Saturday, February 22, 2014

National parks: lots of fun activities for kids

Junior Ranger patches for Yellowstone National Park.
Visiting a national park with kids means a lot of driving around between vistas and a quick stop at the gift shop for a T-shirt or toy, right?


The National Park Service offers a variety of great, interactive programs aimed at teaching kids about nature through fun and adventure. They often become the more memorable moments of a park visit for children, and a few even offer cool souvenirs at the end.

Among the programs:
g Junior Ranger – Most parks now offer some version of this program, in which kids by filling out a self-guided booklet and sometimes performing volunteer work can earn a Junior Ranger patch or pin among other goodies.
g Ranger-led activities – Park rangers often host family-friendly activities on the park’s geology, wildlife, ecology, history and other topics. Some parks during the evening offer programs in which kids can sit about a campfire and learn about nature.
g Star parties – Several national parks, especially those that are remote, offer nighttime viewings of the sky with telescopes. Your kids never will see a sky so brilliantly lit with stars.
g Touch programs – Some parks offer kids the opportunity to meet live animals or to touch cool found objects, such as turtle shells, feathers and rocks. They usually are held at the park’s nature or visitor center.

Kids’ activities aren’t limited to just inside the park, however. Before even leaving on your trip, have your children:
g Check out the park’s website – Many of the websites list activities specific to their park that later can be played on the drive to the park or during hikes.
g Meet Smokey Bear virtually – Younger kids can learn about forest fires and nature at Smokey  Bear’s official website.
g Visit Webrangers Get kids excited about your trip with a stop at the Webrangers website. Kids can play more than 50 online games that allow them to explore various national parks.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.