Family-friendly fun doesn't have to be all about fluorescent-lit indoor-play centres or expensive trips to theme parks. Why not try another type of park experience with the kids that will be easy on the eye and your budget, too?
The breathing spaces of the 15 members of the national park family are within reach of the majority of UK households. There is a huge choice of things to do that kids will love. And – parents take note – most of them are free. Here's a sampling of family friendly activities to be found in our national parks.
How Hill National Nature Reserve forms a large area of established fen that is remarkable for its variety of Broads habitats. Visit How Hill to see Toad Hole Cottage – where you'll find heaps of information and can learn how life was for a marshman and his family in the Broads many years ago – and take a boat trip on the environmentally friendly Electric Eel.
Keep the kids entertained (and maybe even impress your teenagers) with a podcast trail to discover the geology and waterfalls of the western section of Brecon Beacons National Park. There are several walks to choose from, and podcasts range from 15-20 minutes. Download the podcast onto your mobile phone before you start (some places in the park have a weak or non-existent mobile phone signal, so do this before you go).
Discover Scottish wildlife as well as endangered animals from mountain and tundra regions around the world in the Highland Wildlife Park. From native species such as the capercaillie and Scottish wildcat to those from further afield such as the Amur tiger and polar bear.
Letterboxing are great ways of having fun in the countryside. Geocaching involves hunting out carefully hidden caches using maps and satellite navigation devices. Letterboxing is the original form of Geocaching and uses a combination of orienteering and treasure hunting where clues are used to locate boxes placed on the moor by others. Letterboxing originated on Dartmoor and is now becoming internationally popular.
Exmoor National Park hosts free events during the school holidays, taking place at amazing locations across Exmoor, and featuring games and activities, guided walks with local experts. There are also many other child-friendly events and activities on offer throughout the year.
Get active at Brockhole, the National Park Visitor Centre on the shores of Windermere, with different Treetop Treks appropriate for 5 years old and up. You'll find rope bridges, wobbly logs and, of course, the thrill of the zip wire from a 14-metre high treetop tower (it's a 250-metre adrenaline rush). Adults can join in, too! Add in boat and bike hire, archery, Lake District inspired mini-golf, pony rides, a cafe and shop and its a fully fun-packed day out!
Enjoy the best of both by combining a loch cruise with a cycle ride. Purchase a single ticket from Trossachs Pier to Stronachlachar and enjoy panoramic views on a one hour cruise on the Steamship Sir Walter Scott. From here you can cycle along the side of Loch Katrine to back Trossachs Pier (this will take around 1 hour 30 minutes), discovering Rob Roy MacGregor history as you go. Bikes are available to hire at Trossachs Pier.
Families can enjoy a free ice cream and a fun trip to the seaside thanks to a bus service that runs during the school summer holidays. The Beach Bus offers great views of the New Forest National Park's coastline, countryside and villages. Linking the Southampton Hythe Ferry to the beach at Lepe Country Park, passengers can enjoy sun, sand, free ice creams and bathing water recommended for its quality in the Good Beach Guide by the Marine Conservation Society.
Horrible Histories fans should head to Northumberland's UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hadrian's Wall. Why not visit several sites along the wall? Or walk a section of it one-way and return using the bus which runs along its length in summer: the AD122. Start your visit at the Once Brewed National Park visitor centre for family-friendly ideas, special events and information.
Steam trains on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway puff their way from Pickering through gorgeous moorland to the seaside at Whitby. Kids love the hustle and bustle at the yesteryear stations, while school holidays bring magicians, teddy bears, witches, wizards and even Santa to the railway.
Rockpooling is an amazing world within arm's reach, filled with hunters and the hunted. Head to beaches like Manorbier or Dale for a great day out. But remember: be gentle, be tidy, be slow, and be careful you don't get caught by tides.
Let the train take the strain in Snowdonia National Park as you enjoy the spectacular views from one of seven narrow gauge railways. From steam trains with views of rivers, lakes and mountains, to climbing the peak of Snowdon, they all offer a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy the amazing scenery.
Enjoy a great day out in the woods! You can walk, cycle, play or have a picnic in these lovely woods. Experience life in the trees with Go Ape, take a relaxing break in the café or take a quiet stroll in one of the more remote parts of the forest. Alice Holt Forest is also a great starting point to explore the new Shipwrights Way trail.
The search for a geocache using a GPS receiver and the promise of finding hidden treasure is a great way to engage children's interest while on a walk in Yorkshire Dales National Park. Our geocaching trail around the Malham area starts at the spectacular Malham Cove and provides loads of interesting information about the limestone geology of the area.
Remember that the above are just some of the incredible spots you'll find among the 15 members of the UK's National Parks family.