Do You Love The National Parks? You Should Become A Junior Park Ranger

Nobody is too old (or too cool) to be a Junior Park Ranger.

By: Naomi Everett

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It's likely that we're all here for the same reasons: We love the outdoors, we're constantly looking for our next adventure, and we're continually pushing ourselves to find new ways to explore the majestic land around us. We want to climb higher, bike farther, and ski faster.

So I challenge you to approach our parks in a new way this summer and take some time out of your busy adventuring to become a Junior Ranger.

Chances are a lot of you have heard of this program. Regardless, let's delve into it a bit: Go to the visitor's center and tell a ranger that you would like to participate in the program. If you would like to see a list of participating lands, check here. They will give you a booklet and explain the guidelines. Typically, there is a certain amount of activity pages you have to complete. Sometimes the activities are as simple as a park-related crossword or Bingo, but they can also be as tricky as identifying species of plants or calculating the average growth per year of a mountain range. Sometimes, they may even include attending a ranger-led discussion. Regardless, they're actually fun! Once you have completed your tasks, you head on back to the visitor's center to pledge your stewardship and receive your badge.

It's probably safe to assume that those of who did not already know have now realized that this program is designed for kids, but hear me out! There are a lot of great reasons why we should take advantage of these programs too.

Photo: Jess Curren

1. See the parks in a completely different way.

A more magical way really...through the eyes of a kid. This program requires you to dig up and apply those suppressed stores of knowledge from your 3rd grade science class. You don't just come in, do your hike, ascent, or camping of choice and then peace out. You have to immerse yourself in the history of the place you're visiting. You get to learn about why it was chosen to be protected, the geological anomalies that occur within it, and the components that make up its unique ecosystem. Sure, you can learn a lot of these things from the signs posted everywhere, but we all know that those are nowhere near as fun as a good ol' word search.

2. Encourage kids to learn about this stuff too!

We all remember that time in our childhoods when our parents forced us to participate in a program that we thought was lame or maybe when we hit that age where we felt like we were "too old" for activity booklets. You will almost definitely see these kids when participating in this program. They'll be the ones having a big internal debate while trying to look as cool as possible (until they take notice of you that is). Once younger kids see us big kids participating, they are suddenly intrigued. That being said, it's a ton of fun to get involved! When at a ranger-led discussion, be sure to ask questions. When you see another kid with the tell-tale activity booklet, ask them how far they are. Encouraging young minds is hard work, so help out in any way you can.

Photo: Christin Healey

3. It makes for a great date!

We all know that the dinner and a movie bit is classic, but let’s be honest… it gets old. Just met a cutie pie? Head to your nearest park or monument and spend the day getting to know what they’re like! If they can’t get down with adventure or stop taking themselves seriously for a day, you should probably find that out sooner rather than later. Been married for a while? Shake up your date night routine by making it a date day, outdoors extravaganza! Plus, we all know that our national lands offer some of the most gorgeous views in the country. What better backdrop for sunset with your favorite person?

4. It's humbling.

We, as explorers, get so tangled up in our next big adventure that we forget that behind it all is a place. One that someone thought was worth preserving and has an incredibly vibrant history that we overlook to get to that boulder or kayak to that side of the lake. Yes, you're going to nail that route, but before you do, I think that a pretty good way to refocus on what's important is to stand alongside the future stewards of these amazing places and swear to "Explore, Learn, and Protect!"

Photo: Naomi Everett


Don't pretend you're too cool to wear (and be stoked about wearing) an awesome badge from the national parks. Pin it to your go-to day pack and take it along on all of your adventures to remind yourself of the great time you had and everything you learned.

Stay energized at the parks with CLIF:

Cover photo: Gregg Boydston

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.