Get the kids excited about your upcoming trip to a National Park, National Recreation Area or National Historic Site in Washington State. Here, I’ve gathered information on great kids’ programs, Junior Ranger programs, camps and living-history museums. Don’t forget that if you have a fourth-grade child, you can get free admission to certain parks.
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.
Western Washington Family-Friendly National Parks
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.
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.
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.
Central Washington Family-Friendly National Parks
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.
Eastern Washington Family-Friendly National Parks
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. Northeastern Washington. Roosevelt offers a Junior Ranger program (check in at the Fort Spokane Visitor Center), attend a ranger-led program and learn about wildlife and frontier life.
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.