The Best National Park Badges, Maps, and Souvenirs You Can Only Get While Visiting
Visiting a national park is its own reward, but there’s nothing quite like snagging a token you can remember. Plus, NPS prop collections are a great way to keep track of how many parks you’ve visited. Of course, LNT best practices mean you should leave that rock where you found it, but luckily the park’s visitor centers offer fun badge programs, awesome maps, and plenty of other souvenirs among which ones to choose. Here are some fan favorites.
NPS passport stamps
Each park visitor center has its own unique passport stamp, which includes the date. You can stamp your own national parks passport book or find your favorite on sites like Etsy. Because the stamp changes daily, the only way to get the real deal is to jump in and ink it in person.
Emily Pennington, Outside writer and author of the next book Savage, has visited 62 of the 63 national parks and makes a point of collecting a stamp on each visit. “It was a great way to make sure I not only went to each visitor center, but also read about the park’s history, talked to a ranger, and looked at a map,” she says.
Some of the most coveted are for true enthusiasts: hike 12 kilometers on foot or by mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to earn a Phantom Ranch stamp.
Don’t sleep on the free maps available at national parks. They’re full of useful information about the wildlife, hiking trails, and history of the park, and they make great memories. You can download official park maps in advance, but if you want a hard copy, pick one up at the visitor center.
Pennington catches them in every park she visits. “I still have all my cards on my bookshelf to this day,” she says
Golda Israel, a nurse who has visited dozens of national parks, says she also keeps park maps. She likes that they are free and readily available. “I can always look at the map to see the locations of that trail or that lookout or viewpoint,” Israel says.
Cost: from 50 cents
Pressed coin machines are available at many of the most popular national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Acadia, to name a few. Choose from a handful of designs, turn the crank several times, and a flat, oblong, newly decorated penny comes out. Put them in a coin book or bulletin board.
Junior Ranger Badges
The Junior Ranger program is for children ages 5 to 13, but anyone can participate. Future Junior Rangers complete a series of activities unique to the park or park unit they are in, then turn in their completed assignments to the local ranger, who swears them off and gives them a wooden badge.
The activities are engaging and usually take about an hour to complete. For example, at Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island in Georgia, Junior Rangers ran errands as couriers in the 1700s. They are also given a functional spyglass to watch for incoming Spanish ships and a compass for plotting cannon ranges from the ruins of the fort above the Frederica River.
But they are not just for children. “I love the Junior Ranger program because it’s an invitation to make our parks a hands-on and educational experience,” says outdoor advocate and homesteader Katie Boué, who has completed more than 20. “Nothing like than being asked to step onto a track and find a specific type of plant or rock. You become closer and more connected to your environment.
Almost all national parks and monuments have a junior ranger program, but you can confirm before visiting the NPS website. Although some aspects of the program have moved online during the pandemic, in-person visits remain the only way to receive a wooden badge.
The classic entrance sign shot is a repeatable format that looks great in a video, and you don’t have to be a talented photographer to pull it off. Most entrance signs are accessible by car, so people of all skill levels can reach them.
Pennington says she “became obsessed” with taking entry photos once the COVID pandemic temporarily suspended passport stamps. Along with his maps of the park, entrance photos are another easy souvenir for the Israel Park superfan, who otherwise makes sure not to take any items from the parks.
If entry photos aren’t your thing – let’s face it, they aren’t always the most interesting views – try giving your own take on the idea. That’s what outdoor activist Mikah Meyer did on his three-year journey to each national park unit. “I wasn’t sure what that different cohesive photo would be at first, but my journey taught me about the complete lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the outdoor industry and culture,” Meyer says.
So he started taking pictures of himself with the rainbow flag in front of the most emblematic places in each park. “I was able to communicate that there was someone here from the queer community, who proudly enjoy nature and the world famous places of our national parks.” Meyer said.
Whatever keepsake you choose, remember to make sure it’s something you really want. Pennington says she tries to keep her picks practical and recommends everyone “do a quick check to make sure this isn’t something that’s going to end up in the trash a year later.”