It's no secret that I crazy-love our National Parks. When it comes to adventures for my military family, National Parks are this perfect option just sitting there, waiting.
What makes it so great? Here are three great reasons that you should add hitting a National Park or, better yet, a bunch of National Parks to your military family summer plans.
1. Biggest reason: they're free. Military families and disabled veterans have free access to National Parks through two programs. Military families -- both service members and military spouses -- can get a free America the Beautiful pass, which will get them free admission to those parks that charge for access. And the Access Pass is available to all disabled veterans regardless of disability rating. That pass is good for both free admission and some reduced-cost camping and activities. Free is good.
2. A perfect PCS pause. Road-tripping by National Park is one of my favorite things. Since they are scattered across the U.S., they offer the perfect distraction during any PCS.
The Junior Ranger program is a great way to distract your kids from car ride boredom. The Junior Ranger booklets are designed for school aged kids, and include a parade of activities that can be completed by exploring the park or even just pursuing the visitor center.
Even adults can use a chance to stretch their legs with a hike or even just a take a stroll down one of the access paths near the visitor center. Visiting a park doesn't have to be long or complicated. But it's always a great break.
3. Programs designed just for military kids. If you're lucky enough to get in on one of the Blue Star Families and National Park Trust meet-ups, you'll find free books for the kiddos and maybe even a private Ranger-led adventure.
Over Memorial Day weekend my family joined one such adventure at Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward Alaska. Not only did we walk away with some cool swag, tummies full of lunch and raffle prizes, we got several hours of small group attention from a Park Ranger.
Ranger CJ guided my kids through their Junior Ranger book, answered approximately 1,323 questions about glaciers, expressed what sure seemed like genuine amazement at every rock my 6-year-old presented and, finally, swore the whole group in as official Junior Rangers. It was fabulous.