With summer in full swing, many families are looking for vacation ideas that are affordable and fun. National parks and monuments are often overlooked destinations that provide opportunities to visit some of the great wonders of this land at a very reasonable price. Many national parks also have campgrounds in the parks where you can camp for a small fee.
The America the Beautiful Pass will get you into over 2000 federal recreation sites across the USA including the 58 national parks for the low price of only $80 per year. Active duty military members can get a free annual pass, seniors can get a pass for only $10, and people with disabilities may be eligible for the free Access pass.
When planning a trip to the national parks, check out the National Park website for a wealth of resources about each park, and then go and “like” the Facebook pages of parks you want to visit so you will get updates about activities and special events that are scheduled in each park.
If you are traveling with children, the Junior Ranger program provides an educational activity that will keep the kids engaged and entertained, all while learning something about each destination. Each park, as well as many national monuments and even some state parks, offers its own Junior Ranger booklet that is available for free to visiting children. The target age range is generally 5-12 years of age, though that does vary. A few parks also offer a Senior Ranger program for teens and adults, and several offer additional activities through the year that are targeted to children. Nearly all are free, though some parks charge a nominal fee for their booklets.
In order to complete the Junior Ranger books, each child will need to complete a certain number of activities within the book. This ranges from hiking trails to attending ranger-led programs to learning about displays in the Visitor Center of the park. Plan to allow at least a couple hours to work on books. Our family usually stretches the activities out over 2 or 3 days, and we find that our younger children need a little help to get their book finished.
Once the Junior Ranger booklet is completed, the rangers at the park will go over the information with each child to make sure they understand what they have learned. Once this is completed, the park rangers will conduct a short ceremony to “swear in” the newest Junior Rangers in the park system. There are badges or patches for all successful participants.
So many people visit national parks and do a simple drive through, and they miss an opportunity to enjoy what the parks have to offer. Using the list of activities in each Junior Ranger book is an excellent starting point to get acquainted with the many features of each park and to take a detailed look at these national treasures. Best of all, these fun and educational destinations are excellent choices for the budget-conscious family.
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