Hi, I’m Heather Thibodeau, the founder and mom behind National Parks Mom.

I’ve traveled to every state in America, and my family of five is on a mission to explore every national park. Our goal is to help other families with their own US national park travels.

fence sitting in Arches National Park
Two-thirds of the Thibodeau (pronounced Tib-oh-Dough) kid trio – the family behind National Parks Mom

Before we dig in more to the “who” and “why” behind National Parks Mom, let’s travel back in time a bit…

Vacations of our Youth

If I asked you about family vacations when you were a kid, what would come to mind?

An annual road trip to a favorite beach? 

A week at the lake?

Camping at a state park?

three boys camping in the 1980s and playing Monopoly in their tent
Tib (Mr. NPM…on the right) and his brothers playing Monopoly on a rainy family campout day

Wherever you went, I bet I could guess a couple of things that yours and my own family vacations had in common:

  • No cell phones
  • No internet
  • No social media (can I get an Amen?)

Things were just simpler. And dare I say…more affordable?!

Vacations back then meant slowing down. Playing some board games…and heaven forbid…maybe even getting a little bored.

To the point we might have to actually be creative and use our imaginations to build a fort, or climb a tree, or become pirates and dig a hole to bury the treasures we found on the shore.

two kids in the 80s digging a hole on the beach
My brother and I burying our seashore treasures at a state park in West Virginia around 1980

We had real, family face time. No, I’m not talking about that green icon on your phone. We had to actually interact with one another…face to face. 

Awesome 100% of the time? Of course not. What family vacation ever is? But vacations back then were full of real, genuine, and totally unplugged family bonding.  

spending time reading and playing board games with siblings on a typical family vacation of Gen-X's youth
My siblings and I showing off Gen-X vacation activities – reading, tossing a baseball, braiding your sibling’s hair at a campground

Who’s Behind National Parks Mom?

Hi! I’m Heather. And if I haven’t sufficiently dated myself yet, I’m a child of the 80’s.

That means I bought ice blue eyeshadow and acid-washed jeans. I sported neon whenever possible, and when I wanted to chat up my friends, I didn’t use my thumbs. I talked on a phone…with a dially-thing on the face that was attached to the wall by one helluva trip-hazardy curly-qued cord.

girl on first day of school in 1988
Embarrassing but true first day of school pic in 1988 – complete with perm, ill-fitting clothing, terribly rolled pants and a fashionable neon bag

I made it through my 80’s childhood and eventually ended up in college at Virginia Tech where I earned degrees in Biology, Chemistry and Exercise Physiology.

Went on to Duke University, where I earned a masters degree, and then a doctorate degree in Physical Therapy.

Duke graduation day Heather Thibodeau
Duke graduation day with my two younger sisters

In 2014, I went off the rails, and became a blogger. 

And over the years my first website, The Heathered Nest, became a popular home decorating and DIY website. 

But after years of building and working long, long hours on that endeavor…this mama needed a breather.

So we started taking vacations. 

family sitting on rocks in Acadia National Park
Our family vacationing in Acadia National Park, Maine

Why I started National Parks Mom

When it comes to vacations, I like a poolside lounge chair and a piña colada as much as the next gal, but nature? Nature is healing.

If you want your family to truly unwind, relax, bond and recharge…you don’t need an outlet. What we actually need is nature. 

Don’t take my word for it. There are so many peer-reviewed studies showing this is true.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Which is one of many, many reasons our family loves vacationing in national parks. 

Thibodeau family of National Parks Mom in Yellowstone National Park, near the Lost Creek Trail in Tower-Roosevelt area of the park
My family in one of our favorite spots…the Tower-Roosevelt area of Yellowstone National Park

In the US we are incredibly fortunate to have amazing parks to experience right outside our front doors.

And while 22 states currently do not have a national park, when you consider national historic parks and sites, national scenic trails and seashores, national battlefields and monuments, that list of states “without” quickly dwindles to nada. 

So our family takes as many opportunities as we possibly can to experience these amazing places in our country. 

family in front of the Morning Glory pool in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park
Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park

What Makes Me an Expert?

If you’re wondering what makes me a national parks expert…I told you I had a doctorate degree. Granted, it’s in nothing remotely related to park visitation 😉.

At Sun Mountain Lodge in Washington State, near North Cascades NP during the Sourdough fire - smoke in the distance
Me and Tib outside of North Cascades NP…the Sourdough Fire was burning in the distance, so the air was pretty smoky (but beautiful) on this night

But at this point in my life, I’d say I’m a national park travel expert in the same way I’m a laundry, grocery-shopping, child Uber-ing, and paying taxes expert. I’ve done a LOT of it.

And our family has a stack of NPS (National Park Service) park maps a foot high to prove it.

Hudson, youngest child in the National Parks Mom family looking through a map and junior ranger booklet at Roosevelt Island in Washington DC
Our youngest, Hudson, reading a map and Junior Ranger booklet at Roosevelt Island National Memorial (run by the NPS) in Washington DC

We walk the travel walk. Even did a BUNCH of traveling during the pandemic (in a very responsible, safe manner, following CDC guidelines)…you can read about our 2020 travel adventures on this travel site.

As a writer for the past decade, I have also dabbled in some travel writing. Here are a couple of articles of mine you can see over at Trivago Magazine:

And my work has been featured both in print and online in such places as: House Beautiful, Country Living (12), Good Housekeeping (12, 3The Washington PostBoston GlobeToday ShowUSA TodayForbesThis Old HouseWashingtonianMyDomaine.

I’m proud of our well-traveled family. My youngest son is currently 12-years old, and he has visited all but 5 US states, and several countries beyond our US borders.

In short, my family is on a mission to explore as much of the world, and as many of our own national treasures as we possibly can. And my goal here at National Parks Mom is to help your family to do the same!

-National Parks Mom founder Heather Thibodeau

That is, I want to help your family to create and experience lifelong memories through travels in our nation’s parks.

National Parks Mom family standing next to the Badlands National Park entrance sign in South Dakota
Visiting Badlands NP in South Dakota

What You Can Expect from National Parks Mom

There are lots of places online to go for information about hard-core backpacking trips, backcountry adventures, and park travel sans kids. 

But that’s not who I made this site for. 

I wanted to create a place where families could find information to help them create trips that would be amazing for everyone in the travel party, from the grandparents to toddlers in strollers.

family standing beside the sign for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
We are very lucky to have grandparents with us on many of our adventures. Travel planning that works well for all members of the family is very important here.

National Parks from a Parent Perspective

If you’re a parent you know. The trips you planned pre-kid are definitely different from the ones you’ve planned ever since your kiddos came along. 

I want to recommend parks to you based on perspective as a parent. While I do believe that every national park has something for everyone, I also believe that some parks are much more kid-friendly than others.

We’ll cover them all, and provide personal experiences and advice to help you decide the best travel ideas for your own clan.

family selfie at the Grand Canyon
Family selfie at the Grand Canyon

Family-Friendly Hiking

Although there are some families that can easily handle 10-mile hikes, most of us are happy with nature walks, short jaunts to scenic overlooks, and trails that don’t require carabiners, ropes, or crampons. So if gathering info on conquering K2 is your goal, you’ve made a wrong turn.

On the other hand, if your family is looking for experiences in nature that can be tackled before naptime, or without a backcountry permit, you’re right where you need to be.

Enjoying a nature walk in Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Reading signs on a family-friendly nature trail in Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Family Adventures

Lots of travelers head to national parks for rock-climbing, selfies on cliff edges, and more “extreme” encounters of the natural kind.

But here, we’re more about adventures that could be classified as “PG”.

family at top of a gypsum sand dune ready to sled down in White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Our family ready to conquer sand dune sledding in White Sands National Park, New Mexico

We’ll recommend adventures, tours, and experiences that are fun for all ages – from the youngest, to the most “seasoned” national park traveler. 

And PG doesn’t mean boring…it just means the waivers for the activities we recommend aren’t so scary sounding when you’re reading all that small print. 

swimming with the stingrays at night in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii
Our family swimming with the manta rays at night in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii

Lodging for Families

Although I LOVE nature, I’m the first to admit camping is just not my thing. 

I’m more a “glamper”, if you will. Our family loves national park inns, lodges and hotels, as well as Airbnb’s and other unique accommodations (that typically come with flush toilets and running water). 

family in front of tent 64 at Acadia Under Canvas
Glamping near Acadia National Park

So if you never wanted to travel to a park because you thought you’d have to camp, you’re in the right place. I need a good mattress, too. 

I will certainly share information about awesome places to camp, park your RV, and pitch your tent if that is something your own family loves.

I’m as happy as a pig in mud to hang with you by your campfire at night and share some s’mores, I just plan to travel back to the lodge when it’s time for bed.

family on the porch at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone National Park
One of our family’s favorite NPS lodges – Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone NP

Nerdy Notes

Full disclosure…I’m a bit bookish, but not boring. I love sneaking educational experiences into vacation.

But not snoozefest walking through moldy museum (sorry Smithsonian…you guys are actually awesome) kinds of learning.

I’m talking hiding black beans in the brownies kind of education – where the kids (and maybe the parents, too) are learning stuff without even realizing it’s happening. 

three kids standing behind a rack of elk antlers showing the perspective of how large they are
Kids can read about how large an elk is in a book, but when they experience this, and many other things in real life, it makes a greater impact

Experiential Education Osmosis is what I like to call it. 

Expect recommendations for ways your family can experience cool stuff while (shhh) learning a thing or two at the same time. I won’t tell if you don’t 🤫. 

National Parks Mom family with longest serving Yellowstone National Park ranger, Harlan Kredit
Our family with a living legend, Harlan Kredit, longest-serving Yellowstone National Park ranger

What you WON’T get from NPM

So while you can expect family-friendly, national park information here at NPM, you should know that we can’t help with everything and we are not for everyone.

If you’re looking for travel advice from beautiful couples in their 20’s seen sitting casually on the edge of cliffs staring out into the beyond in photoshopped scenes that appear as if they were torn from the pages of Condé Nast…

Or if you only want to travel info from people wearing instagram-worthy outfits, complete with perfect makeup which is amazingly sweat and hiking-proof…

And if these travelers have children, they appear happy 100% of the time…never have meltdowns, “Mom, how much longer?” moments, or experience a bad mood.

If THAT’S what you’re looking for, I’ve got some bad news. We aren’t your people.

family playing a game while camping/glamping near Great Smoky Mountains
A real family, on real vacations…that’s all we’ve got for you!

Because here’s the thing. This site was one I never intended to make.

I actually never wanted to have a travel site because the idea of working while on vacation was terrible…and STILL is terrible.

So I swore to myself and my family that if we went down the National Parks Mom path, I wouldn’t force them to look primped and well-coiffed with lovely outfits, nor make them travel only to the most Instagramable of spots so Mommy could get those perfect shots for the sake of social media.

woman's shadow in the sand at White Sands National Park making peace sign
Enjoying the gypsum sand at White Sands National Park

Nope. We just aren’t “that” kind of travel site.

But if you can handle REAL family photos, complete with closed eyes, bad hair days, irritated looks from teens, a mom who usually rolls out sans makeup, and a dad who constantly wears a ratty Mickey Mouse t-shirt that the entire family has tried to steal and dispose of (but failed)…then YOU ARE OUR PEOPLE.

There’ll be no dreamy drone shots, musically-manicured videos, or insanely aspirational (ahem, fake) vacation news here.

Think you wanna stick around? Great! Then…

On a family friendly hike in Arches National Park in Utah
hiking in Arches National Park

Join me!

Because helping your kids experience “device-free”, or even “internet-light” travel is something I know you’ll find incredible, too.

And taking advantage of the unbelievable natural spaces and places around the U.S. of A is a phenomenal goal for your family to undertake!

Not only that, but family vacations that are simpler, more au natural, and dare I say a tad more affordable is appealing, am I right?

I’m so happy that we’ve found each other. 

family in front of West Yellowstone entrance sign at Yellowstone NP

Join me and other national park moms (and by moms, I mean you too, dads). Get involved in the NPM community by following us on Pinterest, and joining in the conversations on Facebook and Instagram.

And get NPM email updates where we share the latest and greatest in all things national park family travel. 

happy trails, heather