The National Park Junior Ranger program is hands down one of the best things to do at one of the national parks throughout the country with your children. I have no idea why this program is not marketed better. I have been to multiple national parks in my lifetime and I had no idea this program existed. A family friend told us about the program this summer and I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about it before. Here is the secret…when you go to the visitor center of a national park, you most likely won’t see any information about it. You have to go up to the desk and say, “We would like to do the Junior Ranger program.” Then out of nowhere they will pull out activity books and explain to you how the program works.
The sophistication of the activity books varies from park to park. No matter which park you are visiting, the books will have activities that encourage exploration and teach preservation and conservation to your kids. Once your children have completed the activity book, they will go back to the visitor center to be sworn in as Junior Rangers. They will also receive a Junior Ranger badge.
We recently did the programs at Dinosaur National Monument (Utah side) and Rocky Mountain (west side). The activity books couldn’t have been more different. At Dinosaur National Monument both of our children received the same book. They needed to complete the same number of activities as their age. My son is 6 and my daughter is 3. Most of the activities were over my daughter’s head, but she enjoyed it all the same. She had a lot of fun doing the nature bingo game as we explored the park. My son learned a lot about how dinosaurs became fossils and how to be respectful of nature and parks. We had been told that the Junior Ranger badge from Dinosaur National Monument was the most coveted badge. You can see why, the dinosaur skull on it is pretty cool.
Rocky Mountain has various Junior Ranger books with activities designed for specific age groups. The books are very well done and the activities kept the kids entertained during our various hikes. My son had a lot of fun doing the nature hike scavenger hunt. He was determined to find all the items during our hikes. The activity in my daughter’s book for hike exploration was a game of Eye Spy, much more her speed.
We took three hikes that day and the books also provided some entertainment while we took our picnic lunch break. We spent some extra time at a picnic area completing activities and reading about how Junior Rangers can help protect national parks so everyone can enjoy them.
My family is hooked on the Junior Ranger program. The kids proudly wear their badges all the time and are proud to call themselves Junior Rangers. My husband and I enjoyed having the extra educational information with us on our explorations. The kids learned more about the parks and nature than we could have taught them.
We also appreciated that the program instills in kids a sense of responsibility to take care of nature. They learn some basic and important things such as: throw away all your trash, don’t feed the animals, and don’t pick the flowers.