Everything you need to know about the NPS Junior Ranger program.

Junior Rangers

Their first Junior Ranger badge at Mount Rushmore.

Their first Junior Ranger badge at Mount Rushmore.

If you have a child under 12, you need to know about the Junior Ranger program offered by the National Parks System. I have mentioned how much we love National Parks before (they’re historical, inexpensive, beautiful, and family friendly), but I have never explained just how much our kids love the Junior Ranger program.

I have written about some of our experiences with the Junior Ranger Program here, here, and here. Clearly, it is one of this things our kids look forward to the most when we head to a National Park.

The first time we learned about the Junior Ranger program, it was a complete accident. We were at Mount Rushmore and a very friendly park ranger asked if the kids would like to participate. They did, and they’ve been hooked ever since.

Luke and Ellie work on finishing their Junior Ranger booklets at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Luke and Ellie work on finishing their Junior Ranger booklets at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

If your kids have never participated in this program, here’s how it works: when you arrive at a National Park, you ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor’s Center. The booklet is filled with activities that pertain to the park you are visiting. Some parks have the kids look through exhibits to fill in information; some parks ask the kids to complete word searches or crossword puzzles; all parks have activities that get the children engaged with being in, looking at, and learning about their amazing surroundings.

While they are having fun, searching for answers, reading about history, and discovering things they have never seen before, sometimes Luke and Ellie forget that they are actually learning. (This is my favorite kind of learning – sneaky, fun learning.)

I particularly like the fact that the amount of work (or number of booklet pages) to be completed differs based on the age of the child. Luke has never been a fan of this policy, though, because he usually has to do more work than Ellie.

The park ranger goes over their booklets at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

The park ranger reviews their booklets at Wright Brothers National Memorial.

After the activities are completed, the kids bring their booklets back to the park rangers. In all the parks we have visited, we have only had amazing experiences with the park rangers as they review the work the kids’ work. These rangers are passionate about their parks, and excited to see kids who are excited, too. Luke has had a ranger compliment him on his artistry, and Ellie has been told that the poem she wrote was really good. These are such sweet boosts of self-confidence from someone whom they instantly respect. The rangers also correct wrong answers and discuss with the children why they might have gotten it wrong.

Being sworn in as Junior Rangers at Petrified Forest National Park.

Being sworn in as Junior Rangers at Petrified Forest National Park.

Once it has been determined that they have done the proper amount of work, children are then sworn in as Junior Park Rangers. They raise their right hands, swear to protect their National Parks, and then are given a Junior Ranger Badge. Some parks give pins that resemble the badges worn by actual park rangers and some give patches to be sewn onto backpacks. Both are completely free. (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE free souvenirs?)

Both Luke and Ellie look forward to going to National Parks, in large part because of the Junior Ranger program. I love how involved they are with the place we are visiting, and they love the challenge of completing their work. It really is one of the most fun things we do on our travels.

Being sworn in at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Being sworn in at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Have your kids ever been Junior Rangers? Tell us where in the comments.

For even more information, be sure to check out our video about becoming a Junior Ranger!

 

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Robin took her first flight before she could walk. Because of her airline-employed father’s benefits package, travel was a way of life for her from an early age. A graduate of The University of Texas with a B.A. in English, she is a certified teacher who uses her degree everyday as she homeschools their two children. Her hobby is planning their next trip, which she is always doing.

Robin DufilhoJunior Rangers

Comments 11

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  3. Melania Covey

    My kids just completed the White House & Independence Hall Junior Ranger programs on our recent vacation! They loved having specific things to look for and puzzles to solve. They received pins at Independence Hall and are awaiting the return of their badge for the White House – pins get broken and lost so patches would be preferable.

    1. Robin Dufilho Post
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      Robin Dufilho

      I completely agree! I prefer patches to pins, too.

      I’m glad your kids had fun. Our kids enjoyed both of those National Parks.

  4. Suzanne Clodfelter

    Just completed my first Jr Rangers…Yellowstone. I worked on it for 4 evenings. It was quite involved and I learned a lot! I’m 59 years old.

    1. Robin Dufilho Post
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  6. Michaelle

    My son Slade has been completing Junior Ranger programs for over 8 years now, and is eager to conquer as many as he can this summer. With a 13th birthday looming in the fall, he’s worried he won’t be “allowed” to participate afterwards, so his Dad and I extended the family vacation to visit as many of the Civil War parks as possible (commemorating the CSA surrender sesquisentenial anniversary).

    I’ve always been “that mom” – the one who makes her child actually LEARN something over Spring, winter and summer holiday. No matter the Park, Memorial, Historical Site, Monument, Battlefield, River or Recreational Area one can count on those booklets to have lots of information… successfully disguised as games and puzzles. I know we’ve done well just listening to him recall the details for relaying to friends and family; I get the grins when he extrapolate the info to fit current events (at The Hermitage – not NPS property – he drew many parallels between the politics of today with quite a bit of what was wrong with government before and during the Presidential campaign of 1824 & 1828… wishing aloud for another candidate like Andrew Jackson to overhaul all that’s not working or not efficient).

    He’s been in NPS newsletters for parks in Texas, Hawaii and Nevada plus BLM newsletters in Arizona. I think he’s garnered a few mentions on BLM & NPS Facebook pages as well. Too protective of his badges, he refuses to bring them all on the road… Otherwise I’d have made him an overcoat to display the almost 200 treasures!!!

    I heartily recommend planning as many long weekends, holiday breaks and summer vacation around NPS properties as is conceivably possible. Other than Hawaii, we’ve driven to each – as far north as Glacier, as far south as the Rio Grande, from California to – as of this week – Virginia. Anything to get out of Vegas I guess!

    1. Robin Dufilho Post
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      Robin Dufilho

      Our son is 12, too. We are stopping by at least four parks on our way to and from a family reunion this week. In fact, this morning we are headed to Vicksburg NMP!

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