6 Things That Will Convince You To Work In A National Park This Summer
Sure beats the heck out of an office.
The day after I graduated college in Southern California, I jumped in my little Honda Fit with my then boyfriend and headed north to spend the summer working at a gas station smack dab in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. Some were a little confused at my post-grad plans (“You’re going to work at a gas station?”) and I can’t lie, I questioned the decision myself, wondering if I should have tried to find a “real” job after graduating. Almost one year since I headed out for the Wild West, I can tell you wholeheartedly that working in Yellowstone was one of the best things I have ever done. If you are considering working in a national park this summer: do it. It won’t be easy, but if you can survive the cafeteria food and long hours, you’ll be rewarded with what could be one of the most transformative experiences of your life.
Here’s why you should pack your bags and head out to work a national park this summer:
1. A national park will be your backyard...
...and you will have a whole summer to explore it. Hike uncommon trails that most tourists will never see, watch as the seasons change, learn the places bears hang out, discover secret employee spots, and gain insight about the park from your ranger friends. For the most part, the only people who live in national parks are employees and their families. Join their ranks and get up close and personal with one of the most beautiful protected spaces in the United States.
2. The people.
Befriend naturalists, rangers, wolf-watchers and travelers. Work with all sorts of people from around the country and world. The folks who work in national parks range from hard-core outdoor enthusiasts to those who are trying to escape the real world or just love adventure. Everyone here has a story - and you will meet some of the most interesting, strange, kind, and badass people that could become friends for life.
3. You’ll never be bored.
Hike, climb, backpack, swim, hot-spring soak, sit around campfires, watch for wildlife, cliff jump, read in your hammock, horseback ride, river raft… the possibilities of how to spend your free time are endless. It beats killing time at the mall back at home or waiting in long lines in the summer heat at amusement parks.
4. Get back to the basics.
You won’t become a millionaire working at a national park, but rent is cheap and taken right out of your paycheck, so you don’t have to worry about paying bills and utilities. When the nearest real grocery store is over an hour away, life slows down and feels simpler. You will work hard, but play harder.
5. It’s not permanent.
When you are tired of cleaning toilets and dealing with angry tourists, you will have the luxury of knowing that it is not forever. Even more than this, there’s something about the impermanence about a summer living in a national park that makes you appreciate every hike, sunset, and friendship. You know that the experience is temporary, and that even if you come back the next year it will be different.
6. The chance to be changed.
Working and living in Yellowstone shifted my perspective on the world, rerouted my career path, taught me how to camp through a thunderstorm and track a bear on the trail, and gave me a confidence in myself I may not have otherwise found. Working in a national park can be HARD. You may be working long days (or nights) with unmotivated coworkers, your living conditions may be horrendous and you will probably be dog tired most of the time. It’s not a vacation, but it is an experience you won’t forget, and will probably tell your kids about one day.
Note: Allie worked for Yellowstone Park Service Stations, a company which she highly recommends, and volunteered with a Christian Ministry in the national parks, which puts on church services in national parks across the USA. If you have any questions about working in Yellowstone, feel free to email Allie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo: Noah Couser
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.