The National Park Service offers a program (usually free, though there are a few exceptions) in many of its parks known as the Junior Ranger program. At participating parks*, you can pick up a Junior Ranger activity book, usually at any visitor center. In these, you'll find several activities and tasks your child will need to complete around the park or visitor center, sometimes based on age, in order to earn a Junior Ranger badge (or in some cases, a patch) for that park. Once they've completed all the required tasks, they'll present their booklet to a ranger who will have them repeat a pledge, then they'll get their badge.
There can be variations on this - some parks offer a patch instead of a badge, or even give both for extra tasks. Some parks offer both an in-person version of their program as well as an online version. Some parks offer several different badges, either based on age or different topics (eg. the Santa Fe Trail badge is offered at several different parks). No matter what, the Junior Ranger program is an excellent way to help your kids learn more about the parks you're visiting and take home an extra little memento from their time there.
* Also note that the list I link to above is not exhaustive. There are several parks that offer a Junior Ranger program but are not listed there. Always double-check before you visit a park as you may be surprised to find that it does offer a badge.
So far we've collected the following badges:
We also have a few badges for special occasions or those we did at home:
- Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer (we turned this one in at Fort Laramie where we also watched the 2017 eclipse)
- Junior Ranger Night Explorer
- Centennial Junior Ranger
- Junior Cave Scientist
- Junior Paleontologist
Below are recaps from a few of the badges we've collected as well as posts I've written about the Junior Ranger program!