National parks were such a common vacation choice in 2021 that many saw record attendance, especially from families with children. That translated into huge crowds at the gift shops — and booming sales of playthings for the youngest Americans.
At the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, Park Ranger Denise DeLucia puts toys, books and puzzles on the bottom shelf, “where the little ones can grab ‘em,” she said. DeLucia, who manages the park’s gift shop, noted that anything whale related in the $10 range was a hit. “Children’s board books are among our most popular items; they’re a quick read at really good price points,” DeLucia noted. At the tiny store, which has about 100 square feet of retail space, $10 also buys a mini whale puzzle, a constructor kit to make a whale from blocks, or a plush whale.
Many park gift shops, like the one at the Fort Davis (Texas) National Historic Site, occupy small spaces inside a Visitor Center. So Store Managers like Patricia Hartnett, who oversees the Fort Davis gift shop, go for maximum visibility. With less than 100 square feet of retail space, “we make sure everything is within reach of the kids, whether it’s in the corner or along the wall,” said Hartnett. 
Of course, given this year’s supply chain issues, Hartnett hasn’t even been able to reliably stock some of her best-sellers. The POOP card game, “which is super popular,” had sold out while Hartnett awaited the next shipment in November. “People just loved it,” she sighed. Meanwhile, anything featuring Texas’s signature javelina — an animal similar to a wild boar — is a winner at the Fort Davis gift shop. “Kids are just fascinated with the javelina,” Hartnett explained. They particularly love any merchandise that bears the slogan “Don’t call me a pig,” a play on the javelina’s mysterious identity.
Kids make a beeline for plush at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument store in Keene, Calif. “When children enter, stuffed animals are the first thing they gravitate to,” explained Gift Shop Manager Bernadette Farinas. It’s no accident: Farinas makes sure to display plush and other toys at kids’ eye level in her corner of the visitor center. Apart from plush, best-sellers include children’s puzzles with themes like the state of California or national parks. Farinas said most children’s items do best when priced around $10.
With many families visiting multiple parks this year, Junior Ranger gear has become a hit with young adventurers. A Junior Ranger patch book is one of the top items at the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site gift shop in Elverson, Pa. “We’ve got stamps here that go on it, and then of course kids can pick up more stamps at other parks — every national park has them,” explained Gift Shop Manager Tony Bialy. A children’s keepsake book about Hopewell Furnace also sells well at the store, which is located within the site’s visitor center.
Junior Ranger badges, patch books, stickers and pins are the top items at Arkansas’s Hot Springs National Park store. Also hot are Junior Ranger vests and hats, “so kids can dress up like the Park Rangers here,” explained Assistant Store Manager Rocksana Henry. “Accessories like binoculars and lanyards also move briskly; so do Ranger puzzles. At the park’s new gift shop in a converted bathhouse, Henry organizes Junior Ranger items in their own section — even dressing girl and boy dolls in coordinating outfits. “That way, kids can come in and pick out what they’ve been waiting to buy, and get all decked out like real Rangers,” Henry explained.