My thanks to Parents magazine for asking me to be a judge for their “Best Vacations for Kids: Parents’ Travel Awards 2021,” which also appears in the June 2021 print issue. I’ve gotten some good ideas from this myself! (I didn’t weigh in on all the award categories–just the ones where I thought I could help.) I don’t consider myself an expert in national parks, but I do love them, and I worked for the NPS for around eight years and have visited about 40 NPS sites, including 15 national parks. And yes, I’ve written a couple of kids’ guides for national parks (Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon), so I know some areas much better than others.
One of my favorite things about national parks is the wildlife, and there were many fine contenders for the magazine’s “best for spying animals” category. But I tried to see everything through the lens of traveling with kids. Just south of Yellowstone, which is justifiably known for wildlife watching, Grand Teton National Park has a similar complement of species and some great opportunities to see a variety of animals without putting on as many miles in the car. (For advice on where to look, see the park website, or check out my book, What I Saw in Grand Teton: A Kid’s Guide to the National Park.) Many good areas for seeing wildlife–like the Antelope Flats Loop and the Moose-Wilson Road–are easy to access even if you’re staying in the town of Jackson.
And please remember, mid-day may be the busiest time for humans, leading to crowded roads and parking lots, but it’s often nap-time for animals. Usually the best strategy for seeing animals, as well as enjoying a busy national park, is to get the kids up early to explore, return to camp or the hotel if possible in mid-afternoon to relax, and head back out again later. You’ll see a different park than you would if you arrived the same time as everyone else.