In the ramp-up to next year’s National Park Service centennial, there are tons of new activities and every fourth-grader is getting a free season pass. This is one birthday worth celebrating early.
Wyoming’s Yellowstone, America’s first national park and the home of bison and grizzly bears, is now a full-fledged outdoor classroom. With a recently updated Junior Ranger program, the young can hike, identify animal tracks, and take home an official patch. Also in the works: the updated Canyon Lodge & Cabins (doubles from $122), a 1950s-era resort undergoing a major renovation that will debut next year.
A newly designated Kids in Parks trail encourages little ones to explore Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park on foot. The mile-long Blackrock Summit loop follows part of the Appalachian Trail to a boulder-strewn mountaintop. Post-hike, kids can log wildlife sightings and register their trek online for prizes like a nature journal and a parks patch; grown-ups can stretch their legs and sip a glass of Virginia wine at the nearby Skyland Resort (doubles from $95).
Discover the charms of Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park, a labyrinth of pristine waters and enchanting forests along the Canadian border, on the Rainy Lake Recreational Trail. Opened in July, the 1.7-mile paved path—easy enough for little legs—is ideal for pedaling or snowshoeing. Want to prolong the excitement? Stay up past bedtime to watch for northern lights from the trails.
Visit Maine’s Schoodic Institute education center in Acadia National Park for ranger-led walks and the chance to interact with hermit crabs and sea urchins in an ocean-water tank. When the weather is nice, stay at the 94-site Schoodic Woods Campground (from $22 per night) nearby, which opens for its first full season next May.
The removal of a major dam in Washington’s Olympic National Park has restored the Elwha River to its free-flowing state, reopening breeding grounds for native salmon and restoring the fishing culture of the Elwha Klallam tribe. At the Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook, marvel at views of the 200-foot-deep valley and learn about the indigenous plants reclaiming the lake bed.