One of the best ways to introduce kids to Yellowstone in winter is by combining the Winter Junior Ranger program with your scheduled Yellowstone winter tour. You can learn more about this program at the West Yellowstone Visitor Center (corner of Cnayon and Yellowstone Avenues).

Plan ahead to include this program in your day before taking a snowmobile or snowcoach tour, skiing or snow shoeing, or driving into the northern parts of the park. It will keep kids active and involved, and you may learn something too. (How many different types of snow crystals can you identify?)

The Junior Ranger winter program is an off-shoot of the original summer program and open to children ages between the ages of 5-12. The goal of the program is to introduce children to the natural wonders of Yellowstone and their role in preserving them for the future.

The National Park Service created the Junior Ranger program in the early 1960s to connect children and families with the natural and cultural history found in National Parks. It now spans 286 parks with approximately 330,000 annual participants. Here in Yellowstone , the program started in 1992. Within the first year over 5000 junior ranger badges were awarded. In 2005, approximately 18,000 children completed the program. It is estimated as many as 90% of the children complete their activity papers to earn a patch.

In the winter, participants explore the winter world of snow, ice and steam through activities focusing on geology, wildlife adaptations, weather, snow crystals and more. In addition to completing an age-appropriate activity paper, participants attend a program led by a park ranger, record wildlife observations, make a record of geyser and hot spring activity, and hike, ski, or snowshoe a trail.

Kids from 5 to 12 can earn a cool winter badge when they complete their activities. The program is based on age-appropriate activities and easy to follow. You can sign-up at the Visitor’s Centers (at West Yellowstone, Old Faithful , or Mammoth). The activity newspaper is $3.00 and allows each child to choose from activities focusing on geology, wildlife adaptations, weather, snow crystals and more.

Kids from 5-7 years complete pages 2 (or 3), 4, 5, and 8. Kids, from 8-12, complete pages four through eight.  Some of the pages can even be done while riding in a snowcoach or stopping for lunch (tracing your way through the “Winter Wonderland,” filling in the blanks about “Winter Wildlife,” or just describing “Your Winter Journey.” Kids need to walk on one trail, observe wildlife, record the geysers or hot springs they visit, and attend a ranger presentation.  (If you can’t attend a program, the visitor center staff can provide a substitute activity when checking you out.)

The winter program differs from the summer one in that you can also check out a “Snowpack” for the program. The Snowpack includes special equipment like a  crystal card hand lens for looking at snow layering, a thermometer for measuring variations in temperature in different layers, and a wind gauge anemometer for weather-related activity. Snowshoes are also available at the Mammoth Visitor Center specifically for use by families working on the Junior Ranger program.

After completing the requirements and reviewing their work with a ranger at any visitor center, participants are awarded an official snowflake Yellowstone Junior Ranger patch, modeled after the National Park Service patches. It can easily be done within a day’s visit. 

If you can’t make it into Yellowstone, there is a similar program offered by the Gallatin National Forest at West Yellowstone, Montana.  Come join Gallatin National Forest employees and learn more about the winter ecosystem & become an official Forest Service Jr. Snow Ranger, all at the same time. This short outdoor program offers information on how to stay warm and have fun in the winter outdoors, how different animal species adapt to winter survival, identifying tracks and other landmarks. Call the Hebgen Lake Ranger Station at 406-823-6961 for further information. Bundle up and enjoy the fun!