Looking for that perfect mix of relaxation and adventure? A vacation that appeals to kids and their parents? The National Park Service operates fourteen national seashores and lakeshores across the United States, protecting nearly 850,000 acres of shoreline. The following national lakes and seashores have everything you need for a summer vacation — sand and surf, hiking and biking trails, wildlife, and cool historic sites. Because every day at the shore is bound to be a good one.
1/6 Assateague Island National Seashore: Maryland and Virginia
Encompassing more than 41,000 acres of land and sea, Assateague is located on a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The park is best known for its equine residents — feral horses that have been running free on the island since the 17th century. The Assateague horses are treated as wildlife, and the herd is maintained at 80-100 individuals. Aside from checking out the horses, families can relax on the beach, hike through the marshes, dunes, and forests on short trails, or kayak the bay. There is bayside and oceanside camping available, but no electric or water hookups. Visitors who want the comfort of four walls and a bed should check out the beautiful resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, just ten miles away.
2/6 Pictured Rocks National Seashore: Michigan
All of the national lakeshores in the U.S. are nestled on the shores of the Great Lakes, but Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a gem among them. The landscape on the shores of Lake Superior is dramatic, with huge sandstone cliffs, giant sand dunes, and gorgeous sandy beaches. With over 100 miles hiking trails and 40 miles of shoreline, it’s easy to see why Pictured Rocks is so special. Kids especially love checking out the Au Sable Light Station and shipwreck remains along the Graveyard Coast. Visitors can find plenty of lodging options in the towns of Grand Marais and Munising, or they can rough it a bit at one of the park’s three campgrounds.
3/6 Cumberland Island National Seashore: Georgia
Cumberland Island National Seashore is located on Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. Anyone who has ever visited this pristine Georgia wilderness knows this isn’t your typical beach destination — you’ll find miles and miles of dunes, ruins of an old mansion, incredible hiking trails, and wild horses. For a different view of the park, try exploring by kayak or bicycle, but don’t forget your binoculars — this is a prime location for migrating birds. Several outfitters offer guided kayak tours of the island, and Cumberland Island Ferry provides daily or multi-day bike rentals. There are three campgrounds on the the island (reservations are required). More luxurious lodging is available at the historic Greyfield Inn.
4/6 Point Reyes National Seashore: California
An incredible convergence of ecosystems awaits visitors to Point Reyes National Seashore. Families can explore shallow tide pools, thunderous breakers, rocky headlands and bluffs, expansive grasslands, and forested ridges. Covering 111 square miles, this is a huge area to explore. Be sure to tour the Point Reyes Lighthouse, look for elephant seals from Chimney Rock, and visit the horses at the Morgan Horse Ranch. Hostelling International USA runs a hostel at Point Reyes with four private rooms and dormitory-style lodging. All camping is at backcountry sites, requiring anywhere from 1.5 to 10 miles of hiking, making Point Reyes a fabulous destination for that first backpacking trip with your kids.
5/6 Cape Cod National Seashore: Massachusetts
Cape Cod embraces quintessential New England and the wild Atlantic coast, and the national seashore sits right in the middle of it all. There are six swimming beaches in Cape Cod National Seashore, all with their own unique personality. Kids (and parents) love Herring Cove Beach for its relatively calm waters and stunning sunsets. There are also several lighthouses to explore, cranberry marshes to discover, and miles of hiking and biking trails. Cape Cod National Seashore does not provide camping, but there are lots of lodging options in nearby towns.
6/6 Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Where else can you say you have swum in a volcano? Crater Lake National Park is centered around a sunken volcano, of which its crater is now filled with crystal-clear water to make a gorgeous natural lake. Bike ride (or drive) around the rim of the volcano and hike along 100 miles of trails found at this national park, where Junior Ranger programs are available for kids 12 and under.
Tara Schatz, a mother of two boys, ages 15 and 18, is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and outdoor vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.