From Maine's Acadia to Utah's Zion, kids (and parents, too) get to do what rangers do, at 286 national parks, monuments, and historic sites across the country. Junior Rangers assist with wildlife counts, water-quality tests, and trail conservation while exploring the woods, shore, mountains, or desert on ranger-led outings, which take place daily during vacation months. At each location, participants also pick up activity books that send them out to take bark rubbings, go on scavenger hunts, decipher petroglyphs, and play Nature Bingo (spot a turkey vulture, a chorus frog, and a big-horned sheep—bingo!). Once candidates have accomplished the missions required for their age group, they are sworn in, issued the park patch (or pin or sticker), even, on occasion, taught a secret handshake. Some dedicated Junior Rangers have collected as many as 50 awards—and quite a few, since the program began in the late sixties, have grown up to become the real thing.

For more information and a list of participating parks, log on to A newly developed virtual Junior Ranger program is at Buy an official parks passport ($7.95 at park bookstores; and collect each site's own stamp, along with a badge, as you go.