As you start planning your family trips this year, make sure to take note of a special program open to kids of all ages. I’m talking about the National Parks Junior Ranger program. Participating in the program is a fun way to add a little something extra to a national park visit – and kids LOVE it. Adults love it too. Ask me how I know!
TIP: If you have a 4th grader, be sure to grab a free pass to national parks and federal recreation lands. It covers entrance and day use fees.
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Your Guide to the National Parks Junior Ranger Program
With over 400 national parks, chances are you and your family will visit a few of them over the course of your lifetime. When I was growing up, we used to visit a lot of the parks out west and go camping. The thing you may not realize is that there is likely a national park within 2 hours of where you live in the country. Did you know that?
Whether you are heading for spring break to Colorado, cruising up to Alaska during the summer, or just staying near home, there’s a park to visit.
Some of the national parks aren’t traditional “parks” at all. In fact, during our recent trip to New York City we had the opportunity to visit several and we certainly took advantage of the National Parks Junior Ranger program.
What is the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program? How much does it cost?
The National Park Service Junior Ranger program is found in almost all national parks and while a select few charge a nominal fee (around $3) to participate, every single park we’ve visited and participated in has had the program complimentary. That includes, for example, New York’s Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as well as Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier and Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway. Yes, all free!
The program consists of picking up an activity booklet at each park where the kids (or you) can complete the activities, turn it in to a park ranger, receive a certificate of completion and get a badge!
The program is geared towards kids ages 5 to 13, but even adults can participate. It combines fun and learning while you are on site at a national park. It gives kids a little something extra to do and helps them hunt for answers around the park.
How Can I Become a Junior Ranger?
When you visit a national park, look for an information desk or ask a park ranger where you can participate. They are more than willing to help out. We’ve usually found the activity booklets at a visitor’s center.
At the Statue of Liberty, the activity booklet was a one page sheet – super easy. At Ellis Island it was more of an activity booklet, something that would definitely take longer to complete.
When you finish the activity sheet or booklet, head back to where you picked it up.
You’ll show it to the park ranger and likely get a certificate of achievement signed and might even take an oath – depending on the ranger!
How Can I Earn Junior Ranger Badges?
Best of all, you will officially become a Junior Ranger and receive a badge unique to that national park.
Here is ours for Ellis Island in New York.
It makes for a pretty unique and cool souvenir for kids – and yes, it’s free at most national parks! Kids will want to collect these.
Do I have to Complete the Entire Activity Booklet to Get a Badge?
We ran into this issue in New York City as the activity booklet for Ellis Island was many pages and we were near closing time. While we completed maybe half of it, the park ranger was satisfied with what we did and awarded our badges – yes I got one too!
What If I Don’t Have Time to Complete Junior Ranger Activity Book While At Park?
We ran into this issue in Alaska as we were on a cruise excursion to Mendenhall Glacier with limited time. Upon arrival, we first took a hike to Nugget Falls and only afterwards visited the visitor’s center where we discovered the activity booklets and park rangers. Of course being on a cruise excursion we had to get back to the bus fairly quickly and had zero time to work on the booklet. Solution – the park ranger gave us the booklet and said we could mail it back to the visitor’s center to get a badge at a later date. That is AWESOME!
Are there Virtual Junior Ranger Activities?
Yes! Visit nps.gov and download various program booklets where you can earn a printable certificate, badge, digital high five, or even a physical patch or badge. This is ideal for those who will be at home during the summer months – a great activity for kids and homeschooled families too.
TIP: Some of the actual national parks have their booklets online, like the Castle Clinton National Monument, which is just steps from where you board to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
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