Top outdoor experiences await Girl Scouts in our national parks. Because Northern California has so many national parks, the variety of experiences is expansive. Girl Scouts can explore ancient trees towering over trails, a volcanic mountain venting steam, and waterfalls spraying thick mist. And that’s only the start! Check out these 8 national park adventures, from snowy trails to high adventure hikes.
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Walk Beneath Giant Trees
Northern California is home to some of the world’s biggest trees, and Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park houses one of the best groves. You’ll feel tiny walking next to these towering giants, especially the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree! Before embarking on the trails through the grove, stop at the Giant Forest Museum to learn about these grandfather sequoias and their story of survival. Both the museum and the trails, which may be snow-covered in winter, are open year-round. For an alternate trek below giant sequoias, visit Grant Grove in adjoining Kings Canyon National Park, where some tree trunks span 20 feet in diameter.
Stand in Waterfall Spray
Grab your rain jacket for this adventure in Yosemite National Park. From May to early July, snow melt ramps up the waterfalls rimming Yosemite Valley. Walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall or Bridal Veil Fall to stand in a spray of mist so thick that it feels like a powerful rainstorm. For a longer adventure, hike the Mist Trail up to the top of Vernal Fall (2.4 miles round trip), but be ready for a dousing from the thick mist as you climb and descend the slick stairway of 600 steep rock steps. In winter, the trail closes due to ice.
Caves offer a mysterious world underground. From late May through September, Girl Scouts can take a guided tour through Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park. The 50-minute family tour is easy enough for all walking ages, but older Girl Scouts can take other tours, including the longer Family Caver Tour or adventurous Wild Cave Tour. These more challenging tours, which supply helmets, kneepads, and lights, require girls to be in good physical condition and ready to get dirty when crawling through caverns. Buy tickets for tours 30 days to 6 months in advance. If you enjoy exploring this cave, you may want to plan a trip further afield to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico!
Explore a Volcanic Landscape
Plug your nose for this stunning adventure through the largest volcanic landscape in Lassen Volcanic National Park. A three-mile round-trip trail and boardwalk leads through Bumpass Hell, where a strong odor permeates the air. That odor comes from sulfur and other volcanic compounds in the superheated molten rock underground. The boardwalk tours pass turquoise hot springs, steaming fumaroles, and burbling mud pots. Thermophiles, or heat-loving organisms, add sweeps of color around some of the hydrothermal vents. Due to reconstruction of the boardwalk, which is needed for safety to navigate the thin-crust area, plan to visit after its September 2019 completion. You can also see volcanic features in the 4.2-mile round-trip trail through Devil’s Kitchen. If volcanic landscapes enchant you, plan a longer trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where you can see geysers in addition to other features.
Experience Tide Pool and River Habitats
Join a park ranger for free tide pool and river programs in Redwoods National and State Parks. Girl Scouts can explore the tide pools to see animals and plants that thrive in saltwater, a habitat with sensitive creatures. Enjoy getting your shoes wet as you pick your way around the rocky pools. With reservations, Girl Scouts ages 10–17 can join the guided kayak tour (if accompanied by a parent) to paddle down the Smith River, the largest free-flowing river in California. Inflatable tandem kayaks, life jackets, helmets, and paddles are provided.
Learn More through Junior Ranger Programs
Girl Scouts know a thing or two about earning badges, and they can earn more with the National Park Service Junior Ranger Programs while learning about the parks. Each park has its own self-guided booklet with games and park-specific activities about wildlife, habitats, geology, and the environment. Pick up the free Junior Ranger booklets at any visitor center, complete the activities, and return to a visitor center (doesn’t have to be the same one) to show a ranger your work. The ranger will then have you take the Junior Ranger pledge to receive a badge for that park. Booklets are free at Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Redwoods, Lassen, and Pinnacles National Parks; Yosemite charges a nominal fee. You’ll have a vest full of national park badges in no time!
Get Free Entry for Fourth Graders and Family
Girl Scouts in fourth grade get a special deal for National Park access through the Every Kid in a Park program, which provides fourth graders with a free federal recreation lands pass that is valid for the year. Girl Scouts can help the family plan a trip to one of the national parks in Northern California in tandem with earning a badge, or can opt for an adventure further afield in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, or Grand Canyon National Parks.
Gaze at the Stars
You’ve got to get away to get a glimpse of a truly starry sky! Although light pollution around cities blocks our ability to see many of the stars in the night sky, Lassen Volcanic National Park sits in a location with minimal light pollution. In summer, National Park Service rangers present stargazing and astronomy programs, which offer the perfect opportunity to gaze at stars and planets. Attend the annual Dark Sky Festival in early August, when large telescopes at Manzanita Lake Campground provide up-close views of the stars. Girl Scouts can participate in the Junior Ranger Astronomy program for a night tour of the constellations. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks have their own Dark Sky Festival in late August.
With such an incredible array of national park adventures at your fingertips, it’s high time to get outdoors, Girl Scouts!
What to do next:
- Whether you’re a veteran outdoorswoman or you’re planning your troop’s very first camping trip, these tips on how to Explore Out will make you and Mother Nature besties in no time.
- An outdoor field trip isn’t just for sunshine and fresh air—it can earn your troop badges, no matter their age level! Whether they’re earning camping badges or embracing their inner naturalist, there are badges galore waiting for them in nature.
- National parks aren’t the only place to enjoy the great outdoors! Here are 8 outdoor adventures you can have right in the Bay Area!
Becky Lomax—Becky Lomax devotes much of her time to exploring national parks, from the summit of Mount Rainier to the bird-filled forest of Big Bend and the ice fields in Alaska. She served as a hiking and backpacking guide for a decade in Glacier National Park and currently resides outside the park in Montana. She is the author of Moon USA National Parks, Moon Glacier National Park, and Moon Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
These are great suggestions! I hope everyone has a great time exploring the outdoors with their troops, daughters and scouts this summer!