Blue Mesa at Petrified Forest NPDuring April 16 – 24, 2016 we celebrate National Park Week! Also later in the year (August 25, 2016) the National Park Service celebrates their 100th birthday. It is quite an exciting year for the National Park Service!

My military family has major love for our National Parks. Most of our vacations include a road trip where we can visit a few new ones. We just recently got back from a vacation that included: Grand Canyon NP, Wupatki NM, Sunset Crater NM, Walnut Canyon NM, Petrified Forest NP, and Death Valley NP (NP = National Park, NM = National Monument). Yes, all were AMAZINGLY beautiful. Grand Canyon has been a bucket list item for me for a long time (I got to do Sequoia and King’s Canyon NP in 2012 and Arches NP in 2014, both long time bucket list items as well and both equally amazing).

IMG_0707One of the best parts is that visiting these parks are completely FREE for military families. Let me put it in perspective: driving a vehicle into Grand Canyon National Park will cost you $30.00. If entering by foot or bicycle, $15.00. People, that is a huge savings!!! Civilians that go to National Parks quite frequently can save money by purchasing the $80.00 annual pass. Again, we military families can get the annual pass for FREE. It’s as easy as just showing your military ID (active duty, reserves and guard, military dependent IDs are all accepted). When showing our military annual pass to the ranger at Death Valley NP she got excited and said that she didn’t see many military families using their pass and wanted to make sure we told all our friends about the program.

jr rangerWhile in the park definitely have your Mil Kid take advantage of another free program; become a Junior Ranger! When you arrive head straight to the visitor center and ask one of the rangers for a Junior Ranger booklet. Each booklet varies according to age. Mostly they will be asked questions about the particular park and general questions about being out in nature; such as, what should you always take on a hike (water) and is it okay to leave trash behind (no, of course). Littlest Junior Rangers are typically asked to color a picture of something at the park. Once your booklet is complete, return to the visitor center and show it to the ranger. Together they will sign the certificate on the back of the booklet, recite the Junior Ranger pledge, and your kiddo will be given a cool badge! Extra tip: take your signed Junior Ranger certificate to the gift shop to buy the Junior Ranger patch (typically $1.00-$2.00) that is specific to that National Park. You can ONLY buy them if you became a Junior Ranger. I feel all secret agenty every time I do it. *Slides certificate to employee…employee reaches below and slides patch over*

I want to hear all about your National Park experiences. Which one is your favorite? Which one are you planning to visit? Does your Mil Kid have a cool Junior Ranger badge collection? Share in the comments!

Erica Glass is a Volunteer Chapter Director for Blue Star Families at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.