Do you have a 4th Grader? If you do, then an awesome resource is available for them. It’s called Every Kid in a Park. This program offered by the U.S. Government was created so fourth graders and their families could explore our amazing country for free.
Fourth graders visit the Every Kid in a Park website to begin their adventure. Just have your fourth grader click on Get Your Pass and follow the online directions. Last you will print your fourth graders pass. The pass is good for one year. The 2017-2018 passes will be available in September of 2017. Start planning your fourth grader’s year of exploration!
Our family used the Every Kid in a Park pass to explore many national parks and monuments over the month of July. Our adventure included the Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Mesa Verde National Park.
Grand Canyon North Rim
First on our trip was close to home. We headed to Jacob Lake the first day and set up our tent. Tent set-up was a slow process. I had not practiced setting the tent up ahead of time. One hour and ten minutes later we had it up and ready for sleeping (yes I timed the set-up 😉 ). The air mattresses stayed packed in the car as I was too tired to inflate them.
In the morning after breakfast we packed up the tent and headed to the North Rim for some exploration. The visitors center was our first stop so the kids could participate in the Junior Ranger Program. The park ranger gave the kids a booklet that had tasks to complete while they explored the park. Off to the Nature Trail we went. This trail was great for my toddler. It had many look out points and did not involve many stairs.
Canyon views were spectacular! It was a great day for everyone. After walking the trail we headed back to the visitor center to see the park ranger. The kids turned in their completed Junior Ranger booklets and took the park oath. Each child was awarded the Junior Ranger badge. Earning the badge was a great souvenir and an educational experience which always make the teacher in me happy 🙂 .
After the Grand Canyon we headed out to visit Zion National Park. I didn’t do research ahead of time. This is a very large park and many of the popular sites require driving. We enjoyed the drive into the park. Winding around the beautiful rocks and driving through a one car lane tunnel.
We arrived at the visitors center in the late afternoon and explored. North Fork Virgin River is next to the visitor center. The river was very refreshing to play in on the hot afternoon. There were tiny tadpoles in the river and I caught one.
A deer was eating from a bush next to the bathrooms. My toddler was mesmerized by the deer and wanted to pet it. She got pretty close to the deer!
I wish we could have explored more of this park! Unfortunately I had pre-booked our next campsite so we needed to head to Beaver, UT to setup camp and sleep.
Third on our list was Yellowstone. The main site we wanted to see here was Old Faithful. Arriving through the West Yellowstone entrance we made a stop along the Madison River. The kids and I enjoyed a short walk along the river.
The trail was full of wild flowers and the highlight was seeing a bald eagle! My daughter’s wish was fulfilled by seeing a bald eagle in person. We watched as the bald eagle flew over the river and us.
Continuing our drive through the park we stopped at the Lower Geyser Basin. This location took us on a boardwalk trail that included the Fountain Paint Pot, Great Fountain Geyser and Silex Spring. The boardwalk trail was an easy one-mile round trip trail.
Old Faithful was our last destination in Yellowstone. It took a few drives around the parking lot before finding an available parking space. This site is very popular and a busy place in summer. Lunch was prepared in the parking lot and then we headed to the visitors center. There was about a 40 minute wait until Old Faithful’s next eruption so we found a shaded spot to sit and eat lunch.
It wasn’t long before the crowds gathered around to watch her erupt. The kids really enjoyed seeing Old Faithful. Our next camping stop was in Cody, WY. The drive was very beautiful and took us along the Yellowstone Lake.
Our adventure continued to Mount Rushmore. The drive from Cody, WY to Mount Rushmore came with a thunderstorm. We passed through the storm along our drive but the storm was on its way to Mount Rushmore. We reached the Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch before the storm did, but a mix-up with our camp site set us back. When that clerical error was figured out the rain had started.
My daughter and I were just unrolling the tent as the drops of rain started. There was discussion of sleeping in the car. That didn’t seem like a fun option. We decided to head 20 minutes further to Rapid City, SD and eat dinner. That would give time for the storm to pass and we could fill our bellies.
By this point it was after 9:00 pm and we were all tired and sleepy from the long day of road travel. I texted my husband and asked him to find us a hotel for the night. This gave me some relief from tent set up and it was a blessing to sleep in a bed! We enjoyed taking a shower and being comfy and dry. The hotel included a continental breakfast in the morning.
After breakfast we drove back to the Mount Rushmore KOA and set up camp. The day was spent playing and relaxing. This KOA was so fun for myself and the kids. The pool and waterslide was the first place we went to. My toddler loved going down the water slide, jumping in the bounce house, and on the air pad.
Visiting the memorial
The third day we visited the Mount Rushmore Memorial Park. This park is free to enter but you do have to pay $10 dollars for parking.
Upon entering the park we walked past the gift shop and down the Avenue of Flags to the visitor center. My oldest daughter got her Junior Ranger booklet and we decided to go into the theater to view a 20 minute documentary about the history of Mount Rushmore. After the movie we continued to the Grand View Terrace. On the terrace you have an amazing view of Mount Rushmore.
Presidential Trail takes you up close to Mount Rushmore. This trail has many stairs. 422 stairs! My toddler was not happy about this. I let the older kids go ahead of us on the trail. I took my time with my toddler walking the trail. We eventually made it to the viewing point and it was a grand site.
After walking the trail we headed to the cafe and ice cream shop for lunch. This was a nice break after our hike. The kids were ready to go back to the camp site after lunch. The afternoon was full of more pool time and my son climbed the rock wall.
By late evening we were all tired. I opted not to take the kids back for the Evening Lighting Ceremony at Mount Rushmore. During the summer there is a ceremony each evening with fireworks. I’ve heard it is a very patriotic and moving display.
The Great Sand Dunes
The end of our road trip brought us to Colorado. We set up camp in the rain and then ate our dinner under a tarp set-up. Later in the evening the rain stopped and we enjoyed a campfire with smore’s. After a night of sleep it was time to go see the dunes.
You can go sand sledding at the dunes but because of the rain we were not able to rent a sand sled. The kids were pretty disappointed about this. I assured them we could still have a great time even without the sleds. Turns out mom was right. The dunes are amazing!
The rain brought extra water to Medano Creek. In order to get to the dunes you have to walk across the creek. We took off our shoes and crossed the creek to the dunes. Rain the night before kept the sand dunes cool for half the day. Summer sand surfaces can reach 140 degrees! Eek!
We hiked up the dunes and had a fun time running down them. The kids drew giant pictures in the sand. This place is a kid’s heaven. A giant sand box with water is a great playground. After playing on the dunes for an hour we headed back to Medano Creek. The kids spent a good hour playing in the creek. We enjoyed a snack and then continued on to the Point of No Return.
At the Point of No Return there is a half mile hike to the dunes. The kids played on the dunes for a short time. The walk back to the car was rough for my toddler. She was tired from a full day of playing and the half mile hike was rough. We made it back to the car and she was ready for lunch and then a nap!
This national park if full of history from the Ancestral Pueblo people. The visitor center displays many ancient artifacts of pottery, basketry, and tools from the Ancestral Pueblo people. Guided tours are offered daily to take you into the cliff dwellings.
This park has one road in and one road out. Be prepared for a long drive each way. There are many overlook points along the drive and bathrooms. We were headed to the Cliff Palace overlook. You can also take a guided tour of Cliff Palace. We just stuck to the trail and enjoyed the view.
The tours involve a lot of climbing and stairs. I didn’t think this would be a good idea to try with my toddler. Her short legs would have a hard time climbing 10 ft ladders! We took in the views from the outlook points along the road.
Truthfully my kids thought this park was boring. It was our last stop before going home to Arizona. I think they were tired of exploring and ready to be done. If we would have done the tours of the cliff dwellings I think there would have been a different outlook on this national park.
Exploring national parks was a great experience. All family members are in agreement that we must continue to visit and explore the United States. Our top park that we visited was The Great Sand Dunes.
Starting in our home state of Arizona visiting the canyons then continuing on to the beautiful rocks in Zion, UT we experienced the beauty of God’s creation. Watching the geysers in Yellowstone and then viewing the faces that helped build our great nation. The rolling sand dunes and the amazing homes of the pueblo people were just a glimpse of the beauty and history our country holds. Grab your fourth grader and go explore!