The following article on seasonal national park jobs is a guest post by Megan Johnson
The road is dry and dusty.
We’re bumping along with cliffs on both sides on our way to Capitol Reef National Park and I think to myself I live here!
The warm water is splashing over my feet as I lay on Swanda (my giant inflatable swan, because everyone needs one) as I relax on Lake Powell and think I live here!
I stop and watch a family of moose eat along the Gros Ventre River in the Tetons and again think I live here!
This has become a fairly regular thought since I started working seasonal national park jobs. I’ll be walking along or on my way to a national park on a Tuesday when it hits me. I can go here anytime I want because I live here!
It all started back in Wisconsin at the little cheese shop I worked at. Yes, a cheese shop in Wisconsin. It was probably 2012 when one of my coworkers went to work at Yellowstone for the summer. I thought oh, that’s cool, I could do that and promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015 when I went on a road trip with one of my best friends to Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. I fell in love with Utah and come winter of 2015 when I was planning a trip abroad for two and a half months, I remembered the girl that went to Yellowstone and thought maybe I should try that after my trip.
I was scheduled to leave at the beginning of January and had the idea in early December. I spent every night applying for summer jobs at resorts all over out west and crossed my fingers I would find something before my trip.
The first call came from Yellowstone to be a retail worker and I was thinking it over. I waited about a week before giving a concrete answer and a day before I was going to call, I heard back from Lake Powell in Utah, the area I really wanted to be in. I said yes and that was that. Here I am four summers later, back at Lake Powell.
After my first summer in Utah, I ended up in Wyoming in the winter, about an hour from Jackson with a small view of the Tetons from my dorm room window on a clear day.
We were buried under 500 inches of snow all winter before going back to the other extreme, 100+ degree weather. The following two winters I took off and spent in Florida and took a few small trips around the southeast.
I applied for a hostess job at the restaurant but was hired for the hotel front desk and have been doing it since. I’ve really enjoyed the job and would definitely do it as a regular non-seasonal job now that I have the experience.
Four years later, I’ve gotten to know guests that come visit multiple times a year. I’ve made great friends from around the world, learned tons of new things, and fallen in love in more ways than one.
Who Are Seasonal Jobs For?
Everyone! Well, everyone over 18.
I started my first seasonal job after I graduated from university at 24.
I’ve seen people fresh out of high school, people in their 40s or 50s that just want to try something new, and people over 70 that live in RVs and travel around for fun and work.
How to Find a Seasonal National Park Job
Keep in mind, this guide is how to find a national park job with the park concessionaires, not National Park Service as a park ranger of some sort. If you’re not American, you will need a J1 visa to work here in the summer as a student.
I personally think this part is really fun, seeing all the jobs out there, thinking about what I might like to do, and dreaming of what it’s like living in all the national parks.
Think About What You Want to Do
While you may want to just apply for things you already know how to do, don’t be afraid to apply for something new.
I would recommend just applying for everything even if you might not have experience with it. I don’t mean apply for a manager position if you’ve only been a cashier, but consider trying something new and maybe work your way up.
There are so many different types of jobs out there, it’s crazy. What you can do will depend on the park and the season. Here are just a few of the jobs out there:
- Front desk agent
- Retail worker
- Hiking/horse/snowmobile guide
- Lift attendant
- Rental agent
Think About Where You Might Want to Go
This is where it gets more fun.
Think about parks you’ve always wanted to visit or know you love. New areas you want to explore or resorts in your own backyard.
Most national parks have job opportunities, but not all of them. You’ll most likely be working for Aramark, Xanterra, Delaware North, or Guest Services. Those are the concessionaire companies.
Not all jobs will be in national parks, but they might be close to them. They will still be in extremely scenic places.
These are some popular parks to consider:
- Yellowstone (WY)
- Grand Canyon (AZ)
- Yosemite (CA)
- Lake Powell (UT/AZ)
- Death Valley (CA)
- Acadia (ME)
- Denali (AK)
- Deer Valley (Park City, UT)
- Snowmass (Aspen, CO)
- Big Sky (Big Sky, MT)
- Stowe or Stratton (Vermont)
- Winter Park (Winter Park, CO)
- Ocean Reef Club (Key Largo, FL)
Look for Jobs and Apply for Everything
There are two main ways I look for seasonal national park jobs: Cool Works and good ol’ Google.
You’ll want to have your resume ready so you can easily apply for these jobs. Most jobs will be seasonal, but some places will have year-round opportunities. I wouldn’t recommend applying at a lot of these places expecting a year-round job, but you can always ask if they have any.
Coolworks is the seasonal job mecca. You can find hundreds of seasonal jobs around the US here and you can even sort them by national park, season, state, categories, and even who is hiring right now. If you don’t know where to start, this is the place.
Search for Resorts Near Parks
Another option to find jobs is to Google anything along the lines of “resorts near Arches National Park” or whatever park you want.
If you don’t need to be near a park, then something like “resorts near Moab, Utah” or whichever town you want.
Ranches are another great option since a lot of areas out west have guest ranches that are open in the summer and don’t need a ton of staff or might not be listed on Cool Works. Google is the best place to find that kind of thing, smaller hotels/resorts/ranches.
You may not need to pack everything, but some things you’ll probably need to bring or get once you arrive that never even crossed my mind. They’re not necessarily fun things, but you will need them.
This obviously isn’t everything you’ll need, but it’s things I forgot about and found myself having to drive three hours to get.
- Toilet paper
- Power strip
- Paper towel
- Basic cleaning supplies
Perks of Seasonal Jobs
- Housing is offered and usually taken right out of your paycheck. How much it costs will vary by location, but it will most likely be dorm-style.
- Discounts on hotel rooms, retail merchandise, restaurants, and most activities are offered at the park.
- Free or very discounted kayak, paddleboard, snowshoe, and other sporting equipment rentals.
- There is plenty of opportunity for advancement in most companies.
- You have the chance to explore a park or area in-depth, unlike on a quick vacation.
- You also have the chance to save a lot of money.
- And you can have winters off if you saved enough money!
Other Important Things to Keep in Mind:
- If you have a car, I would highly recommend driving to wherever you’ll be working. Having a car makes it a thousand times easier in the park, but especially if you want to explore the area.
- If you don’t have a car, you may want to ask about transportation offered by the employer. Will they have a shuttle to get to work? A shuttle to town? Employee trips to nearby attractions?
- Some places offer single rooms, but not everywhere. You may have a roommate. Definitely ask about this if you need a single room before accepting the job.
- If you really end up hating where you are, don’t be afraid to leave, just give a two-week notice.
- If you accept a job then find a better one, let the original place know you won’t be coming so they can re-post the job. Don’t just ghost them.
- Season length varies by park, so you could work anywhere from 3-9 months.
I may be biased now, but I think this is something everyone should try at least once. Not only will it open you up to a new experience, but you can make lifelong friends, learn new skills, and get to live in some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Would you work seasonally at a national park in the US? Where would you want to go? Let us know in the comments!
Megan Johnson is a Wisconsin native currently exploring the US one national park at a time. She’s a Slytherin, a space fanatic, and a Geocaching addict. You can probably find her napping, reading, or wandering somewhere in the desert. You can follow her adventures at Red Around the World.