Park rangers, or forest rangers as they are sometimes called, have some of the coolest jobs around. They get to work outdoors, mingle with park guests, find lost hikers, lead tours, provide information to visitors, investigate complaints, and lead those really fun sing-a-longs around the huge campfire down at the amphitheater.
So what could be so hard about becoming a park ranger? Well, it’s not as easy as you might think. While a college degree is highly desirable, for some park service positions this is not an absolute must. However, the better your education, the better your chances are of getting a park ranger job.
Today's park rangers are highly trained professionals who generally have, at minimum, a Bachelor of Science degree in:
If you're more interested in an administration position, those “behind-the-curtain” type careers, then a four-year degree in criminal justice, business or public administration is highly desired.
Do you want to be in management? A Master of Science or Ph.D. in a topic related to your area of interest is highly desirable, if not required.
As you can see, there's a lot more to becoming a park ranger than just applying for a position and wearing an awesome hat. It's a lot of work.
Here's what you need to know about how to become a park ranger:
Determine What Type of Park Ranger You'd Like to Be
Park rangers come in a surprisingly wide range of flavors. To determine which kind of park ranger job best suits your interests and abilities, first decide if you want to be a:
From there, consider the different types of park ranger job descriptions.
Some park rangers collect environmental data on wildlife and plant populations. Others focus on teaching the public about how to enjoy and protect nature, and how things like pollution, litter and climate change affect the parks.
Other park ranger duties may include law enforcement and firefighting, collecting usage fees, permit and equipment sales, and grounds maintenance. And some park rangers do it all.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Being a Park Ranger
Some of the attractions of a park ranger career include working outdoors and caring for nature. But there are also drawbacks to this type of job, like working weekends, holidays and during the summer, because those are some of the most popular times for visitors to enjoy the parks.
You also have to be okay with doing manual labor in hot, cold or wet conditions. After all, you're working outside.
Also, the further up the park ranger ladder you go, from county to state to federal, the more likely it is that you'll be assigned to a region some distance from your current location.
Get Familiar With the Park System
The best way to learn if being a park ranger is a good fit for you is to visit as many federal, state and county parks as you can. Study the parks' histories, their rules and regulations, and talk with park rangers about how they pursued their careers. They may be able to give you tips about how to join their ranks.
Another great source of information and programs is the National Park Service's website.
Gain Applicable Work Experience
It's hard to know if you'd truly like being a park ranger until you give it a try. Entry-level seasonal work is a great way to get experience and is how a lot of park rangers got their start.
The job market for forestry is highly competitive. For that reason, volunteering at national, state, county or municipal parks, or historic sites, is an excellent way to get a foot in the door. You can also work as a tour guide or docent at a museum.
The National Park Service has a volunteer program that shows you the ropes for how to become a park ranger.
And if you're still in school, the Student Conservation Association offers expense-paid internships that can give you a real taste for the type of work park rangers perform. Be sure to ask your school if volunteering will earn credits towards your graduation.
Apply for That Job
Once you've got the education and some work experience under your belt, it's time to start applying for your dream jobs.
For Federal Park Ranger Jobs
For State Park Ranger Jobs
Visit your state Department of Wildlife and Parks website for open park ranger positions in your region.
For County Park Ranger Jobs
Check with your county Department of Wildlife and Parks or Parks and Recreation website for job opportunities and requirements.
What You Can Expect After Applying
If you pass the application process, there are still a large number of steps to go before you put on the famous Smokey Bear hat. These include:
What Are You Waiting For?
Becoming a park ranger at any level can be a rewarding career if you have a strong passion for working outside and protecting nature. Go for it; find out if being a park ranger is the right job for you.
Jeff Adams is a California-based freelance writer, contributor to ReserveAmerica.com and an avid camping enthusiast. He's been dragging his trailer and willing family around the western U.S. for over a decade.