Every April, the National Park Service kicks off its annual National Park Week celebration with a fee-free day! It also happens to be National Junior Ranger Day! There has never been a better opportunity to “Explore, Learn, and Protect” America’s national parks!
What is a Junior Ranger?
The Junior Ranger program is a way to learn more about the nature, wildlife, geography, and history of the national parks. It is offered in nearly all parks managed by the National Park Service, which includes national parks, national monuments, national seashores, national historic sites and 15 other types of distinctions. Junior Rangers learn by completing a series of challenges and activities then reporting back to a park ranger, who deputizes them as junior rangers and presents them with badges.
The program is designed for children ages 5-13, but it is open to anyone of any age. Some parks have different challenges for different ages groups, including adults. Before deciding you are too old to become a junior ranger, read about Rose Torphy, who recently became a junior ranger at the Grand Canyon at age 103. The Junior Ranger program is for anyone who wants to learn.
How do you become a Junior Ranger?
- Becoming a Junior Ranger is easy! Just follow these 3 steps:
Visit a park operated by the National Park Service and ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center or ranger station. Many parks also have Junior Ranger materials available online if you prefer to download them ahead of time and print them yourself. Each park creates its own Junior Ranger requirements, so the booklets can vary from full-color, multi-page books to a single page. Some have different booklets adapted for different age groups. Most will have pencils available as well, but it’s not a bad idea to have one with you.
- Complete the required activities. Often these will lead you to explore specific areas of a park, find answers to questions in a museum, take a hike, or attend a ranger-led program. The activities are both fun and educational, designed to help kids and adults alike to explore that which is unique or most important about the park.
- Return to the visitor center or ranger station and show what you’ve learned! When possible, most park rangers or volunteers will take time to answer questions, probe deeper into the topics, and connect personally with the new Junior Rangers. Junior Rangers are then sworn in, raising their right hands and promising to continue to explore, learn, and protect the park and all of America’s national parks. They receive a badge and a certificate, and some parks also offer patches for exceeding the minimum requirements or for also becoming a junior ranger in a sister park.
When they can’t visit a park, kids can also become Web Rangers! This program allows kids to customize their ranger station, complete activities, track their progress, earn rewards, and more!
Why celebrate National Junior Ranger Day?
- The Junior Ranger program is available year-round, on any day that the park is open. But whether you are earning your first badge or your hundredth, there are some great reasons to find a park near you on National Junior Ranger Day:
- It’s the first day of National Park Week, so there will be ranger programs, exhibits, and events that you can’t see at any other time.
The National Park Service nationwide is focusing on Junior Rangers that day! Expect plenty of bonus activities, ranger programs aimed at young (and young at heart) visitors, special badges, prizes, and more!
- It’s a fee-free day! Enough said!
- The parks are clad in their finest spring attire! Trees and wildflowers are blooming, temperatures are moderate, and waterfalls are at their peak. Birds are migrating, animals are having babies, and the whole forest is waking up from its winter sleep. Don’t miss it!
Every Kid in a Park
If there is a 4th grader in your life, be sure they know about the Every Kid in a Park program! Every 4th-grade student (or similarly aged homeschooler) has a right to a free America the Beautiful interagency annual pass! Just answer a few simple questions, print the form, then take it with you when you visit the park! The student and his or her family can use the card for free entry into any park operated by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and several other federal agencies. (Not valid for state and local parks.) That’s a year full of opportunities to earn Junior Ranger badges!
The future of our parks depends on our ability to follow the Junior Ranger motto: Explore, Learn, Protect, and to teach the next generation to do the same. National Junior Ranger Day is a chance to light that torch in yourself and pass it on to the next generation. That is something worth celebrating!
There is no better way to make sure your Junior Ranger does their duty in the parks they love by planning a road trip with a rental from Outdoorsy. We’ve got something for everyone!