You can gaze at glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls, geysers, mountains, caverns, and oceans or encounter a grizzly bear and cub, a herd of elk, or a lone gray wolf. America’s national parks are a favorite summer destination – full of breathtaking scenery and wildlife galore. Rekindle memories of summertime adventures in our national parks with your group. July is National Park and Recreation Month. Celebrate with a few of the activities suggested below.

  • PARK PHOTOS: Display posters or photographs of scenery from iconic national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Badlands, Great Smoky Mountains, Rainier, Great Teton, Everglades, and Acadia. (Check past issues of National Geographic magazine or the Web site for photos and information.) Ask: Which state and national parks have you visited? Did you have a favorite? What do you like the most about visiting our national parks? The least? Did you stay in a campground or in a lodge or cabin?
  • HISTORY: Learn how, why, and when our national parks were created. Talk about the history of the National Park Service. Locate the 59 designated national parks on a U.S. map and share interesting facts about each one. What’s the oldest and newest park? (Good historical resource: Ken Burns’ PBS documentary titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea)
  • FAMILIES: List some activities that a family could do while visiting a national park. (Examples: swimming, hiking trails, backpacking, fishing, river rafting, road cycling, canoeing, mountain climbing, mountain biking, back-country camping, kayaking, running, watching birds and wildlife) Pass around outdoor catalogs, such as L.L. Bean, and pick out gear and clothing for a favorite activity. Compare modern-day camping accessories with equipment from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • CAMPING: Sing “Campfire’s Burning.” Pitch a pup tent in the room and display familiar camping gear such as a canteen, flashlight, flint, pots and pans, tarp, compass. Ask: Do you like camping in the woods? Where did your family go camping? How did you cook your food? Name some of your favorite camp-out foods. Do you like sleeping outside, under the stars? What images do you associate with camping? Tell about an adventurous camping trip.
  • CAMP SONGS: Plan an old-fashioned singing session around the campfire (real or imaginary). Sing a cappella or with a portable instrument like the guitar or ukelel for a spirited hootenanny. Encourage hand clapping and use as many motion songs as you can. If you have several strong voices, try doing a round. Encourage the group members to reminisce about their own camp experiences. For a snack at the end, serve s’more cookies. Good camp songs: “Are You Sleeping?” “Clementine,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Kookaburra,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Shenandoah,” “Row Your Boat,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “If I Had a Hammer.”
  • CAMPING SKILLS: Invite a park ranger/Scout to talk about wilderness/survival skills. Examples: make a fire, set up a tent, cook food over an open flame, what to do if you get lost in the woods or encounter wildlife, how to deal with dangers such as snakes, thunderstorms, forest fires.
  • MUSIC: Listen to a recording of composer Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. Talk about how the composer used instruments to mimic the sounds of nature. Show photos of the picturesque canyon and talk about why it is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
  • WILDERNESS: Ask your group to reflect on the following quote by Teddy Roosevelt: “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Talk about what you can gain from staying in the backcountry wilderness. Ask participants if they ever experienced solitude in a natural setting.
  • NATURALISTS: Learn about naturalist John Muir, who is called “The Father of the National Parks,” and founder of the Sierra Club. Display photos of Yosemite National Park by nature photographer Ansel Adams. Read nature poems by Emerson and Thoreau. Ask participants how they feel about the conservation/environmental movements and whether they have ever participated in them. Discuss some things that threaten our national parks.
  • 4th OF JULY: Listen to the lyrics from the patriotic song “America the Beautiful,” first written as a poem inspired by Pikes Peak in Colorado. Talk about some of the spectacular mountain views in our national parks. Ask your group if they have ever had a “mountaintop experience.”
  • NATURE FINDS: Gather items from nature for participants to identify. (Suggestions: rocks, pebbles, ferns, fossils, moss, cedar chips, bird’s nest/feathers, pine needles/cone, acorns, Queen Anne’s lace, wildflowers, tree leaves, seedlings of trees)
  • CRAFT: Learn how to press wildflowers to make bookmarks. Display some paintings of wildflower meadows. Ask the group to identify some of the wildflowers based on color or shape.
  • BIRD-WATCHING: Share memories of bird watching in national and state parks. Learn about raptors such as owls, eagles, falcons, condors, hawks.
  • WILDLIFE: Invite a park ranger to talk about endangered and rare species in our national parks. Show photos of wildlife, and ask participants to name them. (Examples: caribou, mountain lion, moose, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, black bear)
  • PARK PHOTOS: Display photos that highlight the diversity of our national parks – Mount McKinley, Everglades, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, Carlsbad Caverns, Great Sand Dunes, and Sequoia. Encourage your group to talk about the beautiful sights they’ve seen in our national treasures. Recommend favorite spots for a family vacation, including some “off the beaten path” (ex: Denali National Park in Alaska). Ask: Which spot comes closest to paradise?


  1. According to the old camp song, how many white horses will she be driving when she comes ’round the mountain? Six
  2. What does “nature is calling” mean? Need to use the bathroom
  3. What camping item holds clean drinking water? Canteen
  4. What is kindling? Small sticks for starting a fire
  5. Trail mix is a favorite snack for campers. What’s in it? Dried fruit and nuts
  6. What do you use to secure the sides of a camping tent? Pegs or stakes
  7. What is “bug juice”? Kool Aid
  8. What object do you need to create a spark to start a fire? Flint
  9. What is a mess kit? Eating utensils
  10. What ingredients are used to make s’mores? Graham crackers, chocolate bar, toasted marshmallows


“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~ Aristotle


“National Parks” was written by Sue Hansen. Copyright 2015 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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