Get a job in the National Parks

March 14, 2012, 1:12 pm

Let’s face it, sometimes you get tired of staring at your cold, lonely gray cubicle and yearn for the great outdoors. Maybe those two weeks vacation in August are not enough to satisfy your primal desire for fresh air, stunning sunsets and Mother Nature. Instead of wishing, make your dream job a reality and hang that Gone Fishin’ sign a little more often.

Employers located in and around parks and recreation areas begin hiring seasonal workers in the winter and early spring, so now is the time to ditch the corporate office and take a leap into the majestic mountains or verdant forest. From being a chef at a lodge in the Grand Tetons to counseling campers in New York to leading dive tours in Alaska, there are positions for a variety of skill sets.

Use Online Job Sites

A good place to start your job search is CoolWorks.com, a website focused on finding jobs, whether seasonal or permanent, in national or local parks and great outdoor locations across the country. Search by location, desired position, or activity and you can start living an amazing life adventure.

We spoke with Bill Berg, the President and Founder of Coolworks.com, and got some insider tips for nabbing a job in a beautiful place where most folks only get to spend a short vacation.

Coolworks features jobs with employers located in national parks, with positions ranging from line cooks at park restaurants to gift shop managers to hiking and kayaking guides. Berg, who started his 20-year career at Yellowstone pumping gas at a gas station just outside the park, says it isn't unusual to meet other folks with full time positions in the parks who got their start as seasonal employees at these types of companies.

"It's a good way to get your foot in the door," says Berg. "Being around helps to show your skills and your desire to get involved. If you're a known quantity and have been working in or around park, and get to know right people, it won't work against you if you've got what it takes."

Coolworks.com also lists jobs in other great outdoor destinations, including rafting companies, dude ranches, camps, adventure travel companies and ski resorts.

Go Straight to the Source

When vacationers start heading to parks across the country, the high summer seasons see full campgrounds and congested trails. In short, it can get busy and the National Park Service, as well as concessioners (businesses authorized to operate inside the national parks), expect the swell in attendance.

The NPS hires approximately 10,000 temporary and seasonal employees annually. Temporary and seasonal jobholders staff many of the visitor centers, distributing brochures and offering helpful advice. Explore the park more in-depth by becoming a park guide or seasonal park ranger. Informing the public about the history, ecosystems and hikes through interpretive programs is self-rewarding experience.

If your desire is to research the living world around you, the National Park Service also hires Biological Science Technicians. Discover the workings behind the ecosystems or study wildlife in the area. For more information about available positions in at the National Park Service, visit usajobs.gov.

Another good starting point is to visit the website of park concession companies. Hotels and restaurants in or near the parks are frequently in need of helping hands each year. You may find yourself scooping ice cream in Mount Rushmore or selling postcards to first-time visitors to Yosemite National Park. Once the workday is done, explore the amazing wonders around you. 

Apply for a position as soon as possible to ensure that you can be ready to start working for the late spring and summer. Some of the largest concessioners are ARAMARK, Xanterra Parks & ResortsDelaware North Companies (DNC), Guest Services and Forever Resorts.

The rugged outdoors can be for everyone, even if your idea of the outdoors growing up was going to the mailbox. Leading hikes through the Rocky Mountains may seem like a daydream, but the reality is people from all walks of life work in the park. Don’t have expert outdoor skills? You can learn them! Some positions offer training on how to become a rafting or horseback riding guide.

Volunteer

Another great way to experience the parks is by volunteering. The Volunteers in Parks (VIP) Program allows you to find out more about the parks and what appeals to you while still keeping your day job. Great volunteer opportunities for college and high school students are available through the Student Conservation Association (SCA). SCA members protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green spaces in all 50 states. Tens of thousands of green professionals, from park superintendents to urban planners, can trace their start to SCA.

Plan Ahead and Be Flexible

The most important thing about looking for a job in the parks, says Berg, is being flexible.

"Availability is key to snagging a job," he said.

It can be advantageous to plan ahead, since most jobs are filled between January and March. However, openings can come up at any time, and willingness to start right away could help you land a job.

Most summer seasonal positions begin in spring and run through late summer, and employers often seek people who can commit to the entire busy season. This means college students who need to be back to school for the fall semester should apply as early as possible, since employers have a limited number of slots for people who need to leave before the summer is out.

But who would want to? As Berg says, "You get to spend your whole summer in a vacation destination. Find something or some place you're passionate about, and build your career there."

Photo by NPS