If you’re planning a family trip to one of our amazing national parks this summer, I want to recommend that you schedule some time to let your kids take part in the National Parks Junior Ranger program.

This is a wonderful educational program that helps kids learn about the parks and conservation while earning cool badges in the process. And if you love the idea of scouting without wanting to commit to an actual Boy Scout or Girl Scout program, visiting a nearby park and earning badges through this program is a great way to get that fix.

You don’t even have to travel all the way to Yellowstone or Yosemite to earn them. I was shocked when I browsed the complete list of participating NPS parks to learn just how many are day trips from my own home in Nashville.

Related: Great Sand Dunes National Park: The family vacation idea you might not have considered

The free printable Junior Ranger worksheets from the National Parks are a great way to enjoy them all with kids, and help them earn Junior Ranger badges

A fun worksheet  the Arches National Park printable Junior Ranger workbook

The Junior Ranger motto is “Explore, Learn, Protect,” and your kids will do just that while working on the requirements for the badge.To be prepared (get it?), each national park has its own downloadable workbook for kids 5-13, like this one from Arches National Park. Each is scaled by age, don’t worry, though I think it’s best for the 8-10 set. You can print it out and read before you go, giving kids a great opportunity to get excited about the trip. There are also more general adventures that work at any park.

As soon as you pull into the park’s gates, head straight to the visitor center to meet a ranger and get started on your adventure.

The adventures range from observing the night sky — an exciting opportunity for kids who might usually have to go to bed early — to participating in one of the park’s ranger-led programs, or even simple tasks like taking a hike or picking up trash.

Related: 22 National Parks and Sites you can visit without hiking boots. Maybe even without a plane ticket.

From the National Park Service Junior Ranger program: A downloadable workbook includes this free night sky explorer worksheet | cool mom picks
From the NPS free downloadable workbook about exploring the night sky

If a trip to the parks isn’t in the plans right now, your kids can work on some of the national parks Webranger programs — all completed online. Who knows, maybe they’ll have your next family trip to a national parked plan when they’re finished.

A patch from the Arches National Park Junior Ranger program

You can find info on the National Parks Junior Ranger program at their website, and download the booklets for any park you plan to visit to get a head-start on your trip. We found tons of great info on  all the parks other programs — like their paleontologist program and their historic preservation programs for kids — at Traveling Mom. 

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