With gas prices finally coming down, it’s a great summer for a family road trip. Offering nearly 400 destinations across every state in the union, US National Parks not only provide an economical vacation option, they can also provide a fun and rewarding set of challenges for visitors. Collecting badges existed long before Foursquare came along, and when they are tied to the experience of a National Park, a simple stamp in a paper book can take on the significance and meaning of exploring America’s natural heritage.
Nearly all of the 394 American National Parks participate in the National Park Passport program. Visitors can collect one or more stamps in a Passport to Your National Parks® book (or create your own book for collecting). The stamps are all available free of charge, and serve as a record of each park visit, including the date, name of the park, and in some instances an attraction at or symbol of the park. Stamps can be acquired at visitor centers and ranger stations— in many cases, so can the passport books themselves. Books can also be purchased online from Eastern National, a non-profit organization that partners with the Parks Service to support the Passport program.
For the truly dedicated collector, an annual commemorative, full-color stamp series for the passports is also available. The passport books include maps, pre-visit planning information, and illustrations, making them a great travel tool as well as a fun activity and commemorative souvenir. Clearly visiting every park could take a lifetime, but for the eager achiever, areas such the San Francisco Bay–home to 11 distinct National Park and recreation areas–make it possible to collect a whole slew of stamps in a single day’s collecting.
A great way for kids to get involved and engaged is through the Junior Ranger program, offered at many National Parks. Typically, kids are asked to complete a series of activities or exercises focused on experiencing and learning about the park. They then check in with a Park Ranger to submit their work or answer questions, take a Junior Ranger oath, and receive an official badge, patch, or certificate for their efforts.
Foursquare users can get in on the action by checking in 7 times at locations categorized as Parks and Outdoors to receive a Great Outdoors badge. Collecting and completion are valuable motivators in games, and when the collections are linked to real world locations, they serve as an interesting challenge to get people traveling.