National Parks

Becoming a National Park Service Junior Ranger

One of the great programs that the National Park Service provides is the Junior Ranger Program.

The Junior Ranger motto is...

"Explore, Learn and Protect!"

The NPS Junior Ranger Program is:

"An activity based program conducted in almost all parks, and some Junior Ranger programs are national.  Many national parks offer young visitors the opportunity to join the National Park Service "family" as Junior Rangers.  Interested youth complete a serious of activities during a park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate.  Junior Rangers are between the ages of 5 to 13, although people of all ages can participate." 

[United States. National Park Service. "Junior Rangers | National Park Service." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2015. <http://www.nps.gov/kids/jrRangers.cfm>.]

We had the opportunity to visit John Muir National Historic Site, which was John Muir's home in Martinez, California in the San Francisco Bay Area during the early 1900's.  We had a lovely family picnic on the grounds just as I imagined John Muir and his family did many times!

While visiting the Visitor Center, we were pleased to find out that our son was finally old enough to participate in the Junior Ranger program so we acquired the Junior Ranger booklet and began the program.

After completing a serious of booklet activities which included:

Answering questions

Scavenger Hunt in John Muir's home

Detective Time

Drawings

Observing a Tree

Investigating Reporting

We were able to proceed with our son's "Junior Ranger Pledge" with NPS Ranger Jim! [Video]

My son was so happy he was finally a Junior Ranger that after he got his badge, we headed for a hike on Mount Wanda, which was named after one of John Muir's daughter!

Chasqui Mom, Junior Ranger David and NPS Ranger Jim

Hiking on Nature Trail on Mount Wanda, John Muir National Historic Site

It's very special to my husband and I, that my son was able to become a Junior Ranger at John Muir's home and then we were able to hike on the same trails that John Muir hiked with his children.  It was a very fitting for the occasion!

Thank you National Park Service and Ranger Jim, from the bottom of our hearts!

Related Post and Links:

  1. Backpacker Magazine: Oakland, CA: Mt. Wanda, John Muir National Historic Site

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Hiking & Rock Scrambling: Bearfence Mountain ~ Shenandoah National Park


Awesome.

I could finish my post with that picture of the top of Bearfence Mountain.  Everyone around me in the East Coast kept saying, "Now remember our mountains are not like California mountains" but I've learned to love all my National Parks.  National Parks are like my children, you can't compare them to one another because that would be mean, and each one provides its own uniqueness.  Instead, I have learned to enjoy each child, in this case Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, for what it is.



I recently read "Wilderness Society's "15 National Parks for Fall Color" and Shenandoah was No.2 on their list, so I was very excited to visit during fall peak period.  We don't have as many "Fall Colors" in the San Francisco Bay Area as the East Coast does, so it was a nice change in weather and scenery for our family.


Appalachian Trail and Bearfence Mountain

As a family of hikers at heart, we were very excited to hike on the Appalachian Trail even if it was a tiny section of it.  Jennifer Chambers of Hiking Along also recommended Bearfence Mountain because it would give us 360 degree view of Shenandoah, its beautiful fall colors, and her recommendation did not disappoint.  She also knew that my toddlers would love rock scrambling at the top of Bearfence Mountain which they certainly did!

Our first steps on the Appalachian Trail near Bearfence Moutain.
Trail Directions & Description: Parking lot is off of mile marker 56 on Skyline Dr in Shenandoah National Park.  If you follow the Bearfence Mountain Trailhead Kiosk, this is a 1.2 mile circuit hike with less than 300 ft elevation.  We took the first turnoff to the viewpoint so the hike was shorter than 1.2 miles and took us about 1.5-2 hours.

For more detailed trail information please visit: Lewis Mountain Area Road and Trail Map (National Park Service)

The trail starts off with wooden steps which always motivates my son to hike more than an uphill trail with no steps.  I don't know why but he loves going uphill on stairs but he loves to race to the top...I'm just happy he's not complaining about going uphill!

My boy on the crossroads of the AT and Bearfence Mountain Trail

We went south on the Appalachian Trail, to the 180 degree Bearfence Mountain view point.  It was a very slight up hill with a partial stone trail, easy enough for my 3 and 4 year old children and I, a 5 month pregnant lady!  The overall elevation change is about 300 ft, which is like going up a small hill but it still was a good little workout for us.


It was a very beautiful cool fall hike up to the view point, where we took a little break to enjoy the amazing views looking unto the west of Shenandoah National Park.  We had promised our children as we left Big Meadows campground that we would find more ladybugs and caterpillars on our hike.  Of course the second we sat down we found the fuzzy caterpillars and the bright red ladybugs.

180 degree Bearfence Mountain View Point.  Oh beautiful fall!
At the time we were a little confused because Jennifer Chambers had told us there was 360 degree view point, and we walked around looking for it but then we realized that we'd find it during the rock scramble.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the first view point but they heard that we were going "rock climbing" aka rock scrambling and they were itching to go climb!

Time to Family Rock Scramble!

The New Outdoor Experiences.....

We experienced two new outdoor "aspects" on our hike to Bearfence Mountain:

  1. Rock Scrambling: It'ts kind of a hybrid of hiking and rock climbing, with no ropes or climbing gear and not really on a traditional trail.  For a more detailed description of rock scrambling please visit "Basic Rock Scrambling".  The difficulty of  Bearfence Mountain rock scramble climb was easy enough for my four year old son and a five month pregnant Chasqui Mom to complete.  Granted we were still very cautious and hand guided our son down certain sections of the way. Note: There is both an uphill and downhill rock scrambling on Bearfence Mountain.
  2. Trail Blazing:  This isn't very common in California, or at least in the San Francisco Bay Area.  What is it? It's a painted mark on rocks, posts or trees to designate the way or trail.  I can see how someone can easily get lost with all the foliage/snow covering the ground or in this case the trail on the rocks (see middle picture in collage).  It also provided a "game" for our children to find the next blaze on the trail, kind of like hide-and-seek for toddlers.
But the best new outdoor experience was seeing Shenandoah National Park in its most beautiful time of the year and enjoying the 360 degree view of this awesome park from the top of Bearfence Mountain!

View of the west 1st picture, view of the east
I would highly recommend this hike if visiting Shenandoah National Park, especially during Fall.  It's a great short hike with a kick that families with little ones can enjoy, not to mention amazing views of the park and the great feeling a "conquering" a mountain with toddlers.


Thanks again to Jennifer Chambers of Hiking Along who recommended Bearfence Mountain for our adventurous family.  That is the great thing about being a blogger is that I get to meet like-minded people who instinctively know where we can enjoy the outdoors to the fullest!


Also if you are in the Washington DC greater area.  Chambers newest book "Best Hikes with Kids: Washington, DC, The Beltway and Beyond" would be a great resource to find family friendly hikes.  Bearfence Mountain is listed as a "difficult family hike" in the book due to the rock scrambling, but it is highly recommended by Chambers.

Hike Date: October 20, 2014

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A Wondrous World of Family Hiking in Muir Grove

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world

~ John Muir ~

Have you ever seen a child romp through the forest? Have you listened to a child talking while walking through the mountains? Sure, hiking with children is difficult, slower, tedious and harder on your back, but there is a different level of wonder that is seen through a child's eyes.

Muir Grove in

Sequoia National Park

might not be a big attraction but it truly is a nice hike.  The great thing about Sequoia National Park is that there are Sequoias very near the General's Highway.  This gives great accessibility BUT this also means very large crowds which is something my family is not a big fan of.  We wanted to see the Sequoias but wanted the solitude of the "Outdoors", so off we headed hiking to Muir Woods near Dorst Creek Campground.

Hiking to the Sequoias

This is a moderate, family-friendly, 4.2 mile round trip hike to Muir Grove, but in all reality we added a little over 2 miles for a total of 6.3 miles from our campground in Dorst Creek.  We walked from our campsite to the trailhead but we got a little confused about where it was, we eventually found the Muir Grove trailhead but added two miles over all to the hike.  Every step adds up when you think about it.  The trailhead is

near the campsite #178

, which crosses a little bridge over Cabin Creek.

Immediately on the trail, we enjoyed the sounds of the flowing Cabin Creek and were glad the creek was not dried up yet due to

California's severe drought

.  It was quite refreshing to hear water flowing and to see the greenery all around us.

The hike has a slight uphill trail to Muir Grove with sections of flat and down hill sections.  The trail is a very shaded with just one section of exposed granite halfway to Muir Grove.  There were signs of bears everywhere....almost every fallen tree had been shredded by bears so we made sure our son never ran ahead.  I happily told my son to blow his whistle as much as he wanted!  Thankfully we never saw a bear while hiking to Muir Grove.  All we saw was lush beautiful forest greenery!!

Ferns galore...

Just hiking along...

My daughters view point from down below...

I would suggest taking a kid carrier for little ones who can't hike this distance.  My 4 year old son was able to hike the entire 6.3 miles but my 2 year old could not.  Of course when we saw the Sequoias down the trail, everyone got excited to see the REALLY BIG TREES!!

Entering Muir Grove

Doesn't matter how many times I see Sequoias I'm always blown away by their sheer size.  They provide a perspective that only Sequoias can provide.  Just seeing the Sequoias brought back my happy childhood memories of endlessly running around the base of the trees with my older brother. I was very happy we had hiked out to Muir Grove with my children.

"Daddy, Mommy! Those trees are REALLY BIG! And they have caves!" my toddlers squealed.  Now I understand why my parents brought my brother and me to Sequoia National Park so much.

When we arrived to Muir Grove, a couple of hikers were having lunch but they quickly packed up and left.  We packed our lunch as well: Bolillo sandwiches.  We enjoyed a picnic all by ourselves in the middle of Muir Grove.  After lunch, my son and I explored the "caves" and I happily listened to my son imagining finding bears in the tree hollows and pretending to scare them.  A little bit of family time at Muir Grove....

Time to EXPLORE....

Daughter hugging daddy, surrounded by the Sequoias hugging us....

Always look up....

The world from inside the tree, from my daughters eyes....

I must say this might not be a popular hike in Sequoia National Park but it was my family favorite.  Muir Grove...where we played hide and seek, had Bolillo sandwiches and pretended we were giant bears in the tree trunks.  Welcome to the world of family hiking, it's more fun this way.

Trail Report Detials

Who: Two Adults, Two Toddlers

Family Friendly: Moderate

Mileage: 4.2 miles from Trailhead, 6.3 actual from campsite

Elevation Change: 896 ft

Trails Description: Out and back trail, slight uphill hike

What's your favorite day hike in Sequoia National Park?

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Related Posts and Links:

  1. The Amazing Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park
  2. Sequioa & Kings Canyon National Park ~ Official Website

The Amazing Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park

One of my childhood dreams was to visit the, Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park. Unfortunately the one time my parents tried to take us to the Crystal Caves the trail was covered with ice (during summer time!), so the National Park Service wasn't allowing visitors due to the slippery trail.

Years had past and I never visited, so we when we were planning our Sequoia trip this past June I made sure we were going to visit the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites!  There are really no words to describe the wonderful underground world but here are some tips and information about the Crystal Cave.

There is a little bit of hiking to get to the cave 1/2 mile for a total of a 1 mile hike roundtrip, this does not include the walking inside the cave. Very easy hike down to the cave but that means a steep hike up to the parking lot.

Tips for Families with Children

  • Soft Kid Carrier ~ A full blown kid carrier is probably over doing it for this 1-mile hike since ANY type of kid carrier is not allowed into the caves.  All bags, backpacks, kid carrier (fabric too) has to be left at the cave entrance.
  • Water ~ Bottled water is not allowed inside the cave but you can take the water and leave at the entrance of the cave.  We didn't bring any water which wasn't a big deal on the way down but we all got a little thirsty on the hike up.  Bring water down and leave it at the entrance before entering the cave.
  • Extra Layer ~ The cave is ALWAYS 50 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter what the weather is outside the cave.  It was in the 80's when we visited in late June, at first it felt great to be in this "natural air conditioned" cave but the change it temperature does make it chilly after a sweaty hike.  Take sweaters for the whole family especially for little ones who cool off quicker.
  • Darkness ~ Caves are dark, but they do have lighted areas or else we could not see all the great rock formations.  My toddlers enjoyed the semi-darkness but at one point of the tour, the guide turned off all the lights and it was completely dark.  Make sure you are holding your child, especially if they are scared of the dark.  No flashlights or flash photography is allowed.
  • Pricing and Ticket Location ~ Adults were $15/ticket, 5-12 years $8/ticket and under 5 years $5 ticket.  Tickets are not sold at the actual Crystal Cave bookstore.   Purchase tickets at one of the visitor centers.

The Crystal Cave Tour

The tour actually starts half an hour BEFORE the schedule ticket, i.e. 3:30 pm ticket time, meetup with guide at the book store at 3:00 pm to have enough time to hike down to the cave entrance.  If you get down early there is a beautiful waterfall and creek to relax by. Traffic to the Crystal Cave can be quite a hassle due to all of Sequoia's road construction, so we left 2 hours before our schedule time per the docents suggestion.  Photography is allowed but with NO FLASH, fortunately my camera had a nifty nighttime feature that allowed my pictures to come out.  I can describe the caves to you but I'd rather show pictures!

Walking through the first level....

My kids thought these were icicles and everything was snow to them...

The cave family...

Fairyland, those little stalactites were 100 years old....

Stalagmite (coming from the ground) aka Jabba the Hutt...

 Chasqui Mom Last Thoughts.....

I truly was beyond amazed by Crystal Cave, I couldn't even pay attention to the guide explaining how this beautiful place was created because I was so mesmerized by this place.  Something about the water flowing above and through the cave created it, over thousands and thousands of years. It was a family favorite during our week-long vacation at Sequoia National Park and my kids definitely have a fascination with caves now!

It might be a little touristy location for an outdoor enthusiast but I highly recommend visiting this Crystal Cave.  I'm glad that many years ago some National Park Rangers slid down this mountain on their butts and found the beautiful California treasure by accident.  Now thousands of people can experience this amazing place in addition to everything else Sequoia National Park has to offer.

Have you visited Crystal Cave or a similar marble cave? What did you love?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Related Posts and Links:

  1. Crystal Cave ~ Sequoia Natural History Association
  2. Pinnacles National Park ~ Bear Gulch Caves

Cleaning Up Limantour Beach ~ National Trails Day

From the mountains to the oceans, there's something I usually see on the trail that I really don't like...trash.  Everything in nature is interconnected so when someone leaves a piece of trash in the California Sierra Mountains at some point rain, creeks and rivers will sweep it to the ocean.  We have made it a habit to pick up trash when we are hiking, so on National Trails Day we decided to volunteer for a beach clean up!

National Trails Day was founded by the American Hiking Society in the late 1980's to celebrate America's magnificent Trails System. During the first Saturday of every June, many events are organized such clean ups, hiking, bird watching, biking, trail restoration and much more.  Since we always do everything as a "familia", I was happy to find out that even my toddlers could participate at beach clean up which was being hosted by the National Park Service and Point Reyes National Seashore Association at Limantour Beach on National Trails Day.

At first sight, Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore looked very clean and I was somewhat disappointed that maybe we were not going to be able to find much to clean up but we were wrong.  Our family alone found a brick, lots of shotgun shells, Styrofoam pieces, cigarettes, hair barrettes, bottle caps, straws, razors, Easter Basket plastic grass and more trash that we couldn't identify.  Combined all 23 beach volunteers picked up over 900 pounds of beach trash which included a large fishing net and a 20 foot plastic beam that weighed over 600 pounds.  We actually had a break and snacks on the plastic beam and we wondered "How in the world did THIS get here?!"

For more photos of the Limantour Beach clean up and trail restoration please click HERE.


Chasqui Mom Last Thoughts...

We enjoy the outdoors quite often by hiking, riding, camping and backpacking, but it was fantastic to volunteer our time and enjoy the outdoors by making it a cleaner world.  My children might not remember this specific event at Limantour Beach but they were left with a lasting impression that trash belongs in a trashcan.  Every time we are out and about and they see trash we pick it up, whether it's on the trail or on a neighborhood walk.  

This year I have had the honor of joining the American Hiking Society Board of Directors and I look forward to serving America's hikers in the following years.  Jennifer Chambers, the Chair of the American Hiking Society Board of Directors is also a outdoor family blogger at Hiking Along and also had a great clean up at Northwood Chesapeake Bay Trail.

Head on over to Hiking Along and read about "Celebrate Trails?"  A few of my fellow outdoor family bloggers enjoyed National Trails Day by Hiking!!

Photo courtesy of  Tubbs Snowshoes &nbsp;-&nbsp; Moosefish &nbsp;kids!!

Photo courtesy of Tubbs Snowshoes - Moosefish kids!!

Photo Courtesy of Wild Tales of

Photo Courtesy of Wild Tales of

  • Moosefish - John Soltys sand his family joined Tubbs Snowshoes on a hike to Serene Lake in Washington! Oh the joys of hiking with kids and encountering different people on the trail. [Picture above]
  • Wild Tales of - Kate and her family headed out to Seward Park located in Seattle on Lake Washington.  It's always great to hit the trail as a family including our pets!
  • On The Beaten Path - Even though Jill and her family are in Canada, she wanted to feature The Sunset Coast Trail, !

How and where did you celebrate National Trails Day?

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