National Parks Go Well With Babies

As we wind down in this centennial year for the National Parks I think it’s important that we keep thinking about our public lands long beyond this year and how families can better protect all of the beautiful spaces around us. One of the things I like to remind people is the easiest way to support the parks is to get an Annual National Parks Pass. If you’ve ever thought about getting one, there’s no better time than when you have a new baby. Why is this? Newborns are more portable and you can surprisingly go on quite a few more adventures with them the younger they are.

COMMIT WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG
My husband and I bought our first Annual Park Pass right after Mason was born. We vowed we wouldn’t change our active lifestyle post-baby. Yes, people always say this, but we made our first trip to Denali when Mason was just 3 months old. Tourist season was ending and it was a little chilly, so down jackets and a baby bunting were needed to protect us against the wind, but it was beautiful. Pre-child we may have backpacked out into a little of the 6-million acres of tundra for a night or two, but we didn’t think this was the wisest with a newborn. We opted to take the all day park bus instead and hotel it at night.

Sitting in the bus was a perfect beginning to our National Park Adventures. Looking out at huge grizzly bears from behind glass and taking a few little hikes on the trails around the various stopping points felt just adventurous enough to remind us that we were still getting out there.

PLAN AROUND FAMILY VISITS TO GRANDMA
From there we decided we wanted to get the most out of our National Park Pass in that first year, so we plotted out the next year of adventures. Much to our surprise by the time Mason was two we had visited Crater Lake (close to home), Yosemite (close to Great Grandma) and Olympic National Forest (Again, not too far from home). By 3 we had hit Arches, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef National Park (we made a 10 day trip out of this one) to name a few of the more famous spots.

Along the way what we discovered through using our pass was that we didn’t just need to just look for the epic famous parks (which are often crowded and a bit Disneyland-esque), but that our annual pass worked on over 2,000 public lands around the country. All we had to do was dig a little deeper as we planned trips and look for other spots.


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FIND PARKS NEAR YOU
One great example of this was in our backyard. We live about 6 minutes over a bridge from Portland, OR  to Vancouver, WA, which is where we found Ft. Vancouver. This is an incredibly cool historic fort in the middle of town. The park regularly has events and is a great place for toddlers to roam and explore safely. Without our park pass we would pay $5 a person, but with our pass, it’s free.

Another great discovery was Capitol Reef National Park. This is a little known National Monument that we would have probably passed by, but we were in Utah and we had a park pass, so stopped. We loved it. This park had a great old historic farmhouse complete with fresh strawberry rhubarb pie. The visitor center was a nice pit stop where we learned about the farmhouse and the woman working at the desk turned out to be third generation in the area, so she had great stories about the pioneers and she sent us out to the perfect toddler trail that our son could easily hike. There were petroglyphs, natural stone arches and it was caterpillar hatching season so as we walked along a boardwalk it rained furry caterpillars much to our almost 3-year-old’s delight.

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FREE PARKING
The Annual Park pass doesn’t just have to be for big adventures though. These days when you hike, many parks require that you have a parking pass. The Annual Park pass works on many federal lands throughout the US. We have found this to be the case often when we hike around Oregon if you are on federal land, BLM land and U.S. Fish and Wildlife land and there is a parking fee. Be sure to check online before you go to confirm or ask a ranger, so that you know if you are on state or federal property.

The Annual Park Pass is $80 and it allows you to enter the park with 4 adults in a car. Children under 16 are free. The pass goes to protecting the many beautiful spaces all across America that we all would love our children to be able to share with their young ones someday as well.

KEEN AMBASSADOR Shanti Hodges is the founder of Hike it Baby, a non-profit dedicated to getting families out on to trails with their newborn to school age kids. She has hiked with her 3 year old son in 10 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. Hike it Baby can be found in 300 cities and offers 5,000 hikes a month around North America.