Combining a road trip with a national park visit makes one of the top budget family vacations we know, especially when there are so many free children’s activities. Thanks to federal funding, the National Park Service (NPS) has expanded many Junior Ranger programs to incorporate fun physical fitness activities with learning about nature. Now overseeing 400 National Parks in addition to Military Parks, National Monuments, National Parkways and Seashores, and Urban Parks, the NPS welcomed 307,247,252 visitors in 2015. Their resources may be stretched thin, but at their 100 year anniversary, the NPS staff is enabling visitors to stay longer and engage with the parks, not just drive through them. The new Find Your Park campaign urges travelers to share their tales, research the parks, and discover which ones speak to them. What a great idea to plan your road trip.
Get the Family Moving with Active, Outdoors Adventures
Your kids can learn to be healthy and active while still having fun with Let’s Move Outside, a 2015 program led by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture. This free program, still active at many parks, makes it easy for parents to encourage their children to enjoy outdoor recreation and exercise while also teaching them about the United States’ beautiful lands.
To make and active recreation and learning 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. The Every Kid in a Park program makes it possible for any fourth grader to visit any or all of the national parks with their family, free of charge, too.
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, there are physical activities to complement the learning.
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is just one example of what the National Parks are doing. Junior Ranger participants can get active almost any day of the week in summer. There are twice weekly hikes up Hot Springs Mountain, and regular trail walks to find animal tracks, special leaves or geological formations. For the park’s centennial, they have implemented a weekly Saturday morning hike that builds to a total of 100 miles explored by the end of 2016.
Recreation and Healthy 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.
Parks where action-oriented programs are up and running are listed by state, with more being added all the time. So far they include:
Natchez Trace Parkway
Grand Canyon National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Acadia National Park
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
Missouri National Recreational River
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Fire Island National Seashore
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Missouri National Recreational River
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
As tax payers, many Americans feel the national parks should be free. In fact, there is an $80 annual fee for a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass that admits a vehicle and its passengers to any NPS property. Some parks may charge a per head visitor fee if there are more than four in a vehicle; at all parks, children under 15 enter free.
Visit the websites of the above-mentioned parks, or the National Park Service website for more information about currently participating parks, and tips on how to best plan and enjoy an active national park visit. The NPS website also has excellent information about local camping facilities and accommodations advice as well.
Are you fired up and ready to go? Don’t be discouraged if the many famous national park lodges are already fully booked for this year. Many of our State Parks have incorporated very active learning programs into their schedules, and they offer surprising treasures that are less often explored. Campers can also turn to KOA Kampgrounds for others ideas of where to enjoy a wallet-friendly overnight stay near to your chosen national park or state park.
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