You have your own well-thumbed guide to the national parks (hopefully America's National Parks For Dummies or National Parks With Kids), but what about something for your kids to read as you travel across the National Park System?
National Geographic attempts to cover that base with its Kids National Parks Guide USA: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, And Cool Activities From Coast To Coast. Unfortunately, while this softcover book is a good start to entertain and inform youngsters ages 7 and older, it offers some curious items and worriesome omissions.
For instance, why put a picture of the presidents from Mount Rushmore National Memorial on the cover, and yet mention the site only in passing?
And why plug the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is a privately run operation outside the National Park System? Or mention commercially run waterslides or railroads or gold panning 30 miles from the nearest park or miniature golf courses?
Are there not enough interesting sites and activities within the parks to keep kids interested and thrilled?
Personally, I would have added a chapter on Mammoth Cave National Park, where youngsters can get dirty (something they seem to like to do) while learning a bit about caving on Trog tours, rather than the one on Hot Springs National Park that directs kids to a theme park. Instead of pitching paragliding at Grand Teton National Park, why not mention the climbing schools that can lead kids to the top of the Grand itself? And why cite climbing "the famous nose of El Capitan" in Yosemite National Park, something 99.9 percent of parents almost certainly will not let their 7-year-olds attempt, but not mention hiking to the top of Half Dome, something much more realistic for a youngster to accomplish?
This book does offer youngsters an overview of a handful of parks, and tosses in bite-sized blurbs touching on wildlife to be seen, safety tips, checklists of activities to consider, hikes suitable for kids, and some interpretive programs worth exploring.
But the author's frequent mentions of out-of-park, commercial activities is disappointing in light of all the fascinating and fun activities that can be had inside the parks.
For instance, replace the water parks beyond park boundaries with tubing, canoeing, or kayaking within parks (to be fair, she does mention a few river trips in some parks). Dump the miniature golf courses and replace them with wildlife bingo. Interested in a waterslide for your kids? Take them down the wave trains that roil through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.
Toss the visit to the wildlife game farms outside of parks and instead focus on where you can see truly wild animals inside the parks. Instead of pointing kids (and their parents) to the history on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (a great facility, by the way) to the east of Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming, why not mention the Museum of the National Park Ranger inside the park at Norris and perhaps plant the seed for a future career?
Kids and national parks go hand-in-hand. And there's certainly enough within a park's boundaries to entice, entertain, and educate youngsters without having to misdirect them away from the parks.