Yellowstone’s Summer Junior Ranger Program….It’s Not Just for Kids!

The Summer Junior Ranger Program is open to children ages between the ages of 5-12. The goal of the program is to introduce children to the natural wonders of Yellowstone and their role in preserving them for the future.

To become a Junior Ranger, families pay a $3 fee for a 12-page activity paper, Yellowstone's Nature, available at any visitor center. After completing the requirements and reviewing their work with a ranger at any visitor center, participants are awarded an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch,  mModeled after the National Park Service patches.

Requirements include attending a Ranger-led program, hiking on a park trail, and completing activities on various park resources, issues, and concepts such as geothermal geology, park wildlife, and fire ecology.

The National Park Service created the Junior Ranger program in the early 1960s to connect children and families with the natural and cultural history found in National Parks. It now spans 286 parks with approximately 330,000 annual participants. The Junior Ranger Program, now also called “Connecting our Children to America,” was revitalized in 2005 when First Lady Laura Bush became the Honorary Chair. The National Park Foundation has embarked on an 18-month, $10 million campaign to support funding and expansion of the program within national parks.

The Junior Ranger program is even going virtual. On April 25th, the National Park Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service and Ball State University, coordinated a live TV and Internet broadcast. More than 34 million children in 49 states and 11 countries participated in an “e-trip” to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Two other E-trips will take place in this fall to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Here in Yellowstone, the program started in 1992. Within the first year over 5000 junior ranger badges were awarded. In 2005, approximately 18,000 children completed the program. It is estimated as many as 90% of the children complete their activity papers to earn a patch.

You can use the activity program to plan your Yellowstone itinerary and get your own Ranger involved in the process. After picking up your activity paper, you can plan which of the activities you want to do together. Children do not need to complete every page (5-7 year olds choose four of seven activities, 8-9 year olds choose four of ten activities and 10-12 year olds choose six of ten). Some activities are location specific such as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone or geyser basins. I like the activities because they are so interactive. Not only do you listen to the wind in the trees, you have to answer this question, “If this wind had a color, what color would it be?”

Before leaving the Visitor’s Center, you will also want to pick up a copy of the scheduled Ranger programs which details the locations and times of the various Ranger-led programs in the Park (one of the requirements). If you are coming prior to June 4th when most of these programs begin, rangers can conduct a short mini-session like Natalie’s to meet this requirement.