Ah, the family road trip to a national park, a time-honored American tradition. Pack the family into the minivan, make sure you turn the stove off and close the garage door, and let the good times roll. Well, something like that at least. However, the combination of the kids, the dog and the hours spent in a car can try the whole family’s patience and, without proper planning, car trips (especially long ones) can become a disaster, (Read: ‘A Dog for a Healthier Family’).  Here are 5 ways that you can make a trip to a national park with your kids truly memorable and smooth.

Tip #1 – Have a Plan!

The ideal trip would have the kids napping quietly in the back seat, perhaps awakening occasionally to tell you just how much they love you. The fidgeting is minimal and nobody once asks, “Are we there yet?”

Of course, the only way to aspire to this level of bliss is to have a plan, which means more than just having a timed itinerary, (Read: ‘Mom’s secrets: Organize’).  Your plan should include bringing toys that won’t distract you from driving, snacks that aren’t going to elevate their sugar levels and bring about “the crazies” as I call them, and comfortable clothing.

If you are bringing your dog along for the ride, make sure that it is comfortable in the car. To do this, spend a few weeks driving it on shorter trips through town to get it accustomed to riding. If you are looking for a list of dog-friendly national parks, check out the list we put together here.

Tip #2 – Eat Healthy

Avoid foods that will spike your children’s blood sugar and lead to moodiness, and avoid yellow dye like the plague, (Read: ‘Mom’s secrets #4: Meal Planning’)

[pull_quote_center]Apple slices with peanut butter, granola bars, and my personal favorite “ants on a log” are all inexpensive, healthy treats that won’t make the kids moody.[/pull_quote_center]

To make ants on a log, simply fill a slice of celery with peanut butter, and then top it off with raisins, granola, or both. Until I started bringing these on road trips I never thought I would live to see my children eat- and actually enjoy- celery! (Read: ‘Helping your Little one Love Food’). 

Other snacks like string cheese can be expensive, so I suggest checking out your local dollar store or discount grocer.

Dollar General, Family Dollar, and even Dollar Tree (my personal favorite to purchase travel snacks) have plenty of snack options that will keep the whole family happy at prices that won’t break the bank.

Farmer’s markets are a pricier alternative to discount grocers, but I find them to be a great place to stock up on produce (that won’t spoil fast) before a family trip, (Read: ‘Fruits and Vegetables for Good Mental Health’).  

Tip #3 – Pack a Cooler

It might sound like I’m stuck in the 1970s, but whenever I travel with my three children I’ll pack a large cooler. Stocked with drinks, sandwich meat, string cheese, a cooler in the backseat helps cut down on the number of stops we make en route to our destination.

It has saved us from the fate of a meal at McDonalds many, many times.  You’ll also save money doing this!

Tip #4 – Take Advantage of Free Planning Resources

When you have a national park picked out, make sure that you take advantage of the free planning resources that are available online. Each national park has a website run by the government. You’ll find planning resources and answers to the most common questions. You’ll be able to find out if they allow camping, whether they allow dogs, and you’ll find information about other activities allowed in the park.

Google is your best friend when preparing for a trip to a national park. Just a simple search like, “traveling with kids to Badlands National Park” will yield free planning resources, kid-friendly activities, notes on safety, and reviews from other visitors.

[quote_box_right]I also cannot recommend Pinterest enough. Whether you’re planning snacks, crafts, games or travel activities, Pinterest is full of resources![/quote_box_right]

Tip #5 – Go With The Flow

No matter how much effort we put into planning, traveling to a national park with the whole family will yield surprises both pleasant and unpleasant. This is going to be an adventure no matter what, so be flexible and go with the flow.

Your children won’t remember that the itinerary wasn’t followed down to the minute. What they will care about is how much fun mom and dad made their trip. So, when the inevitable backseat meltdown occurs, do what you can to roll with the punches and your trip will be all the better for it.

  • What are your favorite family travel tips? Let us know in the comments!

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