This post may contain affiliate links for which I may earn a small commission if items are purchased via the link. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
Have you heard of the Junior Ranger program offered by National Parks? Becoming a Junior Ranger is a great way for kids to connect with and learn about National Parks, forests, and other protected areas. The Junior Ranger program encourages kids to explore the outdoors, learn about natural and cultural resources, and develop a sense of stewardship for these special places. The National Park System comprises 423 National Park sites, 63 of which are designated as actual National Parks. There are many great National Parks to visit with kids. Here is everything you need to know about the Junior Ranger Program and earning badges.
How do I become a Junior Ranger?
The specific process might vary slightly from one park to another, but here’s a general outline of how to become a Junior Ranger:
- Visit a National Park or Site: Start by selecting a National Park, national forest, wildlife refuge, or other protected area that offers a Junior Ranger program. You can visit the website of the park you’re interested in to see if they have a Junior Ranger program and to learn more about it.
- Get a Junior Ranger Booklet: Most parks provide Junior Ranger booklets or activity guides. These booklets contain various activities and questions related to the park’s natural and cultural resources. You can usually pick up a booklet at the park’s visitor center, or in some cases, download it from the park’s website.
- Complete the Activities: Work through the activities in the Junior Ranger booklet. These activities might include things like observing wildlife, identifying plants, learning about the history of the area, and more. The activities are designed to be fun and educational.
- Attend Ranger Programs: Many parks offer ranger-led programs, which can include guided hikes, talks, and demonstrations. Participating in these programs can provide you with more in-depth knowledge about the park’s resources and history.
- Complete the Requirements: Complete the required number of activities in the booklet. These could involve answering questions, drawing pictures, or participating in hands-on activities. Some parks might have specific requirements for different age groups.
- Review with a Park Ranger: Once you’ve completed the required activities, take your booklet to a park ranger at the visitor center or another designated location. The ranger will review your work and might ask you some questions to ensure you’ve learned from the activities.
- Take the Junior Ranger Pledge: After your work is reviewed, the ranger will usually lead you in reciting the Junior Ranger Pledge. This pledge is a commitment to protecting and preserving natural and cultural resources.
- Receive Your Badge or Certificate: Once you’ve taken the pledge, the ranger will typically award you with a Junior Ranger badge or certificate. This is a special token that signifies your accomplishment and participation in the program. Pro tip: If you are short on time or won’t be returning to a visitor center after picking up your booklet, ask the ranger for a badge at the same time you receive your booklet. Most are happy to give the parents the badge if they promise to do the pledge with their kids after the required activities are completed.
Who is eligible to earn a Junior Ranger badge?
While the Junior Ranger program is technically designed for kids, anyone can earn a badge! Most Junior Ranger booklets have activities separated by ages, so adults will have to complete the most in order to earn their badge. Some parks even have the Not So Junior Ranger activity booklets for adults!
We save all of our National Park booklets and my daughter loves looking through them!
What is the best age to visit National Parks with kids?
While we believe that visiting National Parks with kids of all ages is great, the US Government believes that 4th grade (ages 9-10) is the best age to visiting National Parks. Many of the Junior Ranger booklets and programs are geared toward that age group and they are more likely to retain that information and develop a love for the outdoors. In fact, you can get a free National Park annual pass for your 4th grader so that your family can visit National Park sites free of charge.
Is the Junior Ranger program free?
In most cases, the Junior Ranger program is free. You just pick up your free Junior Ranger booklet and receive a badge when completed. Some parks (Yosemite was one of those) charge a small fee (usually around $3) for the booklet/badge. Yosemite also included an iron on patch in their kit, which was a nice surprise!
Keep in mind that many National Parks charge admission, this is usually $25 or more per car. You can purchase an annual pass or if you have kids that are 4th graders or the homeschool equivalent, they can receive a free annual pass through the Every Kid Outdoors program.
What can I do with all my badges?
Looking for how to display your Junior Ranger badges? We ordered a custom size banner from Etsy. It will fit all 63 (and counting!) badges.
Other options include a display sash, and we have seen lots of kids with Junior Ranger vests and the badges pinned to the vest. Don’t forget a National Parks scratch off map so you can visually see all the National Parks you have visited!
Can you earn Junior Ranger badges from home?
The short answer: yes, you can earn Junior Ranger badges from home at some of the National Parks. Some parks allow you to download the activity booklet, which you can then mail the completed booklet in to the park. A park ranger will then mail you a badge right to your home!
National Park games and journals to facilitate learning
In addition to the Junior Ranger program, there are many National Park themed games and journals that will help your kids learn about our nation’s National Parks. This Junior Ranger activity journal will help your kids remember the trip long after they are home! Because we wanted one book for all of our National Parks trip, we chose this National Parks travel journal, which my daughter fills out on each National Parks trip.
As homeschoolers, one of our favorite ways to learn is by playing board games. There are lots of National Park themed board games you can purchase to teach your kids about our National Parks. One of our favorites for the younger crowd is the Junior Ranger National Parks Opoly. For older kids and adults, I highly recommend Trekking the National Parks. We play this game often and have learned lots of facts about different parks.
What are the best National Parks to visit with kids?
There are many great National Parks to visit with kids and which you choose will depend on what you want to see. If a desert landscape is in your plans, we highly recommend visiting Death Valley National Park with kids. Out of the 26 National Parks we visited with kids, this is number one on our list! The landscape here is unreal and it’s truly one of the best National Parks to visit with kids.
For more traditional hiking with beautiful lake view, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best National Parks to visit with kids of all ages.
For a more unique National Park experience, head to Biscayne National Park, where 95% of the park is composed of water. Biscayne National Park is a great National Park to visit with kids.
Traveling with your furry family member? There are many dog friendly National Parks where you can bring your pooch. One of these is White Sands National Park, which is great for kids and dogs. Some National Parks even have the Bark Ranger program, where your dog can earn their own badge and get a treat from the rangers.
As you can see, visiting National Parks is a great way to teach your kids about our nation’s beautiful National Parks and foster their love of the outdoors and natural wonders. Next time you are planning a family vacation in the United States, add a National Park to your itinerary! If you’re doing the 1000 hours outside challenge, visiting National Parks will help you reach that goal quickly. Want to read this later? Pin one of the images below!