Our national parks are a must-do once the weather gets nice, and this year I’m excited to experience the Junior Ranger program with my kids. Sure, it’s fun to hike, fish and canoe in our national parks, but it’s also fun to earn official Junior Ranger badges or patches just for completing a series of educational activities at over 220 participating national parks.
Take a look at this list of national parks that offer Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 7 to 12 (some parks have programs for younger and older kids too). You’ll find direct links to the “For Kids” page on the websites for participating parks, monuments and historical sites to learn about program requirements.
Once you decide on a park to explore you’ll want to go to the Visitors Center or Ranger Station to pick up a Junior Ranger Booklet, which may be free or may cost a few dollars. In many cases, like at the Shenandoah National Park (VA) or the Joshua Tree National Park (CA) you can also download the Junior Ranger Booklet before you leave to bring with you on your visit.
Inside the booklets you’ll find lots of activities, like word searches and word scrambles, as well as observational activities that require your kids to discover trails and share their experiences with a park ranger. Your kids may also need to attend one or more ranger-led programs.
In some cases, there may be various levels of achievement depending on age or the number of completed activities. For example, at the Oregon Caves National Monument, there are three different Junior Ranger Booklets: Chickaree (ages 6 and under), Townsend (ages 7-10 years) and Grizzly (ages 11 and up). Meanwhile, at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (WV), your kids will become either a Junior Ranger Apprentice, Journeyman or Master depending on how many activities are completed.
Once your kids complete the Junior Ranger booklets, you’ll often have the option to either return your booklet to the Visitors Center or Ranger Station to get your badge or you can mail your booklet to an address listed inside to receive a badge and certificate. Personally, I prefer immediate gratification, so I’m looking for those parks where my kids can get their badge and certificate on the spot.
In addition to the Junior Ranger program run by the National Park Service, many states also have their own Junior Ranger programs worth exploring. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources offers a Junior Ranger badge for kids ages 6-12. They also offer a Get Outdoors Georgia Gopher Badge to encourage kids to get outside and learn about nature.
More states with Junior Ranger programs offered by their state parks include Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina and Oregon. Just like on the national level, some states also have different programs for younger and older kids. In Maryland, they have a Junior Ranger Sprout program for kids ages 2-4, as well as a Maryland Teen Rangers program for kid ages 13-17.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about the Junior Ranger program. What a great opportunity to share our country’s parks and historical sites with our kids. I’m excited to be there learning right along with them too. So, have you participated in any of the Junior Ranger programs with your kids? I’d love to hear about your experiences.