"How did you figure out where all of the Junior Ranger programs are?" you ask.
Friends, I made a giant freaking map:
Yes, that is EVERY SINGLE NATIONAL PARK SITE WITH A JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM. I put them all in by hand. I went to every single national park's website, searched for its Junior Ranger program, and if it had one I put it on my map.
When I plan road trips, I check my map for all the nation park sites with Junior Ranger programs that we could detour to, and then we detour to them. During our upcoming road trip, for instance, we're visiting Saint Croix Island and Acadia National Park, primarily for their Junior Ranger programs.
But the kids' enthusiasm for earning Junior Ranger badges is unceasing, and yet we cannot spend our entire year traveling to various national parks. If only!
So I went back through every one of those websites, and I noted every park that permits children to earn their Junior Ranger badge by mail. Most of these parks provide the badge book as a downloadable pdf for kids to complete using internet or book research (often the park's own website, but we've also found useful park videos on YouTube). They mail their completed badge books to the park, and in return, the park rangers mail them back their badges and certificates.
It's always, eternally thrilling.
The kids have been doing this for years now, and still have tons of Junior Ranger badges left to earn by mail. They've learned geography, history, and several sciences in the process, experienced the breadth and depth of the national experience in ways they haven't had the opportunity to do in person, and have an intense appreciation for the variety of cultural, historical, and geographic artifacts and monuments that must be explored, preserved, and protected.
Not every national park, or even most national parks, allow their Junior Ranger badges to be earned by mail, mind you. You'll know if one does, because it will say so on its website or on the book, and it will have the book available as a downloadable pdf and include a mailing address for the completed book to be sent to. Many parks will state, kind of pissily in my opinion, that they do NOT allow badges to be earned by mail, and that's their right, but I think everyone loses when they do that--why stifle a kid's desire to learn? Why refuse an opportunity to grow someone's knowledge and love of your national park?
Before you get your kid all revved up on earning these badges by mail, you should know that since you've got to mail the completed badge books to each park, you'll be paying a few bucks for postage and manila envelopes each time. If you're conserving resources, check out the online badges that I've noted in my list--those let kids either do or submit their work online, so you don't have to pay for either supplies or postage.
Fortunately, MANY national parks are happy to have more kids interested in them and working to learn more about them! Here are all the national park Junior Ranger badges that you can earn by mail:
- Aleutian World War II National Historical Area (Alaska)
- Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)
- Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Virginia). Kids can earn this one online!
- Arizona Trail Junior Explorer (Arizona)
- Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland)
- Aztec Ruins National Monument (New Mexico). Kids can earn this one online!
- Badlands National Park (South Dakota): maybe? You can mail your book in for a badge, but I don't know if you can actually complete it without visiting the park.
- Bering Land Bridge National Preserve (Alaska)
- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Wyoming)
- Boston African American National Historic Site (Massachusetts)
- Buffalo National River (Arkansas): maybe? You can request that a Junior Ranger book be mailed to you, but we haven't done this one yet, so I don't know if you can actually complete it by mail.
- California National Historic Trail (California)
- Cape Krusenstern National Monument (Alaska)
- Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (Maryland)
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (North Carolina)
- Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site (Washington, DC)
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)
- Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)
- Cesar E. Chavez National Monument (California)
- Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio). This one can be earned online!
- Clara Barton National Historic Site (Maryland)
- Cowpens National Battlefield (South Carolina)
- Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
- Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska). This was Syd's favorite Junior Ranger badge to earn by mail. She LOVED researching the sled dogs, and was thrilled when the ranger who mailed her badge to her wrote a letter to her that told her even more about them!
- Devils Postpile National Monument (California)
- Discovering the Underground Railroad (national)
- Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve (Washington)
- El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail (Texas)
- El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail (New Mexico)
- First Ladies National Historic Site (Ohio)
- Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee)
- Fort Hunt Park Junior Ranger Book (Washington, DC)
- Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)
- Fort Stanwix National Monument (New York)
- Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (Washington, DC)
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Utah)
- Governors Island National Monument (New York)
- Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (Arizona)
- Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi)
- Haleakala National Park (Hawaii)
- Harry S. Truman National Historic Site (Missouri)
- Historic Preservation Junior Ranger (national)
- Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York). This one says that it will *soon* be available to earn by mail.
- Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio). This can be earned online, although we visited there in real life.
- Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas). This, randomly, was one of Will's favorite Junior Ranger badges to earn by mail. She found the history of the hot springs fascinating, so much so that it's on our someday travel list!
- Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (Georgia). This is another badge that had a profound effect on Will. She was unexpectedly moved by the story of Jimmy Carter, and now longs to meet him.
- Johnstown Flood National Memorial (Pennsylvania). Both kids loved earning this one, and it led us to explore more about our own local dam.
- Juan Bautista De Anza Historic Trail (California). This one can be earned online.
- Junior Archaeologist (national)
- Junior Cave Scientist (national)
- Junior Civil War Historian (national)
- Junior Forest Ranger (national)
- Junior Green Ranger (national)
- Junior Ranger Angler (national)
- Junior Ranger Junior Paleontologist (national)
- Junior Ranger Night Explorer (national)
- Junior Ranger Underwater Explorer (national)
- Junior Ranger Wilderness Explorer (national)
- Junior Snow Ranger (national)
- Junior Suffragist (Washington, DC)
- Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
- Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield (Georgia)
- Keweenaw National Historical Park (Michigan)
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska)
- Kobuk Valley National Park (Alaska)
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada). This is another one you can request by email, but I don't know if you can actually complete it without a visit.
- Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (Nebraska)
- Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (Indiana). The kids earned this one in person!
- Little Rock Central High School (Arkansas). This one got earned in real-life, too.
- Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Virginia)
- Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Tennessee)
- Manzanar National Historic Site (California)
- Mary McLeod Bethune National Historic Site (Washington, DC)
- Midwest Archaeological Center Junior Ranger (Nebraska)
- Minuteman Missile Silo National Historic Park (South Dakota)
- Missouri National Recreational River (South Dakota)
- Monocacy National Battlefield (Maryland)
- Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)
- Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (Utah)
- National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (national)
- National Park of American Samoa Junior Ranger (American Samoa)
- New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts) Earn it online!
- New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (Louisiana)
- Niobrara National Scenic River (Nebraska)
- Noatak National Preserve (Alaska)
- Ocmulgee National Monument (Georgia). We went there last year!
- Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum (Oklahoma)
- Old Spanish National Historic Trail (New Mexico)
- Oregon National Historic Trail (Oregon)
- Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)
- Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)
- Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona). The kids earned this one by mail, because we didn't know about the Junior Ranger program when we visited there.
- Point Reyes National Seashore (California). I didn't know about Junior Rangers when we visited here, either--thank goodness for badges earned by mail!
- Pony Express National Historic Trail (Wyoming)
- President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home (Arkansas)
- Roger Williams National Memorial (Rhode Island)
- San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail (New Mexico)
- Sitka National Historical Park (Alaska). Matt and I have been to Sitka, but we weren't thinking about Junior Rangers while we were there!
- St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Junior Ranger (Wisconsin)
- Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)
- Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)
- Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (New Mexico)
- War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam)
- Women's Rights National Historical Park (New York)
- World Heritage Junior Ranger (national)
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska). Matt and I have been to Wrangell without the kids, too!
This is one of my absolute favorite activities that we do in our homeschool, but it's partly so wonderful because it's so adaptable. Sure, it can be your entire geography curriculum, or just an enrichment to another spine. You can include it in your history studies, or in the natural or earth sciences. Even if you don't homeschool, these Junior Ranger books are so fun that kids can simply DO them for fun. My kids do, and they think it's a nifty trick that I also let them count them for school!
If your kids love earning Junior Ranger badges, then they'd likely be interested in learning about the national park system as a whole--there's so much to explore there, from history and culture to geology and the sciences. Here are some of our favorite resources for learning about and exploring the national park system:
P.S. Want more obsessively-compiled lists of resources and activities for kiddos and the people who want to keep them happy and engaged? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page!