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Do you want to know how to work in a national park?
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started looking, but my system worked out pretty well. So, I decided to share with you how to find seasonal national park jobs!
Update 2023: It worked out very well and I ended up doing it for six years! 10/10, would recommend.
This can work for anyone in the US or out of it, but the application process will be different since you would need a J1 visa if you live abroad. I won’t be talking about the J1 process though because I don’t know anything about it.
Anyway, here we go. This is what I did to find a seasonal national park and it worked well for me. Note that this is for jobs with concessionaires NOT National Park Service.
This post is great if you want to read more about work and travel in Yellowstone from a non-American perspective.
But first, who are seasonal national park jobs for?
Everyone! I’ve seen people from all walks of life working seasonal national park jobs but if you’re not sure, here are some groups they’re great for:
- College students on summer break
- Fresh graduates (high school or college) who aren’t ready for college or a “real job” yet
- People who want to see more of the US
- People who love nature
- Anyone who just wants to try something new
- People who feel stuck and down in their current life
- People who only want to work half the year (that are good at saving money, tip jobs are best for this)
- Teachers on summer break
- People who want to live in or near national parks
- People who love the national parks
Different ways to work in national parks
There are a few different ways to work/live in national parks and while ‘m focusing on seasonal national park jobs with concessionaires here, there are other options including:
- National Park Service (seasonal or year-round)
- Concessionaires (Aramark, Xanterra, Guest Services, Vail Resorts Delaware North)
- NPS volunteer
- Campground host (in national parks or near national parks)
What are national park concessionaires?
The concessionaires in national parks are outside companies contracted by National Park Service to run services in national parks like hotels, restaurants, gift shops, tours, etc.
How to find seasonal jobs in national parks
Now onto the process of how to find seasonal national park jobs. It can seem overwhelming at first with so many options but it’s actually kind of fun looking at and applying to all the jobs.
And applying for jobs is never fun but when it means adventure? It’s not so bad!
Decide where you want to go
This is either really easy or, well, it’s just easy. Maybe overwhelming with all the options though. You either already know where you want to go or you’re open to pretty much anywhere.
Some states and parks have quite a few more seasonal job opportunities than others like:
- Jackson Hole
- Grand Canyon
- Glen Canyon
Figure out what kind of job you want
Serving. Retail. Housekeeping. Front desk. Tour guide. Hiking guide. You get the idea. I applied for mostly retail things the first time and ended up doing front desk at a hotel, which I’m glad I ended up doing.
The second time around (for winter) I was more adventurous. I applied for bartender, baker, server, host, and front desk again. I ended up doing front desk which I wasn’t upset about.
There’s always the chance you can change what you do when you get there. I’ve helped with housekeeping and had a brief stint as a host as well but I wouldn’t count on that.
Don’t be afraid to apply for things you have no experience in either. You never know what will work out. Also be open to other positions if they are offered to you during the interview.
And just because you start doing one job doesn’t mean you have too stick with that your entire seasonal career. I switched to the private marina office when we moved to Wahweap on Lake Powell from Bullfrog.
Go to Cool Works
This was my first stop. It will probably be yours. too, if you Google National Park jobs. It’s the best place to find seasonal jobs around the US (outside of NPS).
You can search by season, state, and park. It’s an awesome place to start and look around. They usually list number of employees, peak season, and if they have employee housing available.
It can help narrow down where you want to go, too, if you just browse it for a while. But maybe you’ll end up expanding where you after seeing all the options!
Search for resorts in or around parks
Then I would check TripAdvisor or Booking.com to see what there was. It was a lot of looking for applications on some not so great websites, but it was easy enough to find a lot of places to apply.
Some national parks don’t have accommodation in them (like Arches or Canyonlands), so check the towns right outside of them instead (Moab in this case).
Apply to everything
This is pretty self-explanatory. I probably applied to 30 different places with different companies and multiple jobs in some places.
One thing to note (I know I’ve already mentioned it), most park concessions are run by three main companies: Aramark, Xanterra, and Delaware North.
I only have experience with one (Aramark), but it was easy to move between properties, so keep that in mind and check out which parks each one runs to see if there’s anything you’d want to do in the winter with them.
Things to know about seasonal national park jobs
Now that you know how to find a national park job, this is where you’ll find some tips and general things to know about working in national parks.
Not all national parks have seasonal jobs with concessionaires
Not all national parks will have jobs with concessionaires, especially small remote parks but it varies. Here are the main parks that do have jobs with concessionaires:
- Glen Canyon
- Grand Canyon
- Grand Teton
- Death Valley
- Glacier Bay
- Mesa Verde
This is not an exhaustive list of national parks with concessionaire jobs, I know there are more, but these are the most popular for seasonal jobs and usually have the most variety in jobs available.
Not all jobs offer employee housing
A lot of seasonal jobs offer employee housing but not all of them do. I know most of the ski resorts in Jackson Hole don’t have employee housing or it’s very limited if they do.
In Bullfrog the housing was free. I can’t remember how much it was in Wahweap but it was pretty cheap. Togwotee (our one winter job) wasn’t as cheap as Wahweap but not as much as one I saw that was like, $400 a month.
I know that’s not much compared to normal rent but for seasonal jobs it was a lot. $50 per week is usually pretty average for on site housing I think.
Housing is usually dorm style
Seasonal national park job housing is usually dorm style. Not like, hostel dorm with a room with 5 bunk beds, but college dorm where you have a roommate.
If you’re going with someone you know you can be roommates. Some places let couples be roommates but not everywhere does.
Some places might let you have a room to yourself but I don’t know how common that is.
You may have a bathroom in your room, there may be one bathroom for the whole floor or building, or a Jack and Jill bathroom.
Bullfrog and Togwotee had en suite bathrooms and Wahweap does in the regular dorms but in the couples housing they were Jack and Jill which is very annoying.
Thankfully we were there in 2020 so we didn’t actually have to share it with anyone else.
You’ll probably have to have a roommate
I mentioned it above, but you’ll most likely have to have a roommate. This will entirely depend on where you are.
If you’re going there with someone you know you can probably be roommates. And possibly if you’re a couple but that depends on where you are working.
If it’s very important for you and your significant other to be roommates, definitely ask if that’s allowed in your interview.
Your weekends will probably be weekdays
Weekends are usually the busiest in national parks so they tend to have most people working then (except management sometimes).
You will most likely have weekdays off. Definitely ask in the interview if it’s two consecutive days or not.
My parents met an older couple who worked in Yellowstone for the better part of a year who had like, one day off together.
I’ve also heard this about Death Valley and they’re both with Xanterra. I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere with them, but that wouldn’t work for me.
Lake Powell (run by Aramark) was very good about giving the same days off with significant others and the same two days off in a row.
Season length varies by park
And by your availability. Some parks just have a short summer season because of weather (like Yellowstone) and some are much longer (like Lake Powell).
My first year I worked April to November and after that it was usually mid-March to sometime in October.
But college students would just work like, three months over summer break. Some people would just work May to September.
It entirely depends on the park, how long you want to work, how long they’ll have you, etc.
I will say, my favorite parts of the season were at the very beginning and very end when it’s slow and there’s almost no one there (employees or guests).
Drinking is very common
Drinking and partying is a pretty popular way to spend any and all free time in seasonal work.
So if you like drinking, you’ll fit right in. That said, if you don’t drink, it’s still worth doing.
There will still be people there that want to go out and explore the park and surrounding area.
There are so many different types of people who do seasonal national park work, you’ll have no problem finding your people.
I also think people who do this kind of work are just generally really friendly which makes doing something like this on your own that much easier.
NPS and concessionaire employees don’t typically mingle
This could entirely depend on where you are, but at Lake Powell (I think not including Dangling Rope) NPS and Aramark employees didn’t mingle very much.
I think every now and then they might but housing is in different areas so it doesn’t happen as naturally.
This could also very much depend on the size of the park and I think this simply based on Lake Powell.
Bullfrog is small and even if I didn’t hang out with NPS employees, I knew who most of them were and would say hi.
Dangling Rope was tiny so I can’t imagine them not hanging out (I have no idea if they did).
And Wahweap is like, three times the size of Bullfrog and I didn’t know or recognize a single person from NPS.
All this to say, you can be friends with NPS employees if you want, it’s not forbidden. It just wasn’t super common from what I saw.
You might be able to take a few months off every year
If you’re good at saving money (especially if you have a tip job) you might be able to take winters off!
We did this after working that first 2016/17 winter and even though we maybe shouldn’t always have, I’m glad we did.
I know a few (but not the majority) of the people we worked with would take winters off.
I do think one downside to this, particularly if you don’t have a tip job, is that you won’t be able to see as much of the area you’re working in.
And that’s a huge reason to do seasonal national park jobs in the first place!
If you’re not horribly offended by the idea of working year-round, I say do all the things in and around your summer park then get a winter job and do the same thing.
Moving expenses aren’t covered
I know some fancy jobs pay for relocation but this seasonal career field isn’t one of those.
Expenses will probably be limited though since you’re not moving your entire house or apartment, but if you need to get a storage unit or something, that’s a cost to consider.
I basically just left my things at my parents house and brought a Smart Car’s worth of stuff then accumulated way too much over the years.
You won’t have much room in employee housing for a summer job so you won’t need much more than a car of stuff.
You may be able to stay year-round
While all parks have a busy season and a slow season, most have at least a few year-round jobs that you may be able to move to if you’re really loving it and don’t want to leave yet.
That said, there aren’t usually many and they’re usually hard to get so I wouldn’t go into a seasonal job with plans to stay year-round, even if they say you probably can.
I would wait to ask about it at all until you’re into the season a bit, maybe halfway, just to make sure you even like it before promising to stay.
This, like almost everything else, will depend entirely on the park or location. Can’t get a job there year-round? No worries!
Just have a long season with a few months off in the winter! Get there as early as they’ll let you and stay as long as you can. Seasons can be longer in some places than others.
Lake Powell, for example, doesn’t get snowed in or anything so we could work from March to November if we wanted but some of Yellowstone won’t work like that. You can always find a fun winter job, too.
You may be able to work your way up the corporate ladder
If you aspire to work in management, it’s definitely possible to move your way up the corporate ladder from seasonal positions. I’ve seen quite a few people do it, just keep your options open.
You may be able to transfer between parks in the same company to move up, too, but I’m not sure how all of this works. It’s not for me. But I think seasonal to year-round could be a good first step.
Summer and winter jobs vary
Summer and winter jobs will be different. Summer job options options will include jobs and places like hiking guide, fishing guide, glamping resorts, horseback riding, marinas, things like that.
Winter job availability will mostly be at ski/snowboard/snowmobile lodges and resorts and positions will obviously correspond with those activities.
Hotel, restaurant, bar, and gift shop work is usually available any time of year. You can easily work at one place in the summer and another in the winter, moving around every season.
It’s a great way to see a ton of new places or to keep going back to two places you love.
Summer jobs are usually posted in November/December
If you want to start working seasonal national park jobs, applications usually open in November and December, sometimes January and February so keep checking back.
And apply to everything you would be comfortable doing or that sounds interesting to you! Apply to all the parks you might even think about wanting to work at, try all the different jobs that sound interesting, just give it a shot.
There is usually an employee dining area
There is usually an employee dining area that has breakfast, lunch, and dinner available. How it’s paid for varies by location.
At Lake Powell we had meal cards that would get taken out of our check if we got one and each meal was $5. This was a nice way to do it because if you didn’t want to eat there, you weren’t being charged for it. But it does add up if you do this for every meal.
At Togwotee there was a set fee we were charged as part of room and board every month that came out of our paycheck. From what I’ve seen, this is more common.
The food available isn’t anything to write home about though, so don’t get your hopes up on that.
Some places also have a kitchen area that you can cook in with a community fridge but food may get stolen from there. Once in Bullfrog, someone stole my almond milk. Twice in a row! And leftover pizza.
There is usually a shuttle to get around the park
I would definitely recommend having a car if you’re going to be doing seasonal work. A lot of the parks are in somewhat to very remote locations and getting around without a car can be difficult (but not impossible).
There are usually shuttles available to get around the park and to work for employees (and guests, depending on the park). Sometimes they run trips to town or to nearby attractions, too.
There are also plenty of other people that will have cars who can likely give you rides to work or town but I wouldn’t go in relying on that, just in case.
It’s also just easier to move between parks if you have a car to drive yourself. We did know people who just had very few things and would fly/take trains and buses between jobs though.
Cars definitely aren’t required, I think it just depends on the kind of experience you want to have. If you want to explore the surrounding area, have a car. If you just want to work and save, not as necessary.
Not every national park is good to work at
Now that I’ve got you all pumped up to find a seasonal national park job, I need to tell you they’re not all good to work at.
They’re all corporate giants so you’ll have to deal with everything that comes with that but some companies are better than others.
We didn’t have a bad experience with Aramark, it’s not like, 10/10, but it wasn’t awful. I would work for them again.
One place I haven’t heard anything good about as far as seasonal work experience goes is Mt. Rainer. But that was 3+ years ago so it could have changed.
And on that note, somewhere can be good one year and bad the next simply because of management. Bad management can really make the experience not good.
I would normally say stick it out through the end of the season but if somewhere is really just not going well, you truly hate it and are miserable, leave. You’ll be able to find somewhere else, somewhere better.
Don’t let one bad park scare you off from seasonal national park work forever because. . .
It might change your life
I would not be where I am or who I am if I didn’t decide to work seasonal national park jobs. Would I be doing something else really cool? I like to think so but I still wouldn’t change anything.
I’m a big proponent of moving away from your hometown at least once, and not necessarily just for college.
This doesn’t mean move away from your hometown forever. You can move back if you really want, who am I to say you can’t?
But I think it’s so important to experience life in a place that’s totally new to you and seasonal national park work is one of the best low-commitment ways to do that.
You don’t have to move away for years, one summer might be all you need for a new perspective on life. But who knows, maybe you’ll find a person or place or job that you love that totally changes your life.
Final thoughts on how to find seasonal national park jobs
Are you convinced yet? Are you going to go find a seasonal national park job now? I hope so and I hope it’s the most wonderful experience! If you do, I would love to hear how your search and the job itself goes.
Have you worked seasonally anywhere? How did you get into it? Where did you work?