Every Kid in a Park


How many of you are always on the lookout for FREE family activities?

Let’s be real. Our weekends revolve around three questions:

  • When will we eat?
  • How will we exhaust our children? and…
  • What’s the minimum amount of money we can spend doing it?

Between now and August 31, 2018, millions of acres of parks, historic sites, and ancient forests are free to 4th graders and their families.

Federal public lands and waters belong to all Americans, and Every Kid in a Park seeks to engage the next generation of national park visitors, providing free access to national parks across the country. This program began in 2015 and is open to 4th graders every year.

I have a 4th grader and received no information about this initiative from his teacher or school. Thankfully, we learned about it from friends and started planning day trips.

Taking advantage of cooler October temperatures, we loaded the minivan and drove towards Charlottesville and Skyline Drive. You can enter Shenandoah National Park at the Rockfish Gap entrance, enjoy picturesque Skyline Drive overlooks, and access parking for several hiking trails along the way.

We tested our three kids and jogging stroller against the Blackrock Summit Trailhead. The kids made short work of the trail; I almost threw the jogging stroller off the mountainside. There is also a rock scramble and amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the way. 

As a bonus to parents, Skyline’s Rockfish Gap Entrance Station is only five miles from Blue Mountain Brewery. We rewarded our efforts with a beer (for the adults) and soft, salty pretzels with cheese dip (for everyone).

What my 4th grader (and the rest of us) learned that day.

Blackrock was once a seabed! The geological forces that formed the mountains also changed that seabed into solid rock. Weather and erosion still cause Blackrock to change, and it is a river of moving rock. Eventually the rocks will settle, plants will grow, and Blackrock will look like every other forested mountain. How cool is that?

Photos of a Saturday well spent in Shenandoah National Park.

If you, too, have a 4th grader, I encourage you to take advantage of the amazing opportunities Every Kid in a Park offers. Discover wildlife and explore history for free as a family! Most 4th graders will study state history this school year, and the National Park Service provides interpreters and programs to enrich that study. To plan your trip to national parks located in Virginia, check out the following:

Find a listing of all national parks by state here. Maybe your family’s next vacation is a 4th-grade pass away.