Some of the very best things to see and do while traveling the US in an RV can be found in our country’s national parks. This is true no matter how old you are, or how young.
In fact, while visiting national parks with kids might look a bit different than it would if you went without them, it is no less incredible. In some ways, taking the kids along can be even more fun than the alternative, and it certainly provides the young explorers with some unique and memorable educational opportunities that simply cannot be found in a textbook.
If you plan on visiting a national park with kids, you will of course want to make sure you have the best possible time there. As a mom who’s had the pleasure of visiting countless NPS sites with kids, I’ve been able to compile a list of tips that could help any parent make their trip to a national park better.
This tip comes into play before you ever even step foot in a national park. And no, I don’t mean you should all sit down with workbooks and textbooks and spend hours doing boring research. Instead, find some cool books and videos that give information on the park you’ll be visiting. Play a game to get the kids interested in checking out the parks.
Even just having a fun family discussion about where you’re going, how the park came to be, and the plants and animals you might see there can be a fun way to help younger explorers get excited.
Need ideas for ways to make learning about the parks fun? Check out this blog post.
Observe and Discuss
When you get to the park, don’t rush from one spot to the other. Instead, take the time to really take in your surroundings. Ask your child questions about what he or she thinks about certain aspects of the park. Discuss your findings with one another. Make a point of really connecting with each other and the park, and make sure your child is engaged in the experience.
Grab a Camera
Looking for other ways to ensure your kid is engaged in the national park experience? Grab a camera and let them snap some photos! I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t love taking pictures, and snapping photos of their surroundings helps kids be more observant.
In addition to making a visit to a national park more fun, handing your child a camera also gives you a chance to take a peek at their perspective by looking at the photos they capture. This is really fun and can make for interesting conversation after the visit.
Attend Ranger Programs
Every national park we’ve visited has offered some sort of ranger program, and the vast majority of these have been included with admission. Sometimes these are talks, other times they’re nature walks or hikes, or something else entirely. No matter what kind of program is being offered, take advantage of it!
These programs are informative and engaging and really help round out the national park experience. Most rangers have been really friendly toward our kids, and have been willing to answer questions and talk to our son on his level.
These interactions have been awesome for getting him excited about exploring the parks, and we will always make a point of attending some sort of ranger program when visiting NPS sites.
Earn Junior Ranger Badges
In addition to attending ranger programs, we also highly recommend taking advantage of the junior ranger program. This is a program that is offered at all NPS sites.
To participate, kids work their way through a site-specific activity booklet. Often these books include requirements such as watching a park video, going on a hike, or attending a ranger talk. They also include activities such as word searches, story writing, drawing, etc.
When the book is complete, young explorers can return to a ranger station to be sworn in as a junior ranger and receive a park-specific badge. We’ve collected a huge number of badges, which our son displays on a vest. Some RVing friends have other ways of displaying their badges, including hats, banners, and even just a ribbon hanging by their bunk.
Invest in an Annual Pass
Because we travel full-time and end up at a lot of NPS sites, we find that the “America the Beautiful” annual pass is well worthwhile. Honestly, even if you only visit a few of the bigger parks in a year, this pass pays for itself. Therefore, if you plan to take your kids to several parks, we highly recommend purchasing this pass.
It should also be noted that kids in 4th grade can acquire an annual national parks pass. Visit this site for more information on how to go about this.
Ready to have an awesome time exploring national parks with your kids? Pack up the RV, hit the road, and get ready for some excellent adventures!
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About the author: Chelsea Gonzales
Chelsea has the amazing opportunity to take part in full-time RV living and traveling with her tiny tribe. She homeschools her five-year-old son as they travel, and takes full advantage of their unique situation by using the entire world as her son’s classroom. A group of total Disney fanatics, Chelsea and her family often find themselves in the Orlando area in order to visit the Disney parks, but they have also visited over 25 of the 50 states with plans to see many more along the way. No matter where her travels take her, Chelsea enjoys riding bikes, gazing at beautiful sunsets, finding new coffee shops, Irish dancing, and sitting around a campfire with her family.
You can join her adventures through her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander.