The Junior Ranger program is offered by the National Park Service at most of the national park sites around the country. Some state parks offer the program as well. At each location, children can approach the park ranger desk and ask for the Junior Ranger booklet. The activities in the booklet, such as word searches, scavenger hunts, question-and-answer, help the kids focus in on what is important in that particular park. They almost always have different requirements based on age level. When the child finishes the booklet, they take it back to the ranger desk. The ranger checks the answers, leads the child in a pledge about learning more about protecting parks and such, and awards the child with a Junior Ranger badge.
We love the Junior Ranger program! The kids love collecting their badges, I appreciate the help in focusing their attention on certain aspects of the park, and we’ve experienced some great locations that we wouldn’t have visited if not for the Junior Ranger program.
Update: When we first started, I usually required the work for earning the badges. However, Mr. Bang absolutely hates when there is writing work involved, and it was causing him to dread going to national parks – not my goal!!! Also, many of the books require the same things – I can’t tell you how many times my kids have identified and explained the parts of the NPS logo. So, I now have a new policy. When we get the book, I look through and mark which pages actually teach about that specific park. If the kids want to do the work beyond that to earn their badges, that’s their choice. CQ always wants to earn the badge, MB sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t. That change has made our park visits more enjoyable!
For my own purposes as much as anything, I thought it would be fun to keep a list of the Junior Ranger badges Character Queen and Mr. Bang have earned.
Total Count So Far: 43
Casa Grande Ruins (Coolidge, March 2017) One of the fun things about being out west is all the ruins from Native American civilizations. This is one of the fairly small ones. You can get the full experience here in a hour or two.
Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, April 2017) You don’t need an introduction to this park! The difficult thing at a park like this is making time for the Junior Ranger book when you want to spend all your time hiking! We were there two different days, so we picked up the JR book the first day, did as much of it as we could at home, then finished on our return day. There are several things you have to do in the park, including either watching the movie or attending a ranger talk. Both options are always a great use of time.
Montezuma Castle (Camp Verde, March 2017) There are two separate parts to this park, with two separate badges. Montezuma Well is a short drive away. The only visitor center and gift shop for the two is at the Castle. However, you could easily visit the Castle in about half an hour, and could spend much longer hiking and exploring around the Well. Note: On your drive out from the Well, make sure to pull over at the little roofed area on the right – it’s the remains of an even older dwelling.
Saguaro (Tucson, March 2017) We were in this park, but didn’t actually go to the Visitor Center or do the Junior Ranger book. Instead, we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is basically in the park. I highly recommend that museum! If we had more time, I planned to visit the official park as well, we just ran out of time.
Tuzigoot (Clarkdale, March 2017) This is a very cool dwelling from roughly 1,000 years ago that’s spread atop a hill. Very cool to walk around and inside some of the rooms!
Walnut Canyon (Flagstaff, April 2017) The original people here lived in cliff dwellings much like we can see at Montezuma Well. However, this time it’s in a spectacularly beautiful canyon. We walked all around the island trail, which took us right alongside many of the dwellings, and even inside some of them. Be aware that there are a LOT of stairs that you go down to get to the dwelling, and up to get back to the visitor center. For anyone that can’t take the stairs, the Visitor’s Center has a room of windows that looks right down into the canyon, and you can see some of the dwellings from there.
Canaveral (New Smyrna Beach, October 2016) This was a fun one because we grabbed our JR books, and then hung out on the beach for awhile! There are several stops along the road where you can visit different beaches and see different sites. The important thing to be aware of is that a stop at the end of the road is a clothing-optional beach!
De Soto (Bradenton, November 2016) There was more to this one than I expected. We took a beautiful walk on the wooded path along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. There also was a living history area set up that we walked through, although there wasn’t any activity going on the day we were there. This is a great one for experiencing history from the early 1500s.
Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace (Hodgenville) This one is located very close to my childhood home, and where my parents still live, so it’s been a nice one for us to visit on multiple occasions. Spoiler alert: they don’t have his actual birthhouse, but they do have an authentic house from his time period.
Mammoth Cave (Mammoth Cave) This is another favorite of mine, which we have been to multiple times! It is known as the world’s longest known cave system. You can explore in multiple ways, based on your adventure level. We took a walking tour in full light that lasted about an hour and a half – not so adventurous but still very cool!
Catoctin Mountain (Thurmont, October 2016) The Junior Ranger book for Catoctin is split between facts about animals and nature, and Presidential use of Camp David, which is located here. Come prepared for some great hiking!
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Hagerstown, October 2016) The Canal stretches between MD, WV, and DC, and includes multiple visitor’s centers, although to finish the Junior Ranger book, you can just choose one spot. We went to the visitor’s center half an hour from Catoctin Mountain and were able to earn both badges in one day.
Fort McHenry (Baltimore, August 2016) This is the site of the battle that kept the British from invading Baltimore after the burned down Washington, DC in the War of 1812. It is also where the Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that later became our national anthem. (blog post)
Monocacy (Frederick, October 2016) This is a civil war battle site over three families farm-land. You drive to different spots to learn the history and see the sites. There is also a nice museum. You don’t have to go to all the locations to complete the JR book. (blog post)
Adams National Park (Quincy, July 2016) This one is kind of a three-in-one special. On a bus tour from the visitor center, you make stops at John Adams (President #3) birthplace, John Quincy Adams’ (President #6) birthplace, and The Old House at Peace Field which was home to four generations of the Adams family, from 1788 to 1927. (blog post)
Boston (Boston, July 2016) This is one that involves visiting several historic sites in downtown Boston. It’s right in the middle of all the crazy traffic and swarms of people, but the cool thing is that an on-going line of red bricks in the sidewalk connects the various historic buildings, so it’s pretty easy to stay on track.
Cape Cod (Wellfleet, July 2016) We didn’t even bother picking up Junior Ranger books while at Cape Cod. We toured a lighthouse and played on the beach and edge of the ocean, while watching seals swimming just a little beyond us! If we were there longer than a few hours, we would have worked toward the badge, but this time we were just there to experience the beauty!
Minute Man (Concord, July 2016) There’s a whole lot more to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the beginnings of the Revolutionary War, that I had realized, and this park brings all that to life. You will need to drive to different locations to complete this book. In fact, we finished ours and drove back to one of the visitor’s centers, only to discover it had closed about twenty minutes earlier! As of this writing, we still don’t actually have badges yet…
New Bedford Whaling (New Bedford, July 2016) We didn’t know, or know to care, at all about the whaling industry before going to this park. It was a bit of a rainy, nasty day, and yet it was awesome! We particularly enjoyed a walking tour of the town with a park ranger who was a great story-teller. (blog post)
Eisenhower (Gettysburg, October 2016) This has been one of our favorites yet! Yes, you tour Eisenhower’s house and property and learn things about his life, but the focus of the Junior Ranger book is training the kids to be Secret Service agents! They loved it!
Gettysburg (Gettysburg, October 2016) Gettysburg has so many different options as to how to experience it. You can drive through on your own for free; or pay a little money to view the film, cyclorama, and museum; or pay a lot of money and either have a personal guide in your car or join a bus tour. Thankfully, the Jr. Ranger book has so many options, you can complete it regardless of which options you choose.
Independence (Philadelphia, May 2016) We spent several days here and absolutely loved it! There are so many different things to see and do – lots of historic buildings, storytellers, and historic interpreters in costume. (blog post) (blog post)
Valley Forge (King of Prussia, May 2016) This is a large battlefield that you drive through and stop at various spots along the way. One spot has several cabins set up as they would have looked while the Continental army was wintering there in 1777-78, so you can really see what it was like. You can also visit Washington’s headquarters. To CQ’s dismay, although you can see Lafayette’s headquarters map, you cannot actually visit! (blog post)
San Antonio Missions (San Antonio, February 2017) Everyone knows of the Alamo. It actually is one of several missions that were built in the area by the Spanish. The Alamo is right in the middle of the city, and parts of it are now stores and other buildings. Four of the missions have been preserved by the NPS. I highly recommend visiting those, particularly San Jose, before the Alamo because you’ll be able to picture the events of the Alamo much more clearly. You don’t have to visit all four of them to earn the JR badge – we toured San Jose and Conception.
Waco Mammoth (Waco, January 2017) In 1978, a couple of guys discovered a huge bone that certainly didn’t belong to any living animal. A full archaeological dig ensued, and over twenty mammoth skeletons were discovered. Some have now been removed to museums, but visitors can walk inside of a building and see several skeletons in situ. This visit only takes an hour or so, and is well worth the time! (blog post)
Frontier Homestead State Park (Cedar City, April 2017) This is a great living history museum, where kids get to try out lots of 1800s experiences, such as loading a wagon, panning for gold, and hand-washing laundry. The Junior Ranger booklet costs $1. They only have to do one page to earn the badge – a scavenger hunt of symbols around the indoor museum. (blog post)
Goblin Valley State Park (Green River, May 2017) This park is out in the middle of nowhere, but a super fun place to just run around and climb on all the hoodoos. The Junior Ranger book only took about 15 minutes or so to complete. (blog post)
Zion (Springdale, April 2017) The crowds here are really intense, but then, so is the beauty. Visitors take a shuttle to various trailheads around the park and hike from there. Despite the crowds, I would love to spend a whole week here – you only get the tiniest taste of it in a single day. We chose to not spend our limited time working on a JR badge here. (blog post)
Arlington House (Arlington, August 2016) This is a great historic site, with the furnished house, slave quarters, and a large garden. The kids like making a map of the garden in their JR books. (blog post)
Booker T. Washington (Hardy, August 2016) There is a lot of interesting history crammed into this small park, reconstructed at the site of Washington’s enslaved years. The tiny museum is also very interactive and well-designed. (blog post)
Fort Monroe (Fort Monroe, October 2016) This was one that we only came to because it had a Junior Ranger program – and we were so glad we did! We had a great time roaming around the largest stone fort ever built in the U.S.
Great Falls Park (McLean, August 2016) Character Queen took some of her earliest steps here when we lived in the area, so this is another one with sentimental value for us! In working on the Jr. Ranger books, though, we actually explored parts of it we had never seen before – remains of the old canal that Washington planned for connecting the western territory to the eastern states. (blog post)
Historic Jamestown (Jamestown, September 2016) This is site of the first permanent British colony in the new world, and the home of the famous Pocahontas. It is also a rare Jr. Ranger booklet that you have to actually pay for! It’s only a dollar, so it was worth it to us. Upon completion, kids get to choose either a wooden badge or embroidered patch.
Wolf Trap (Vienna, August 2016) I was a bit confused as to how Wolf Trap was a national park, because I knew it only as a concert venue. I finally found the NPS office – keep walking past the ticket booth and turnstiles, then go to the left and you’ll see a small white building. That’s where you go to get your Jr. Ranger book. Feel free to ask where the woods and creek are – we couldn’t find them until after the kids completed their books!
Yorktown Battlefield (Yorktown, September 2016) This is where “the world turned upside down” – this inept British colony in North America had risen up against the British empire and, after spending many years in battle, forced British General Cornwallis to surrender, effectively ending the war and ensuring independence for Americans. The site is really neat to visit, but we thought the Jr. Ranger was a particularly difficult one. The booklet both of my kids did was rated for ages 7-9, but it was really too difficult for at least my 7 seven year old. Thankfully, at least after that hard work, they earned extra special badges – they got to choose between a beautiful wooden badge or an embroidered patch.
Washington, D.C. (3)
Ford’s Theater (August 2016) To earn this badge, you tour the museum and theater, then cross the street and tour the house where Lincoln died. I recommend paying a few dollars and renting the hand-held listening device to learn about the different things you see along the way. (blog post)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (August 2016) The beautiful waterfalls and story-telling statues have always made this memorial one of my favorites. It doesn’t have it’s own Junior Ranger badge, but is definitely one worth visiting as you’re working toward your National Mall badge. (blog post)
Korean War Memorial (August 2016) The statues here really do a good job of giving an impression of what it was like for the soldiers here. My kids enjoyed studying their faces and the things they were carrying with them. This is part of the National Mall badge. (blog post)
Lincoln Memorial (August 2016) One thing to be aware of at Lincoln is that there is actually a small museum underneath the big memorial. Many people don’t know it’s there! Some of the information you need for the National Mall badge is in that area. (blog post)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (August 2016) This is one where the Jr. Ranger questions really help kids focus in on the purpose of the Memorial, by guiding them to focus on particular quotes around the site.
National Mall and Memorial Parks (August 2016) This one is a bit different from others. Instead of getting one booklet and choosing certain pages to complete, you start by getting a folder from a park ranger station, which are scattered around the Mall. Then, as you visit each memorial, you visit the ranger station near there and ask for the activity sheet. You end up taking a folder with multiple completed pages to a ranger station to receive your badge. It’s probably up to the particular ranger, but my kids were very disappointed that the ranger just handed them their badges instead of checking their answers and having them say the Junior Ranger pledge! (blog post)
President’s Park (August 2016) President’s Park is the statue-filled park that surrounds the White House. You get the Jr. Ranger booklet at the White House Visitor Center next door, and really, everything you need to complete it is in the Visitor Center. (blog post) Note: There is a badge for the White House, but you have to actually tour the White House to get it. My experience is that it’s hard to actually get one of those tours – even when you have initially been approved!
Vietnam Veterans Memorial (August 2016) Think beyond the wall with names. There are also nearby statues that tell more of the story of the Vietnam War. For the Jr. Ranger questions, you’ll refer to both the wall and the statues.
West Virginia (1)
Yellowstone (May 2017) At Yellowstone, we did both the Junior Ranger ($3) and Young Scientist ($5) booklets. The JR book was super helpful as we explored the park. It had pictures of many animals and birds in the park, as well as pictures of tracks and scat – all of which helped us identify what we saw on hikes. The Young Scientist booklet walked the kids through determining if the geysers are alive or not. Both booklets were excellent! (blog post)
Civil War 150 (August 2016) Our ranger at Ford’s Theater gave the kids a special Civil War book and handed me the accompanying badges to give them after completing the work. It involved visiting some sites we had already been to, and some we were going to in the near future.
100th Anniversary (August 2016) 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, so they had a special booklet and badge for the occasion.
100th Anniversary Yellowstone Edition (May 2017) When the kids earned their Young Scientist and Junior Ranger badges at Yellowstone, the ranger also gave them leftover 100th anniversary badges, featuring Old Faithful. (blog post)