America’s National Parks: 6 Tips for Family Vacations

Given your limited budget, have you made any plans for a family vacation? Any time of year, a low cost getaway can create memories to cherish. But for some Sandwiched Boomers, squeezed between caring for growing children and aging parents, the choices may be slim.

According to a recent poll, close to 80% of adults believe that family and friends are more important than possessions – in other words, relationships trump ‘bling’ in creating happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment of the American dream. So, in these tough financial times, families are still taking vacations together yet are managing to cut back on spending. Many are accomplishing this feat by visiting the National Parks – figures show that attendance has been unusually high. Even the President and Vice-President have visited some of these majestic national treasures with their families.

But you don’t have to be a politician or a celebrity to enjoy “America’s best idea,” as Ken Burns dubbed the National Parks. Make a plan to spend time with your family in the great outdoors – be inspired, educated and motivated to protect our rich environment. Your kids will grow from the experience and you’ll all have fun together as you follow these tips:

1. Engage in the world around you. Join with other families exploring the country or start by becoming more involved in your own community. What are your family’s interests and passions – hiking, history, nature, adventure, native plants and animals? You can learn more about them together and expand your universe at the same time.

2. Find role models to inspire you. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum dreamed about creating a memorial to American heroes that would last through the ages. He worked in the mountains of South Dakota, drilling and chiseling for over 10 years, to sculpt Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore. These men reflect goals to strive for – courage, freedom, compassion and conservation, among others. And the nearby sculpture-in-progress, commemorating the Lakota leader, Crazy Horse, honors the richness of the Native American culture and the dignity of these tribes.

3. Expand your universe and learn something new. The National Parks provide a unique and ideal environment for learning – whether it’s about the geysers, hot springs, mud pots or fumaroles of Yellowstone, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the waterfalls and giant sequoias of Yosemite or the powerful landscape of the Grand Canyon. If you’re more interested in the wildlife of the region, there are bald eagles, bison, bears, moose, elk and wolves to observe and study. And the wildflowers and groves of trees provide endless opportunities for education.

4. Challenge yourself to take some risks. The parks present numerous opportunities for activities that may be new to you – riding a mule on tenuous mountain paths, whitewater rafting down rapids, hiking up a rocky trail to a waterfall, camping out under open skies, horseback riding through open meadows. You’ll all find that the excitement of mastering a different skill carries over into a new sense of confidence in other areas of life.

5. Enjoy the people around you. It’s always fun to spend time outdoors together – take a float trip down a calm part of the river, make s’mores around a campfire, go for a nature walk with a forest ranger, take pictures of the wild flowers or just take a long walk together. Let your family know that their company is important to you.

6. Immerse yourself in the serenity of nature. Most of us react with awe and appreciation when in the presence of the majesty of nature. A family trip exposing you to its dramatic power can help you put aside the realities of the current economic situation. When you allow yourself the opportunity to soak in the beauty of your surroundings, you’ll feel more centered and ready to face the challenges ahead of you on your return home.

If you’re over 62, you can purchase a lifetime senior pass in any of the parks for only $10. And you’ll find that many national and state parks offer kids the chance to become Junior Rangers. This program encourages them to explore, learn, and protect the environment. You can follow up your visit together by reading more about the history of the parks and the Native Americans who once freely roamed these lands.

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