Junior Ranger Birthday Party

Want to throw a Junior Ranger birthday party for your little nature lover? We had so much fun with this theme.

Not only did 7-year-old William’s idea align beautifully with our family’s love of nature and National Parks, it also made it easy to throw the party outside where the party animals could run free! READ MORE

The North Cascades Institute

All travel promotes learning one way or another but we make a real effort to choose destinations that offer experiences aligned with our values. We just returned from our second annual 4th of July Family Getaway Weekend at the North Cascades Institute and it was absolutely wonderful. It’s hard to believe that such a remarkable all-inclusive destination exists at the edge of rugged mountain wilderness, on the shores of glistening green Lake Diablo with dramatic snowcapped mountains all around. Lucky for us, it does exist and not only is it kid-friendly, for several weekends a year they offer programs designed specifically for families!
The fun started on Friday morning at 10am. Yes, it was a little tricky to get packed up and ready to hit the road so early (it takes about two and a half hours to drive there from our house) but the early start is well worth the effort to have the whole day to spend on vacation in the forested wonderland of North Cascades National Park. Plus, it makes the trip an even better value with lunch included on that first day. We played a few “ice-breaker” games to get to know the other families and were thrilled to see that there were a lot of kids around the same age as ours. After a hearty, healthy, veg-friendly lunch, sign-up sheets were posted for families to choose their desired activities. We picked something called “Ecosystem Exploration” and also signed up for the Ranger-led Junior Ranger Exploration to earn yet another Junior Ranger Badge (apparently they let kids earn as many as they want from each park and let me tell you, William wears those badges with pride and wants as many as he can get)! Additional activities (various group hikes, free play in the art room, games, and story time to name a few) were offered that didn’t require signing up but plenty of time is also left open for family time, walks, relaxation, or whatever you choose.
Accommodations are Spartan with only two sets of bunk beds, a couple chairs and a small desk in each room but they are clean and well maintained. Pillows and a fitted sheet are provided but other than that, you bring your own bedding. The plain rooms weren’t a problem for us since we didn’t spend much time in the room but the thin walls with no sound-proofing were wearisome. The family staying in the room next to ours arrived after 10pm and had two kids to get settled down… noisy… and I’m sure we were too noisy for them the following morning. Oh well, I guess it goes with the territory if you sign up for a family weekend. Thankfully all the daytime activities had our kids so worn out that they weren’t easily woken during the night. Bathrooms are down the hall but that worked out well so I could shower and get dressed without waking the kids up in the morning.
It didn’t even take 24 hours for William to start insisting on hanging out with his new friends, totally in his element. Sara tends to be more reserved but she loved the beach and participated in a lot of the cooperative games (balls and hula hoops are left out in a common area for kids to play with).
The first night we took a walk down to Diablo Dam then on the second night the next we enjoyed a campfire complete with fun songs, Native stories, a silly skit, and smores (Sara’s turn to totally be in her element). It was especially hard for William to say goodbye to his new BFFs but after the Ranger Exploration, Badge presentation, and a lovely slideshow of moments from the weekend, we took one last walk to the dining hall then headed out. We will be back!

Family-Friendly Fun in Tucson, Arizona

Between visits to Great Grandma’s place in Arizona last Spring, we headed to Tucson and stayed at the super family-friendly JW Marriott Starr Pass resort for the first time. It was magnificent! Tucked into the desert hills beside Tucson Mountain Park is this gorgeous, sprawling adobe compound that was built only 5 years ago. There was a wonderful blend of luxury and family-friendliness. We didn’t have to go far for great food (there are several restaurants on-site and we love not having to drive anywhere to eat dinner) or entertainment (the pools and nearby hikes are fantastic). Water fountains that shot up from the ground and moved periodically were the kids’ favorite but we also loved the lazy river which wasn’t so lazy with kids on our laps in inner tubes, doing many laps of chasing each other.
Sara running alongside the lazy river while William and Dad float along
Single or double inner tubes for floating around the lazy river (there is also a water slide at one end)

We also loved that the Marriott was so close to the Saguaro National Park West so we could get an early start to do some exploring before the sun chased us indoors. William was especially eager to earn a Saguaro National Park Junior Ranger badge to add to his growing collection (he has ones from Olympic and North Cascades National Parks already).

Before having kids, I had never heard of this Junior Ranger program and I’m actually the child of a National Park Service Chief Ranger (darn it, Dad, I would have liked one of those badges myself)! Anyhow, if you aren’t familiar with it already, this fun, educational program is absolutely one of the best things around. Kids are given a workbook and asked to complete several nature activities (possibly identifying tracks, going on a scavenger hunt, or writing a haiku). William took his tasks very seriously and stuck with it even after bumping his leg right into a prickly pear! When they’re done, a park ranger reviews their work then asks them to raise their right hand and repeat this pledge:

“I, (fill in name), am proud to be a National Park Service Junior Ranger. I promise to appreciate, respect, and protect all national parks. I also promise to continue learning about the landscape, plants, animals and history of these special places. I will share what I learn with my friends and family.”

How cool is that?! Here is a list of participating parks.

William getting a little help from Bob Cat. Busy Sara helping some birds take flight
Reciting their pledge with Ranger Donna. When they finished, she made an announcement over the intercom to introduce their newest Junior Rangers. The kids were delighted.