Every Adult Should Become a Junior Ranger
Explore, Learn, and Protect! It's not just for little ones.
Just in case you didn’t know, becoming a Junior Ranger is an activity for children of all ages. We didn’t know. Nobody told us. We assumed—incorrectly—that only children under a certain age could collect those sweet, sweet badges.
It turns out that adults are allowed, and even encouraged, by rangers and park staff to complete the activities and take the oath protecting parks everywhere. They’re so amused that adults ask to be Junior Rangers that all they want to do is talk to you about it! So, in the event that just knowing that you can be a Junior Ranger isn’t enough to inspire you to run straight to the nearest ranger desk, here are several great reasons why every adult should become one.
1) They're Surprisingly Educational
Believe it or not, just having to be responsible for the tiniest amount of information helps you retain it better than if you simply read a plaque and called it a day. Writing down what you’ve learned, even if it’s in something as simple as a child’s workbook, ensures that you’ll leave your national park experience knowing more than the average visitor.
2) It's a Free Souvenir (and Fun Collection)
With the exception of just a couple parks (looking at you, Yellowstone), becoming a Junior Ranger is completely free. And after you’ve completed your booklet and been sworn in, they give you a free badge with the name of the park! Most parks have little plastic ones, but some, like Yosemite and North Cascades, hand out wooden ones or even patches. As you visit more parks, the badges turn into a collection that represents your amazing travels.
3) It's a Great Excuse to Talk to a Ranger About Your Visit
Returning to a ranger desk after you’ve explored a park is way more fun than showing up and asking “What should we do?” Most junior ranger booklets require you to name a hike you’ve done or a place you went, and when you fill them out with difficult day hikes, rangers tend to take an interest in what you saw. If you still have a day or two left in your visit, this is when rangers will tell you some really juicy nugget about the park.
4) Rangers Change the Way They Talk to You (In a Good Way)
Rangers, after all, are human and judge you as you step up to the desk. They’ll take a look at you, your equipment, estimate your fitness level, and take a stab at your experience without saying a word. Since returning with a completed ranger book as an adult isn’t exactly normal, per se, rangers tend to assume that you know more than the average person, that you’ve been to a park or two (or twenty), and sets them more at ease. As a result, they tend to be a little more candid and less scripted in response to questions.
5) It's a Good Way To Kill Some Time
In every trip to a national park, there will be some downtime. Whether it’s at the campfire, recovering from a hike, or a good excuse to stay on top of the mountain you just climbed (or my favorite: while having a recovery beer), having a Junior Ranger packet provides a perfect park-related activity to fill in the time.
6) If You Have Kids, You Can Do Them Together
This one is a no brainer, but sometimes parents isolate a “children’s activity” as something only the child should do. Why enforce that dichotomy? You’re already spending time with your kids by visiting the park, go ahead and make becoming Junior Rangers an activity for the whole family to do This gives your children the opportunity to accomplish something that their mom or dad is doing, too! How cool is that?
7) You Can Do Them At Almost Every NPS Site
It’s not just National Parks that have Junior Ranger programs. Many National Monuments, Scenic Rivers, Historical Sites, and Battlefields will let you earn the distinction of becoming a Junior Ranger. Explore, learn, protect, and visit: https://www.nps.gov/kids/jrRangers.cfm to see if your next destination has a program!