We learned about the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program just after we left Badlands National Park in Interior, South Dakota. There are currently over 200 of these programs being offered in parks throughout the United States. Children can pick up an activity book at the Park’s Visitor Center that contains specific information about the park they are visiting. Most books are free but some National Parks do charge a few dollars to cover production costs.
To complete the program kids interview Rangers, complete games, and answer questions about the park and the National Park Service. Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5-13 but anyone can participate, including adults. Participants are also encouraged to attend a Ranger-led program and/or watch a movie.
This program gives kids and families the opportunity to uniquely explore and learn about their national parks, and how they can help protect them today and in the future. Children typically finish the activity book in 30 minutes to one hour, but some programs take longer to complete. It took my 10 year-old several hours to complete the Alcatraz Island activity book.
At the end of their experience in the park, they are sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a special certificate and official Junior Ranger badge and/or patch.
Lucas has earned 22 badges/patches thus far on our trip. He proudly displays his hard work on a Ranger hat we purchased for him and a canvas wall hanging that he saved up to buy. His favorite National Park visits thus far (and the pins he displays on his hat) include Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave, Grand Canyon, Alcatraz, Redwood, Alcatraz and Devil’s Tower.
He is still working on two activity books that he was not able to complete at the park. You are allowed to take with you to finish and then mail to the address listed in the book. You will then receive your reward in the mail along with a personal letter from a Park Ranger.
This is a wonderful, interactive learning experience for kids. It gives them an appreciation and understanding of the historical process (and the notable Presidents and others involved) that occurred to conserve this precious land.
Junior Ranger Motto: “Explore, Learn, and Protect!”
NOTE: Many activity books can be accessed online ahead of time. A visit to the National Park however, (this includes monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, seashores, memorials, etc.) must happen in order to complete the program. To see which parks have online access to their programs, click here…>. If the park is not listed here it only means you need to visit in person in order to obtain the activity booklet. In addition there is an app that accompanies this program called the “Oh, Ranger!” ParkFinder. It is available on iTunes and Google play.