How to Volunteer at a National Park (and live for free!)

Are you a retiree or empty nester looking to enrich your life through volunteerism?

An outdoorsy-type wanting to get back to nature, or a college student looking to pump up your resume in a meaningful way?

The Parks Service provides wonderful ways to help preserve America’s natural heritage.

And now is the time to prepare for next summer’s adventure… CONTINUE READING >> 

Buffalo at beautiful Yellowstone National Park
Buffalo at Yellowstone National Park

Whether you are a retiree or empty nester looking to enrich your life through volunteerism, an outdoorsy-type wanting to get back to nature, or a college student looking to pump up your resume in a meaningful way, the Parks Service provides wonderful ways to help preserve America’s natural heritage. And now is the time to prepare for next summer’s adventure.

From the National Park Service website:

“Volunteering is an American tradition that has made an immeasurable contribution to communities, organizations, and individuals throughout the country. Today’s volunteers are active, dynamic, creative individuals who possess the skills, desire, patience, and time to accomplish a wide variety of tasks.

Volunteers-In-Parks are Very Important People (VIPs)! In Fiscal Year 2005, 137,000 volunteers donated 5.2 million hours to your national parks at a value of $91.2 million.

VIPs come from all over the world to help preserve and protect America’s natural and cultural heritage for the enjoyment of this and future generations. Volunteers of all ages give of their time and expertise to help achieve the National Park Service mission.”

What do volunteers do?

The opportunities are endless! Each Park has its own special needs — you may work in a gift shop, as a guide, caretaker, campground host, or at a research library. Help is needed clearing trails, maintaining vehicles and program development. Some locations have jobs assisting researchers with plant, animal and weather data or at archaeological sites.

Tunnel into Yosemite National Park
The Tunnel into Yosemite National Park

Where do volunteers stay?

Many Parks are isolated, so housing is provided for volunteers. Depending on the Park, volunteers accomodations include fully furnished houses, volunteer villages, seasonal homes, dorms, bunkhouses or RV and camp sites.

What is expected of volunteers?

In exchange for housing, volunteers work at least 20 hours a week. Some Parks ask for more, others allow splitting those hours between a couple sharing facilities. Volunteers are expected to attend training sessions to learn about the area they’ll be working in. For us, that’s an additional perk!

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Where to get started

The National Parks Service has an online search of volunteer opportunities here: http://www.nps.gov/gettinginvolved/volunteer/opportunities.htm

Opportunities may also be found at Volunteer.gov:
http://www.volunteer.gov/gov/

A list of State Parks and volunteer information:
http://usparks.about.com/od/stparkvolunteers/a/stvolunteerlist.htm

Be sure to plan ahead. Volunteer opportunites are currently being posted at the sites above for upcoming summer positions.

WATCH: Kay, a veteran parks volunteer – and fellow GypsyNester – discusses how to apply, where one lives at the parks, what is expected of volunteers and, most importantly, why she does it!

YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you? Would you like to volunteer at a Park?

53 thoughts on “How to Volunteer at a National Park (and live for free!)”

  1. I’m from Europe and I would like to volunteer in the Yellowstone program.I speak english fluently so I don’t think I will face problems with communication.I’m currently 21 years old.Is it even possible for me to apply and get accepted or do I have to be an american citizen?

  2. Volunteer program in Yellowstone seems perfect for me in exchange for lodging. I am currently taking a year or two off to help balance my anxiety and I would lv to give your program a try. How do I start?

  3. Am 28 and at a pivotal point in my life, made a lot of bad decisions in my past andwant to contribute to volunteer work and helping for a good cause, I love nature and the satisfaction of helping, need to know if something like this is possible for someone with a bad past and record, thank you

    1. Sounds like it would be good but we don’t really know Mike, we have not done it ourselves. I suggest that you check with the National Park Service, and best of luck. Hope it works out for you.

  4. This sounds like a great idea for boomers like me who love nature and would like to make a contribution. Continuing to be useful is a big need for a lot of retirees. I’m going to see if our Canadian parks have a similar program. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. I love this idea! What a wonderful way to give back as well as see some of the amazing parks we have in US! Thanks for all of the great info – we’ll definitely be looking at doing this!

  6. We’ve been acquainted with this program for quite some time. One of the first individuals we met in Denali in 2008 was the park bus driver, a man about our age from our town in Minnesota who used his summer off from a teaching job to go up to Alaska and drive the insane road back past the boundary where tourists are kept. The accommodations at Denali are pretty swell. We looked into the program ourselves very casually when we were casting about trying to determine what our location independence was going to be from a practical standpoint. The RV option got the ix-nay in favor of moving to Hawaii. If we ever come back to the RV option, you can bet we’ll look into this program again.

  7. Great idea! I wish my nephews were younger – this would have been great for them in their college years because they’re all fans of the National Parks. I’ll have to keep this in mind to suggest to others (I’m too spoiled).

  8. I’ve done plenty of volunteer work in this field (my environmental science degree requiored some environmental volunteer work, then I enjoyed it so kept doing it).

    I have to say though, oportunities like this are not hugely common. I can see you inspiring many people. America has some beautiful landscapes. 🙂

  9. I have a 22 year old step son. He doesn’t know what to do with his life. I suggested he volunteer at the parks and he is interested. How long does it take typically once you apply. His mother is forcing him out in 4 weeks.

  10. My wife and I are considering hitting the road full time in an RV and would like to be volunteers at the National Parks in exchange for free onsite stay for our rig. How difficult is it to obtain a position at a National Park?

  11. Volunteering is a great way to see your country and the wider world. It’s also a low cost way that allows you to travel by exchanging your help and skills for room and board.

  12. I’m a student who lives in the UK, but would love to be part of this program! Would I be able to stay for 3-6 months? or do i need an employer in the USA to do that?

  13. We are full time RVers and we have been on the road for one year now. We decided to volunteer this summer at The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose, CO this summer. I applied to work in the bookstore and got that job (20 hrs a week)and my husband will do the campground rounds morning & evening…in his little golf cart they give us (now that is a HARD job). Really looking forward to meeting lots of people and having fun this summer and the rent for our RV is free for four months…life is good!

  14. I,m not sure I can afford to do this. My wife and I really want to, just not sure how much income we need to enjoy this. I would love to visit national parks and other places.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *