When my children were little, we were fortunate enough to stumble upon the Junior Ranger program. It’s a fun and easy way to learn more about national parks in the United States while enjoying nature and wildlife. I think EVERY family should know about this fantastic program and I want to show you EXACTLY how your kids can become Junior Rangers through the National Park Service!
“Explore, Learn, and Protect!”
These are the words you’ll hear recited by kids being sworn in as Junior Rangers through the U.S. National Park Service.
While repeating these words, they take an oath to protect their national parks and share their knowledge with family, friends, and community.
“Wait! What’s a Junior Ranger!?!”
Only one of the most fantastic FREE programs offered through the U.S. National Park Service!
The Junior Rangers Program has been a part of my family’s life for over a decade. It has provided countless hours of fun and entertainment and it’s a program I want EVERY family to know about!
Here’s a quick description of the Junior Ranger program offered through the U.S. National Park service:
The United States National Park Service, (it’s a mouth full, I know) offers their fantastic Junior Ranger program in almost all of the U.S. national parks. It is an interactive, activity-based program designed for kids.
Most children who participate are between five and 13 but I’ve seen plenty of kids both younger and older participate. Regardless of age, I can’t imagine anyone is turned away!
So how does a kid actually become a Junior Ranger?
Here is everything you need to know about how kids can become Junior Rangers through the National Park Service!
First, while visiting a national park, you’ll want to stop by the Visitor Center and ask if they offer a Junior Ranger Program. If they do, they will provide each child with an activity book, (they have slightly different versions depending on age) and require that a certain number of activities be completed.
These books contain everything from crossword puzzles to multiple-choice questions and areas to sketch and do more comprehensive writing.
In addition to completing a specified number of pages, there are activities to complete within the park as well. Examples of different requirements include hiking a trail, picking up trash somewhere in the park, chatting with a park ranger, or identifying certain plants and wildlife.
Once the requirements have been met, you’ll head back to the Visitor Center and review the activity book and your family’s unique experiences with a park ranger.
After this debrief, kids are officially sworn in as Junior Rangers for that specific national park. This is when they sign their name in the official Junior Ranger book, recite their oath to “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” and receive their Junior Ranger badge.
Some of the most memorable family trips we’ve taken have involved my children becoming Junior Rangers.
Yosemite. Grand Canyon. Yellowstone. Grand Teton. Mesa Verde. Devils Tower. Volcanoes. Sequoia. Kings Canyon. Pinnacles. Petrified Forest…
The hiking, talks with rangers, campfires, smores, stars, and wildlife have all been enhanced by participating in the Junior Ranger Program.
My children have developed a sense of pride and ownership towards our national parks because of their participation and dedication.
It’s hard for me to think of a better way to teach kids about the importance of our national parks and unique historic places. The program provides a tangible, engaging way to offer inspiration in a fun and natural way.
And it’s totally FREE!
In addition to national parks, there are LOTS of national historic places offering this great program too. There are TONS of sites in Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia, for example, that offer the same quality of activity books and badges, just in a more urban setting.
Through the U.S. National Park Service, kids can become Junior Rangers for free, all while learning and having fun!
HERE ARE SOME common QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS I’VE RECEIVED IN THE PAST:
What if we only have a few hours in a national park?
Not to worry!
This has happened with my family on a few different occasions. Instances when we’ve had very limited time or when an unplanned trip meant we didn’t have very long in one area.
Each time we’ve been in this situation, we’ve talked with the rangers at the specific park and explained our limited time. They’ve always encouraged us to complete what we could while visiting the park, and then finish the remaining activities at home. They provided us with an address to mail the completed activity books and then receive a badge and certificate via mail.
And lo and behold, Junior Ranger badges and certificates were mailed back to us within a few weeks!
Side Note: If you have a 4th grader, PLEASE be sure to sign up for Every Kid in a Park!
This is a program JUST FOR 4th GRADERS that allows for FREE admission to our national parks (for each 4th grader AND their family) for their entire 4th grade school year.
This program was introduced in 2015 so while my daughter was too old to take advantage, my son was able to get a pass when he was a 4th grader.
It is SUPER easy to sign up! You can do it all online so get to it ASAP if you have an up-and-coming, or current 4th grader.
If you have very limited time in a national park, don’t let it stop you from inquiring about the Junior Ranger program and completing what you can!
I have a child who is younger than five and one who is older than 13. Can they still participate?
Well, I have yet to see a child of any age turned away so I’m going to guess kids of ANY age are welcome to participate!
My son started participating as early as three, it was just in a much more subdued and modified way.
I’ve also seen teens who appeared older than 13 actively engaged.
While I’m not a ranger myself and certainly can’t provide an official answer, I don’t imagine anyone of any age with a genuine interest being turned away.
Becoming a Junior Ranger sounds fantastic, unfortunately, our budget and schedule won’t allow us to visit a national park anytime soon.
First of all, I completely empathize with your current inability to visit a national park in person. I hope that your personal circumstances will allow for travel to national parks in the near future.
But in the meantime, I’ve got great news!
Webrangers provides a virtual opportunity to obtain Junior Ranger badges. There are virtual trails to hike and plenty of online activities to engage in.
Does it offer the same rich experience as going to a national park in person?
Well no, of course not. Simply put, nothing can! But it does offer a fun alternative that still provides rich learning opportunities.
Also, remember that if you have a 4th grader, you can participate in the Every Kid in a Park program which provides FREE admission to national parks for each 4th grader and their family. Sign up online, (it’s a super easy process) and get started now!
This may also segue into a desire to visit specific parks in the future. Let the dreaming and planning begin!
I’m a grown-up but this sounds super fun! Can I do something similar?
Most national parks have passports available for purchase. These passports can be purchased online too. At each Visitor Center, they usually have stamps with the name of the park and date. Visitors are encouraged to stamp their passport (or their own book or piece of paper) and there is absolutely no cost to stamp your lil’ heart out!
I own a passport book that has accompanied me to MANY national parks over the years. Each time I visit a new park, I stamp my book (for FREE) and I will often purchase a sticker as well. This makes for an affordable and easily transportable souvenir.
Now, I feel confident that if you REALLY want a Junior Ranger activity booklet, you’ll be able to track down a friendly ranger who would happily oblige!
But if your budget allows, I do highly recommend the national park passports for adults.
Whether you have the time and desire to camp out in a more remote national park, prefer to visit national historic sites in urban environments and big cities, or explore virtually from the comfort of your own home, the Junior Ranger Program has SO much to offer kids and families.
I highly encourage you to get started!
And if you’re looking for other ways to explore and have adventures, be sure to check out the following Homegrown Scholars blog posts:
- Fantastic Homeschooling Field Trip Ideas
- Earth Day Activities for Families
- 10 Inspiring Picture Books About Nature
Have you visited any national parks in the United States? If so, I’d love to know where you’ve been as well as places you hope to visit in the future! Happy Exploring!