Military Families & National Parks: Get Out and Explore More!

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler

As military families, we have the unique challenge of continually relocating, uprooting ourselves in all seasons of life and putting down roots in new communities.  With new moves come new opportunities to explore our nation’s National & State Park Services. This summer, challenge your family to learn, explore, and protect our national and state parks through the U.S. National Park Service Junior Ranger Program.

The National Park Service Junior Ranger Program is a free, outdoor, activity based program for the whole family of all ages to participate and enjoy. We gear up and set out to learn more about the wildlife, the environment, and the history of each park we visit. Once we finish our visit, we  take an oath with a Park Ranger to protect the future of this park service. Our Junior Rangers proudly wear their badges with pride for their hard-work and committing to the future. These badges symbolize more than visiting a park, it is an opportunity to get outside, move our bodies, and broaden our understanding of the natural world around us!   

How to Participate in a Junior Ranger Program 

  • Locate National and States Parks nearest You Here
  • Grab a Junior Ranger Booklet (and pencil) at the park’s Visitor Center
  • Complete 5 of the 10 Activities in the Booklet
  • Return your booklet, take your oath and Receive Your Badge! 

Tips and Tricks to National Parks with Kids 

  • Plan Your Hikes and Distances Beforehand
    • It is important to know your individual children’s capabilities. With our three year old, we know one mile of walking is typically her limit. Our five year old has a higher distance tolerance. When our daughter hits her limit, we use our backpack carrier! Managing your expectations beforehand will make the trip more enjoyable for everyone!
  • Get Your Free Active Duty Military or Veteran National Park Entrance Pass upon entry into a park. If entering a state park, check your local library systems for entry pass loans available for checkout! Learn More Here.
  • Use a Hiking BackPack Carrier 
    • We carried our babies around the world in this Osprey carrier. We love this carrier because of the storage, the sunshade and the rain cover.  A cost effective way to hike with kids is to consider buying gently used, secondhand carrier for your explorations!

      Photo by Todd Willett
  • Wear Appropriate Clothing and Pack Extra Sets
    • It is critical to dress for the environment around you. We wear hiking boots, long pants, and long sleeves. We always carry a jacket with us for each person and an extra set of clothing to change into if we sweat, become wet, or if accidents happen. I always have a set on hand during our hiking and a set for each person in the car for afterword.
  • Drink Water & Wear Camelbaks 
    • Our kids love to use Camelbak bladders in their backpacks while hiking. This is a fun, accessible way to ensure you and your children stay hydrated!
  • Pack Snacks 
    • We always have snacks on us while exploring a park. We pack popcorn, peanut butter sandwiches, pretzels, cliff bars, apples, pouches, etc. and I always have an emergency chocolate bar on hand. When we are at the end of a hike and energy or morale is low, I pull out our “energy chocolate” and it gives our kids the last boost needed to finish our hike. I pack new snacks and water in the car for our post hike travel. Remember, what you bring in, you must bring out, so have a trash bag on hand. We always have a roll of dog waste bags on hand for this reason. 

      National Parks
      Photo By RODNAE
  • Grab a Map Before You Head Out & Emergency Contacts
    • It is critical to know where you are at all times and how to contact emergency services. Use this as a learning opportunity for your children, teaching basic map reading skills. Have a first aid kit on hand to tend to minor injuries. Park Rangers are a wealth of knowledge and will provide you a safety briefing before entering a park!
  • Read more about visiting National Parks with kids in this advice from a Park Ranger. 
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AshLeigh Link
AshLeigh, a veteran of the United States Army, formally served as a Captain in the Logistics Corps. A graduate from Pennsylvania State University, AshLeigh holds a Bachelors of Arts in International Relations: National Security. Her husband, Jake, serves as a Captain in the United States Army. They have two children, James and Wren, and currently live in Vicenza, Italy. AshLeigh enjoys writing, reading, cooking, traveling with her children, pottery making, and is beginning to train for her first triathlon. AshLeigh hopes through her writing with The Military Mom Collective, she can inspire mothers to know creativity can thrive in the margins of motherhood.