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The Best National Park Adventures for Kids

Learn about the Junior Ranger Program for kids — the best kept secret at the National Parks!

If you visit our blog frequently, you’ll know that we are BIG fans of getting kids outside 🙂

Our first post featuring Kids to Parks Day focused on 30 Games & Activities to Play at the Park.

Today, I thought we would share some of the secrets about the awesome kids programs at our National Parks.

Yep, secrets!! 



Junior Ranger Program: Best National Park Activities for Kids

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to complete a Junior Ranger program with your kids, you’ll know they are truly amazing!

Many of the National Parks, historic sites and monuments offer these opportunities for kids ages preschool – teenagers (and sometimes for adults too).

Here are some of the details & special secrets you should know when looking into the Junior Ranger programs:


What is the Junior Ranger program?

The U.S. National Park Service offers kids the opportunity to learn about science, nature and history when they visit a national park or monument. Kids of all ages can participate (the most popular ages are kids 6 – 12).

Each park or site that hosts a Junior Ranger program lists the age requirements, along with how to obtain a booklet and receive your badge.

Depending on your child’s age, kids will complete the activities listed in the park booklet (younger kids complete less activities than older kids). Some require you to visit a specific place, complete a puzzle, talk to a ranger or attend a park program.

Once the activities are complete, a park ranger will review your answers, sign your booklet and award you a badge or patch! Some parks also give out certificates.

The National Park Service also published an AMAZING book for kids — Junior Ranger Activity Book: Puzzles, Games, Facts, and Tons More Fun Inspired by the U.S. National Parks! (affiliate link so you can check it out!) — it’s the perfect companion for any park visit!

The program is great for families visiting the National Parks, scout troops working on badges, educators who need teaching ideas for their nature/science/history curricula – really, just about anyone will enjoy and benefit from it.


National Parks activities for kids - Junior Ranger programs

Why We Love Them

The Junior Ranger program gets kids engaged in their visit to the national parks.

It gives them a fun way to explore some of the unique features and cool areas that are in our National Parks.

For example, during our trip to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Junior Ranger booklet let us know about a trail that leads into a small cave and when you look up through the hole at the top of the cave, you see the face of President Washington (which is where we took the picture you see here). 

Honestly, I don’t think we would have ever taken that path if it wasn’t pointed out to us!


Related Activity:  8 Great Tips for Hiking with Kids


Those are the kinds of secrets I’m talking about — things that you might overlook but are one-of-a-kind experiences!  And there’s always quite a bit to see so it’s wonderful to have these programs that help direct us & the kids to all the cool stuff.

You’ll also learn some very interesting things too — the games & puzzles are full of historic and scientific details the kids will really enjoy.

Simple, easy, highly fun & educational – what more could you want?
Oh yeah, did I mention that they’re FREE!
National Parks activities for kids - Junior Ranger programs

What the Kids Being a Junior Ranger

My kids really love the badges!

Start this when they’re young and by the time the kids finish high school, you will have a nice collection of National Park badges along with an impressive amount of acquired knowledge about our country.

They also had a great time at the nature programs and classes — you can see in the photo above that there’s usually things the kids can touch/hold and ask about during the session.  We were learning about Bighorn Sheep, how they climb the mountains and why they only come down for a few months each year.

And my daughter also really enjoyed being “one of the park bosses” as she put it.  She would share the information she learned with others during our visit and always reminded us of some of the park rules that should be followed.


We all enjoyed the interactions with the rangers because those folks know ALL the secrets!

Like where you can spot a moose or bear!

What trails we should take with kids who are tired, or if we need the stroller, or if we’re up for a really good hike that day!

The best time of day to avoid all the crowds (my husband loved those secrets)!

And which nature classes are open for the kids during our visit (all free of course)!

Seriously, if you want to have an AWESOME visit at any National Park — find a ranger and they will always point you in the right direction!


National Parks activities for kids - Junior Ranger programs

Where Can Your Kids Participate?

We’ve completed programs at Rocky Mountain National Park, The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave, The National Dunes Lakeshore and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (to name just a few).

Sometimes we could finish a program within a day or two and other times we would stretch it out over a week if we were staying in the area. 

We’ve panned for gold, gone spleunking (cave hiking), climbed to the tallest point in the park, help scout out wildlife, searched for fossils and completed some very useful nature crafts.

And each year we head out on vacation, one of the first things we do is check to see if there’s a Junior Ranger program in the area.  There are more than 250 National Parks & Monuments that participate in the Junior Ranger program so I’m betting there’s one close to where you’ll be this summer too!


 hands-on history program

Enjoying a hands-on history program at one of the parks  – doing laundry was never this fun at home 😉



A Family Vacation at Rocky Mountain National Park

8 Great Ways to Enjoy the National Parks

Visiting Mount Rushmore, the Badlands & Wind Cave