The summer I lived in Yellowstone National Park, I saw bison out my kitchen window—regularly. I passed a mama moose every day on my way to the office. I averaged 30 miles a week of hiking, much of it part of my job as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern. And I learned a secret: The best way to really get to know a park is to live there.
As a resident, I had the time, knowledge, and access to truly explore. On my days off, I was in prime position to hit the trail. I knew the best tricks for getting permits and the coolest out-of-the-way corners. In one summer, I hit nearly every park highlight, bagged a dozen peaks, and discovered hot springs that aren't on any map.
It was so amazing, I decided to do it again the next year. That time, I signed up for an Americorps position as a crew leader with the Utah Conservation Corps. Over the next year and half, I had the privilege of spending months at a time in Capitol Reef and Zion National Parks, working alongside park staff on various projects. Again, I did some of the best exploring of my life.
Try it. The unparalleled access is worth the time, whether between jobs, after you retire, or as a permanent way of life. Here are some resources to get you started.
Student Conservation Association (SCA)
Ages 15 and up; semi-volunteer placements on public lands nationwide. thesca.org
Volunteers in Parks
All ages; some positions provide housing. volunteer.gov
Clearinghouse for paid positions with park concessionaires. coolworks.com
National Park Service
Federal jobs can be tough to get; many are seasonal. usajobs.gov