If you want to spend your winter vacation outdoors, it’s best to head west to visit national parks. Temperatures are reasonable in desert environments, unlike in summer when it can be unbearably hot, and island retreats are an option, too.

Here are three national parks for families to visit this winter, plus family-traveling advice from Shanti Hodges, the founder of Hike It Baby. Her nonprofit is dedicated to helping families come together and explore nature.

1. Channel Islands National Park

The Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California are a serene escape for families with adventurous, older children. The five islands are accessible from Ventura via boat. Depending on the island you want to visit, expect to pay at least $59 round trip per adult and at least $41 per child over three years old. You can also buy boat trips for cave exploration and educational tours of the islands, as well as enjoy activities such as snorkeling, hiking and birdwatching.

» Learn more: Make your national park trip an adventure in savings

There are no stores in the park, and transportation on or around the islands is limited to your feet or a kayak. There are no lodging facilities, but you can camp in tents starting at $15 per night.

Best use of frequent flyer miles or travel rewards points

Los Angeles, Burbank and Santa Barbara airports are within 70 miles of Ventura. If you use mileage for airfare, you can then take a ride-sharing service or a shuttle service to get to Ventura.

2. Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah has an array of colorful canyons and deserts to explore, and paved trails make it easy to move strollers around.

“There’s a lot to see through the main canyon if you like to hike or just sit on the bus and ride through the park,” Hodges says. “You can also go canyoneering, view petroglyphs and learn about Native American history.” Canyoneering is an activity that combines swimming, hiking, climbing and problem-solving to thoroughly explore a canyon.

» Learn more: 8 pro tips for smart and cheap family travel

Entry passes to the park start at $35 per vehicle and $20 for pedestrians and bicyclists. The passes are valid for a week. There’s one lodging facility in the park, the Zion Lodge, and three campgrounds.

Best use of frequent flyer miles or travel rewards points

You can use miles to fly to airports in Cedar City, Utah (about 60 miles from the park), Las Vegas (about 160 miles) or Salt Lake City (about 300 miles). Delta offers a short flight from Salt Lake City directly to Cedar City Regional Airport. You can find hotels in the nearby towns where you can book rooms using your credit card travel rewards.

3. Joshua Tree National Park

“It’s a Dr. Seuss-like landscape with pink sunsets, spiky, other-worldly-looking Joshua trees and giant rolling boulders that are so grippy even a 2-year-old can scale up to terrifying heights in a moment, barefoot, when you’re not looking,” Hodges says. “The terrain is flat, so no hill climbing if you get stuck carrying a 4-year-old the whole hike.” The park has pioneer structures and remnants of old mines for a full educational experience, too.

Entry passes start at $30 per vehicle and $15 for pedestrians and bicyclists. The passes are valid for seven days. There are no lodging or dining facilities in the park, but it has several campgrounds.

Best use of frequent flyer miles or travel rewards points

Use miles or points to fly to Palm Springs, California — the closest airport — and then rent a car. There are hotels in nearby areas, such as Twentynine Palms, where you can use travel rewards from credit cards to snag rooms.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2018, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Make your national park trip an adventure in savings
A government program gives kids and educators free entry to national parks
The best travel credit cards of 2018

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