneering imaginations.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and stay in a cozy cabin.
Inside our cabin, I found a pair of bunk beds along with a full-size bed, dressed with cozy quilts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Inside our cabin, I found a table with four chairs, perfect for games after dinner. The long counter on one side of the cabin offered amble space for organizing camping equipment.

Outside our cabin, I made dinner on my gas camp stove, while my daughter swung on the cabin’s back porch swing. As we looked across the grassy meadow, we saw the first flickers of the nightly fire in Eco Park’s fire pit while my boys played in the late summer sun.

Explore Mount St. Helens with kids and stay at a cabin.
Steps from our cabin, the newly renovated bathroom had lots of hot water with a locking door and a flushing toilet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The owners of Eco Park Resort, Dawn and Mark Smith, offer their personal experiences of the day that Mount St. Helens erupted. The Smith family resort, Spirit Lake Lodge fell victim to 500-feet of ash that day. As the land recovered, the Smith family returned and opened Eco Park Resort in 1995 at 14000 Spirit Lake Highway.

Where’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is located 52 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, along State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway). It’s located 110 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, and 150 miles southeast of Seattle, Washington.

Both cities offer international airports. The closest towns with traveler’s services are Castle Rock or Kelso, both along Interstate 5. Public transportation is not available to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers a scenic drive, just 165 miles away. Astoria and the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks offers more national park fun, 120 miles west.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is open 7 days a week from mid-May until the end of October, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase an adult admission for $8 per person, kids 15 and under enter for free.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed from the end of October until mid-May.
  • Mount St. Helens includes levels of restricted areas for the safety and protection of the recovering landscape.
  • Pets, bikes and horses are prohibited to protect the recovering landscape. Though a few bike trails are open.
  • Camping is prohibited at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
  • Eco Park Resort is open from May until November and reservations are required.
  • Bring a battery-operated lantern for your stay at Eco Park Resort for additional lighting in the cabin and making after-dark runs to the potty.
  • Individual ground fires aren’t allowed at Eco Park Resort, though they light a fire pit that guests can enjoy. Remember the marshmallows!
  • Due to the remote location, Wi-Fi is not available at Eco Park Resort, though I had reliable cell service.
  • Since the cabin is off-grid, no electrical outlets are available in the cabin. Remember to charge the phone before arriving.
  • The cabins are heated though I didn’t turn of the heat for my stay.
  • The hot water is on a timer and the bathrooms contain showers only. The doors lock and if you have little kids, I recommend staying with them.

Take Epic Expedition with Explorers in the Pacific Northwest

Explore Fort Clatsop with Kids.
Discover the Columbia River like the legendary explorers, Lewis and Clark. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After exploring the U.S. and the majority of Canada with my three kids, 9, 13 and 14, I’m still amazed by what fascinates them. I thought historical sites about explorers would be a hard sell.

Not so. My boys, 9 and 13, knew more about Lewis and Clark than I did. Of course, they were hooked after the park ranger fired off an antique musket at our first stop.

Who are Lewis and Clark?

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark’s expedition at Fort Clatsop in Oregon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The famous explorers that charted the western U.S. after the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, both in their early 30s, to discover a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.

Starting in 1804, Lewis and Clark along with the other men of the Corps of Discovery, set out from St. Louis, Missouri, headed west to the Pacific Ocean. Not until November 1805 did the Lewis and Clark Expedition plus Sacagawea and her baby reach the Pacific Ocean across uncharted territory.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Explore Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park with your kids to learn about fur trading and the Corps of Discovery. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Needing a place to spend the winter, they built Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River. For three months, the Corps of Discovery sewed moccasins, hunted and made salt in preparation for the trip back. In March 1806, they left for St. Louis.

Family Fun at the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park

During our visit we stopped by the visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop first. With an introductory movie and an interpretive area, my kids got the basic history of the expedition.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
Kids learn about primitive fort life in 1800s at Fort Clatsop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Next we hiked to the replica of the wooden Fort Clatsop that features living history demonstrations. We explored the fort to see how the Corps of Discovery lived, learned about fur trading and the woolen Hudson Bay blankets used in trading.

To my boys’ delight, our costumed ranger loaded up an antique musket. With a blast of fire and a boom that rumbled through the forest, the ranger fired off the rifle. My boys wanted to enlist as explorers on the spot, instead we explored more Lewis and Clark sites.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids.
The costumed Park Ranger demonstrated the firing of an antique musket during our visit. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During the summer, ranger programming is offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days at the fort. Several different programs are offered and the schedule is available at the visitor center.

Fort Clatsop with Kids

Discover Fort Clatsop with kids.
My kids knew more about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery than I did. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Park Rangers present them after completing their booklets.

To earn the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patch, grab an age-based booklet at the visitor center and complete required activities. The Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks Junior Ranger patches comes with rank patches based on the number of Lewis and Clark sites kids visit.

Explore Fort Clatsop with kids and earn a Junior Ranger badge.
Explore Lewis and Clark sites in Oregon and Washington to earn a Junior Ranger patch with a special rank patch. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Complete seven activities in the Junior Ranger booklet and visit one site to earn the rank of Private. Visit two sites to earn the rank of Sergeant, three sites to earn the rank of Captain and visit four sites to earn the rank of President. Some of the sites are in Washington, across the Astoria Bridge.

Hiking at the Lewis and Clark Parks

Fort-to-Sea Trail offers a 6.5-mile path from Fort Clatsop to the Pacific Ocean. It retraces the route that the Corps of Discovery took from Fort Clatsop to the ocean and to Netul Landing along the river.

Fort Stevens State Park offers hiking paths north of the Lewis and Clark National and State Parks. Sunset Beach State Recreation area offers hiking as well, both in Oregon.

Cape Disappointment in State Park in Washington offers hiking. I found hiking at Fort Columbia State Park in Washington as well.

Other sites to explore about Lewis and Clark

Explore the Pacific Northwest to retrace the steps of the legendary explorers, Lewis and Clark, with your kids with eight sites across Oregon and Washington.

The Lewis and Clark National and State Parks is a collection of national and state park sites dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Located on both sides of the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, start at the main visitor center at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria, Oregon, or Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Though several Lewis and Clark Expedition sites preserve the history across the western U.S. Along with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail that retraces the route from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean across present-day Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Explore the Lewis and Clark sites with kids in Washington.
Members of the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water with this oven to preserve meat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker


  • Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park—one of the main visitor centers
  • Netul Landing—along the Lewis and Clark River
  • Fort Stevens State Park—visit the 1906 wreck of the Peter Iredale along the beach.
  • Salt Works—where the Corps of Discovery made salt from ocean water to preserve meat.
  • Ecola State Park—Captain Clark and Sacagawea trekked to this area.
Explore Fort Clatsop with kids along with the beaches of the Pacific.
A safe and navigable route to the Pacific Ocean lead Lewis and Clark across the continent in the early 1800s. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker


  • Cape Disappointment State Park— one of the main visitor centers and offers a full-service state park.
  • Fort Columbia State Park—home to the Chinook Indians and the coastal defense fort.
  • Dismal Notch—a landing spot for the Corps of Discovery along the Columbia River.

Where’s Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Located at 92343 Fort Clatsop Road in Astoria, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is open seven days a week (closed December 25). Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 5 p.m. during the rest of the year. Use an annual pass or pay $5 per person for adults, 16+ (kids under 15 are free).

Know Before You Go:

  • Be prepared for rain at any time.
  • Limited food service at the park sites so pack a picnic.

Find the Largest Natural Pool in the World in West Texas

Balmorhea Pool for Kids in West Texas.
Balmorhea Pool offers close to two-acres of swimming in the heart of West Texas, right off Interstate 10. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In a land that seems barren and forgotten, I found an oasis with the largest spring-fed pool in the world. A road trip stop extraordinaire or a gateway to the weekend of West Texas adventure, I’m sharing one of my favorite destinations in Texas for over 20 years, Balmorhea Pool with kids.

Balmorhea Pool, an Oasis in West Texas

Balmorhea State Park, in the heart of West Texas, offers close to 2-acres of family fun. In the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world, my family finds the perfect place to spend an afternoon after driving along Interstate 10.

Balmorhea Pool with kids in West Texas.
The deep end of Balmorhea Pool features 25-foot depths along with fish of all sizes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The San Solomon Springs produces 15 million gallons of water a day. And the pool holds 3.5 million gallons of water. With a constant temperature of 72F to 76F, swimmers congregate year-round.

At the end of the L-shaped pool, the depths reach 25 feet and host scuba divers. Peer closely and spot a school of giant catfish sitting on the bottom. Balmorhea pool also features a 3-meter diving board, though life guards are not on duty.

Find a diving board at Balmorhea Pool with kids.
Balmorhea Pool features a diving board. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found dressing rooms and lots of shade trees to spread out your blankets underneath. The pool offers a large area of 3-foot deep water though no zero entry options for toddlers, like Barton Springs Pool or Deep Eddy Pool, both in Austin, Texas.

Not only does Balmorhea State Park feature a pool, I found a covered pavilion, a playground, a campground and a motor lodge. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC), the San Solomon Court features a white stucco exterior and most units overlook the spring-fed canals.

Balmorhea Pool with kids.
Balmorhea State Park also features the San Solomon Springs Court, a historic CCC lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Balmorhea State Park is located at Park Road 30, Balmorhea, Texas, about 58 miles from Ft. Stockton. Admission is $7 for adults and kids under 12 are free.

Make it a West Texas Weekend

Make Balmorhea State Park your first stop in a West Texas road trip. After a swim, drive south on State Highway 17 to the Davis Mountains and on to Big Bend National Park.

Fort Davis National Historic Park for Families

Fort Davis National Historic Park offers one of the best examples of a frontier fort in the Southwest. During the 1800s, the Comanches and the Apaches made traveling on the San Antonio-El Paso Road treacherous.

Learn about frontier life and the Indian Wars during the 1800s while earning a Junior Ranger badge. I found lots of building to peer into showing the rugged side of life in West Texas.

Explore West Texas at Fort Davis National Historic Site.
Fort Davis National Historic Site offers a taste of fort life of restored buildings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The brassy bugle bellows over the loud speaker, transforming my boys, 9 and 12, into Army recruits. As part of an elite force of soldiers that don’t need actual weapons, my boy destroy anything in their path.

Fort Davis National Historic Park is nestled next to the Davis Mountains, 40 miles south of Interstate 10 in Davis, Texas. Located in the center of town at 101 Lieutenant Henry Flipper Dr. and open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day and MLK Day. The admission is $7 for everyone over 16 and the kids are free. Or use an America the Beautiful annual pass.

Looking for kid eats, then stop at the Fort Davis Drug Store. Located on 13 State Street in Davis and open from breakfast through dinner. As an old-fashioned soda fountain, it’s a hit with kids.

Indian Lodge

Explore Indian Lodge in West Texas.
Nestled in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, the Indian Lodge offers a historic property in a state park, minutes from Davis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I always stay at the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountain State Park during my West Texas explorations. Nestled in the quiet hilltops above Fort Davis, Indian Lodge offers a helping of history along with inky night skies.

Explore Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park with your family.
The interior of my room featured two queens and a period bathroom along with Viga beams on the ceiling. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Indian Lodge provides 39 rooms in a full-service hotel with an on-site restaurant, and managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife. It features whitewashed adobe walls with traditional handcrafted elements, like Viga beams that form the ceilings in most rooms.

Explore Indian Lodge in Davis, Texas, with kids.
The common rooms at the Indian Lodge feature crackling fires and original furnishings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Built in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the New Deal’s work force, constructed the hotel. Along with a historic property with courtyards with fountains and common rooms bursting with crackling fires, I found a swimming pool and resident wildlife.

Explore Indian Lodge with kids.
The Indian Lodge features a pool for the kids with a view of the Davis Mountains. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The rooms are comfortable and roomy enough for a family (with two queens $159), complete with all the standard features. The Black Bear Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday.

McDonald Observatory

Enjoy a desert night by learning about the stars. A quick drive up to the mountaintops from Davis, we saw stars, and even some planets, like never before.

The McDonald Observatory offers solar, twilight and night programs throughout the year. For our visit, I reserved the Twilight Program and Star Party, held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

With close to two-acres of spring-fed pool to swim, this pool is a must-do for natural pool lovers. Swimmers from around the world float in an oasis in West Texas, a stone's throw from Interstate 10.

The Twilight Program features an hour-long educational astronomy program without telescope viewing. A must for the first-time visitor and families, I got a refresher on the night sky.

The Star Party provides two hours of night sky viewing and starts 30 minutes after the Twilight Program. Held outside in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park behind the visitor’s center, I found three domes, each featuring a different telescope ranging in size from a 16-inch to a 24-inch. Portable telescopes are set out, each fixed on a different star or nebula.

The McDonald Observatory is located at 3640 Dark Sky Drive. Twilight Program admission is $5 for everyone 6 and older and free for children under 6. The Star Parties admission is $12 for everyone 12 and older, $8 for children 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.

Marfa, the Art Town of West Texas

Marfa started as a water stop then evolved into a military training area. Now its art scene draws a steady flow of visitors into a town of 2,000 with galleries, museums and movie sets.

Explore West Texas, like Chinati Foundation in Marfa.
The Chinati Foundation features the art of Donald Judd in Marfa. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The most notable museum, Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation features his contemporary work. Behind the buildings we found 15 untitled concrete blocks with a walking path. A great option for parents and the outdoor path is free.

Chinati Foundation is located at 1 Cavalry Row in Marfa and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the movie buffs, head to the Hotel Paisano, a National Registered Historic Place. Built in 1930, Hotel Paisano hosted Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson during the filming of The Giant. A quick stop and I found a display of The Giant memorabilia.

Explore West Texas in Marfa like the Paisano Hotel.
Explore the Paisano Hotel in Marfa to find The Giant memorabilia. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hotel Paisano is located on 207 Highland Street in Marfa.

For the mystery lovers, a stop at Marfa Lights viewing station is a must. A West Texas legend, where mysterious lights bob on the distance horizon.

Check out the Marfa Lights outside Alpine, Texas.
Looking for the mysterious Marfa Lights tops the list of many West Texas road trips. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Marfa Lights is located 18 miles west of Alpine on US Highway 67. I found parking off the highway with a nice viewing area complete with telescopes and bathrooms.

Big Bend National Park for Families

Explore Big Bend National Park is West Texas with your family.
Add Big Bend National Park to your West Texas road trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If time permits, continue to Big Bend National Park, where all the roads end at the Mexican border. One of the four deserts of North America, Big Bend offers mountain terrain with resident bears, lonely canyon rivers and an International Dark Sky Park.

Know before you go

  • Balmorhea State Park limits the day-use visitors to 1,300 a day.
  • Give yourself at least an hour and a half to explore Fort Davis Historic Park especially if your kids are earning a Junior Ranger badge.
  • Camping is not allowed at Fort Davis National Historical Park but I found some at Davis Mountains State Park, 5 miles away.
  • Make reservations well in advance for the Indian Lodge, San Solomon Springs Court and McDonald Observatory.
  • Watch for snakes, especially around water.
  • The McDonald Observatory evening programs start at varying times based on the sunset.
  • The temperature at the observatory is 15°F lower than Fort Davis.
  • Alternative indoor activities available if the sky is obscured at McDonald Observatory.
  • If you forgot anything, stop in Fort Stockton, Texas, along Interstate 10. Or wait until El Paso.

7 National Park Sites to Discover in Texas

In the wilderness of West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Discover the remote wilderness of West Texas at Guadalupe Mountains. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Texas offers more National Park Service sites than most visitors or residents realize. I’ve explored a national seashore, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a desert national park, a mountain national park even a national monument dedicated to Texas-sized dinosaurs. Explore a National Park Service site with your family on May 20, 2017, for the National Park Trust’s annual Kids to Park Day, a national day of play.

A Sanctuary for Animals at Padre Island

Until a recent visit, I didn’t know that nearly half of the North American bird species can be found on Texas beaches. And the most endangered sea turtles in the world nest on a Texas beach too.

Padre Island National Seashore offers a refuge for animals and a respite for animal lovers. As the longest section of undeveloped barrier island in the world, it protects 70 miles of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline and the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline lagoon.

Explore a Texas National Park site like Padre Island National Seashore.
The Kemp’s Ridley turtle hatchlings race for the protection of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo Credit: National Park Service

With over 130,000 acres of dunes, prairies and tidal flats for protection, birds and turtles take center stage at Padre Island. The Gulf of Mexico is home to five different species of sea turtles, all federally listed as endangered or threatened, especially Kemp’s ridley.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles lay their eggs in shallow sand nests where predators and human disruption can destroy them. Since the 1970s the National Park Service has recovered the nests and released the tiny turtle hatchlings along the shore. Watching the turtles crawl to the safety of the Gulf of Mexico delights kids and adults alike.

Texas offers world-class birding during the winter. The central flyway, a bird migration route, runs though Padre Island offering migrating birds a protected winter home.

Located in South Texas, Padre National Seashore is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. Admission is $10 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

The Big Bend of the Rio Grande

Big Bend National Park, a personal favorite, offers rugged western scenery that conjures up images of cowboys on horseback. In a land where roadrunners outnumber the residents, Big Bend offers campers ample roaming room and a nightlife glittering with stars.

Explore the National Park sites of Texas, like Big Bend.
Explore Big Bend with your family for a taste of the Chihuahuan desert, one of four deserts in North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found hiking trails where visitors can catch a glimpse of a mountain lion or a black bear, both residents of the park. Or float on a raft through Big Bend’s most remote scenery, Santa Elena Canyon with its sheer rock walls.

The Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range located entirely within a national park, offers a lodge and family-friendly trails. Big Bend National Park even offers its own border crossing so visitors can tour the tiny village of Bogillas del Carmen.

Explore the National Park Service sites like Big Bend with your family.
The Window View Trail offers views and an easy trail for the youngest hikers. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located in West Texas, Big Bend is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. Admission is $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

High Pointing at Guadalupe Mountains 

Guadalupe Mountains features the high point of Texas at 8,751 feet. With a developed trail, high pointers easily reach the summit and mark another peak off their list.

Discover the National Park Sites of Texas, like Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers a trail to the high point of Texas. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With its remote wilderness, Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers dark skies and quiet hiking. El Capitan, a rugged mountain backdrop, offers over 80 miles of hiking trails, some accessible and over half open to horseback riding.

Located in West Texas along the New Mexico border, Guadalupe Mountains is open 365-days a year, 24-hours a day. Admission is $5 per person for a 7-day pass.

Texas-Sized Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs ruled the world and for the dino-loving kids, the mammoth tops their list. Discover a mammoth nursery herd with your family at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. In 1978, a couple of young men discovered a large bone when out fossil hunting. After the pair dug up the large bone, they took it to Baylor University for identification.

Discover a land of dinosaurs at Waco Mammoth National Monument in Texas.
The mammoth bones of Waco Mammoth National Monument offer a day of fun for dino-loving kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Baylor University staff identified it as the femur bone of a Columbian Mammoth from the Ice Age. Columbian Mammoths, named after Christopher Columbus, inhabited the more temperate areas of North America from Alaska to Costa Rica. Reaching 13 feet tall and weighting more than 9 tons, Columbian Mammoths are larger and less furry than their distant relatives the Woolly Mammoth.

Baylor University dispatched groups of volunteers and excavation took over 20 years. In all, the group discovered 19 mammoths killed at the same time between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago in what appears to be a flash flood. Additional floods occurred in the same spot at different times  covering six additional mammoths, a Western camel, a dwarf antelope, an American alligator, a giant tortoise and the tooth of a Saber Toothed cat.

Discover Texas dinosaurs at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
My boys loved the tour of the mammoth excavation site in Central Texas.

The Waco Mammoth National Monument is located in Central Texas. Open every day, except Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tour admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids 4 to 12.

A Western Frontier Fort

Fort Davis offers one of the best examples of a frontier fort in the Southwest. During the 1800s, the Comanches and the Apaches made traveling on the San Antonio-El Paso Road dangerous.

This fort was strategically placed to protect mail coaches, freight wagons and emigrants traveling west to the land of gold—California. At one time, Fort Davis housed 600 soldiers, 5% of the Army at the time.

Explore a western frontier fort in West Texas at Fort Davis.
Explore a western frontier fort as the bugle bellows at Fort Davis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

We discovered another time in history as we walked from one restored building to another, including six furnished buildings. As the brassy bugle bellowed over the loud speaker, it transformed my boys into Army recruits. To their delight, my boys discovered a Gatling gun, the first machine gun, in the armory building next to the Visitors Center.

Fort Davis National Historic Park is located in West Texas and open every day, except Thanksgiving, December 25, January 1 and Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 per person for a 7-day pass.

San Antonio Missions

Long before Texas became a state or the United States became a nation, a group of Franciscan friars built five missions along the San Antonio River. Starting in 1718 with the Alamo and later the Mission San José in 1720, the Spanish friars offered the Coahuiltecan people protection and sustenance.

Explore the San Antonio Missions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Discover the San Antonio Missions for world-class history, like Mission San Juan. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In this area, the Coahuiltecan people suffered from frequent Apache and Comanche attacks and European diseases. The San Antonio Missions offered protection and the Franciscan friars taught the Coahuiltecans new vocational skills along with a new religion and a language.

Recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mission Concepción, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada can be explored in one day. The missions are located on Mission Road, two to three miles apart. Mission Hike and Bike trail, 16-miles roundtrip, offers families another way to explore the San Antonio Missions.

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located in San Antonio and open every day except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The San Antonio Missions are free.

Texas offers families seven National Park Service sites for kids to explore across the state.

The Texas White House

Tour the Texas White House, feed some prize-winning cattle and climb abroad the president’s jet. Lyndon B. Johnson, or LBJ as he was commonly called, was the vice president under President John F. Kennedy. He became the 36th president after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Explore the Texas White House with your kids.
LBJ’s Ranch features an air strip and former presidential jet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Born in 1908 of humble roots in Johnson City, Texas, he spent the majority of his life in politics. LBJ finished high school at 15 and after graduating college, he taught school.

In 1930 Johnson began his political career. For his presidential run, he campaigned on his vision of a Great Society by improving civil rights, education, transportation and protecting the environment. Many of those ideals can be traced back to his formative years in Texas.

In 1951 LBJ bought his uncle’s 250-acre ranch along the Pedernales River and eventually expanded it to 2700-acres. He raised 400 head of prize-winning Hereford cattle and the descendants still roam the ranch.

Explore LBJ National Historical Park in Texas.
Stop by the show barn to learn about LBJ’s cattle herd. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Located in Central Texas, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two districts. One in Johnson City and one 14-miles away near Stonewall.

LBJ National Historical Park is free and open every day except Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Texas White House tour is $3 for adults and free for kids.

National Park Trust Kids to Park Day

Did you know the National Park Trust has a National Day of Play on May 20, 2017. The 7th Annual Kids to Parks Day encourages kids to discover a community, state or national park.

The National Park Trust encourages kids to explore a park near them.
Take the kids and find a park for National Park Trust’s Kids to Parks Day. Photo Credit: National Park Trust


Register to participate and enter to win a camping package from The North Face on the National Park Trust’s website.

NorthSide Shoes

Northside USA Shoes is a proud sponsor of the National Park Trust’s Kids to Park Day. They have generously donated a pair of shoes to each website ambassador.

Northside USA provides value and durable for families who explore.
My boys grow like a non-native plant so I love the value of Northside USA’s hiking boots for kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The carful of kids took their Northside hiking boots out for their maiden hike over Spring Break. As a Mom of three, I understand that keeping kids in shoes gets pricey. And hiking boots are usually a splurge for most families. I appreciate the value of the Northside USA provides along with the rugged durability.

Enter to Win Northside USA Shoes

Celebrate Kids to Parks Day early with a pair of Northside USA shoes. I’ve got a code for one winning reader, good for one pair of shoes from the Northside website–mens, womens, or kids  (Retail Value $34.99-89.99).

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As a Blog Ambassador for the National Park Trust’s Kids to Park Day, my family received shoes from NorthsideUSA.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Since National Parks are popular destinations during school breaks and holidays–make reservations as early as possible.
  • The Kemp’s turtle releases are open to the public when the conditions are favorable though advance notice is limited.
  • Terlingua and Marathon, the tiny towns outside of Big Bend National Park offer limited services.
  • As a designated International Dark Skies Park, outdoor lighting is minimal in and around the park Big Bend. Just remember your flashlights or lanterns.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit. Food service is limited.
  • The San Antonio Missions are active churches, please be respectful of ceremonies, especially on the weekends.
  • Mission San Jose has a visitor center, interpretive film and park rangers.
  • Watch out for venous snakes and fire ants.

Climb a Crystal Tree in a Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest National Park for kids as Arizona Road Trip Stop.
A light dusting of snow enhances the beauty of the painted desert in Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified Forest National Park, conveniently located next to Interstate 40 in Northern Arizona, can be explored in a couple of hours. It offers a scenic drive including a section of historic Route 66, the Painted Desert Inn and family-friendly hiking trails. Kids that love dinosaurs should love petrified wood. For those yearning for a landscape from old western, the colorful mesas that dot the horizon as wide as the sky itself will satisfy.

Petrified Forest National Park

Over 200 million years ago, ancient Arizona was a rainforest, with roaming dinosaurs and lush forests. As the continents moved and the climate changed, the rainforest slowly died off. The huge trees fell to the earth and slowly transformed into stone.

Explore the Arizona family road trip stop at Petrified Forest National Park.
The giant logs of a downed stone forest offer families a unique landscape to explore. National Park Service

In the late 1800s, visitors started to collect the petrified wood and threatened the unique landscape of Petrified Forest. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Petrified Forest National Monument and in 1962, it became a national park.

History of Painted Desert Inn

Built in the 1920s, the Painted Desert Inn has been a part of the park’s landscape. Originally constructed of petrified wood and native stone, a park ranger, Lyle Bennett, redesigned it in the Pueblo Revival Style in the 1930s.

Add the Painted Desert Inn to your Arizona Family Road Trip in Petrified Forest.
Stop and tour the Painted Desert Inn during your visit to Petrified Forest National Park. National Park Service

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) added the stucco masonry walls, flat roofs and viga beams using ponderosa pine and aspen poles from nearby forests. The CCC made the light fixtures of hand-punched tin as well.

With a convenient location along Route 66, the Painted Desert Inn provided travelers with meals, Native American arts and crafts and lodging until the start of World War II. It closed for five years along with the majority of the National Park Service sites during the war.

Tour The Painted Desert Inn during your Arizona Family road trip.
The interior of the Painted Desert Inn offers original furniture and murals. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Fred Harvey Company arrived in the 1940s to freshen up the Painted Desert Inn. Mary Jane Coulter, the lead architect for Fred Harvey, oversaw the renovations and added a new color scheme. By this time, Coulter was well-known for her work from the nearby Grand Canyon Village.

The Fred Harvey Company brought the Harvey Girls to the Painted Desert Inn, who served customers from the 1940s until the 1950s. The Painted Desert Inn became a National Historic Landmark in 1987 after escaping demolition.

Route 66

As America grew so did the need for roads. In 1853, Congress authorized a study to find a rail route between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. By 1857, a wagon road extended from New Mexico to the Colorado River. In 1926 Route 66 opened as one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System.

The Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park to protect a portion of Route 66. Near the Painted Desert Visitor Center, I pulled over to see the fabled route that enchanted a nation with the romance of cruising the open road much like the cowboys did a generation before.

What to do in 2 Hours

With 28 miles of paved park roads, Petrified Forest National Park offers a convenient one-way drive through the park. Start at the either the north or south entrance.

If limited on time, stop by one of the visitor centers for an interpretive center and family-friendly hikes nearby. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found a visitor center at each entrance, the Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance and the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south entrance. Each visitor center offers an interpretive area along with an introductory movie. Outside I found marked trails, perfect for families with small children.

Stop at the Painted Desert Inn (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for a quick tour of the historic property. Drive along the park road and stop at the viewpoints along the route.

Kids at Petrified Forest

The Junior Ranger Program offers the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

An Arizona Road Trip destination at Petrified Forest National Park.
The Petrified Forest National Park offers families a unique road trip stop in Northern Arizona. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker


Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or the Rainbow Forest Museum and turn them in at the other end of the park. This Junior Ranger booklet doesn’t require attending a ranger program and can be completed within an hour or two while exploring the park.

Family-Friendly Hikes in Petrified Forest

Stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum, several hikes originate in this area. The Giant Logs Trail offers a .4-mile trail where I found Old Faithful, a petrified tree that’s 10-feet wide at its base. Not an accessible trail or suitable for strollers, I found several sets of stairs.

For families who want a longer hike, try the Long Logs Trail, a 1.6-mile loop, or the Agate House Trail, a 2-mile roundtrip hike. Both trails originate at the Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot and can be combined for a 2.6-mile hike.

With three unique features at one Arizona national park, it's a must for your family's road trip itinerary.

The Puerco Pueblo Trail offers an accessible and stroller-friendly .3-mile hike about half-way between the entrances. On this trail, I found petroglyphs, or rock carvings.

Add Petrified Forest National Park to your road trip through northern Arizona. I found picnic tables and restrooms at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, Painted Desert Inn, Chinde Point and the Rainbow Forest Museum.

Where’s Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is located along Interstate 40, 25 miles east of Holbrook, Arizona. There is a regional airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, 92 miles away. Grand Canyon National Park is 200 miles west.

For eastbound travel, take I-40 exits 285 or 286 at Holbrook, Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park entrance is 21 miles south along Highway 180. Drive north through the park and re-enter I-40 at the exit 311.

For westbound travel, exit I-40 at exit 311 and enter the park through the north entrance and exit through the south entrance. Drive 21 miles to Holbrook, Arizona, where you can re-enter I-40. 

Details for Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is open every day except December 25. The park hours fluctuate during the year though winter hours (October 30 until February 20) are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; summer hours (May 29 until July 23) are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Purchase a 7-day pass for $20 per vehicle or use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80).

Know before you go:  

  • Arizona stays on Mountain Standard Time year-round, no day-light savings time.
  • Petrified Forest National Park doesn’t offer a campground. Find lodging in Holbrook, Arizona, 21 miles away.
  • Register at a visitor center for a free backcountry camping permit.
  • Collecting fossils, plants, or artifacts within National Park Service sites is prohibited.
  • Stay on marked trails or paths.
  • Drones aren’t permitted at any NPS location.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit.
  • Carry extra water year-round.
  • Temperatures can reach over 100F in the summer.


Camp in a Cabin that Kids Love in Key Hole State Park Wyoming

A cozy cabin near Devils Tower National Monument.
Sitting on the porch of our cabin in Key Hole State Park, about an hour from Devils Tower National Monument.

Camping in Key Hole State Park

Once you leave the Black Hills area of South Dakota and head west, the lodging and restaurants get a bit sparse. Since I’m traveling with three kids, I’m always looking for cabins instead of roadside motel rooms. After road tripping across the U.S. one thing I’ve learned, kids love cabins.

Key Hole State Park fits the bill, I got a cabin for the kids and it’s 41 miles away from Devils Tower National Monument with easy access off Interstate 90. This location provides a quick 50-minute drive in the morning before the crowds really swarm the popular National Park Service site.

camping in the shadow of Devils Tower National Monument in Key Hole State Park.
Devils Tower National Monument offers families a National Park Service site less than an hour away from Key Hole State Park.

Key Hole State Park features a 14,000-acre reservoir for water recreation with a marina and fishing. I also found 170 camping sites with tables and grills. The playground for the kids offers another feature for families.

What’s in our Cabin

Key Hole State Park surrounds the Keyhole Reservoir and our cabin sits right on the water. The view from the front porch offers Moms a moment to savor the morning sun dancing off the water before the kids wake up.

cabins in Key Hole State Park
The pine paneling and furnishings of our cabin give it a cozy feel that the kids loved though bedding isn’t furnished.

We stayed in Cabin #1, right on the reservoir. It features a pair of bunk beds, a full-size bed, a small table and bench, perfect for a family of four. The interior features pine paneling and all the furnishing are made from peeled pine timber. The beds are outfitted with mattresses only so the kids used their sleeping bags and I brought a fitted sheet and topped with my sleeping bag along with pillows for everyone.

The cabins feature full electricity, so I plugged in all the electronics at once. I found a window unit in the cabins though I didn’t turn it on during our stay in July.

Cabins in Key Hole State Park near Devils Tower in Wyoming.
Kids love cabins as much as kids love bunk beds that I found in Key Hole State Park.

The cabins don’t features indoor plumbing but a potable water spigot was located next to our parking spot.

Restroom Facilities at Key Hole State Park

Let’s talk about the bathrooms for a moment–kids don’t care on vacation but Moms do. And I’ll be honest, the restroom situation wasn’t the best. We stayed for one night so I just dealt with it since the kids loved the cabin and bunk beds. For families staying longer than a night might want to consider this before booking.

I've got your cabin for family fun in Wyoming, near Devils Tower National Monument.

I failed to find a modern restroom next to our cabin (site #1) and we walked to a primitive vault toilet nearby. Meaning a composting toilet without running water and electricity instead of a flush toilet with a sink with running hot water. I prefer modern restrooms with showers and hot water for campgrounds with cabins. I didn’t find a shower in the entire campground.

Without lights in the restrooms, meant I had to load the kids up in the SUV so I could leave the headlights on so we could have light. Luckily, my kids didn’t have to go to the restroom during the middle of the night.

The carful of kids brushed their teeth at the outside water spigot and I put my hair up in a ponytail and washed my face with cold water. I’ll take a hot shower at the next place.

To sum it up, I love the cozy cabin with its amazing view of the Key Hole Reservoir. But the restroom situation could be an issue for some Moms.

Wyoming offers lots of National Park Service sites in Wyoming.
The big sky and popular National Park Service sites, like Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Devils Tower lure us to Wyoming.

Where’s Key Hole State Park

Key Hole State Park is located at 22 Marina Road, 16 miles from Moorcroft, Wyoming. A quick 20-mile drive to Devils Tower National Monument offering families a national park service site along with a lake view.

The cabins cost $57 a night but I paid an additional $50 refundable deposit. I reserved my cabin in advance and cabins are reservable from May 15 to September 15. No minimum night stay required for the cabins, a convenient feature.

Fall Color Texas Style – Lost Maples State Natural Area

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Need some color in your life? Lost Maples State Natural Area offers pops of maple madness in the Texas Hill Country. Photo Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Lost Maples State Natural Area

As a native Texan, one thing I can tell you, our summers are long and hot. So often, it feels we miss a traditional fall, full of the sights and scents that I crave.

I dream of the perfect of autumn hike where the crunch of leaves and the melody of songbirds fill my ears as the landscape’s symphony of fiery colors brighten my day. Breathing deeply and savoring the woody scent of autumn, followed by a mug a warm apple cider.

Seem impossible in Texas? Not so. One of the best areas for fall color in Texas is Lost Maples State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country, near Kerrville, Texas.

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The Uvalde bigtooth maples put on a show in late October and early November. Photo Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Originally privately owned, Lost Maples State Natural Area opened to the public in 1979. It’s a smaller state park with just over 2,100 acres, located on the pristine waters of the Sabinal River. The limestone outcroppings and lush forest make it a year-round destination.

Fall Color

Lost Maples State Natural Area offers visitors a beacon of fall color. The trees begin to change in the last two weeks of October through the first two weeks of November, when the color is at its height.

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Lost Maples State Natural Area offers over 10 miles of hiking and 30 developed campsites to enjoy. Photo Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife

The Uvalde bigtooth maple trees display the best colors, though sycamores, bald cypresses and several varieties of oak add to the show. Add their reflections in the Sabinal River with the contrast of the limestone rocks and Lost Maples State Natural Area provides a stunning background for photos.

Family Friendly Activities

The carful of kids park the SUV and head out for a quick hike. Lost Maples State Natural Area offers over 10 miles of hiking.

The Maple Trail, a .8-mile roundtrip hike, is good for kids but not strollers. We find the lost maples along with sycamores, bald cypresses, walnuts and several varieties of oak; all leftovers from the last ice age.

Looking to hike through a maple grove bursting with fall color in the Texas Hill Country, I have the park for you.
Lost Maples State Natural Area offers scenic hikes and camping in the Texas Hill Country. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Texas State Parks offer a Junior Ranger Program similar to the National Park Service. Pick up a Junior Ranger activity journal at the headquarters and complete the required activities for a badge. Lost Maples State Natural Area loans kids Junior Ranger Explorer Packets to make discoveries in the park.

Lost Maples State Natural Area offers a monthly dark sky program when visitors can explore the night sky. The San Antonio Sidewalk Astronomers lead the program.

Lost Maples State Natural Area, best places for fall foliage in Texas, on for, Texas fall color.
The pristine Sabinal River meanders through the Lost Maples State Natural Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lost Maples State Natural Area offers 30 campsites with electricity and water and six primitive sites. The campground has showers and flushing toilets.

Getting to Lost Maples State Natural Area

Lost Maples State Natural Area is 86 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas, or 5 miles north of Vanderpool,  at 37221 F.M. 187.

Adult admission is $6 per person and free for kids 12 and under. Camping is $20 a night plus daily adult admission fees.

For lodging and dining, Kerrville, Texas, offers the most in the area beside San Antonio. The carful of kids drove down Texas Highway 39 through Hunt, Texas, along the banks of the Guadalupe River to our room in Kerrville. This area of Texas offers some spectacular scenery and should not be missed.

Know Before You Go:

  • During the peak fall weekends, Lost Maples State Natural Area fills to capacity before noon with its limited parking.
  • Campsites can be reserved a year in advance.
  • Call the Park Headquarters or check their website for up-to-date fall color information.
  • Pets must remain on leash.


Historic Cabins in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, CCC cabins, Places to camp in Texas, Texas State Park Cabins,
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is 30 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas, in the Panhandle region.

Looking for an epic canyon with a history as colorful as the striations that cling to its walls? Palo Duro Canyon is the site of the tragic capture of 1,200 of the Comanche’s horses by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie in 1874 during the American Indian Wars. Charles Goodnight established the JA Ranch shortly after and it would eventually become a state park in 1934.

At 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is the Grand Canyon of Texas and the second largest canyon in the U.S. With its beautiful red and orange striations, it’s a worthy road trip stop if the historic cabins are booked.

History of Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Palo Duro Canyon has a long history of human existence that began around 12,000 years ago. The Apache, Comanche and Kiowa used this area extensively.

On September 28, 1874, Colonel Mackenzie and the fourth U.S. Cavalry invaded and captured the Comanche’s horses and winter supplies. This battle, later called the Battle of Palo Duro, lead to the surrender of Quanah Parker at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park for kids, cabins in Palo Duro Canyon,
Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers inspiring vistas and historic cabins for your next family getaway.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built Palo Duro Canyon State Park from 1933 to 1934. The CCC did extensive work constructing public lands during the Great Depression as a part of the New Deal.

The CCC built the road into Palo Duro Canyon and the cabins that dot the canyon floor and along the rim. They also built a lodge that’s now the Visitors Center.

The Historic CCC-built Cabins in Palo Duro Canyon

The carful of kids have a reservation for one of the CCC-built cabins in the Cow Camp Loop at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon. With just four stone cabins and three rim side cabins ($60/night plus the daily adult entrance fee), they’re a treasure and ignite the imagination of my carful of kids. Of course, it’s hard to keep my boys from climbing the walls.

Kids love cabins and this historic cabin features air-conditioning for the summer.
Looking for a cabin to ignite the imagination of your little cowboy? I have it in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, outside of Amarillo, Texas.

Each cabin has been updated with modern conveniences while keeping its historic appearance. Each unit has a pair of bunk beds with electricity and an air-conditioning and heating window unit. The inside of the cabin is rustic enough to satisfy the adventurer in your family.

Outside I found a picnic table with a fire pit and hook for your lantern. If a burn ban is in affect, which happens in a drought; you can plug your electric skillet into their electrical outlet since open flames are banned.

Palo Duro Cabins for kids, camping with kids in Palo Duro Canyon, Cool Texas cabins,
The two-room cabin in Palo Duro Canyon State Park will excite your pioneering kids.

The restrooms with showers are located nearby in the Mesquite Camp Area. Palo Duro Canyon State Park also features 79 electric sites with water and numerous walk-in sites along with an equestrian camping area.

Activities at Palo Duro Canyon State Park

The carful of kids love this park and we have visited several times during our road trip adventures. The cabins can’t be beat for their location, historic appeal and price.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Back country camping is available.

The annual musical production, Texas! performs at the Pioneer Amphitheater, Tuesday through Sunday during the summer. Tickets for adults start at $16.95 and kids tickets start at $12.95. Make it for the chuck wagon barbecue dinner, adults eat for $16 and kids get a plate for $9.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, cabins in Palo Duro,
The new event center is available for rent for reunions and weddings.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park has recently added an event center that’s available for rent. It blends seamlessly into the surroundings and is an asset to the park.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park (11450 Park Road Five) is located 30 miles southeast of Amarillo, off of Interstate 27. Open daily, admission for everyone over 13 is $5 and kids 12 and under are free.

Other Texas Parks to Visit

Balmorhea State Park

Fort Davis National Historical Park and the Davis Mountains State Park 

Garner State Park

Lost Maples State Natural Area

Big Bend National Park 

Fort Lancaster State Historical Area

Know before you go:

  • Make reservations months in advance for the CCC Cabins of Palo Duro Park, year-round.
  • During the summer, the temperature at the bottom of the canyon regularly reaches 100F.
  • I found a store at the bottom of the canyon but no gas.
  • The rim cabins are not the best option for kids due to their siting along the rim of the canyon.
  • Bring your own sheets or sleeping bags for the beds.