Why Your Next Family Vacation Should Be Volunteering on Public Lands
April 29, 2024
Sarah Hubbart

With summer break just a few short weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about taking a family vacation to reset and reconnect. If you’re in need of some inspiration, here’s a suggestion—why not try volunteering at one of your local public lands sites? This way, you can turn your exciting outdoor adventures into an opportunity to bond as a family over the shared experience of making a positive impact on the environment.  

Why Volunteer with Your Family on Public Lands? 

Family volunteer vacations provide a unique opportunity for parents and children—even grandparents and other extended family members—to create lasting memories that go far beyond a traditional vacation. Public lands offer a diverse range of activities suitable for all ages, ensuring that every member of your family can actively participate.  

Whether you're planting trees, cleaning up trails, or restoring local habitat, engaging in environmental volunteering on public lands transcends generational gaps and brings your family closer together. 

Family volunteer vacations on public lands also offer a tangible way to instill the value of conservation in the younger generation. Children develop a sense of environmental stewardship not just from textbooks and educational programs, but from real-life experiences in the outdoors. As they witness the impact of their actions, a sense of responsibility and ownership takes root. 

By actively participating in conservation efforts, you're not just teaching your children about the importance of protecting our planet—you're living it. 

a multi generational family planting trees during a family volunteer vacation

Where to Volunteer with Your Family on Public Lands 

Ready to make new memories this summer break by booking a volunteer vacation of your own? It’s easy to get started. Here are a few ideas for your next family volunteer vacation:  

National Parks 

America’s national parks showcase some of the most breathtaking landscapes on Earth. These stunning backdrops offer the perfect conditions for impactful environmental volunteering. 

At Rocky Mountain National Park, families can work together on trail maintenance projects, ensuring they remain accessible for all. Or participate in habitat restoration projects in Yosemite, reviving ecosystems crucial for the park's diverse flora and fauna.  

National Seashores 

If you were planning on vacationing at the beach anyway, why not give back to the environment while you’re there? National seashores such as the Outer Banks in North Carolina or Padre Island in Texas provide a unique setting for family volunteer vacations.  

Outdoor volunteering opportunities like beach clean-ups and dune restoration projects help preserve the delicate balance of coastal ecosystems, ensuring that marine life thrives in clean and safe habitats. They also offer a chance to witness the immediate impact of your collective efforts. 

National Forests 

Whether it's the towering redwoods of California or the dense thickets of the Allegheny National Forest, these public lands have plenty of opportunities for families to get away from the bustle of daily life and bond through environmental volunteering. 

In addition to trail restoration and other infrastructural projects, invasive species removal and tree planting initiatives leave a lasting legacy for generations. It also gives you the opportunity to return for another vacation to see how the landscape has grown and changed! 

National Monuments 

The vast deserts and majestic canyons of national monuments provide a unique backdrop for family volunteer vacations. From the surreal landscapes of Grand Staircase-Escalante to the ancient wonders of Bears Ears, these public lands provide plenty of space to become truly immersed in nature. While you’re there, consider joining local archaeological preservation efforts to ensure the rich history etched in the canyons remains intact for future generations.  

a child birdwatching during a family volunteer vacation citizen science project

Environmental Volunteering Through Community (CItizen) Science 

Community science activities are a great way to add an extra layer of excitement and educational value to your family volunteer vacation. Engaging in citizen science deepens connections to nature by allowing families to become researchers, exploring the natural world and contributing valuable data to ongoing research projects. 

Imagine exploring coastal national seashores and not just marveling at the waves, but actively participating in marine conservation. By joining community science programs that involve monitoring and documenting local wildlife, your family becomes an integral part of the scientific process, whether it's tracking crab populations, observing bird migrations, or identifying plant species. 

Community science provides various outdoor volunteering opportunities through interactive and experiential learning—measuring water quality in national parks, tracking animal behavior in forests, participating in stargazing events, and more. The lessons learned in the field become lasting memories, fostering an appreciation for science and a sense of stewardship in your children. 

Family Volunteer Vacations for National Public Lands Day 

Looking for other opportunities for a family volunteer vacation? Be sure to mark National Public Lands Day on your calendar. Celebrated on the fourth Saturday in September each year, NPLD is the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands, providing the perfect opportunity for families to engage in outdoor volunteering activities. 

National Public Lands Day brings communities together to care for public lands all across America, making it an ideal platform for families to kickstart their journey into environmental volunteering. Covering a wide array of project types, from cultural and educational programming to good old fashioned manual labor, the variety of volunteering activities ensures that every family member can find something that interests them.  

And as a bonus, National Public Lands Day is a "fee-free day" when forests, parks, refuges, and rangelands across the US waive entrance fees for visitors, making it a great option to get outdoors on a budget. 

Give Back to the Environment on Your Next Vacation 

Family volunteer vacations on public lands provide a perfect blend of adventure and environmental stewardship. Whether you're drawn to the mountains, coastlines, forests, or deserts, there's a public land out there that could use your help. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and let your next family vacation create lasting memories for you and a positive impact for the planet.