how to earn a Junior Ranger badge at Yosemite National Park

One of our country’s pure treasures, the National Parks, celebrate their 100-year anniversary this week! We got out and celebrated the occasion a few weeks ago with a weekend trip to my favorite National Park, Yosemite National Park. Now we’ve been to the park before as a family, but now that Miss L turned six, she got to participate in a great program offered by the parks: the Junior Rangers!

What exactly does it take to become a Junior Ranger at Yosemite National Park? Just these 4 steps!

  1. Purchase a booklet published by the Yosemite Conservancy for $3.50 at any of the following stores:
    • Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
    • Nature Center at Happy Isles (May through September)
    • Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Centers (June through September)
    • Big Oak Flat Information Station (May through September)
  2. Complete the set number of activities in the book
  3. Collect a bag of trash
  4. Attend a guided program

We went on this weekend excursion with our friends, the great S Family, so we had two additional Junior Ranger-trainees in our camp: Miss M and Miss E! 

We stayed in the Lower Pines campground in Yosemite Valley for the three nights, which happens to be the location of the Lower Pines amphitheater and many guided programs. We attended two nighttime Ranger Programs: a Ranger talk on Friday and a “Who’s scat is that?” ranger talk on Sunday night. The girls loved both of them, and it was so nice having the whole experience just steps away from our campsite! (For a list of all the guided programs, check out the Yosemite Guide when you arrive)

Technically, the Ranger Talk on Friday night was our first step to becoming a Junior Ranger, but we didn’t know that just yet! The next day, we picked up three Junior Ranger booklets from the Nature Center at Happy Isles after our Saturday morning hike to see what the program was all about!

The booklets have a range of activities for younger and older kids to complete, but parents may need to provide some writing assistance to the 6-7 year olds. The girls had fun with the activities and filled out their books that afternoon and the following morning.

Then it was time to pick up some trash!

We packed the trash bags (and gloves that they give you!) and started off on a hike to Mirror Lake on Sunday morning. Who knew this would turn out to be the greatest decision ever! You’ll never have a bored hiker as long as you have a trash collector in your group!

The girls truly took pride and did an amazing job cleaning up the 1-mile trail in both directions, and each had a full trash bag to show for it!

Once their bags were properly disposed of, we hopped on the shuttle bus and went over to the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center to turn in their books.

The Visitors Center is usually quite crowded, so we decided to go around the lunch hour and hope to miss the crowds. The girls presented their books and the Ranger quizzed them on what they learned during their guided program, and other questions from the activities in the book. This definitely wasn’t a participation patch that everyone just gets for $3.50 and the rangers took it quite seriously!

After the quiz, the girls raised their arms and were administered the Junior Ranger oath!

They were each given their patch, and we walked away from the Visitors Center with three extremely happy and proud Junior Rangers!

As you can see, the program is quite easy to complete, but more importantly, it really does pass on the lessons of being a good National Park steward to children. I know that we’ll always keep trash bags and gloves with our hiking gear from now on, and hopefully this is just one of many patches that Miss L, Miss E and Miss M will be gathering in their Junior Ranger lifetime!