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Backpack Must-Haves for a National Park Adventure

It’s time to unplug and get the family out to see Colorado’s—and the nation’s— natural wonders!

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Think your screen-crazy kid isn’t interested in a trip to a national park? You may be surprised. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service, so it’s a great time to unplug and get the family out to see Colorado’s—and the nation’s— natural wonders.

With the launch of the Every Kid in a Park program,every fourth-grade student or 10-year-old is eligible to download a pass (at everykidinapark.gov) that will get them and their family into hundreds of national parks, lands and waters for free through August 31.

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If you are new to the parks yourself and looking for kid-friendly park activities, National Geographic has updated their National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA, book. They suggest packing these five things to open up a range of activities to do in the parks.

Snap a Shot: A Camera

Nothing quite lends itself to a postcard-worthy shot like a national park landscape. Pack a camera, along with extra batteries, a fresh memory card, and a tripod if you have one. If you’re snapping from your phone, make sure you clear some memory to hold all the photos and videos you plan to take. For a little inspiration, check out the official account of the park you’re visiting on Instagram.

Take a Closer Look: Binoculars

To get an up-close look at what’s around you, bring along a pair of binoculars. If you’re in Yosemite Valley, look for rock climbers scaling El Capitan from the meadow at the base of the rock formation. Binoculars are also handy for birding and spotting other wildlife from a safe distance.

Make a Plan: Maps

One of the best parts about traveling to a new place is the excitement of getting ready. You can be your family’s in-house expert on landmarks! Spend some time studying a park map—either in the National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA or books from the National Park Service website—to learn the names of trails and roads, and to learn where the visitor centers are.

Play a Game: Checklists

Research the wildlife you might see, and create checklists for your family. For example, if you’re headed to Yellowstone, create a checklist by drawing, say, a bison, bear, wolf and elk, then putting a box next to them. When you’re in the park, check off the animals as you see them, and compare your drawing to the real thing. You can make the same kind of checklist for seashells, trees, marine life, rocks, leaves and animal tracks for other parks.

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Be Inspired: A Pen and Paper

Bring a pen and journal along so you can make notes about your observations of the national parks” landscapes and features. Maybe you”ll be inspired to write a journal entry describing your day, a poem or some song lyrics. If you’re having a rest on the trail in the Great Smoky Mountains, pull out your journal and sketch what you see. Or describe the sounds you hear or the scent of the forest.

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