Get the kids excited about your upcoming trip to a National Park, Recreation Area or Historic Site in Washington State. Here, I’ve gathered information on great kids’ programs, Junior Ranger programs, camps and living-history museums. At the larger parks, I suggest stopping by the visitor centers, which may offer local pelts to pet, replica ranger cabins, models of the park’s range and other hands-on activities.
Olympic National Park. Western Washington State.
For kids: Check out the well-loved Junior Ranger program, this list of Olympic National Park activities for families and children, plus volunteer and ecological adventure camps for teens in the Olympic National Park.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Park. Southwest Washington (Coast).
This park is shared between Washington and Oregon locations, as ol’ L&C ended their journey at the mouth of the Columbia River. Print out the Junior Ranger workbook in advance to give kids context (ages 4 and up), but I recommend Oregon’s Fort Clatsop, just over the border, which seems frozen in time. Check out the National Historic Park’s summer camps, too.
Mount Rainier National Park. Western Washington State.
For kids: Get sworn in as a Junior Ranger after filling out the workbooks available at the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center. Stop by the new Sunrise visitor center and hike a trail. Find more to do with kids and teens at the Mount Rainier National Park.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Vancouver, Washington.
For kids: Learn about life in the 19th century! New playground, junior ranger program (download the Junior Ranger workbook), overnight and day camps and The “Kids Dig” archaeology program for ages 8-12, but only 20 spots are available. Reserve in advance.
Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. Northwest Washington.
Download the Junior Ranger workbook before you go to the wildlife-rich location, or pick up a copy while there.
Klondike Gold Rush — Seattle Unit. Seattle, Washington.
Right in downtown Seattle, learn about the region’s intertwined history with gold at this indoor museum (it is NOT an actual park). Do the Junior Ranger thing or listen to a live performance on the second Sunday of the month.
North Cascades National Park. North-Central Washington State.
For kids: New Junior Ranger and Scout Ranger programs, helpfully broken down into age-appropriate junior ranger materials for ages 3 and up. Download forms before you go and you’ll have plenty to keep the kids occupied en route. Discover more via the North Cascades NP’s site for kids.
San Juan Island National Historical Park. San Juan Island, Washington State.
Earn that junior ranger badge! Here’s a tip, mom and dad — print out the workbook in advance, then bring the completed pages to the English Camp or the American Camp. But the costumed story-tellers and reenactments are the most intriguing and unique elements here, so check out the schedule before boarding the ferry.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. Northeastern Washington.
Whitman Mission National Historic Site. Southeastern Washington.
No one is as polarizing as Narcissa Whitman. As recently in the 1980s, many of us learned that the missionary Whitmans were basically sacrificial saints. Not everyone feels this way, suffice it to say. Head here to explore the controversy and get a Junior Ranger badge.
Additional National Parks:
Minidoka National Park. Primarily in Idaho, this park explores the sad history of Japanese Internment. In Washington State, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is currently comprised of a “story wall” with the names of interned individuals and families. Nothing here though for kids, in particular.
Nez Perce National Historic Park. Spread out between Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, this park ranges as far as historic Nez Perce tribal lands. Unfortunately, the Junior Ranger programs are not offered at Washington’s site, limited to Joseph Canyon.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is next to and administered by the North Cascades National Park, but there aren’t roads into the NRA. You can hike in, or take a boat or seaplane to the quaint village of Stehekin, however, for tours of the Buckner homestead and one-room Stehekin School. You can also camp in Stehekin with kids.
Ross Lake National Recreation Area is also managed by the North Cascades National Park. Go boating on Ross Lake, or stay in one of the cute Ross Lake floating cabins accessible by boat only (and probably not a great bet for those with crawlers or toddlers).