I can’t think of anything more satisfying than getting a new stamp in your passport. Nothing beats having that sense of accomplishment made official by the stamper hitting your passport page. This is certainly true of your international passport. But it’s also very true of a National Park Passport from the US National Parks Service!
Our family makes it a point to see as many national parks as possible, so our kids have each had their own National Park Passport since their first visits to national parks as babies. They are treasured keepsakes for both kids. I think all families should visit national parks, and all people that visit US national parks should get National Park Passports.
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What is a National Park Passport?
The United States’ National Park Service National Park Passport program is voluntary for national parks and their affiliated areas, but nearly every national park participates in this popular program. (The above link also takes you to a PDF of all the parks participating in the program.) Visitors can purchase a passport at any participating visitor center within a national park, or you can purchase one online here before you go.
The passports themselves are thicker than an international passport because they contain a lot of great information about the national parks. They are divided into regions of the country, so for example, if you are going to Canyonlands National Park, you will find spaces for stamps in the Rocky Mountain Region section of the passport.
How do I use a National Park Passport?
Once you have the passport, you bring it to any participating visitor center within the national park. There will be designated place (usually on a raised podium) with a stamper on it set to today’s day. There is also usually scrap paper there so you can practice stamping before you stamp the real thing. Find the proper section in your passport for where to place the stamp, and stamp it!
Pro Tip: Have your kids practice doing the stamp, and help them if they need help, but definitely let them stamp their own passport!
Another Pro Tip: If you anticipate visiting a lot of national parks, be sure to maximize the space by fitting in four stamps per open space.
Below are a couple pages from my son’s passport. As you can see, the passports also include spaces where you can purchase colorful stickers from the parks to include in your passport as well. Our kids loved getting these, especially when they were little. Some parks also have more decorative stamps you can include that don’t have the date (like the Mount Rushmore stamp in the bottom right).
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Why should I get a National Park Passport?
A very cool souvenir from your national park adventures, right?! If you’re still not sure, here are five reasons our kids (and we parents) have loved National Park Passports.
1. They love to look back at them. Our kids love to look at their own passports to see where they’ve been and where there are gaps. If they can’t remember a park, they want to go back.
2. It’s a great way to track family travel. If you don’t tend to journal your trips like I do, the passports provide a chronology of when and where you went.
3. It makes visiting national parks a priority. Our family has a goal of visiting as many national parks in the US (and the world) as possible. Getting more stamps in their passports makes visiting national parks a higher priority when we plan family trips.
4. They will always have these souvenirs. My kid might lose or wreck the raven puppet she insisted on getting at Canyonlands National Park earlier this year (which cost a lot more than a passport does, by the way). But they treasure these passports like their baby books. It will be something we can put on display at their high school graduations. And they can show their own children someday.
5. They have character. Our kids take care of their passports. (Probably because I take charge of keeping track of them.) You can see from my photos that the page edges aren’t bent up or frayed, and the cover looks like new. But the imperfect stamps and the crooked stickers all give a National Park Passport a little more charm.
If you are looking for a fantastic family travel keepsake from your time traveling the United States, there is no better choice than the National Park Passport. I have talked to many parents who have regretted not getting these passports for their kids. I am a little sad I don’t have one for myself. Enjoy!
One Last Incentive…
For those of you thinking about visiting US National Parks with your kids, the National Parks Service offers the Every Kid in the Parks program for families of fourth grade students. If your child is in the fourth grade, their family can visit the national parks for free for a year! Our family took advantage of this on our trip to California. It was so easy!
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