Over the past few years of camping with kids, we’ve learned that most state parks and national parks have some version of a Junior Ranger program or Junior Naturalist program. We make it a habit of visiting ranger stations in state and national parks. We’ve yet to meet a ranger that isn’t excited to share the joys of his or her park with our family. Most rangers are passionate about all aspects of nature and genuinely have fun sharing that with kids. Passionate people are fun to listen to – their passion rubs off.
Most ranger stations also offer free ranger-led programs that can be anywhere from 10 minutes to all day excursions. While we were in Colorado, the kids dissected owl pellets and got to learn all about the different owls in the area. Those of you bothered by germs are really grossed out he isn’t wearing gloves. The ranger told him the pellets were cleaned and to just wash his hands afterwards. Don’t worry – he survived.
In Yellowstone, the 4 oldest kids worked towards becoming Junior Rangers. This required them working through a nature activity book, going on a hike, and attending a ranger program. In the shot below, we attended a ranger talk about how everything in Yellowstone is related to an early volcano. I thought it was fascinating. My 6 year old worked hard the whole time to eat an apple with no front teeth.
We also went to a ranger talk on Death and Danger in Yellowstone….another fascinating talk, though also baffling what some people have done in the park.
The ranger asked the kids if they wanted a picture with the bear skull. He thought they would want to pose holding it. The boys, of course, had different ideas.
Once they finished all the requirements, we visited a ranger station where the ranger talked to them about all they discovered. After she looked through their books and talked to each of them, she led them in a ranger pledge. She also told them if they saw anyone doing things they shouldn’t in the park, they now had the authority to kindly tell them to stop. I was glad we were leaving the park that night because I have a couple kids that would have been very serious about telling people what they should stop doing!
The kids each got a Junior Ranger patch to put on their hiking backpacks, which they are pretty pumped about. My oldest, who is ten, liked the activity book and all he learned but he wasn’t nearly as excited about it all as his younger siblings. I think the 5-10 range is perfect for my kids to do the junior ranger programs. As they get older we will probably be able to do longer hikes and learn in other ways. Until then, we’ll keep adding patches to their backpacks and taking in the passion of rangers eager to share!