Recently, we went on a four day excursion to Yellowstone. My kids know that video games go off the moment we drive through the arch at the North Entrance and usually they don’t complain too much. Yellowstone is magical and exciting and they are ready to see something interesting out the window. However, after a little while, the long drive begins to take its toll. They have just endured a five hour drive to get here and now we’re asking them to be patient as we negotiate the traffic from attraction to attraction.
One way we’ve learned to combat this boredom is with Yellowstone’s Junior Ranger program. Just head to the nearest visitors center and pick one up for your kids. There are separate activity books for ages 5-7 and 8+. There are also three different patches you can earn in Yellowstone. The wolf track is for 5-7, the bear track is for 8+ and the snowflake is for winter rangers. The Junior Ranger packet is a little bit clunky (it’s a big 11×17 newspaper), especially for kids who are not used to refolding a newspaper. The last page of the packet has a list of activities and pages that your Junior Ranger needs to complete to get a patch. Once they finish the activities, they spend a few minutes with a ranger at one of the visitors centers. The ranger makes sure they have at least learned a fact or two before giving them their Junior Ranger patch.
My favorite page of the 8+ Junior Ranger packet is the “Letting Off Steam” page where you can predict the next eruption of Old Faithful. This is a great activity if you plan to have lunch at Old Faithful. Your Junior Ranger can watch an eruption, predict the next eruption and then figure out if the prediction was accurate. Ours was accurate to the minute! Very cool. Incidentally, the visitors center at Old Faithful is worth at least an entire morning, if not a day. There are lots of buttons to push and demonstrations to watch in the interactive science museum. It is the perfect way to take a break from the late afternoon sun, while learning about the surrounding park.
Another great thing about the Junior Ranger packets is that they force you to attend a ranger led talk or an evening campfire. I had never been to one of these in all my years of travel in the parks. I always found an excuse to miss them (easy to do after a long day of driving). But, because of the added Junior Ranger pressure, I finally went to one. The campfires are fun and informative… it’s definitely worth checking out at least one.
Some Tips ForParents of Junior Rangers:
- Get the packet anyway. They might say it looks boring or that they don’t want to do it, but they will change their tune at your fifteenth bison related traffic jam.
- Have your kids pack a clipboard and mechanical pencils in their backpacks. Pencils, not pencil. They will lose them. I promise.
- Don’t wait until it’s too late in the game – these packets really do take some work. Junior Rangers are not made in a day and yours may be pretty upset if they don’t have enough time to complete the packet!
- Download it off the web if you want, but realize that the pages you are printing out are actually supposed to be 11×17. The text on the pdf printouts that you can download from the nps website is very small and not that great for anyone under 10.