With their sweeping mountain views, rushing rivers, and rugged canyons, the national parks in the southern states beckon families not only with a myriad of beautiful landscapes, but also plenty of gentle hiking trails, water-based activities, and camping fun for children.
Here’s a peek at some top national parks in the south for RVers with kids, plus some suggestions for where to camp.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Skyline Drive stretches more than 100 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains through Shenandoah National Park, whose visitor entrance is just 75 miles from Washington, D.C. You can travel the entire length of the road, or just bits and pieces, depending on your time frame. Note: Marys Rock Tunnel, at mile marker 22.2, has a clearance of just 12 feet 8 inches, so be aware if you’re road tripping with a big rig!
More than 500 miles of hiking trails wind their way through rocky crags, towering forest, and open meadows — most leading to stellar viewpoints and some to cascading waterfalls. For little legs, consider these hikes for kids that are under 2 miles round trip. There are five main campgrounds at Shenandoah, with a mix of reservable and first come, first serve sites available. Sites are wonderfully wooded, with some backing right up to hiking trails.
Nearby Harvest Host: Backroom Brewery is in Middletown, Virginia, not too far from Front Royal, which is where you’ll find the park’s North Entrance Station.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park, so named for its location at the curve of the Rio Grande River, is a BIG park. Experts suggest that if you’re not planning to camp in the area for long, you might bite off just a bit of the park to explore; consider this one-day itinerary that can include a kid-friendly, short hike or a jaunt to a fossil exhibit.
There are four developed campgrounds at Big Bend: three operated by the National Park Service and one from an outside vendor. At this time reservations are required at all of them. This park has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the past year, so if the in-park sites are all booked, consider camping in neighboring towns — just make sure you have a reservation before you pull into the area or you may be shut out. Be prepared for crowds, especially from November to April.
Nearby Harvest Host: Get Lost Tours, in Terlingua, Texas, offers personalized tours of the area. (Note: RVs need to be 24 feet or less to park here overnight.)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles two states. It is deeply forested, but has a couple wide-open spots for wildlife viewing. Keep your eyes out for bear, deer, elk, racoon, and wild turkeys. Horseback riding and fishing are some of the other popular activities for families in this vast park that encompasses more than 800 square miles. And don’t miss a hike to one of the many waterfalls here.
There are 10 “frontcountry” campgrounds with RV sites in the park; two are open year-round, while the others are seasonal; all can be reserved (book as early as you can!).
Nearby Harvest Host: Smoky Mountain Golf Club has an enviable location surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the country’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, in West Virginia. Designated in late 2020, this national park offers a bevy of opportunities to play on the river, from stand-up paddle-boarding to fishing to whitewater rafting.
We bet this park will be wildly popular not only this summer, but for many summers to come. There are no developed campgrounds in the park itself, but there are several in the surrounding communities. Check out the RV sites at Adventures on the Gorge, through which you can also book whitewater rafting excursions, as well as New River Campground, Green Acres Campground, and Eagle’s Nest Campground.
Nearby Harvest Host: Princeton Railroad Museum is south of the New River Gorge, in Princeton, West Virginia.
Have you taken a family RV trip to one of these national parks in the South? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
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