The one thing my family and I do every time we visit a national park: We pick up and complete a fact- and fun-filled Junior Ranger book, pledge to make the world a little better place, and pocket a patch and collection-worthy certificate to remember the visit.
Here’s what I’ve learned when discovering you are never too old to learn, Junior Ranger-style:
You Will Feel Like A Kid Again
It is fair to tackle the age question first. True, the National Park Service describes its Junior Ranger program as geared toward young people ages 5 to 13. It also says people of all ages can participate. Just a few years ago, a 103-year-old woman made news as the oldest-known Junior Ranger. Filling out Junior Ranger activity books you request at each visitor center can be a great individual or intergenerational-family activity using everyone’s strengths — from nature lovers and word-searchers to history buffs and sharp-eyed scavenger hunters. If you are determined to try something more adult-focused, there are also a few sites that offer special Senior Ranger booklets.
The National Park Service Office of Communications recommends you check in with a park ranger at the visitor center for each park you plan to visit to confirm how the program works there. Doing this ahead of time can help you know what to expect. For example, Yellowstone National Park charges $5 for its booklet.
Pro Tip: If possible, print booklets available online ahead of your visit. Here is an example from Channel Islands National Park. This allows you to avoid lines at often-crowded visitor centers, start learning about the park ahead of your visit, and focus more on the park when you arrive.
You Will Give Yourself A Conversation Starter
The Junior Ranger Program gives you an excuse to ask the burning questions you have about a park. NPS park rangers check over and sign your activity book and administer the Junior Ranger oath required to receive your badge. This helps you grab one-on-one time to talk with the experts about what you have seen. This is where we learned about the history (and necessity) of fire to sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park in California, and where we came to understand how glaciers changed the landscape at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.
You Will Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
My family has now visited 44 of the 63 national parks and dozens more national park sites, and Junior Ranger-inspired activities have led to some of our favorite (and free!) experiences. Often these take you to places in the park you would otherwise not see or open you to perspectives you may not otherwise hear.
Written by EMILY SCHMIDT for Travel Awaits©
Source: The One Thing You Should Do Every Time You Visit A National Park – TravelAwaits