Since our first road trip together, the carful of kids have explored national parks and earn Junior Ranger badges from the National Park Service.
The badges are free and collectible souvenirs. As the go-to educational program for families, I’ve learned just as much as my kids.
The badges show teachers that kids keep learning while on vacation. My 11-year-old gave an oral report on Yellowstone National Park where he wore his hat. He earned 5 points of extra credit.
What’s a Junior Ranger
Junior Rangers are junior park rangers. Kids from 5 to 13 can join the ranks as they explore, learn and protect our national treasures. Most parks, over 200 national park sites in all, hand out free booklets specially designed for each park (a few parks charge $3 for the booklet). Kids complete the educational booklet as they experience the national park in a kid-friendly way.
The Junior Ranger badge requirements differ for park to park. I found the most common requirements hiking, recycling or attending a ranger program.
Most kids visit national parks during the summer season some of the larger national park offer special programming. My kids love the Junior Ranger programs, where park rangers walk kids though the requirements for the Junior Ranger badge. Most Junior Ranger programs discuss topics kids love, like animals.
8 National Junior Ranger Badges
The Junior Ranger program offers downloadable national Junior Ranger badge booklets to print and complete at home. Afterwards, just mail the booklet back to the National Park Service where a ranger reviews it and mails the earned badge back for free.
Junior Archeologist activity book help kids discover how people in the past lived. Complete at home and mail into the NPS Chief Archeologist and includes a parent guide.
Junior Paleontologist Program helps the dinosaur-loving kid in your family. The National Park Service features 259 parks that preserve fossils, like Badlands National Park. Complete this booklet in a participating park or at home.
Junior Cave Scientist Program excites all the young speleologists out there. The National Park Service preserves 150 areas that protect caves or karsts (landscapes created by weak acids that dissolve rocks). Complete this badge at one of the parks with a cave, like the Wind Cave National Park or Jewel Cave National Monument both in South Dakota, or at home.
Junior Ranger Night Explorer helps kids learn about the night sky. Best completed in a dark sky park that hosts a telescope or astronomy program, like Death Valley National Park or Big Bend National Park, but can be completed at home.
Wilderness Explorer concentrates on the outdoor knowledge needed to explore the wilderness areas within the National Park Service. Best completed in a park or another wilderness area. The booklet includes an answer key. This program is best for kids ages 8 and up.
Underwater Explorer teaches kids what lies below the surface of the water. Complete at home and mail to the Submerged Resources Center.
Underground Railroad Junior Ranger activity book teaches kids learning about slavery during the Civil War and the road to freedom. It can be completed at home.
Junior Civil War Historian teaches kids about the Civil War. Students must visit three participating parks or two parks and complete the Underground Railroad Junior Ranger activity book.
Junior Ranger Badges for Scouts
The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts partnered with the National Park Service to offer a certificate or patch for registered scouts. After completing 10 hours of organized learning, like the Junior Ranger badges, or performing service projects, scouts earn the patch.
Know Before You Go:
- Pack your own pencils, preferably the mechanical type that don’t need sharpening.
- Dress for hiking, one might be required. The parks always include shorter hikes perfect for younger kids and strollers.
- Though designed for kids 5 to 13, my youngest earned Junior Ranger badges with my help before that.
- Kids love picnics so pack a lunch. Food service can be limited.