Five Great Places to Become a Junior Ranger


Learn about five spots where kids can become junior rangers and “explore, learn, and protect” our nation’s parks.

To celebrate the National Park Service centennial, your fourth grader can score free entrance to the national parks for your family as part of the Every Kid in a Park program. But the experience goes way beyond just visiting with Junior Ranger Programs. Kids can become junior rangers at city national historic sites, presidents’ homes, battlefields and forts, national recreation areas as well as at our most famous national parks. This year, there is also a Centennial Junior Ranger activity booklet and national junior ranger programs that enable your child to follow her passion whether as a junior archeologist junior astronomer exploring the night skiesjunior cave scientistjunior underwater explorer and others.

Children can become junior rangers by completing activity books which direct them to things of special interest or places they might otherwise miss during their visit. On completion, a Ranger will award them a special patch or badge. Participation typically is free, though some parks charge a few dollars. There is also WebRangers , complete with more than 50 online games.

Here are five don’t miss Junior Ranger programs:

  1. Yosemite National Park has both a Junior Ranger program for kids (7-13) and a Little Cub program for those 3-6. As Yosemite is also a World Heritage Site, kids might also like the online World Heritage Junior Ranger option complete with the mascot Wally, the Wild Heritage Wolf. Not only must Junior Rangers complete the activity book but collect a bag of trash and attend a guided ranger program.
  2. At the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington DC, kids become Junior Rangers using Morse Code to complete messages describing two of Lincoln’s most famous speeches and completing a crossword about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, among other tasks. You’ll find KOAs nearby in Virginia and Maryland complete with tour and shuttle services to the nation’s capitol.
  3. Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest explored cave, is in Kentucky. It offers “No Parents Allowed! Trog Tours” led by rangers. For those 10 and up, there is an introduction to caving program where you can hike, climb and even crawl through parts of the cave, all the while learning what’s needed to complete your Junior Ranger What can the kids do to get their “bat points?” Horse Cave KOA is in the heart of one of the most significant cave regions in the world near Mammoth Cave National Park. When you’re done caving, there’s a pool, mini golf and playground at the nearby KOA.
  4. Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay on Long Island was the sprawling home of Theodore Roosevelt, his wife and six children. Especially in this election season, a visit to a president’s home can engage the kids in conversations about the real lives of those who served in the Oval Office. Kids love Roosevelt’s hunting trophies—Cape Buffalo heads, rugs made from polar bears and mountain lions and the nature trail down to the water. For Junior Rangers, there is a museum history hunt, another about Theodore Roosevelt and his home and a Bunny Ranger program for younger visitors.
  5. Big Bend National Park, which includes the Rio Grande River and the Chisos Mountains in West Texas is famous for its geology and more than 1,200 plant species (including 60 cacti), lots of amphibians, reptiles, fish, mammals, birds and 3,600 species of insects. The park boasts more types of bats and cacti than any other national park. The Junior Ranger program helps kids to learn the parts of a cacti and what javelin eat among other things. To complete the requirements here, they must also visit a historic area, take a hike on a park trail and join a ranger-led program.

Eileen OgintzEileen Ogintz writes the syndicated column and blog Taking the Kids and is the author if The Kid’s Guide series for kids to major cities across the United States. 

Looking for more great ideas to get kids excited about travel? Checkout Eileen’s Kid’s City Guides for tons of tips, facts, games and fun from traveling kids in the know.

Five Places to Become a Junior Ranger