Free National Park Family Programs

Author: Lucy Tingey

Tags : Biking, Camping, Cheap Vacation, Eco-Tourism, Hiking, Kids, National Parks, North America, Teens, USA, Watersports

Combine a road trip with a national park visit for one of the top budget family vacations we know. Thanks to federal funding, the National Park Service has expanded all Junior Ranger programs to incorporate fun physical fitness activities with learning about nature. That means you can stay longer and engage with the parks, not just drive through them. 

Get the Family Moving with Let's Move Programs

Your kids can learn to be healthy and active while still having fun with Let’s Move Outside, a program that is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s nationwide campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. Led by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, this free program makes it easy for parents to encourage their children to enjoy outdoor recreation and exercising while also teaching them about the United States' beautiful lands. 

To make this active recreation program accessible to all ages and all regions, it has been implemented as part of the popular Junior Ranger programs available at almost all of the 52 national parks and monuments. Every aspect of the program, including workbooks and badges, is free of charge.  It has been so successful that at a White House reception for Olympic athletes, First Lady Michelle Obama declared, "By the end of this year, we will have helped 1.7 million kids all across the country get healthy and active -- and maybe we've inspired some future Olympian and Paralympians, as well."

Enhanced NPS Junior Ranger Programs make Fit Kids

In conjunction with the free learning program and scheduled events that each park uses to teach kids about its unique history, flora and fauna, Let's Move organizes physical activities to complement the learning. Kids who complete at least one physical activity will be able to earn the special designation and a sticker.

Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia is just one example of what the National Parks are doing. At Assateague, Junior Ranger participants can get active with snorkeling and kayaking along the park's beautiful seashore. They even run a A Mini-Ranger Program for kids ages 4-5.  

Let's Move Activities Featured at US National Parks

Activities offered at other parks range from hiking and biking, to swimming, camping, paddling, and horseback riding, and all are open to all family members accompanying the Junior Ranger candidate. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said of the Junior Ranger program, ”Exercise is disguised as adventure, and we sneak in some learning, too.”

Parks where the new action-oriented program is up and running, listed by state, include:

Parks where the new action-oriented program is up and running, listed by state, include:

Natchez Trace Parkway

Denali National Park and Preserve

Grand Canyon National Park

Hot Springs National Park

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Redwood National and State Parks
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Colorado National Monument
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Hovenweep National Monument

Big Cypress National Preserve
Biscayne National Park
Canaveral National Seashore
Everglades National Park
Gulf Islands National Seashore

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Yellowstone National Park

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Acadia National Park

Assateague Island National Seashore
Catoctin Mountain Park
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
George Washington Memorial Parkway

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Voyageurs National Park

Gulf Islands National Seashore
Natchez Trace Parkway
Vicksburg National Military Park

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Yellowstone National Park

Missouri National Recreational River

New Jersey
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

New York
Fire Island National Seashore

North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Gettysburg National Military Park
Johnstown Flood National Memorial

South Dakota
Missouri National Recreational River

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Natchez Trace Parkway

Padre Island National Seashore

Hovenweep National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument

Assateague Island National Seashore
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Prince William Forest Park
Shenandoah National Park

Mount Rainier National Park
Olympic National Park

Washington, D.C.
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Fort Dupont Park
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Rock Creek Park

West Virginia
Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
New River Gorge National River

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Yellowstone National Park

There has to be a convenient national park stopover on this list for anyone taking a road trip almost anywhere!

Trip Planning Tips from NPS & Junior Rangers

Visit the websites of the above-mentined parks, or the site Lets Move Outside for more information about activities, a full list of currently participating parks, and tips on how to best plan and enjoy an active national park visit.  The National Parks Service website has excellent information about local camping facilities and accommodations advice as well.

Note! This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.