Explore {junior ranger program}

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.6.14juniorranger-3

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.ย  I thought it was fascinating. My 6 year old worked hard the whole time to eat an apple with no front teeth.6.14juniorranger-46.14juniorranger-5

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.6.14juniorranger-6

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.6.14juniorranger-76.14juniorranger-8

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!6.14juniorranger-96.14juniorranger-10

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!

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  • Jill - Now that you’ve visited Yellowstone in the summer you should come back in the winter. For 6 or 7 years we’ve gone to the park in February to cross country ski. It is magical and so different than the summer experience. The bison are frosty and slow, trying to conserve energy. We’ve seen wolf tracks and heard them howl. Except for the snow machines (you can get away from them) it’s very quiet and peaceful.

  • Christina Stout - This sounds amazing! I’m not a camper, but I love the idea of my girls learning by actually doing instead of just reading about it. Your adventure makes me re-think my anti-camping stance ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Scott - When you children are grown and probably even before they will realize the gift that you are giving them…memories.

  • Eva - Your junior rangers are precious. I love their zeal for the outdoors!

  • Pat P - I’d be willing to bet the Park Rangers went home that day thinking “That’s why I love my job.” I am so enjoying following your adventures!

  • Carrie - My kids love the Junior Ranger program! My five year old proudly wore her badges on her hat and reminded me that she wanted them proudly and prominently displayed on her person “so that people would know she is a ranger and they should ask her if they have any questions”. Our five year old took it pretty seriously whereas our almost nine year old also liked all the learning but wasn’t impressed with the badges. At California’s state parks they also have the “Quest” which is like an outdoor scavenger hunt for kids. So much fun! So much to learn and see and be a part of when traveling and spending so much time outdoors. Yeah!

  • Moriah - WOW! I remember doing Junior Rangers when I was a kid about 30 years ago. I loved it then and am so happy to hear it is still around. Thanks for all the stories and pictures. LOVE!

  • Kelly J. R. - I still have all of my Junior Ranger patches from when I was a kid. What a great program to get kids interested in the great outdoors. For the longest time I wanted to be a Ranger when I grew up. Maybe that will be my second career because I still think that it sounds like a really cool job.

  • Meg - So cool! We’ll have to remember to go talk to the rangers next time we visit the parks!

  • Kristin S - We are so fortunate to have such wonderful state and national parks!

  • Birdy - When I see all the nature pics and how much fun yours kids had, I really wane visit the US again… it is a while ago, when I lived there and some days I really miss it!

    Have a wonderful evening!

    Love from Germany and the -fatcatconnection-


  • Diana - HUGE fan of the Junior Ranger programs! I did my first when I was 12 I think and still found it exciting! We did them at every national park we visited after that and I still have all my badges. We just got back from some time in Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and I was a little bummed my 15month old is far from old enough to do it! So fun!

  • Heidi Jo the Artist - In 2012 we started doing the National Parks Junior Programs. The kids love learning about nature and especially love receiving the badges. I also got a national park book for our family, but got inexpensive notebooks that each of the kids could stamp with the rubber/wood stamp that is at each park. Last year I was looking around on the internet and happened upon this boy’s impressive collection: http://www.juniorranger.info/National_Parks_Passport_Cancellations.html We’ve done junior ranger programs in a couple of other states. Iowa is one of the few that you don’t have to pay to get into any of their state parks, so they unfortunately don’t have any kind of junior program like most other states. But that hasn’t let us stop us from exploring many of the beautiful parks here. To date we’ve camped at 20/60-ish Iowa state parks. One-third of the way done!

  • Kimmie - I love the Junior Ranger program! Last year we visited Bryce Canyon, Zion & Great Basin. My kiddos did the program & received patches at each. I sewed them on my oldest child’s school backpack & he just loves them. So cool to be creating those memories ๐Ÿ™‚ Can’t wait to do more National Parks with them.

  • Erica - What a great idea and use of resources!

  • Dawn - Those missing front teeth!!! Amazing! And Juliet saw these pics over my shoulder and wanted to tell her friend to have a good trip! I am sure they will all have lots of great presentation material for next year ๐Ÿ™‚ Safe travels for you all!

  • Mrs.T - Several of my grandkids just became Junior Rangers in May at Great Basin National Park. So much fun! Loved seeing the pictures of your Junior Rangers!

  • beth - I’m still loving all of these roadtrip posts!

    I thought of a question… I see your kids taking photos. I want my kids to be able to take their own photos when we go on our big trip next year. They’ll be 10 and 8. What do you recommend for setting them up? How do you approach your kids’ photography?

  • Taylor - This looks like such a blast! I love learning about things that rangers have to teach others!


  • Molly - I love that there is no age limit. I’ve been becoming a Jr Ranger throughout my life, but I’m 28 now and have earned most of them in the past two years. The Rangers never bat an eyelash when I ask for the packet. They usually share a story about how “last week a knitting group of 20 old ladies all were pledged in together.”

    It started out as just a fun thing to do, and lately I’ve realized that it makes me enjoy the parks more. At Mount Rushmore earlier this month, most people just go and see big rocks and leave. I stayed for hours, watching the video, looking through the museum, looking at all the flags, etc. I learned a lot, and really enjoyed my time there.

    The Jr Ranger program is amazing.

  • Seamingly Sarah - It’s so awesome to see your posts about Yellowstone. I worked there through the SCA one summer during my college years, at the South Entrance. It was an awesome time in my life. I was obsessed with wolves at the time, but never saw one. But the ability to go camp there, see moose, moose calves (so homely they’re cute), bears and so much more. The next summer I worked at the University of Idaho and made sure to visit Glacier National Park. Again, an awesome experience.

  • tashsa roe - we love doing this too!! did you guys do it at the Lincoln museum & the town? we had a lot of fun there! The Arch has one too!!

  • thedenverpack - My kids loved the junior ranger program, although it took them by surprise the first time when the ranger actually quizzed them over things and didn’t just hand them a patch. It’s been a great way to interact with the parks. At the Garden of the Gods in CO Springs, they even announce it over the loud speaker and everyone claps (mortifying my 12 year old, who was quickly outgrowing the program).

  • Amber - My kids have badges from all over the United States. We love the JR Ranger program. Do you have a National Park Passport to get the cancellation stamps at each park station?