The National Park Service offers budget vacation options for families. Some people may not know that there's a unique program for kids! The Junior Ranger program assists young visitors in exploring the park. This article lists all the reasons why families love the National Parks Junior Ranger program.
What is the National Parks Junior Ranger Program?
While visiting a National Park Service site, kids can complete selected activities. Participants then share their activity books with a ranger to discuss. Once done, kids receive a badge and official Junior Ranger status.
When Did The Junior Ranger Program Start?
Yosemite National Park implemented the first Junior Ranger program in the 1930s. Kids participated in meetings and activities on site. Shortly after, other parks adopted the idea, each creating its own badge and requirements. The National Park Service set national standards in 2005.
The Junior Ranger Program Is Free or a Nominal Fee
Let's start with Mom and Dad's wallets. How many vacation souvenirs are cheap or completely free? In the majority of the parks, kids can participate at no cost. The fee per Junior Ranger book is just a few dollars in a handful of parks.
The Program Adjusts for All Ages
The average age for the program is 5-13, but any age can participate. Guidance on the Fort Pulaski booklet states that while kids 11 and over should complete all pages, ages 7-10 need to complete seven or more activity pages. Kids under six years old need only finish five or more pages. Of course, adults can always feel free to get in on the fun, too!
The Junior Ranger Program Is Different at Each Park
Each park has a unique activity booklet. Kids will love new experiences in each park. Fort Pulaski Park Ranger Chris Parrack said his favorite Junior Ranger books celebrated events and anniversaries. A recent book highlighted the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Collect Junior Ranger Badges
Another free or inexpensive souvenir! When kids complete the assigned activities, check in with a Park Ranger. Kids will get “sworn in” and given a badge specific to that park. I haven't met a kid yet who doesn't love collecting things.
More Than Just “Something to Do”
The Junior Ranger program is more than just busy work. Park Ranger Parrack told me that one of his favorite things about the program is how it connects kids to each site. The activity booklet requires kids to explore different park areas and answer specific questions.
The activities keep participants from breezing through museums or passing by areas of interest. With the activity book to complete, kids pay closer attention to the park site. Booklet in hand, my kids stopped to read signs and examine displays.
The Junior Ranger Program Makes The Invisible Visible
Some sites have few original buildings or artifacts. Completing the activities in the Junior Ranger book helps kids imagine what once was there. For example, the Fort Frederica activities in St. Simons, GA, draw rich pictures of what it was like to be a kid during the colonial period.
Learning Is Fun
Regardless of whether the site is natural, historical, or military, kids will have fun! Participants gain knowledge of why that site is significant. Adults will learn things too. The experience can perk up family discussions about their visit.
Kids Want To Explore Further
There's a big chance that kids will want to continue once they start participating! On every vacation, my kids asked if a National Park was nearby. My youngest especially loved completing a new booklet.
Complete a Junior Ranger Badge Virtually
If unable to make it to a park, kids can participate virtually. You can download activity books and virtual badges at the National Park Service site. Virtual badges include Junior Park Explorer, Junior Wildland Firefighter, Junior Cave Scientist, and more!
Passport Stamp Program
For an additional fee, Junior Ranger passports are available. Like the booklets, each site has a park-specific stamp. Kids get their passports stamped at the visitor's center. If you want to avoid springing for the passport, no worries. There is space for the park stamp at the back of the activity book.
More Online Activities Are Available
Kids can take a tour of some parks right from their homes. Online tours, webcams, and videos await on the park service site. Printable activity sheets are also on the website for more concise activities.
Kids Will Love The NPS Junior Ranger Program
The NPS Junior Ranger program is more than just something to keep the kids busy. It offers a deeper understanding of each site and sparks a love of exploration. At free or nominal fees, this program is a bargain for families on a budget. Encourage your kids' love of nature and history – find your park!
Amy Albers is a librarian in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. When she's not getting lost in genealogy and local history, she is finding fun solo and family travel destinations to share with others. With over a dozen years of experience writing about family and travel on her own blog, Amy now enjoys freelance writing. She has three teen and young adult boys who turned her on to all things Marvel and Star Wars and a husband who has nurtured her into a committed SEC football fan. The beach and the great outdoors are her happy places but she's never mad at a luxury hotel. Her book reviews and latest adventures are found on Instagram at Exploring The Amysphere.