With summer fast approaching, parents are looking for healthy ways to keep their kids busy. If you’re wanting to get the most out of nearby national parks like Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon, The National Junior Ranger Program is a great way to explore the wilderness and have fun doing it.
Most Junior Ranger programs kick off in June, but mark your calendars because on Saturday, April 21, it’s National Junior Ranger Day, which means free admissions, activities, and more.
If you’ve never done a Junior Ranger program, just head to your nearest ranger station. Not just in national parks, you’ll also find Junior Ranger opportunities at national memorials and historic sites as well.
Last fall, my son completed his first Junior Ranger badge at Yosemite National Park. Each park’s requirements for Junior Ranger badges vary, and there are even badges you can earn at home (you can find the ones to do at home here.)
Sometimes, like in the case of Yosemite’s Junior Ranger program, there’s a small fee involved. We purchased a Junior Ranger activity book for $3.50 and headed into the park to do the activities and games inside it. The activities ranged from taking a guided tour to finding a specific building in the Miwok Village.
Even the forms of the badges themselves can vary by location and activity. Most of the time they are classic patches that can be sewn onto your favorite vest, but at Yosemite the badge was wooden, and mind-blowingly awesome.
The Junior Ranger Program is geared to kids ages 5-13 but it’s really open to anyone who wants to participate. It took about an hour of dedicated focus to complete, and it really helped make the park come alive for my six-year-old. It’s not often you have a small child begging to take them into a museum, but since it was on the activity list, he happily walked around looking at exhibits in the Yosemite Museum.
After we filled out the activity book, we went back to the ranger station for the badge ceremony. The ceremony is conducted by an actual park ranger and involves some vows to protect the land, keep learning about nature, and to leave no trace. The bottom line? It’s an adorable experience that makes visiting national parks pretty exciting for kids… and adults. I was hungry because I had missed my lunchtime taking an excited six-year-old around the Yosemite Valley looking for garbage to collect in order to complete a Junior Ranger activity, but the ceremony made it all worth it.
National Junior Ranger Day activities
If this sounds like a fun new hobby for your little ones, visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on April 21. There will be two locations filled with National Junior Ranger Day activities, making it a great place to get started on your Junior Ranger adventures.
At the Foothills Visitor Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., you can complete activities to earn a special Junior Ranger patch. The activities here include meeting a mule packer and discovering the best way to pack a mule, and visiting a fire truck with a ranger.
Grant’s Grove will be hopping with scheduled hikes throughout the day. If you complete one, you earn a special badge. The fun kicks off with a bird hike at 9 a.m. and continues with a condor-themed activity table at 11 a.m., another hiking opportunity at 1 p.m. through the sequoias (meet at the Big Stump Picnic area for that), and finally Furs and Skulls, which is another activity table at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center. You can find out more about all of these fun adventures here.
There are more ways to enjoy our national parks than taking in breathtaking views, rugged wilderness, and signs of wildlife. There are activities and programs to enrich your experience, teach you about the park’s history, and keep the whole family entertained. Plus there are badges involved!
Have you (or someone you know) completed the Junior Ranger program? Drop your experience in the comment section!
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