The 10 Best National Parks

Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mineral, CA

Total Acres: 106,000

Number of Family-Friendly Trails: 10 (four are stroller-accessible)

Best Time to Visit: Mid-July through September, when temperatures average around 60 degrees and there is little rain (Note: Some park roads may be snow-covered and the sites inaccessible by car until mid-June.)

  • Hands out Lassen Volcanic Junior Park Scientist backpacks for children 7 and up; they include binoculars, a magnifying glass, rock identification cards, a notebook, and other tools kids need to carry out science experiments at the park's lakes and forests.
  • Distributes Chipmunk Cards to help children 4 to 6 identify park animals such as tree frogs and dragonflies; completed cards earn a golden-chipmunk sticker.
  • Conducts group tours with spectacular views of the park's four types of volcanoes (don't worry -- the last eruption took place in the early 1920s).
  • Recruits children to participate in Volcano Discovery Lab, ranger-led sessions that demonstrate different types of volcanic eruptions, using shaving cream or popcorn.
  • Employs a high ratio of guides to visitors so kids can ask questions.

Many national parks offer just a few children's workshops or activities, generally for the 8-and-older crowd. However, Lassen Volcanic, located 200 miles north of San Francisco, operates 13 kids' programs that cover a wide age and subject range.

Preschoolers flock to fun puppet shows and Sense of Wonder programs in which rangers teach them to identify the park's plants using their noses; for instance, they'll learn that Jeffrey Pine trees smell like vanilla. Seven- to 12-year-olds can attend a two-hour Junior Ranger adventure on pond life, insects, or forest ecology. And both parents and kids will have a fabulous time watching the Pioneer Program, which re-creates a family's journey along the cross-country trail to California in 1853.

Besides the scheduled activities, your family can bike, boat, horseback-ride, or kayak at its leisure. Plus, the park's hiking trails are filled with once-in-a-lifetime views: hardened lava flow, bubbling mud pots, and valleys formed by glaciers.

Contact: 530-595-4444; www.nps.gov/lavo.

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle.

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