How to get a FREE US National Parks pass

How to get a FREE US National Parks pass

There’s something magical about being a kid in a national park. Everything is new and wondrous and makes an imprint in your mind that will last a lifetime. Did you know that every single fourth grader in the United States can get a FREE Every Kid in a Park Pass? Yes, a free US National Parks pass. It’s good for the entire family for the whole year and gets you into not just National Parks but all federal lands and waters. How cool is that?! My daughter’s in fourth grade this year and has so inspired our year we’ve titled “Operation US National Parks for Families”.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Impact of U.S. National Parks on kids

I grew up in Colorado and feel as though Rocky Mountain National Park is my own backyard and safe haven or escape. It is and will always be near and dear to my heart, but another national park also made a huge impact and imprint on my childhood. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Homer, Alaska. We were fortunate enough to be able to travel up there to visit them a couple of times and also experience the magic that is the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Kenai Fjords National Park, glacier calving

I remember being entranced by the glacier and the huge variety of wildlife I saw in one relatively small area. We took a tour on a little tour boat, and I think my hands were on the bars at the very front with the wind blowing in my face the entire time. I leaned over to see porpoises jump next to us as we sailed along, whales breach and wave their tales in hello, colorful puffins in the rocky cliffs, the bark of sea lions lounging on rocks, a moose on the hill, and SO much more. In a time way before the Wild Kratts entered our lives this was a miracle for me to see. AND it was live and in person, real and in the wild to my mind. It was not a zoo.

Kenai Fjords National Park, sea lions

What is Operation U.S. Parks for Families?

Operation U.S. Parks for Families is a series of blog posts to be featured throughout the  2018-2019 Every Kid in a Park Pass year. The goal of this series is to inspire families to visit national parks together and provide them with ideas for amazing activities in each park they can do as a family.

Who will be featured in Operation U.S. Parks

To begin, Operation US National Parks for Families will feature some of our own fabulous past experiences at national parks. In addition, throughout the year I’ll be highlighting our CURRENT travels to different parks and federal lands. Then as an even bigger BONUS I’ll be highlighting the experiences of other families all over the country! I’m so excited about this aspect of the series so we can provide a broader picture of family experiences with different opinions, likes, dislikes, and interests!

Operation US National Parks for Families. Join our family and more as we travel the United States together. Learn how to get your free US National Parks pass! #travelwithkids #usnationalparks #everykidinapark #explorermomma

Get your FREE US National Parks Pass and join us! 

Would you like to join us for Operation US National Parks for Families Journey? We’d love to have you! Sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly updates on where we’re exploring! Will it be the caves in Carlsbad, New Mexico? Maybe, you’ll get to see and read about an adventure to the giant redwoods and sequoias of Sequoia National Park! Perhaps, if you’re really lucky, we’ll journey to Watkins Glen National Park in New York for scenery and kid-friendly hikes that could be straight out of a Tolkien book. So get your cloaks, backpacks, tents, elf-ears, or whatever you’d like to prepare and join our EPIC National Parks journey today!

How to sign up for your Every Kid in a Park Pass

How do you get your free US National Parks Pass? It is so super simple. All you do is go to the official US Government website here. Explore the website or just click on “Get Your Pass”. As I’m writing this they’ve recently updated the site for the 2018 to 2019 school year. Your fourth grader answers a few questions to make a diary entry to begin to figure out how they’d like to use their new pass. It’s super-easy and a fun activity.

free US National Parks pass, Hand on mouse

Once you sign up and complete the diary on the website, there will be a ticket to print out. Now, you can use it as your yearly pass, or you can take it to your first park or water area, show a ranger, and obtain a wallet-sized card for the year. Did I mention it’s FREE? What an awesome deal to bring families together in nature!

Congratulations! Free US National Parks pass

The next step is to take the family on hundreds of adventures until the card expires August 31, 2019 (or the current school year). Do you know what? If you miss something or don’t have time, little brother can get his own pass in the next year or two. Then you get to plan for that national park year as well!

How to use your free US National Parks Pass

If you’re going to use it you’ve got to plan your first trip! Are you going to camp in the woods? Do you want to see protected animals and wildlife? Maybe you’d just like to find your nearest park to start! Before you go read the official rules here. Then, just present your ticket as you enter the park! The park ranger will trade your printed paper copy of the ticket for an official Every Kid in a Park card, and your fourth grader will sign it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Every Kid in a park pass, free US National Parks pass

There are sooo many opportunities for exploration and fun with this pass! Literally, you’ve got hundreds of places to visit near or far, it’s up to you.

Plan your trip with Operation U.S. Parks for Families

Now, I challenge you! Get out and explore! Follow along with our blog series and gain inspiration. Yes, I formally invite you to travel along with us virtually on our Operation U.S. Parks for Families journey. You can create your own adventures, the sky’s the limit! It’s such fun to plan destinations as a family and give every member a say. Can you tell I’m excited!?

Lily Ridge Trail with free US National Parks pass

Carlsbad Caverns National Park for Families

10 Musts for visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids

Let’s travel with our free US National Parks pass!

I am so thrilled to explore our US National and State parks all over the country! My family and I will be planning and writing about our own trips using the Every Kid in a Park Pass. Also, we’ll all have the opportunity to travel virtually all over the country with other National Park loving families. Truly, I cannot wait to see the beauty of our parks and hear about the super-awesome and life-changing family experiences only nature can inspire and bring together.

My friends, I hope you follow along with us on this magnificent journey to explore our US National Parks!

I’d love to see your own adventures! Tag me in your National and State Park travel pics on Instagram @explorermomma.

Explore a National Park today!

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Operation US National Parks for Families. Join our family and more as we travel the United States together. Learn how to get your free US National Parks pass! #travelwithkids #usnationalparks #everykidinapark #explorermomma     Did you know you can get a FREE US National Parks pass? Find out how and join our family travel adventure around the United States. #operationnationalparks #everykidinapark #familytravel #ustravel #explorermomma

Thanks to all and HAPPY TRAVELS!

Epic Colorado Family Vacations

Epic Colorado Family Vacations

What’s your family tourist destination this summer? Can I suggest several Colorado family vacations? I’m a little biased, but I really think Colorado is the perfect state for family vacations. If you’re a nature person or not, kids THRIVE when they’re outside and near a stream or in the mountains. Whether it’s hiking, fishing, kayaking, riding whitewater rapids, camping, or reading a book by the mountain lake, it’s an ideal spot for kids’ activities and empowerment.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Colorado family vacations pin

This summer we’re all about exploring and appreciating our own backyard. By that, I mean a good time to appreciate all the awesome travel destinations nearby our home in northern Colorado! We’ll be heading to Grand Lake for a few days, be doing some camping in various locations, getting the kids out to summer camp with their peers, and doing day trips to Denver. Of course, we have some more travel lined up, but that’s another post. We can’t wait!

Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to start my list of EPIC Colorado family vacations close to home. My own hometown, in fact, Greeley, Colorado. If you haven’t, dive into my blog post linked below, and if you have, still read all about it. With an insider’s perspective, you’re sure to find something new and fun to explore!

Simply EPIC Colorado Family Vacations

 

Things to do in Breckenridge, Colorado with kids

Breckenridge snowboards with slope in background

Have you been to Breckenridge, Colorado? When you hear the name, what do you think? If you think skiing you’re right on. However, did you know Breckenridge is one of those amazing mountain towns with a TON of stuff to do for families in any season? I have to say I think summer’s my favorite season in Breckenridge. The old town’s fabulous, and did you know they hold an excellent summer music festival? If you are at all into concerts every night with beautiful mountain scenery, this is the place for you!

We were in Breckenridge, Colorado most recently in spring at the end of the ski season. There was still a good dose of spring snow on the ground, but we found a ton of fun family activities even without skiing. To learn more things to do in Breckenridge, Colorado with kids, see the blog post here.

 

What to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Colorado family vacations, Grand Lake, Old Baldy

Grand Lake, Colorado is one of my favorite places on earth, and I’ve been to visit very nearly every summer since I was about six years old! There are many places I might tire of going that often, but not Grand Lake. For us as a family, it’s the perfect place to relax, be in nature, and enjoy the small mountain town and its residents. Kids can build castles on the beach, swim, fish, make s’mores, play on the playground, hike, marvel at the moose walking by the cabin, and just be a kid in the Rocky Mountains. As a mom, this is an incredibly relaxing trip because the kids are so easily occupied, and I can enjoy my morning coffee staring out over the lake with Mount Baldy (Mount Craig) looking down!

Learn more about Grand Lake, Colorado and read the blog post here!

 

Why we love Estes Park, Colorado

View of Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado is another amazing Colorado destination for families. I have SO many memories from my own childhood and now with my own kids in this popular town. If you want to shop, play miniature golf, head out to the local YMCA, and so much more all in a spectacular Rocky Mountain paradise, you need to head here.

We LOVE to get out and hike so click here to see the Best Estes Park hikes for kids.

Half the fun of travel is eating, right? Click here to learn more about Estes Park restaurants with character.

 

Secrets of Rocky Mountain National Park in winter

Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park is perfect for snowshoeing in winter. #familytravel #rockymountainnationalpark

If you love Estes Park, no doubt the family with also fall in love with Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ll find wildlife such as elk, coyotes, or bighorn sheep in any season, and it’s a great place to camp in one of the park campgrounds. We love it any time of year but especially in winter when the crowds are down slightly and you have time to explore.

Read all about what there is to do with kids in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter here.

 

Visit Mesa Verde National Park

1 Day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary, self-guided tour for families #mesaverde #familytravel

Our family absolutely loves to visit national parks and Mesa Verde is definitely one you don’t want to miss! Can you imagine, some of these cliff dwellings were built at the same time as some of the oldest European castles? What a super-rich history we have in Colorado and are lucky to learn about the Puebloan people.

Make a day or 5 of it, but definitely glance over this 1 Day Mesa Verde Map Itinerary to get all the best spots to stop as a family!

Planning a trip to New Mexico?

Check out the family-friendly, beautiful Ruidoso, New Mexico!

Ski Apache view, Ruidoso, New Mexico

Things to do in Denver, Colorado with kids

Downtown Aquarium, Denver, Colorado. #denver #denveraquarium

If you fly into Colorado or most of the time even drive, you’ll probably head through our beautiful capital, Denver, Colorado. Denver has SO many amazing things to do with kids like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Children’s Museum of Denver, the Botanic Gardens, the Butterfly Pavilion, and more! We make day trips fairly often as a family and are so lucky to be nearby to take advantage of all the interactive educational opportunities for kids. Denver is always a great base for a Colorado vacation or a vacation itself.

If you’re heading to Denver check out my articles on:

The PERFECT Denver Zoo trip and

The AMAZING Denver Downtown Aquarium

 

Visit Santa’s Workshop

Santa's Workshop Colorado elves

Is Christmas the favorite holiday at your house? Well, you will want to make the day trip from Colorado Springs to North Pole, Colorado. Santa’s Workshop is a theme park set in the mountains where it’s always Christmastime and full of fun! Don’t expect a modern day Disney World or Six Flags, this is a place built in the 60’s, and it truly feels like a nostalgic step back in time. Be a kid again. There are SO many rides for the young and old; it’s a great day out.

Click here to see more and get my tips for visiting Santa’s Workshop

 

Family camping tips and free printable packing checklist

Campsite sunrise view, feature

Near all of these scenic family travel destinations, there are opportunities for camping. If you have an RV or love tent camping, you’ll find the perfect spot. So pull out those sleeping bags and hiking gear and let’s get ready for summer!

Sign up for the Explorer Momma newsletter and get the free printable camp packing checklist as a bonus! Check out my family camping tips and free printable packing checklist here

 

What to do as a family in Greeley, Colorado

Centennial Village, Greeley, Colorado

Recently, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with a fellow blogger and guest post on her website A Book Lover’s Adventures. Do you know what I was asked to do? Write a blog post for tourists from an insider’s view of my own hometown. How many of you think about your hometown as a travel destination? To be honest, I certainly hadn’t much. I LOVE my hometown and am proud of it, but it’s always been Denver or the nearby Rocky Mountains that seem to be the more natural tourist draw. If you have the chance to come through I know you’ll love it too.

Click over to A Book Lover’s Adventures to read all about Greeley, Colorado and other hometown tourists!

 

Are you convinced? Go Colorado family vacations

I hope you plan several perfect Colorado family vacations or camping trips! The sun will lift your mood, the mountains will call, the trees will rustle, and if you’re like me, you’ll be in your happy place. I think it’s so important to teach kids to appreciate nature and take care of it for the future. Also, they will love, or at least appreciate, the joys of an active outdoor lifestyle and have the chance to embrace it for themselves.

Now, I have to admit I haven’t covered nearly enough of the state and need to remedy that. Where else are your favorite Colorado family travel destinations?

 

Tell me in the comments, where shall we adventure next?

Family Camping Checklist And Must Haves

Family Camping Checklist And Must Haves

Now is the perfect time to be talking about family camping preparations because hey it’s just decided to start SNOWING! Do you know what? I’ll let you in on a little secret. Go ahead and go through your family camping checklist. There’s never a bad time to plan for a camping trip, and I’m in Colorado so since it’s 25 degrees Farenheit right now, tomorrow it should be 74 again, right? Because that’s what happens here!

This post contains affiliate links which means I make a very small percentage if you click through and purchase something. All opinions are strictly my own!

Family camping checklist, campfire pin

Let me first tell you what can happen on a badly planned family camping trip. Last summer we decided on a whim to grab that camping site that had just been released on the website in Rocky Mountain National Park at the Moraine Park Campground. What luck! That place is crazy busy in the summer and we hadn’t booked ours months in advance. We threw the tent, some food, and the kids in the car and set off to enjoy the mountains.

The BAD Camping Experience

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my Rocky Mountains, but what ensued was NOT a pleasurable experience. I did NOT use a family camping checklist. Our campsite was in the middle of a group of sites in the large campground, although at first, we didn’t think it was too close to others. We got our tent up and sent the kids to look for pinecones and bugs. Unfortunately, there’s not a river or lake or a lot to do at that campsite, and we were sort of pinned in. We’d forgotten our normal card games and had to drive out of the campground to do much hiking or other activity.

That night the ground was hard, the hole in our camping mattress painfully evident. Not that we could sleep anyway because it was so cold one of the people at the next campsite turned their car on and ran the heater ALL NIGHT. YES!! All night the hum of the car and the burr of it when the heater came back on caused none of us to get much sleep. By morning we were so tired, grouchy, and picking at one another that we picked up things and went home. It was not like a bear attacked our food and destroyed our campsite, it was just NOT the ideal family camping trip in nature.

SO what did that teach us? PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!! With kids, my sanity revolves around checklists and planning and preparing for every eventuality. Of course, so many people’s personalities are different, but even a little planning can’t hurt!

Prep the kids and test your gear with a trial run

Rocky Mountain National Park tree view

What do you mean by a trial run you may be thinking!? I mean exactly that. If you haven’t used your camping gear for a while, pull it all out and build up a grand event for the kids to CAMP IN THE BACKYARD!! Ooh! Try out some of your favorite or new camping recipes modified for your kitchen, but take it outdoors to eat in camping chairs by the tent. Test out your headlamps, flashlights, even the camp stove if you use one. Also, I like to shake out the tent and sleeping bags to air them a bit and make sure they’ve all been cleaned since the downpour and mud slosh of the last trip!

Another thing that I love about a backyard campout is that it’s a great trial run for the kids! If you have young ones who’ve never camped before it can be scary. In the backyard, it still can be but with easy access to the house. Once the tent and set up is more familiar to a child, they will be more comfortable with it in a foreign setting, your desired campground. Baby steps, right?

Family camping checklist picture, campsite

Reserve your campsite in advance

If you are headed to a national park or a popular campground, be sure to book your campsite online in ADVANCE. The Rocky Mountain National Park campgrounds open up reservations six months in advance, and if you’re planning to go there I suggest you book it as soon as you can.

First, choose your campground. What activities are there around for the kids to do? Do you want to be by a good fishing spot, a lake or a river? Do you want to be close to accessible hikes or areas for wildlife viewing? Or do you just want a space to hang out, play cards, talk, and hang out around a campfire? Some campgrounds even have games like horseshoes, putt-putt, and other things children like to do. Do you need electricity and a bathroom? Decide, what is it you want out of the campsite area?

Second, study the campground map and look at the campsite pictures if there are any. Are you a family that likes to be in the middle of things among a lot of people at a party or more separated with space and a good view? Book your campsite accordingly! If you’ve never been there, consult someone who has or Google reviews for the specific campground. Another thing, be sure the review is recent so you know there hasn’t been a fire or attack of pine beetles or something to drastically change the area!

Third, book your campsite on-line! Find the website for the campground you’ve chosen and get your reservation booked!!

Love to go hiking with your kids?

Check out these awesome Estes Park, Colorado hikes for kids and family!

Estes Park hikes for kids, mountain with golden aspens

Camping Gear

When you’re looking at gear for a camping trip a lot of it depends on the length of time you’re going to be camping and what exactly you’re wanting to do. I’ve admitted I’m no longer a hardcore, a week at a time camper with kids, but I do like a two-night trip. When you do your trial run fun backyard campout you can determine what gear you still may need to get. I would really LOVE to have this entire awesome new tent setup from Cinch!, with solar charging hookups and super easy setup and takedown. However, for our short-term camping, our old tent will probably do just fine! What kind of tent’s on your family camping checklist?

Cinch!

I highly recommend downloading my family camping checklist. You can write all over it, add things, and cross things off as you need. As a mom going in a million directions I know I need something written down clearly defining the next step. Truly, I’ve learned because I’ve had too many experiences where I’ve said oh, I’ll remember that! And then, of course, I don’t, and it gets left in the storage area in the basement.


Sign up for Explorer Momma’s newsletter and as a bonus download this amazing family camping checklist today!

Family camping checklist preview

Family Camping Food

Food! There are so many fun camping recipes on Pinterest I encourage you to find a few new ones to please the family. As a kid, I still remember how much fun it was to wrap my packet of food up in foil and throw it in the fire to cook. How in the world did the adults let me do that?! As a strict rule follower, it was a great release and rebellion for me without really rebelling. Of course, there’s always a traditional s’more to be had as well!

If you are wanting to cook with a campfire or just sit around one, always check for fire restrictions or bans at your campsite before you go!

With food, plan out your days. What will you eat for each meal? What are your snacks? Will it spoil or need to be kept iced? There are a lot of things to think about with food, and my preferred short trips make it a lot easier than a couple week campout, although that is totally doable also.

Another thing to think about is how you can keep your food away from the wildlife in the area. Can you contain it at night so the bears don’t sniff out your camp? (Often there’s a locked “bear box” assigned to campsites to keep food if that’s a problem in the area). Maybe you can tie all the food in a bag up in a tree or in your car? Although, I’ve heard of bears getting into cars as well! Talk to the ranger or campsite director about best practices in regard to food storage.

PLEASE! When you plan out your food, remember you also have to cart out all your trash or find an appropriate receptacle for it!! Leave nature and your campsite as it was when you found it!

Tent camping in the Rocky Mountains

Things to do while camping

I mentioned this briefly before, but think about what things you want to do with the kids or friends while you’re there. Find out what’s available and what will work for you all to do. Add the necessary items to your family camping checklist.

  1. Where are the best nearest hikes?
  2. Can you fish in the area? Who all needs a fishing license?
  3. Can you boat or kayak?
  4. Bring card games to play during a downpour in your tent!
  5. Frisbee, baseball, soccer, or other sports
  6. Plan a nature scavenger hunt for the kids.
  7. Give the kids an old camera and tell them to take pictures of as many different: leaves, pine cones, bugs, birds, animals, or whatever’s around, they can. My son LOVES this and can do it for hours.
  8. Create a nature journal. This is more my daughter’s style. She loves to draw and write about the things she sees. I don’t like to give it too many rules so she can be creative, but you can give suggestions. Why don’t you draw all the flowers, butterflies, or animals you find? Can you imagine a story about that tree and write it out?

Family camping trip, kids hiking

What’s left on your family camping checklist?

Family camping and camping on your own or with friends are two ENTIRELY different animals. I used to love to pack in all my gear and tent on my back 5 miles or more to the backcountry campsite where there wouldn’t be anyone else around. Peaceful. Quiet. Serene.

Add young kids to that equation, and you are headed for a disaster of high magnitude!! Now, as a family, our ideal camping experience is 2 nights at a campground site. In addition, this site is close enough to walk back to the car, but separated enough from the other campsites so you still feel the peace of the great outdoors.

You can have an amazing experience, but it does take some patience and planning. And flexibility, which is what I always have to work on!! I hope you printed your family camping checklist and will use it this summer!

Get your family outside and run! Soak in the sun and stare at the stars. Give it a chance, and planned properly with a family camping checklist, you will LOVE your time and memories made.

Now here’s a question for you! Where are some of your favorite family camping spots all over the world?

 Family camping checklist preview1

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