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Trip Planning

Can't-Miss American Road Trip Stops for Kids in 2021

There is no American tradition more iconic than packing way too many bags and loading the whole family up for the “great American road trip.” And there's no better way to experience the thrills of the open road—and to keep kids from getting bored—than in a decked-out RV. While the journey is half the fun, the destination is equally important. That's why we rounded up five of our favorite kid-friendly destinations for families living the RV life. They include world-famous landmarks and hidden gems, and each one pairs a wealth of experiences with RV-friendly campsites and amenities.

The following article was originally published on Parents Latina as part of a partnership with Go RVing. The original post can be found HERE.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A Grand Canyon sunrise is one of the most iconic American experiences to share with kids, if only to see their jaws drop as a sliver of light shatters the dark of the canyon, painting the walls in deep reds and oranges that grow brighter by the second.

But while you can always count on those morning fireworks, the true beauty of the Grand Canyon is that no two visits will ever be the same. Whether you're here to plunk the whole family on friendly mules and explore the sun-drenched Bright Angel Trail, rush down the white-water rapids of the Colorado River with a trained guide, or learn about the area's history from tribal artisans, the only real constant is a prolonged sense of wonder. 

For all its mythical allure, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most accessible of America's 63 national parks, with paved paths and an efficient shuttle-bus system making it easy to visit the historic sites on the bustling South Rim. For a more meditative visit, the North Rim's more rustic terrain allows you to take in the jaw-dropping sights of America's sixth-busiest national park with a fraction of the crowds. And no matter where you are, you'll find yourself hypnotized by the sweeping vistas and the inescapable vanilla scents wafting off the ponderosa pines.  

There are ample spots for your camper in the park proper, but sites can fill up fast. Luckily, there are plenty of places nearby to set up a home base. Try wild camping—RVing on government-owned land for free but without amenities—in the Kaibab National Forest, which borders both rims and ensures a front-row seat to every morning's sunrise.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

The South’s answer to the Riviera has a posh reputation. But in reality, this idyllic South Carolina island just off the Georgia border is a magnet for those who prefer their accommodations to be mobile and their kids to be fully immersed in the natural splendor that made Hilton Head a legend. With 60 miles of walking and biking trails surrounding 12 miles of pristine beaches, the Lowcountry town is ideal for anyone seeking to wake up feeling fully connected to salty sea breezes and lush foliage.

Once the RV is parked at the north end's Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort and the kids have had their fill of the pool, hop on a bike or a trolley to explore the rest of the island. Hilton Head is rife with excellent seafood haunts (get the shrimp & grits at Lowcountry Backyard while the kids go crazy in the outdoor play area) and rich in history. For a living lesson in the island's roots, hit the Gullah Museum to learn about the Gullah Geechee, descendants of West African slaves, whose culture continues to influence the area. 

Next, get immersed in the local wildlife. Kids can get up close and personal with Hilton Head's famous loggerhead sea turtles at the Coastal Discovery Museum, then take a guided tour down Broad Creek, where playful dolphins splash as if they're on their own family retreat. Finally, walk or bike through the rushes and reeds of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to one of the most spectacular birds in North America: the rainbow-hued painted bunting.

And of course, you'll want to hit the beach. The immaculate sands feature wheelchair-accessible stretches, making it easy for anyone to reach the hard-packed sand at the ocean’s edge. Kick back under a beach umbrella, or ascend the iconic Harbor Town Lighthouse; if you're feeling extra adventurous, grab a flashlight and go ghost hunting at the spooky—but not too spooky—1790s Stoney-Baynard Plantation. Apparently, the ghosts here never wanted to leave Hilton Head. After a long day in the sand, it's hard to blame them.

Lake Murray State Park, Oklahoma

Spanning a crystalline 5,700 acres, Lake Murray is the jewel of south-central Oklahoma, a tranquil, shimmering oasis in the middle of the 12,500-acre state park that bears its name. With its welcoming shores and wide-open waterways, the lake is a magnet for water sports enthusiasts eager to zip past the towering cliffs and sandy islands that make this postcard-ready slice of heaven one of the Sooner State's prime destinations. 

Lake Murray is so much more than its namesake: Here, baseball and softball diamonds are lively, hikers can spend a full day amid the trees with nary another soul to be found, golfers can tackle 18 holes while their kids dominate putt-putt, and ATV and dirt-bike daredevils of all ages go soaring around the rolling hills and sweeping grassland. Of course, if you want to simply kick back and enjoy the water, Lake Murray's a great place for that, too—just don't skip the water trampoline and slides at Lake Murray Water Sports.

For a quick sun break, take in the colorful, interactive displays and naturalist talks at the kid-friendly Lake Murray Nature Center, then walk the paved path to the historic limestone monolith Tucker Tower (a.k.a. the Oklahoma Castle) for spectacular 360-degree views above the south shore. Don't leave without gazing upon the 250-pound, 100-million-year-old meteorite housed within.

With so much to offer, Lake Murray is undeniably a hot spot, but smart planning makes room for everybody: There are an astonishing 321 RV campsites spread across nine campgrounds inside the park, half of which are open year-round. Whether you're here to get your blood pumping or just to relax under a blanket of stars (watch out for meteorites!), this is a destination that makes enjoying its attractions extra easy.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The towering Great Sand Dunes rise some 750 feet above ground level, their slopes framed by the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains as if Mother Nature had photoshopped the Sahara into mountainous Colorado. The dunes are the tallest in North America, contrasted further by an ecosystem that includes grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundras. And taken together, the park is one massive, awe-inspiring natural playground. 

Begin your day at the visitor center to talk to rangers about how the dunes came to be, then cross the wide but shallow Medano Creek, a seasonal stream where kids and parents can splash, build sandcastles, and skimboard during spring and summer. 

Then spend your days on the dunes. The little ones can run and roll down the steep inclines while spotting kangaroo rats and mule deer. Older kids (and young-at-heart parents) rocket from top to bottom on a rented sandboard or sled. And daydreamers will find endless delight just splaying in the sand and watching the clouds skip by. Better yet, sprawl out at night: Great Sand Dunes is a certified Dark Sky Park, and the sight of the Milky Way revealing itself above the blue-hued mounds presents a spectacular chance to teach kids about constellations, especially when accompanied by the gentle hoots of nearby owls.  

There aren't too many RV spots right in the park, but since it welcomes only a small fraction of the visitors that Rocky Mountain National Park hosts, scoring one isn't tough. If you do miss out, don't fret: You'll find ample wild-camping areas and resorts nearby in the Sangre De Cristos, including the Oasis Campground with full hookups and the same spectacular night sky you'll find in the park.

Blue Spring State Park, Florida

Tucked inland between Orlando and Daytona—and close enough to both to warrant day trips—Blue Spring is proof that Florida's status as an aquatic paradise isn't limited to the shore. Here, you won't find the crowded beaches and noisy revelers that dominate Florida's better-known destinations. Instead, you'll find something that resembles the Everglades in miniature, reinvisioned as a family-friendly outdoor wonderland. 

Grab an inner tube, snorkel, or scuba gear and cool off in the 72-degree water of Blue Spring alongside sea cows in the summer: Blue Spring doubles as a manatee refuge, and the waters are closed to humans during the winter and spring. If you prefer to stay dry, explore the cyprus-flanked waters on a shady boat tour or a hike through Florida Sand Pine Scrub.

Hand the kids binoculars and walk along the accessible, meandering wooden boardwalk that follows the spring to the St. Johns River. There, you'll spot manatees swimming with their young, turtles sunning themselves, alligators floating at a safe distance, and waterfowl plunging below the surface in search of dinner. 

The campground is an easy walk from the spring, with 51 water and electric campsites, two bathhouses, and a dump station, plus a playground. RVers can enjoy semi-private sites divided by native shrubs and dwarf oaks, which are home to the endangered Florida scrub-jay. RVing families interested in full hook-ups can also stay in two off-site RV parks about 15 minutes away, though sticking close to the gentle, welcoming waters is well worth sacrificing a few comforts. 

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