The Junior Ranger Program at the US National Parks is the perfect way to get children engaged with nature and education in a fun way!
I am so excited today to tell you all about the Junior Rangers Program at the U.S. National Parks! Last fall we went on a weekend family road trip. My husband has a goal to reach the highest point in all 50 states, and he wanted to hit North and South Dakota’s high points in a weekend. I pretty much despise road trips, but he begged me to come along and make it a family getaway. The driving (we are Colorado folks) wasn’t fun, but the beauty of that part of the country was such a wonderful surprise, and the kids were completely smitten with Mt. Rushmore, as well as the herds of bison that we saw in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. One of the best parts of that trip was that we discovered a Junior Ranger vest on our last day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I am not sure why, but none of the Rangers told us about the actual Junior Ranger Program, but we still bought our nature loving boy his vest and a bison notebook and on the drive home he drew pictures of all of the animals that he saw in his notebook and labeled them with perfectly hilarious Kindergartener phonetic spellings. It is a treasure!
About a month later we headed up into Colorado’s own Rocky Mountain National Forest to see the elk. (As you can see in the pictures, we got way too close to them for safety — we didn’t realize how dangerous they could be! Luckily we were all fine, but you should NOT try to get that close to them if you get the chance. We were majorly scolded by the real Ranger, as was everyone else around us.) While we were there we spotted a Junior Ranger hat to match our boy’s vest, and his little sister, who loves to be just like him, went bananas when she saw the bright pink Junior Ranger vest. Ummm….they are the CUTEST, am I right?! (Oh, and if anyone has seen a pink Junior Ranger hat anywhere please let me know! Seriously!!) As we were buying them the Ranger told us about the Junior Ranger Program. It was too late in our day to complete the booklet, but we intend to drive up again this fall so that he can complete the booklet and get his badge! I’m still super bummed that he didn’t get badges in North and South Dakota, but we didn’t know about the official program. :/
Speaking of the official Junior Ranger Program, let me tell you about it now. When you enter a U.S. National Park go to an information center/Ranger station and ask them about the Junior Ranger booklet. Each Park has its own set of activities for the kids to do.
Once the kids complete the activities for their age range they can turn the booklet in to a Ranger, take the Junior Ranger Oath, and receive a badge to pin onto their Junior Ranger vest! (Or their regular shirt, of course.) Some of the parks have Nature Centers for children as well where they can learn, explore, and do fun activities. Below you can see a picture of our kids getting “sworn in” as Zion Junior Rangers at the Nature Center at Zion National Park in Utah. (We forgot their vests. Boo!)
We LOVE going to the National Parks with our kids. I am *not* an outdoorsy person. Camping? Ummmm no. Hiking? Do I have to?! But stuff that kids six and under can handle . . . I can handle! I sure won’t be hiking to the top of every state’s highest peak with my hiking-obsessed husband, but I love to get the kids into nature and play games like “I Spy” as we walk and take in the beauty of nature together. It is always my husband who initiates the outings, and I am often reluctant to drive all the way to the mountains — or further! — but I must admit, our family has created some truly wonderful memories together in nature, especially in the beautiful U.S. National Parks. I recently started following the National Park Service on Instagram, and I am discovering parks that I had never heard of that are now on my MUST SEE list! Nature is awesome.
We just returned from a massive road trip from Colorado to California to Oregon and back to Colorado. So. Many. Hours. On the way from Colorado to California we squeezed in a day at Zion National Park, and on the way from California to Oregon we stopped to see Redwood National Park. Our kids were totally smitten with those trees, and, of course, became Redwood Junior Rangers as well! While we were there we found a super fun game in the Information Center gift shop called Jr.RangerLand. It’s not affiliated with the National Park Service, but a portion of the proceeds go the the National Parks. My son loves it. He loves all the facts about nature and the parks that you learn along the path. If you have a nature loving kid you may want to check it out! (Not an affiliate link – just something we found and enjoyed!) 🙂
When I was flipping through the Redwood National Park Junior Ranger booklet I noticed that there was a website for WebRangers! Oh man was my little boy thrilled! Junior Ranger activities online! He spent about 30 minutes just personalizing his “Ranger Station.” The program is free and easy to use. Find it HERE.
I love my little Junior Rangers, and I LOVE the Junior Ranger Program at the National Parks! Free, educational, fun?! Yes, please!
I hope this post inspires you to get your family into nature a little bit more often and into the U.S. National Parks. They are such a priceless treasure!