My kids love to become national park junior rangers! We started visiting the national parks and monuments when my youngest was about 4 years old, and since then, completing the junior ranger booklet and learning about the location we are visiting is a highlight for the family. If you are planning a family visit to one of the 63 national parks or 117 national monuments around the U.S., consider walking into a visitor’s center and speaking to a park ranger about how your kids can become national park junior rangers. Better yet, check out these national park road trip itineraries if you’re traveling with a fourth grader so that you can maximize the value even more.
How to Become a Junior Park Ranger
Step 1 – Go to one of the visitor’s centers or main entrance
Step 2 – Walk up to the front desk and ask for the junior ranger booklet (some places have 2 versions – one for younger kids and one for older ones)
Step 3 – Complete the activities in the junior ranger booklet (ask a friendly park ranger if you or your kids get stuck on a question or activity)
Step 4 – Return the junior ranger booklet back to a park ranger
Step 5 – Your kids will take a junior park ranger oath and receive junior ranger badges (sometimes you receive a patch and certificate)
The Best Programs to Become a National Park Junior Ranger
While our family has done many national park vacations, some of our favorite visits were from our summer of 2018 trip where we explored Yellowstone and Grand Teton, Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore. We even did a national parks road trip in the summer of 2020 and visited 11 national parks. Check out the video here. In addition to these parks, I have compiled some great national park junior ranger programs recommended by family travel bloggers.
Acadia National Park
We’ve done quite a few Junior Ranger programs in the past two years and the one at Acadia National Park was one of our favorites! The junior ranger booklet covered a wide range of topics like teaching the kids Leave No Trace and park stewardship principles, animal adaptations & habitats, the history of the park, about the Wabanaki Nations who are indigenous to the area, local plant identification, and local geology.
One of their favorite activities was to interview a ranger! We headed over to the Schoodic Peninsula visitor’s center where there are fewer visitors and got the scoop from a friendly ranger. The booklet had a nice blend of activities you could do at home and activities you had to do in the park, making it easy to do in a single visit if you’re short on time but also engaging enough to work on for several days.
Contributed by: Stephanie from Explore More Clean Less
Check out: Best Family Hikes in Acadia National Park
Big Bend National Park
We’ve done many Junior Ranger programs at US National Parks, but by far the most impressive is the program at Big Bend National Park! Due to its remote location, nearly all visitors come to Big Bend for extended visits of 3-4 days. The Junior Ranger program reflects that and offers a more in-depth experience for kids and their parents.
There are activities that cover all three of the park’s diverse ecosystems, the history ranging from dinosaurs and early ranchers and beyond, and even the cultural connections with Mexico (which can be reached by rowboat crossing within the park). Participants are expected to complete many more activities than in a typical Junior Ranger program, but there are opportunities for them to earn the junior ranger badges as well as several specialty patches for completing extra activities.
Contributed by: The Family Voyage
Bryce Canyon National Park
Our kids love to become national park junior rangers, but the one of Bryce Canyon, Utah, stays as one of their all-time favorites. The children were 7 and 9 when we visited, and the program catered very well for their age. We collected the junior ranger booklet at the very entrance of the park and it took us about 3 hours to do it all, at a leisurely pace.
The program is really well made: it encourages children to really get up close and personal with the park (for one activity, they had to smell bark!) and the park even has a special center for kids where you can sit and talk to the rangers and look at educational materials. This is something we hadn’t come across in other parks and made a big difference as it gave us all the chance to ask questions (parents were encouraged to ask too) and to get a little insight into the amazing geology of this incredible place.
Contributed by: Marta from Learning Escapes
Castillo San Marcos National Monument
Our family is originally from Florida, and since we enjoy taking family road trips, St. Augustine is usually our stop in/out of the state. One of our favorite things to do in St. Augustine with kids is to visit the fort, Castillo San Marcos. You can walk the grounds for free, but becoming national park junior rangers was high on our kids’ lists. The junior park ranger program was a fantastic way for the whole family to learn more about the reason the fort was built, its’ Spanish and British occupation, and unique limestone construction.
The junior ranger booklet has questions for the kids to fill out, which included learning about the Columbian Exchange, colonial weaponry, soldier’s uniforms, and the layout of the fort. We also peeked inside the large watchtower, saw a live demonstration of Spanish soldiers firing cannons, crossed a drawbridge, and walked the ramparts. This was the first time our kids became national park junior rangers, and because of it, the Castillo San Marcos is one of their favorite junior ranger badges. This was also the first place we visited with our fourth grade national parks pass.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is not your typical national park but its intriguing and extraordinary landscapes and fascinating desert wildlife make it an incredible place to visit with kids. The hottest place on earth is what I imagine it would be like driving on another planet. Mountains of every color, sand dunes and salt flats, and a misconceiving thought that nothing could live out here.
Earning their Junior Range Badges is relatively simple and very educational considering how vastly different this national park is to anywhere else. The free Junior Ranger booklet and things they learn at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center are a game-changer when it comes to making it more interesting for the kids driving around the arid landscape, so try to visit there early in your day. Our visit was in mid-summer so the heat was extreme but I’m so pleased we spent a day exploring (by car) this incredible place.
Contributed by: Nicci O’Mara from Trip Chiefs
Dinosaur National Monument
The junior ranger program at Dinosaur National Monument is one of our family favorites. It’s wonderful because it teaches the kids a lot about the geology of the area and what makes it such a unique spot for all the dinosaur fossils that are found there. The kids loved identifying dinosaur bones and learning more about different dinosaurs that lived in the area. The junior ranger program here also teaches kids about local plants and animals as well as the pioneer history within the monument.
As a parent, I loved that it wasn’t crowded and that the rangers were available to give the kids some individualized attention and answer all their questions. We didn’t feel rushed and it felt like the staff and rangers really worked hard to connect with the kids as they were going through the program.
Contributed by: Jessica from Bring The Kids
Grand Canyon National Park
Our kids love becoming national park junior rangers and enjoyed participating during our visit to the Grand Canyon. During our two days at the Grand Canyon, we watched sunrise, sunset and checked out many different viewpoints and did several short hikes along the Rim. We also attended a ranger-led program and looked for fossils on the rim of the canyon. Our two boys were age four and seven at the time and learned about geology, preservation, and conservation during the program and while completing the activities in the book. Once completed, they and proudly turned in the junior ranger booklet. The ranger offered to have them do their Junior Ranger oath and receive their Junior Ranger badges right on the edge of the Grand Canyon, which was an experience we’ll never forget. We highly recommend a trip to the Grand Canyon and participating in the Junior Ranger Program during your visit.
Contributed by: Catherine from We Go With Kids
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
We visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is convenient to nearly every southeastern state and just a few hours from several international airports. The Jr. Ranger program here isn’t full of busywork, but instead encourages children to participate in park activities. The pages in the junior ranger booklet kept our littles engaged on hikes and on overlook stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The littles favorite activity was a tie between picking up trash and a scavenger hunt that had us looking for everything from particular trees to scat. My husband and I really enjoyed the required ranger program. We choose a guided tour of old Appalachian homesteads.
Contributed by: Elizabeth from Dutch Dutch Goose
Check out: Smoky Mountain Hikes with Kids
Haleakala National Park Junior Ranger Program
My family’s favorite Junior Ranger Program is Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The Haleakala Junior Ranger Program does an excellent job of educating children about Hawaii’s cultural and geographical history. The fun worksheets teach kids all about how the islands of Hawaii were formed and how plants, animals, and humans ended up on islands. The Junior Ranger Program also touches on the history of the native Hawaiian people and the Hawaiian language. The board game in the junior ranger booklet was a huge hit with my son. It came in handy on the long drive back from the National Park.
The majority of the Haleakala Junior Ranger Program is focused on the Summit District which is located at the top of the volcanic crater, over 10,000 feet in elevation. Your kids can easily earn their ranger badge in a one day visit to the Summit District. But, if you have the time, I would suggest visiting the Kipahulu District of the National Park on the coast. We arrived in the morning and the crowds were non-existent. The park ranger spent a long time going over the junior ranger booklet with my son. He also gave my son an insect he had modeled out of a long strand of grass. It was a memorable experience for the whole family. The drive to the Kipahulu district is really long (especially with kids). If you plan to visit this area of the park I would suggest booking a cabin in nearby Wai’anapanapa State Park for a few nights.
Contributed by: Diane from Travels with Eli
Kenai Fjords National Park
We love our National Parks! Each one is unique and has something special to offer. My boys have spent the last 5 years of our travels earning Junior Ranger badges at over 170 National Park sites! While each one is educational, some are more memorable than others. My boys love hands-on activities like science experiments, so the Junior Ranger program that sticks out the most in their mind was the Junior Glacier Ranger Program in Kenai Fjords National Park.
They signed out a backpack full of tools at the Exit Glacier Visitor Center and we hiked the short, paved trail up to the glacier. There are signposts along the way showing where the glacier boundary once was and how much it has receded in the past 50 or so years. The boys measured air temperature at various points and recorded them in their journals. Once we reached the glacier, we were able to walk out over the rocky shore to the raging river fed by the melting glacier. The boys again measured air temperature here. They were also able to determine the temperature of the water by dipping the thermometer into the river. It was 32 degrees! This gave us the opportunity to discuss water’s freezing point and the reason why the water wasn’t frozen (it was moving way too fast). Once all of their temperatures were recorded and observations made, we returned to the visitor center to turn in the backpacks.
After being sworn in as Junior Glacier Rangers, they were presented with junior ranger patches and certificates. Most of Kenai Fjords National Park is water and we highly recommend a boat tour. You’ll get to see calving glaciers up close as well as lots of marine wildlife. We saw orcas, humpback whales, Dahl’s porpoises, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, cormorants, and so much more. It was a highlight of our Alaska trip.
Contributed by: Theresa from The Globe Trekker Family
Mammoth Cave National Park
Located in southern Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest cave system. Being from Florida, our family had never been inside a cave. When we found some cheap flights to Nashville, we decided to hit both Tennessee and Kentucky to knock off two states from our family bucket list.
Our kids, 7 and 10 at the time, completed the Junior Cave Scientist program at Mammoth Cave National Park. They had done several junior ranger programs, but never a cave scientist one. The activity book was filled with so much information about caves around the country, types of organisms found inside caves, how to safely go caving, types of caves, types of formations, and they were leveled off by age bracket. I have to admit, that it was very educational for the entire family and this was a program that the kids loved and found very unique.
Muir Woods National Monument
Our family of 4 visited Muir Woods National Monument in California this past summer. We were vacationing in San Francisco and a visit to Muir Woods was the perfect opportunity to see the Redwoods. We took the ferry to Sausalito and then the Muir Woods shuttle which is a 30-minute bus ride out to the park. I highly recommend booking this service as the price was only $3 per adult. You do need to reserve your seats in advance.
My 10 and 7 year old sons were excited to get the Muir Woods Junior Ranger booklet to fill out during our walk through the Redwoods. The activity book made the experience more interactive for the kids and they learned how to determine a tree’s age by counting the rings in the trunk and how the number of burls determines the family circles in Redwoods.
At the end of the day, we stopped by the Ranger station to have their books checked for completion. One of the rangers had them repeat the junior ranger oath and they each got junior ranger badges. This was especially exciting for my 7 year old who took it very seriously! We can’t wait to check out other programs for the kids to become national park junior rangers again.
Contributed by: Heather from My Friends Call Me Julie
North Cascades National Park
From deep turquoise lakes to misty waterfalls, to arid mountain trails, North Cascades National Park in northern Washington has an incredible variety of nature that appeals to kids of all ages. The Junior Ranger program at North Cascades was particularly fun for our 10-year-old. We visited this park in the height of summer and had zero issues with campground reservations, traffic, crowded trails or any of the other problems that sometimes occur at the bigger parks. We took a couple of kid-friendly hikes, both of which took us across waterfalls, and one that ended at beautiful Rainy Lake.
The Junior Ranger booklet had her finding various wildlife and plants all along the trails, so she stayed engaged the whole time. In the Visitors Center at Newhalem, my daughter really enjoyed participating in a Ranger program about caring for wildlife in the national parks. She particularly liked the animal displays that went with the program: they had a full-size bear and several pelts for kids to interact with. Overall, North Cascades is high on our list for kid-friendly park programs.
Contributed by: Julie from Family Travel Lifestyle
Check out: Glamping Teepee in Washington State
Sequoia National Park
Of the over 30 Junior Ranger programs we’ve experienced, the one at Sequoia National Park has been one of our favorites. We – both kids and adults – loved that it included a wonderful overview of the historical and natural background of the park, and the activities encouraged actual exploration in the park.
Becoming a junior park ranger is wonderful for academic education, but the main purpose for us is to guide and encourage exploration in the actual park. We loved that it had enough information and detail to help grown-ups and kids learn, but didn’t require so much time and effort that it detracted from the main reason – to get to know the park. I highly recommend the Sequoia program!
Contributed by: Preethi from Local Passport Family
Statue of Liberty
Considering a visit to New York City? There are 3 badges to be earned all in one monumental stop – visiting the Statue of Liberty! You will be able to earn one each at the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and finally at Castle Clinton (also recommended doing them in that order). Once you arrive by ferry at Liberty Island, stop by Information to get a Junior Ranger booklet. This will certainly make visiting even more exciting with your little ones as they will learn about what they’re looking at as you go. We had prepared by reading all about the Statue before visiting; but if you haven’t studied up, you will get to learn all about it with a Junior Ranger booklet – how valuable for your kids (and so much more engaging than an audio guide)! And no worries if your ticket to the island does not grant statue access – you can finish the needed activities just by visiting. Once you’re done, head back to speak to a Ranger who will swear you in & get them the first of their three possible Junior Ranger badges.
Next, hop the ferry over to Ellis Island to learn about an icon in immigration to America. This was the thoroughfare for immigrants arriving by boat and the first place that they set foot on before making their way to their new home. We learned so much more about what immigration really looked hundreds of years ago through the activities we were learning together as a family. It actually made the adults (who had previously visited) more engaged to see something through a different set of eyes. Stop by the Ranger station for a book before, and return for your badge at completion!
Once you finish both islands, it’s time to make it back to Battery Park, the location of Castle Clinton, your last spot for a badge. We recommend this one last as its also the on-site ticket booth location for Statue of Liberty admission. Later in the day will guarantee fewer crowds to allow you to look around AND a better chance to find a ranger. The fort does not appear to house much, but once learning about history you come to appreciate it even more. It sits on its own manmade island, was once an aquarium, and for pop culture fans, it was the location of the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind’s first US performance (yes, of The Greatest Showman kind)! If considering this visit, we recommend 4-6 hours to complete. Though the activities do not generally take that much time, you do have to wait to board the ferries and the commute over. So make sure you allocate enough time in your day to complete all 3!
Contributed by: Pri from Adventure Somewhere
Volcanoes National Park
Visiting Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island in Hawaii was the highlight of our 2-week Big Island trip. We stayed a short distance from the park in an Airbnb surrounded by native forest, the cooler temperatures compared to the coast were a refreshing change. We knew to check the cruise schedule coming into the port at nearby Hilo so we could avoid the crowds. We met with a Park Ranger and picked up a junior ranger booklet. The first activity was in the Kilauea visitor center. This gave us an opportunity to learn more about the park, the plants, and wildlife to look out for and plan our itinerary.
The highlight of the park is the geothermal activity. The steaming craters, craggy black lava flows, and yellow crusted sulfur vents. Kilauea and Mauna Loa which make up the park are 2 of the most active volcanoes in the world. In 2018, lava flows closed the park, much of the park is now open to visitors, when we visited no lava surface lava flow was visible. Be sure to check the park for updates on closures and the visibility of the lava flow.
Contributed by: Kaylie from Happiness Travels Here
White Sands National Park
From the Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site about an hour west of us to Glacier National Park nearly touching the Canadian border, my four kids have become national park junior rangers several times over the years. While each program and booklet is different, they consistently teach kids about everything from history to ecology to life skills in a fun way. While they’ve enjoyed every Junior Ranger program they’ve pursued, their experience at White Sands National Park was one of the most memorable. Then again, what’s not to love about sledding down huge hills of pure gypsum sand for hours and hours under a severely clear cobalt blue sky? It’s everything a kid loves about sledding in the winter, minus the cold sloppy snow!
While some National Park Service locations charge a few dollars for their booklet, the one available at White Sands is free. (Thank you, taxpayers!) Activities are broken into different levels so that children under six to teenagers (and even adults) can learn about White Sands. At the end of your visit, return the completed Junior Ranger book to the visitor station. Your child will be sworn in as a Junior Park Ranger and will receive a White Sands park patch to prove it.
Contributed by: Sage from Everyday Wanderer
Wright Brothers National Memorial
If you are in the Outer Banks, NC don’t forget to take some time away from your beach vacation and head to the Wright Brothers National Memorial and see where the first flight took place. The Visitors Center has many beautiful exhibits along with a replica of the plane. The junior ranger program was a great way to have the entire family learn more about why they choose the area for their test flights and about the mechanics of the glider itself. Outside, you can walk to the 4 stone markers that show the progression of flight (the last was considered the successful one). Then, head up towards the hill to check out the memorial and finish the booklet.
We visited in the winter, so it really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, as it is open most days. Note that there is an entrance fee to the park; however, I highly recommend a visit to the Wright Brothers National Monument when you are exploring the Outer Banks.
Wupatki National Monument
We completed the Junior Ranger Program at several parks in the United States but our favorite was at the small Wupatki National Monument in Arizona. We had not planned to visit this beautiful park but passing by on our road trip we decided to pop in. I am so glad we did!
Wupatki National Monument is dotted with ancient pueblos, the largest of which is Wupatki Ruin, meaning ‘tall house’ in the local Hopi language. The colors of the park are stunning; the vivid red rocks of the Moenkopi sandstone used to build the pueblos are in stark contrast with the pure blue Arizona sky. The self-guided trail around the impressive Wupatki ruin is easy to follow and can be covered on foot in under two hours. The fascinating history of the 1,500-year-old site is well presented making it easy for children to read and understand. Our children completed a fun and informative quiz walking around the park and it was the most engaged I saw them during a Junior Ranger Program. Furthermore, the friendly on-site Ranger was generous with his time and did a sweet, short promise ceremony with the kids. If you visit Wupatki do not miss the natural blowhole; leaning over the gushing hot air from the natural phenomenon is like standing in front of a massive hairdryer. It was great fun!
Contributed by: Sinead from Map Made Memories
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is our backyard and we spend a lot of time in the world’s first national park. We think winter is the best time to visit Yellowstone because the crowds are small, wildlife has moved down in elevation and are easier to spot, and a white blanket covers the park. Plus, we love to cross-country ski, soak in hot springs, and snowshoe.
There are so many things to do in Yellowstone in winter, including the Winter Junior Ranger program. Like the regular program, you purchase a Junior Ranger booklet for $3 from a visitor center and complete the activities in the booklet. What makes it special is that you also check out a Junior Ranger snowpack with a hand lens, thermometer, and other tools you’ll need to complete the activities (available at the Albright visitor center in Mammoth or the Old Faithful visitor center). At the end, the kiddos receive a snowflake patch to add to their Junior Ranger badge collection.
Contributed by: Mel from YellowstoneTrips
Upon visiting Williamsburg with kids during the holidays, our family enjoyed soaking up colonial history in the area. Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne are the only two sites run by the National Parks Service in the Historic Triangle. Our kids enjoyed learning more about the importance of this final battle of the American Revolution and seeing where it actually took place on a ranger-led tour.
The kids worked together to find some answers about the Revolutionary Era and of course, asked mom and dad for help when they got stuck. The rangers were especially helpful here and very friendly with the kids.
Yosemite National Park
Our four kids loved Yosemite National Park when we visited in June. Ages 15, 14, 11, and 8, our kids especially loved camping five nights in Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley, hiking the Mist Trail, picnicking by Mirror Lake, gawking and being sprayed by many waterfalls, exploring the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, and so much more. One way to help kids explore more of the park is through the Yosemite Junior Ranger self-guided book. You can buy the booklet for a few dollars at the following places:
- Yosemite Valley Visitor Center (love the interactive exhibits)
- Nature Center at Happy Isles (May thru September)
- Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Centers (June through September)
- Big Oak Flat Information Station (May through September).
Your kids earn their Yosemite Junior Ranger Badge once they complete the booklet, collect a bag of trash, and attend at least one guided program. Our kids loved keeping their eyes and ears alert for everything – wildlife and natural wonders – that Yosemite offers. It’s like being on an interactive treasure hunt!
Contributed by: Tanya from Rad Family Travel
Zion National Park
The Zion National Park junior ranger program is a must for visiting families. The park does everything they can to bring their amazing history to life. Families have two basic options, exploring the park with the rangers or afternoon sessions to escape the heat of the day. We choose the afternoon sessions because our kids were already expert hikers growing up in Tucson. That allowed us to get an early morning start hiking Angels Landing and spend the afternoon at Nature Center. At 3:00 and 4:30 the present one or two of the following programs: Rockin’ Rocks (Zion geology), Canyon Connections (Zion Stories), Amazing Animals (animal adaptation), or Dino Discovery (Zion paleontology).
For less experienced hikers, we’d recommend going on a guided ranger hike. Depending on the day of the week, you can take an interpretive hike at the nature center, or a ranger-led hike to Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, or Temple of Sinawava. These are fabulous ways to get out and explore Zion National Park with other kids and families.
Contributed by: Jenn from Coleman Concierge
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5 thoughts on “National Park Junior Ranger: Top Programs for Junior Ranger Badges”
What a great list for families exploring national parks! Thanks for putting this together!
The junior park ranger program sounds amazing, love this round up of all the places you can take part.
So my daughter is a self proclaimed Junior Park Ranger and a Princess, so this is all great ideas for her!
We love this program so much. You guys have done a ton! So cool & amazing for kids!
This is such an awesome program to get involved with.