This year, we decided to take our Traveling the Parks curriculum on the road again! There are tons of benefits to learning on location. We got to experience all of them as we traveled to all the National Parks in Texas and a few in neighboring states as well.
I can’t wait to tell you all about the fun we had traveling the parks out west. It was quite an adventure, filled with hiking, scenic drives, and amazing visitor centers filled with engaging hands-on exhibits and learning opportunities. Want to learn more about how we used our interest-led curriculum to get the most out of our trips to the parks?
Keep reading to discover all the amazing learning opportunities and get tips for your own adventures in the parks. Plus, learn more about all our favorite homeschool geography resources for the National parks too.
Traveling The Parks
Our interest-led Traveling the Parks curriculum is a great way to learn more about the history and geography of America’s National Parks. This unit study-based history and geography curriculum is the perfect thing to bring along if you’re planning a trip to the parks.
You can also use Traveling the Parks at home. It’s a fantastic way to experience some of the magic of the parks without leaving your living room. There are video playlists, great books, games, and virtual field trip opportunities to help bring the parks to life for your homeschoolers.
In our Traveling the Parks curriculum, you’ll find readings, activities, and resources all about the parks built around America’s National Parks from Lonely Planet Kids. Here’s what’s included:
- Teacher’s Manual (with a QR code for virtual tours of every park, a book list, and activities)
- Student Notebook (including map pages and journal pages)
- Animal Profiles (with photos and fun facts)
- Game Pack (memory, bingo, and Pictionary games)
- Templates (postcards and brochures from the parks)
National Parks are spread throughout the 50 states, making it easier to experience at least one park no matter where you live. This year, we decided to take learning on the road and experience 8 US National Parks together. I can’t wait to tell you about all our favorite adventures and experiences learning on location in the American West!
Learning On Location: Using Traveling The Parks In Our Homeschool
We love field trips! Traveling is a big part of our homeschool experience. Exploring National Parks in person is definitely our favorite way to learn about them!
Each year, we try to visit as many parks as possible and experience as much as we can while we are there. Our Traveling the Parks curriculum helps us get the most out of the experience before and after our visit. While we’re in the parks, we always check out the visitor center.
If I could give you one piece of advice before you visit a national park, it would be to stop at the visitor’s center. The park rangers at the center can help you choose what to explore while you’re in the park based on your interests and abilities. Plus, many of the centers include educational movies about the history of the park, interactive exhibits, and learning opportunities you won’t want to miss!
Check out some of the national parks out west we have visited and learn more about our experience at each park. These are some of our favorites from the parks!
Big Bend National Park
The first national park we visited on this trip was Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Emily loved the visitor’s center! They have an interactive discovery fossil exhibit, which she truly enjoyed.
Kevin loves a good scenic drive, so the Ross Maxwell Drive was perfect! This 30-mile scenic drive leads to the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon. Along the way, you’ll get to see the many different geologic features of the region and some of the history of the region.
In Santa Elena Canyon, don’t miss the opportunity to go for a hike. I love a good hike! It’s often the best way to experience the natural wonders of the park up close.
One of the best things about Big Bend National Park is all the wildlife! The park encompasses many different habitats, so there are lots of animals to see. We really enjoyed seeing the big horn sheep.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Dell City, Texas, is the next park we visited as we made our way through the Lone Star State. Emily loved the Frijole Ranch Museum at the park. Frijole Ranch can be found at the lower slopes of the Guadalupe escarpment, just 1 ½ miles from Pine Springs Visitors Center.
The History Museum on site is an amazing way to learn about the human history of the region, including the Native Americans, the early ranching community, and the establishment of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. When you’re there, it’s easy to imagine what life would have been like in remote West Texas all those years ago.
While you’re there, enjoy a picnic under the large shade trees in the courtyard, and you might even get to see some of the local wildlife! I really enjoyed hiking along The Smith Springs trail in this section of the park, too.
The Smith Springs trail is about a two-mile hike that’s totally worth it! Imagine beginning a hike in the desert and ending at this amazing little oasis in the middle of the desert. It was stunning!
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Next, we visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. This National Park features the very best cave we have ever visited! There are two entrances to the cave: an elevator entrance and a natural entrance.
The natural entrance to the cave is definitely more challenging, but it’s totally worth it. Entering Carlsbad Caverns is breathtaking! Don’t miss the opportunity to stay for the flight of the bats in the evening.
The Bat Flight Program was everyone’s favorite part of our visit to Carlsbad Caverns! It’s free to attend this program offered by park rangers every evening from late May through October. You’ll meet the park rangers in the Bat Flight Amphitheater near the natural entrance for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
White Sands National Park
When you visit White Sands National Park, don’t skip the visitor’s center and museum on site. It’s filled with educational opportunities, including a theater where you can watch a film about the history of the park and park rangers prepared to answer all your questions about White Sands.
Kevin really enjoyed the scenic drive through the dunes. It’s an 8-mile drive from the visitor’s center to the heart of the dune field. Along the way, there are outdoor exhibits, hiking trails, picnic areas, and parking areas where you can stop to get a better look at the gypsum dunes.
There are hiking trails through the dunes at White Sands, but you might want to stick with the scenic drive if you’re not an experienced hiker. Hiking through sand dunes can be a bit challenging at times.
So, what’s the best thing to do at White Sands National Park? Go sledding! Sledding on the sand is the most popular activity at the park. The park’s gift shop sells waxed plastic saucers that work perfectly for sledding on the white sand, but you can bring your own sleds if you have them.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park near Tucson is divided into two districts: the Tucson Mountain District in the west and the Rincon Mountain District in the east. One district features older cacti spread over a large area, and the other district has younger cacti condensed in a smaller space.
Hiking among the amazing Saguaro cacti was stunning! The entire experience was surreal. If you haven’t been on a hike at Saguaro National Park, you should definitely add it to your bucket list.
While hiking was my favorite part of the experience, Emily really enjoyed the visitor center. The typography maps were one of her favorite things to explore because they made it really easy to understand the geography of the area in a hands-on way.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon covers 278 miles! We stayed at Grand Canyon National Park longer than any other park during our trip, and there is still so much of the park that we didn’t get to explore. Most of our trip was spent experiencing the South Rim of the canyon.
I don’t think you can fully appreciate the sheer size of the canyon without seeing it in person. It’s just huge! Kevin loved the desert view drive at Grand Canyon National Park. Emily was a big fan of the geology museum because it was filled with interactive exhibits. We all enjoyed visiting the many villages at the canyon and learning about the Native American people who live there and their culture.
Petrified Forest National Park
Next, we visited Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. This was Emily’s favorite park by far! She absolutely loves dinosaurs, and Petrified Forest is filled with opportunities to learn from real paleontologists and park rangers who specialize in fossils.
The visitor center at Petrified Forest National Park features interactive exhibits where kids can see and touch real dinosaur bones and fossils. Emily even got the opportunity to dig up her own dinosaur bone while we were at the park!
There’s also a paleontology lab at the park where kids can spend time seeing paleontologists at work and ask them questions. Emily could have stayed there all day! She loved getting to ask all her questions about dinosaurs and learning so much on location at the national park.
The Crystal Forest Hike and Blue Mesa Trail were my favorite spots at the park. It was like hiking on another planet!
Hot Springs National Park
Finally, on our way home, we made one last park visit to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. The park features historic bathhouses that have drawn visitors for centuries. Hot Springs National Park features thermal springs, gorgeous mountain views, interesting geological features, forests to hike through, and lots of great little creeks running through the middle of the town.
We really enjoyed touring Bathhouse Row and walking the grand promenade to see the spring. The park also features 26 miles of hiking trails to explore. Our favorite hiking trail was the Peak Trail which leads to Hot Springs Mountain Tower.
More Geography Resources For Your Homeschool
There are all kinds of geography resources you can use in your homeschool if you’re Traveling the Parks this year. While you’re visiting the parks, don’t forget to grab a Junior Ranger booklet. The Junior Ranger program encourages kids to stay engaged while they’re in the parks and learn all they can about these amazing spaces in our nation.
The program teaches kids about why and how the national parks were created. There are also important lessons about how we can work together to keep our national parks healthy.
Completing Junior Ranger booklets helps kids to earn Junior Ranger badges. Some badges can even be earned at home! Learn more about the National Parks Junior Ranger Program and how your kids can become a junior ranger here.
Want more amazing geography resources for your homeschool? Discover more of our favorites:
- A New Approach to Homeschool Geography: Traveling the States
- Geography Picture Books for Your Homeschool
- The Best Geography and History Games for Your Homeschool
- 20 Games for Learning About the 50 States
- Homeschool Your Way Through the National Parks
Are you exploring some of our national parks this school year? Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about all 63 National Parks with our Traveling the Parks curriculum. Then, tell me all about your favorite national park in the comments.