Featured Activity: Jr. Ranger Badges

Published on April 07, 2022 - Updated on April 07, 2022

At 5 years old my Big Little earned his first Junior Ranger Badge at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. He was hooked. To be honest, so was I. My obsession with the badges has continued to grow, as has that of my Littles who are now 10, 7, and 5. Junior Ranger Badges are a staple in not only my trip planning but also my homeschooling. (You can earn many of them without ever leaving your backyard!)

Jr. Ranger Swearing In at Smokey Mountain National Park

Here is everything you need to know to add this wonderful pre-prepared activity into your life.

What is a Junior Ranger Badge?

Ford's Theater Jr Ranger Patch

Junior Ranger Badges come in many forms. We've come across pins, patches, stickers, and printables. They are available from the National Park Service at most NPS-operated sites. Plus many states offer their own programs in their state parks and public lands. We've also discovered them at places like private botanical gardens and historic sites.

What all Jr. Ranger programs have in common are pre-prepared activities for kids to do and the ability to earn a Jr. Ranger Badge, in whatever form it comes in. You simply pick up the packet at the visitor center, complete it during your visit (or sometimes at home... more on that later), and return it in person or by mail for the Jr. Ranger Badge.

Who Can Complete A Junior Ranger Badge?

Jamestown NHP Jr. Ranger Badge

In our experience, they won't turn anyone down who wants to complete a Jr. Ranger Packet. We've asked for them for our littlest at as young as 3. We've also seen adults ask for the packet and complete them in exchange for a badge.

The packets are typically designed for elementary school-aged kids, focusing on fourth graders. (Fourth graders can also get a free National Parks Pass for their whole family under the Every Kid Outdoors Program.) Typically you complete as many activities as your age, with kids over ten completing the packet in its entirety.

It varies by park though. Some places have different packets for different ages. We've seen fun mazes and coloring sheets for kids 3 and under.

What is in the Jr. Ranger Packet?

Completing a Jr. Ranger Packet

Imagine if you spent hours putting together activities to help your children appreciate and understand what they are experiencing-- that is the Jr. Ranger Packet in a nutshell. Most packets feature a scavenger hunt to complete while hiking, which highlights the local flora and fauna. They have museum scavenger hunts or questions to answer using the visitor center resources. We tend to save the crosswords and word searches for a drive, picnic in the park, or distraction for killing time later in the day.

The packets typically encourage the kids to talk to a ranger about something specific or attend a ranger program. They often suggest hikes or activities in the park that are particularly child-friendly. They include information on the history of the park, indigenous people, and land formations, that you would otherwise need to read about on the posted signs.

Jr. Ranger Packets at Home

Jr. Ranger Badges from home

Even if you don't have any upcoming trips, you can still participate in many of the National Park Service Jr. Ranger Badges from home. The NPS Jr. Ranger page has a link to all the Jr. Ranger Badge pages. You simply print the packet at home, complete the activities and mail them back. Many of them have a link to the park video on YouTube. You can use the National Park webpage to answer the packet questions and learn all about the park.

Different Parks will mail you different things but they always include a badge. We've even received letters from the rangers working at the park! What kid doesn't want to get that in the mail?

What To Bring

Jr. Ranger Swearing In Savannah

You really don't need to do anything to participate except ask for the Jr. Ranger Packet. In some of the larger parks, that don't charge park admission, the packet costs $2, but you can always print them at home.

Completing Jr. Ranger Packet at Florissant Fossil Beds

However, if you want to be really prepared we like to bring along a clipboard and pencil pouch with colored pencils and good pens to complete the activities. You also won't want to forget your camera, because the swearing-in ceremony is always adorable.

The Jr. Ranger Passport Book

Jr. Ranger Passport Book

An add-on to the Jr. Ranger Program is the Passport to your National Parks Jr. Ranger Edition. This requires you to stamp your book with both the park stamp and special Jr. Ranger stamp, available when you complete the Jr. Ranger packet, as you visit NPS sites around the United States.

The book is full of color illustrations, questions to answer about your favorite places, and a checklist of all NPS sites. The list allows you to keep track of where you've been and where you have completed the Jr. Ranger programs.

Jr. Ranger Badges Display

However you take advantage of the Jr. Ranger Program, I hope it enriches the time you spend as a family. We love working with the kids and learning about the places we are visiting, or dreaming of traveling to. The kids love collecting patches and badges. The oldest one has even started doing his own research on which parks offer special prizes or badges, and dreaming of travel. I've always wanted to inspire a love of learning in my children and the Jr. Ranger Badges are an incredible tool in that pursuit.

Have your kids earned a Jr. Ranger Badge before? What were their favorite parks or activities? If you have a photo of your kids participating in a Jr. Ranger Program, tag us in it on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

Interested in other fun activities that will get the kids outside? Read up on our Geocaching article or learn some new Chalk Games to play in your driveway! Now that it's starting to warm up, there are also a number of other activities to do with kids other than the traditional park days. Check out our How to Hike with Kids Guide and enjoy a fun day out with the family. If snuggling up inside on a rainy spring day is more your style, here are Top 10 Chapter Books to Read to Your Kids!

For even more local activities and attractions at your fingertips, be sure to download the happyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Elizabeth Newcamp
Elizabeth Newcamp grew up in Atlanta, GA, went to school in South Bend, IN, and as a military spouse has called Washington D.C., California, Texas, Colorado, Alabama, Florida, and The Netherlands home. She has a JD from Emory University. She writes the Homeschool and Travel Blog, Dutch, Dutch, Goose! and co-hosts Slate's parenting podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting. Elizabeth is an avid traveler, having been to over 30 countries and all 50 US States, where she has laughed, cried and more than once thought about kicking the travel habit until her three kids are grown. She is actively engaged in her community, enjoys the outdoors, and has a passion for engaging her children within the world around them.
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