Last summer we spent a lot of time exploring our National Parks both here in Alberta and into British Columbia. I was worried some of it might get a bit boring for our young children, and was pleasantly surprised at how much fun they had being in the great outdoors and discovering everything the parks had to offer.
While staying in and touring Banff, one great discovery we made was the Parks Canada Xplorers program. Geared towards kids, this program is based around completing a number of tasks in a free activity booklet and earning a collectible souvenir for your effort. The booklets are available from the front gates, campgrounds or information centers and are filled with fun kid based activities such as spot the difference or word searches that relate specifically to tourist sites in the area.
The activity books were a great way to keep our kids excited and engaged on our travels and provided something to do at the trailer when the cries of boredom came out. They also ended up being helpful to my husband and I to highlight the sites and help direct us towards what would be worth exploring in the area.
Once the activity books are completed, they can be taken in to a Parks Canada information center or to a campground program where your child is rewarded with a certificate and free collectible souvenir dog tag. There is also always a small ceremony where the kids must pledge to respect and protect the parks before being sworn in as official Xplorers and earning their certificates and tags.
The tags are unique to each site and are printed with the name of the park on the back of each. They also come in a rainbow of colors, so it was always a fun surprise for the kids to see what color they would end up with.
There is also an entertainment component to the program, with many free shows and presentations throughout the park for young and old to take in and enjoy during your stay. We ended up going to quite a few of the Parks Canada campground shows in the evenings, making sure to show up early so the kids could volunteer to participate in the show.
One of my favorite Parks Canada activities we took part in past summer was the beaded head dress craft we made in the teepee at Crandall Campground in Waterton. This was led by a couple lovely Native American women and it was nice to hear their stories as the kids made this great little takeaway.
We also had a blast as a family in Jasper participating in a silly raft building race. Our twig and pinecone raft held together with string did not fare well once put into the creek, but the kids loved pushing it along and seeing it cross the finish line.
To see the list of Canadian National Parks and Historic Sites that are eligible in the Xplorers program, visit the Parks Canada website. We managed to knock 7 sites off our list in 2016 and are looking forward to adding more dog tags as we explore further into British Columbia this summer.
Canada is celebrating it’s 150th birthday this year and admission to all National Parks and Historic Sites is free to Canadian citizens, so it is a great excuse to get out and start earning those Xplorer tags! And even if you aren’t Canadian, the programs are free to anyone with park entry.