Become a Park Ranger

Edited by Kathy McGraw

Working as a park ranger is a dream job for many outdoorsy, nature-loving people. After all, who wouldn't want to spend their days patrolling the trails in places like Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks? Of course, being a park ranger involves more than just inspecting trails. Let's examine the job details of the role to find out if it's the career for you.

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What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Park Ranger?

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The requirements of any job fall into two general categories: soft and hard. Soft requirements include things such as aptitude and personality while hard requirements include things such as education, training, and physical fitness. As you probably guessed, the soft requirements deal with how well-suited you are to the job whereas the hard requirements deal with learning the skills you need to do the job.

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Soft Requirements

  • Love of nature
  • Love working outdoors
  • Comfortable talking to groups of people
  • Natural leader
  • Observant
  • Able to improvise when necessary
  • Comfortable with dirt
  • Be level-headed in an emergency

Hard Requirements

  • Be physically fit
  • Bachelor's degree in public administration, biology, earth sciences, environmental sciences, law enforcement, or similar field
  • Be a U.S. Citizen (National Parks only)

Where Do Park Rangers Work?

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Park Rangers are government employees who may work in any of the many national and state parks, monuments, and exhibits throughout the country. For example, a ranger might work for Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming or Castle Crags State Park in California. They might also work in Washington DC in the National Mall, which contains the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial, among others.

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What Are the Duties of a Park Ranger?

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Depending on the size of the park where they work, Park Rangers may choose to specialize in either Education/Interpretation or Protection, but in smaller parks, they're expected to handle all duties as needed.

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Education and interpretation

Park rangers who specialize in education and interpretation mainly work on activities that help to educate the public. If you want to specialize in this area, you should focus your education in the natural sciences such as biology, geology, ecology, and nature conservancy.

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  • Conduct guided tours of the park and share information on the sites and history of the location
  • Conduct educational programs to teach the public about the geology, ecology of, and conservation efforts to maintain the park
  • Run the visitors' center and provide information and guidance to visitors
  • Answer visitors' questions and provide guidance upon request
  • Build educational displays and write educational materials
  • Represent the National or State Park Service
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Rangers who specialize in protection become the law enforcement arm of the National or State Park service. Their duties are similar in many ways to those of police officers: they make sure that the laws and rules of the park are being followed and are concerned with ensuring that everyone stays safe. If you are interested in the protection aspect, you should focus your education on law enforcement and public administration.

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  • Enforce park rules and regulations
  • Direct traffic
  • Patrol park
  • Conduct search and rescue missions
  • Firefighting duties
  • Conduct investigations
  • Help to maintain order and ensure visitor safety during public events
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General Duties

Regardless of their specialization, all park rangers are expected to perform the following tasks:

  • Collect park fees
  • Build and maintain trails
  • Conduct park maintenance

Getting into Management

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Management or supervisory roles are reserved for senior park rangers who know the job inside and out through years of experience and who have demonstrated exceptional skill throughout their careers. In a management role, Rangers are expected to:

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  • Manage park resources
  • Carry out assessments and environmental reporting
  • Assign tasks to junior staff and evaluate their performance
  • Evaluate staffing needs and hire new staff as appropriate
  • Manage staff schedules
  • Manage search and rescue operations
  • Manage and emergency response team

The Pros and Cons of a Career as a Park Ranger

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Before committing to this career path, it's important that you go into it knowing its benefits and drawbacks.


  • You get to work outdoors in some of the most beautiful areas of the country
  • No day is the same
  • You get to contribute to the preservation of the nation's wilderness and to educate people on its importance
  • You get to make sure that people stay safe when they visit the park
  • Park Ranger is a government job with excellent health and other benefits, plus job security
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  • You will have to work during the summer and on weekends when other people have vacations of have days off
  • The job can be stressful, especially when responding to emergencies
  • The job can be physically demanding
  • Outdoor work when it is cold, rainy, or snowy can get difficult for some people
  • You may have to work in isolated locations for extended periods of time, especially during the off-season
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How to Prepare for a Career as a Park Ranger

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The earlier you get started in preparing for your career as a park ranger, the better your chances will be of getting your dream job. Many people start in high school; they pull in good grades and volunteer at state and national parks near where they live.

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  1. 1
    Get the relevant education
    Study the sciences, particularly the natural sciences, such as biology or geology, and take a minor in conservation management or law enforcement. Jobs with the National Park Service are especially coveted, and competition is fierce, so making sure you have the right kind of degree is especially important to securing a job.
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  2. 2
    Visit National and State Parks and learn their history
    Visiting many National and State Parks helps you to become familiar with them as well as assists you in determining where you would like to work. Knowing how the park systems work and their history will help you know what questions to ask during your interview and give you an edge over less-prepared candidates.
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  3. 3
    Volunteer or take seasonal employment in the National or State parks during your summer breaks
    Most National and State parks have seasonal jobs and volunteer positions for students and those interested in working as rangers or other park staff. Not only will you get valuable on-the-job training and experience that will put you ahead of other applicants, but you will also get to know the senior staff who make the hiring decisions.
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  4. 4
    Stay physically fit
    You're likely already someone who enjoys spending time being active in the outdoors, but you should also have a dedicated fitness program to help you keep your body in top shape.
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Finding and Getting the Job

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When you are nearing the end of your schooling is the time to start reviewing openings and applying. As you will see, the process can take time, and you'll want to get started as soon as possible. Hopefully, you will have also spent your summers working or volunteering at the parks and have made contacts that you can call on not only to learn about future job openings but who will also be able to smooth the process for you.

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  1. 1
    Search the relevant job websites for open positions
    Many of the job search websites have information about government jobs, but the best place to find information for open roles for the Federal government is to go to USAJobs. For state government jobs, visit the government website for your particular state.
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  2. 2
    Review each listing carefully
    Only apply for those jobs for which you know you are qualified.
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  3. 3
    Recognize that it might take some time even to get an interview, much less be offered the job
    As with all government jobs, there is a lengthy hiring process in place that might take months to get through. Here's where connections you've made through your volunteering and seasonal employment may help speed up the process for you.
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  4. 4
    Be willing to relocate
    Don't be afraid to apply for jobs in different parts of the country. Jobs for park rangers are highly competitive, and you stand the best chance of getting hired if you cast a wide net.
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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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