Park Ranger: Career Guide
Park rangers generally work for the National Park Service or comparable state agencies, managing and protecting parks, recreational areas, and historical sites. Among their most important goals are promoting the conservation of America's natural resources, educating the public about parks and wilderness areas, and protecting park resources as well as visitors to those parks. Individuals who gain experience may advance to positions such as park superintendent or park director. Park rangers generally work for state or national parks, such as the Everglades, Grand Canyon National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Park rangers are tasked with a variety of responsibilities that range from visitor services to code enforcement and environmental stewardship. These tasks may include collecting and maintaining historical, natural, and scientific information and protecting park property against theft or damage, such as that caused by forest fires. Park rangers are commonly found interacting with the public, such as in leading tours of parks and other sites. They will also investigate complaints and, when necessary, perform search and rescue operations.
Park rangers primarily work outside, but they may also work in an office when necessary to complete paperwork or support park facilities such as visitor's centers. Park managers can also specialize in specific areas:
- Backcountry rangers work in the remotest areas and may spend weeks in the park, maintaining the area.
- Interpretive park rangers typically educate the public, as well as new park rangers, about local history and wildlife, geology, and other items of interest.
- Snow rangers work in the mountains and may patrol on skis or on snowmobiles.
- Water-based rangers may pilot water vessels and participate in water rescues.
Steps for Becoming a Park Ranger
Prospective park rangers must be US citizens, possess a valid US driver's license, and be at least 21 years of age. Prospective park managers generally have a bachelor's degree in the natural sciences such as botany, zoology, geology, environmental studies, or ecology. Some universities offer programs specifically designed for park management or forestry. Candidates with a degree in park management or forestry may have a hiring advantage. To become a park ranger, you should follow these steps:
- Complete the educational and/or experience requirements corresponding to the government grade level you are targeting.*
- Apply for a park ranger job on the USAJOBS website.
- Undergo a background investigation.
- Take and pass the Physical Efficiency Battery (PEB).
- Take and pass a medical exam.
- Take and pass a drug test.
- Be hired as a park ranger.
- Receive training on the job after being hired.
*Each park ranger job will have its own educational and experience requirements based on the General Schedule (GS) level of the position. Most park ranger jobs start at the GS-05 level. Check out the US Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) website for more information about the General Schedule. Read about the requirements for the particular job you are interested in on the USAJOBS website.
Park Ranger Job Training
National Park Service rangers generally receive training at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona or at the NPS training facility in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Individual states may have differing training requirements and locations. Prospective rangers who want to work in certain states should visit their state's official parks and recreation website for more information on career opportunities and requirements.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Park rangers must be physically fit. While park rangers often live and work in remote areas, they must still communicate effectively and work well with others. Park managers must also have a strong knowledge of the geography of the state and of the park in which they work, must be able to work well under pressure, and must have the ability to work long hours.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Environmental Education Specialist
- Park activities Coordinator
- Park Manager
- Park Naturalist
- Program Manager
Park Ranger Salary and Outlook
Park ranger salary is based on the government's General Schedule (GS) pay tables, which can be viewed at the US Office of Personnel Management website. For the similar occupation of fish and game warden, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average annual wage of $57,710 as of 2018.1
If you are interested in a job as a park ranger, you may also want to check out the following related careers:
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How do I begin the application process?
Answer: Candidates should contact their state's parks and recreation department or the US National Park Service to request application materials.
Question: How competitive are positions for park ranger?
Answer: The job market for park rangers is extremely competitive. With few exceptions, candidates must hold an applicable college degree. Seasoned park rangers recommend getting a foot in the door through interning or volunteering at a national or a state park. Strong performance in seasonal ranger work may also lead to a full-time, year-round position.
Question: Where do park rangers typically live?
Answer: Rangers often live in the parks in which they work.
Question: What are the typical working conditions for park rangers?
Answer: Rangers must be prepared to work long hours outdoors, in all types of weather, including heat, cold, snow, and rain. They must also possess the skills required to work with diverse people.
- Association of National Park Rangers: A professional organization for national park employees, including rangers, that provides resources and professional development opportunities.
- International Ranger Federation (IRF): A nonprofit organization promoting the global work of park rangers in conserving the world's parks and other natural lands.
- Park Law Enforcement Association (PLEA): Dedicated to park law enforcement officers, PLEA hosts conferences and offers resources.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages May 2018, Fish and Game Wardens: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333031.htm