Get This Job: Park Ranger

Want to wear the hat? Here's how to better your chances.

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park ranger
A ranger patrols Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo by: Daniel Gambino/tandemstockDaniel Gambino/Tandem

If income were measured in views per hour rather than dollars, NPS rangers would be wealthier than Warren Buffet. They clock in at our country’s most sanctified natural spaces, working in the shadow of Half Dome, the rainforests of Olympic, the depths of the Grand Canyon.

Most rangers are in it for the love: Permanent positions start at around $28,000 (for interpretive rangers) to $35,000 (law enforcement). And while prospects for all recreation workers—a broad category that also includes gigs like camp directors, city park employees, and rec center staff—should grow 14 percent through 2022 (adding 49,000 jobs), competition for NPS ranger positions will remain stiff and subject to federal budgetary whims.

But don’t let that discourage the Junior Ranger inside of you. Grown-ups with a dream and determination can make a career as a park ranger; you’ll also need a bachelor’s degree (ideally environmental science or criminal justice, but many other majors can work) and a willingness to accept volunteer or seasonal positions enroute to permanent employment.

Pay $28,000 to $35,000 Prerequisites Bachelor’s degree Perks Best office ever Problems Budget cuts Prospects Competitive; no BLS data

Why I Love My Job

Michelle Schonzeit, 34/Independence National Historic Park/Philadelphia, PA

In her 13 years with the Park Service, Michelle Schonzeit has rescued a climber from Yosemite’s El Capitan, nabbed elk poachers in Crater Lake, saved a young boy from a waterfall at Delaware Water Gap, and been stalked step-for-step by a mountain lion while on solo patrol deep in the Olympic backcountry. “Every day is a little bit different,” she says.

A ranger’s job is by definition unpredictable—and so is the weather they withstand. “There are no snow days for park rangers,” Schonzeit says.

Her advice to wannabes? Keep an open mind, because you likely won’t start at your dream park. “Be willing to go anywhere.”