National Junior Ranger Day is just around the corner on Saturday, April 26.
For many children, becoming a Junior Ranger is an unforgettable experience. The program immerses kids in the outdoors. They are asked to observe, listen, smell, and hypothesize, while recording their experiences with the natural world in an activity booklet. The culminating moment in the Junior Ranger Program is when kids take the Junior Ranger Oath and receive the official golden badge.
Every park has a unique Junior Ranger Program. At Joshua Tree National Park, a talented team of rangers in the Education Division designed the activities. The program is creative and engaging, and completing it is one of the best ways for kids, ages four to fourteen, and adults to enjoy the park together.
From receiving the booklet to pinning on the badge, becoming a Junior Ranger is also completely free. The only thing that you and a future Junior Ranger have to do is come visit the park. For the upcoming Junior Ranger Day, we have put together a list of tips and information to help you plan a special day in the park.
Where to Start – Visitor Center. Pick up the free Junior Ranger activity booklet at a visitor center. A ranger or volunteer will go over the activities with you and your child. The booklet has three age-group-specific sections and one section for all ages.
Time – Plan for at least a Half Day. We recommend making a day of it and concentrating your visit on the 36-mile drive between the North (Twentynine Palms) and West (Joshua Tree) Entrances. This is a beautiful drive, and there are dozens of exhibits and nature trails to explore.
Where to Go – Best Short Trail. The Hidden Valley Nature Trail (1-mile loop) is a well-maintained flat trail that meanders among rock formations, Joshua trees, pinyon pines, cacti, and rock climbers. This is a great place to complete several pages in the activity booklet thanks to the diverse community of flora and fauna along the trail.
Where to Go – Best Longer Trail. The Split Rock Trail (2-mile loop) is an exciting place to go for interesting rock formations and cacti. Tell your prospective Junior Ranger to look for a tulip-shaped rock, a thumbs-up rock, and Face Rock. There are Joshua trees and pinyon pines (natural habitats for desert animals) along the trail too.
Where to Go – Exhibit. The Oasis Visitor Center’s geology and ecology exhibit is a wonderful introduction to the park. After picking up the activity booklet, be sure to check out the exhibit room (touring an exhibit is an activity in the booklet, page 5). You could also ask a volunteer or ranger about watching the park’s 25-minute video in the auditorium, or take the stroller-friendly paved trail around the Oasis of Mara (.5 mile). Fun fact: keep an eye out for the oasis’ resident roadrunner.
Don’t Miss – Page 30. This fun activity is required for all ages. It is at the end of booklet and can be easy to overlook.
What is That? – Take Pictures. As you travel through the park, take pictures of plants and animals you are unsure about. Rangers and volunteers can help your child identify them when you bring the finished booklet to a visitor center.
Where to Go – We’re Finished! Take a finished booklet to any entrance station, ranger station, or visitor center. We recommend the visitor centers for the best experience of taking the Junior Ranger Oath.
The Reward for Hard Work. Get your cameras ready when your child reviews his or her finished booklet with a ranger. You will want to capture their smile as they take the Junior Ranger Oath and receive a badge. Families that complete the Junior Ranger program at Joshua Tree National Park also receive a special gift that is unique to this park.
At the Joshua Tree National Park Association, one of our many ways of supporting the park is providing the materials that kids receive for free as a part of the Junior Ranger Program. Membership and donation dollars help with every one of these experiences.