There’s a lot to love about our National Parks, but there’s even more to love when you can experience our parks through the eyes of a child.

Research has shown that National Parks can make our kids smarter, while providing the ultimate opportunity for screen-free family time. Yup, it’s National Parks for the win.

Even better, every one of our parks is different and has its own personality filled with ups and downs and new experiences around every corner. No two parks are the same and kids will love learning what makes each one special and unique.

Sure, kids will have fun skipping rocks, sledding down sand dunes and hiking amongst giant trees, but there’s so much more for kids to explore in our National Parks. Here are our favorite ways to engage as a family and maximize the National Park experience:

1. Become a Junior Ranger. Many National Parks (including seashores, monuments and historical parks) have a Junior Ranger program of some kind, mostly for children 12 and under. Some simply require that you attend a lecture with a park ranger while others require that kids complete up to a dozen booklet activities, like word searches and fill in the blank activities.

The Junior Ranger program is free, though some National Parks, like Yosemite, will charge you a small fee for the activity booklet. Once requirements are completed, children get sworn in as park rangers and receive a badge. At some parks, like Grand Teton, you can even earn a patch.

2. Get Your Passport Stamped. Purchase a Passport to Your National Parks online or in the park gift store. This passport booklet will enable your kids to mark their time spent time spent in each park with a park sticker (under $3 in the gift shop) and a cancellation stamp with the date.

Kids will love hunting around for the cancellations stamps in the park bookstores and visitors centers. Sometimes there’s just one stamp, but other times, there are multiple stamps. So make sure to save space when you’re stamping your passport. 

3. Ask About Park Extras for Kids. Some National Parks go above and beyond to engage children visiting their parks. For example, at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center at Yellowstone National Park, kids can check out a Young Scientist Toolkit, which includes a thermometer, stopwatch and activity booklet to investigate the area around Old Faithful.

At Glacier National Park, stop by the Apgar Nature Center for hands-on activities for kids, as well as family activity booklets that can be checked out for 24 hours. Inside the backpacks, look for naturalist guides, binoculars, a compass and a naturalist notebook.

How do you like to make the National Park experience fun for kids? Let us know in the comments section below.

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