FREE: Visit National Parks, Courtesy of Your Fourth Grader 
Updated: Oct 30, 2022
Every Kid Outdoors Program 2022
Did you know that every fourth grader in the United States is entitled to free entry to National Parks - and more - for the entire school year and summer? It's true.
The program, "Every Kid Outdoors" enables students, all children under 16 years of age and three adults in one car to enter any of the following for free:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service
National Park Service
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Why? Because research has shown that children that are approximately ten years old are more receptive to learning about the environment and seeing the world in more concrete ways. Kids who learn about the environment and learn to take care of our planet now will grow up to be great stewards as adults.
What are you waiting for, if you haven't gone to one of our National Parks or recreation areas? Bill and I didn't start planning National Park trips until we had kids and I wish that we had started earlier so that we could hike more strenuous trails and do more backwoods camping. Plus, it's a lot more fun to take a Camelbak with wine over juice boxes and leaky children's water bottles (I'm looking at you, Contigo).
Still, whether you are an adult or a child, the parks are nature's playground. There's nothing like driving SR41 to Yosemite and emerging from the Wawona tunnel to see El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridal Veil falls. The view is breath-taking.
Yosemite National Park, photos by Ryan Kelaart, Chrissy Trotter. Arches National Park photo by Bill Trotter
National Parks also have a wide range of trails for people of all ages and accessibility needs. Kids can get a Junior Ranger book at one of the Ranger stations and complete a series of activities to qualify for a Junior Ranger badge. The final step includes showing your completed work to the Ranger and reciting the Junior Ranger oath. See participating parks and to download and complete some Junior Ranger activities on your own.
Photos of Big Bend National Park by Chrissy Trotter and Bonnie Gibson
When and How to Apply for the Every Kid Outdoors program
The Every Kid Outdoors program link provides detailed information about the free pass. Kids are requested to fill out a series of questions that will help guide them according to their interests to the appropriate facilities. At the end of the questionnaire, they will be given an electronic pass to print. The fine print indicates that you cannot just show a picture; you must actually have a hard copy. Make sure you save a PDF and print out a few extra copies before leaving home.
How Far in Advance You Should Book a National Park trip?
Our parks are well-utilized so it is important to plan ahead (oftentimes, years in advance for favorites like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon). Look at the park's website to see when their availability opens up. Set your alarm for that date and time and don't be late. Availability at popular parks can be gone in minutes. If you are not able to get reservations at first, try again. Cancellations happen.
For those of you that have visited National Parks or any other National Recreation areas, please share your favorite places and things to do. Are there any in your current plans?
Lace up your boots and get going!
Updated August 24, 2022