Volunteer at National Parks
The kinds of volunteer opportunities you'll find at national parks are almost endless, from assisting at visitor centers to clean-up projects to scientific research – and that's just scratching the surface.
Some positions require certain expertise or experience, while others just ask that you have a willingness to give of yourself. No matter what you're interested in, you can find a volunteer opportunity that speaks to you. Here's how to get started with your search.
Think about where you want to volunteer.
Visit the websites of the parks you've picked out.
Check out Volunteer.gov for the most current information about open positions.
At Volunteer.gov, you can browse all available national parks opportunities at once, or search by park name. You can also search by state, park name, type of work, amenities provided, and keywords.
Look for partner agencies that assist national parks with coordinating volunteer work.
Some programs even offer their own volunteer opportunities, which can be different from what you'll find on parks' websites.
Benefits of Volunteering
Choosing Your Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: North Carolina and Tennessee
Number of visitors in 2016: 11,312,786
Number of volunteers in 2014: 2,560
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, volunteers help with all kinds of needs. You could assist with special events, host cultural demonstrations, become a campground host, participate in adopt-a-trail programs, monitor wildlife populations, and so much more. Opportunites are available for both individuals and groups, and lots of positions don’t require any special experience or training. The park also has an artist-in-residence program.Visit Park Volunteer PageVisit Partner Agency
Yosemite National Park
Number of visitors in 2016: 5,028,868
Number of volunteers in 2015: 10,600
Yosemite National Park offers individual, group, and event-based or drop-in volunteer opportunities. Volunteers at Yosemite help out in a variety of ways, from assisting at the visitor centers and building trails to studying wildlife populations and planting or tending vegetation. Special events and drop-in days are hosted throughout the year, giving short-term visitors a chance to make an impact, too.Visit Park Volunteer PageVisit Partner Agency
Rocky Mountain National Park
Number of visitors in 2016: 4,517,585
Number of volunteers in 2015: 2,200
Volunteers at Rocky Mountain National Park can help with just about everything. Work in the visitor centers, assist with research, host a campsite, help with fire prevention, and more. There are opportunities for all skill and experience levels. Groups are welcome, and they’re often asked to help with one-day projects in the summer. If you’ll only be in the park for a day, check out drop-in opportunities, which typically last about an hour.Visit Park Volunteer PageVisit Partner Agency
Yellowstone National Park
Location: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
Number of visitors in 2016: 4,257,177
Number of volunteers in 2017: 2,691
Whether you have specialized knowledge and skills or just want to spend your time helping out, there are opportunities for you at Yellowstone, America’s very first national park. Help with visitor services in visitor centers. Contribute to the preservation and protection of the park’s natural resources. Serve as a campground host. During the summer, volunteer opportunities are nearly endless.Visit Park Volunteer PageVisit Partner Agency
Olympic National Park
Number of visitors in 2016: 3,390,221
Number of volunteers annually: 970
Olympic National Park offers general and specialized volunteer opportunities, so anyone who’s interested can find a way to give back. Help with coastal cleanups, become a campground host, monitor the local marmot population, adopt a trail, assist with upkeep at the visitor center, work to restore and protect native plants, and more. Long-term volunteer assignments are available, and group projects are welcome with advance planning.Visit Park Volunteer PageVisit Partner Agency
Acadia National Park
Number of visitors in 2016: 3,303,393
Number of volunteers in 2017: 3,056
In addition to an artist-in-residence program and special annual events, Acadia National Park offers lots of individual and group volunteer opportunities. You can work at the welcome center, and assist with maintenance and clean-up at campgrounds, roads, and shorelines. Clerical positions are also available. Volunteers who can give a month or more of their time are preferred, but shorter-term opportunities exist as well.Visit Park Volunteer PageVisit Partner Agency
What to Expect
Varying levels of information
Some parks' websites offer a thorough overview of their volunteer positions, while others don't tell you much at all. And some information isn't current. Don't be discouraged! Call or email a park directly to find the information you're looking for, and check Volunteer.gov for the latest listings.
Many of the national parks offer lots of short-term options for volunteering, so even if you'll only be there for a day or two, you can still make a difference. Volunteer on a drop-in basis, or check out special volunteering events. Contact parks directly to find the best opportunities for your visit.
If you have lots of time to commit, search for volunteer positions that let you live in a park: some parks offer long-term volunteers their own housing. Minimum time commitments are often required, and these positions are often the most limited, so start your search early and apply as soon as possible.
RV campground opportunities
Have your own RV? Seek out parks with RV campgrounds. Many of these parks need volunteers to serve as campground hosts, assist visitors, help with campground upkeep, and act as liaisons to park rangers and other employees. Needs differ from park to park, so contact parks of interest directly.
Volunteer internships can help you build professional experience at the same time you're making an impact. The lengths vary from park to park - some are around 30 days, while others can last 6 months. Check with individual parks or visit Volunteer.gov to see what opportunities are available.
Trial and error
Maybe you work on a drop-in clean-up project and realize you'd rather be talking with people at the visitor centers. Or maybe you sign up to monitor wildlife and find yourself wishing you were improving the trails instead. It may take a couple of tries to find the projects that really speak to you. Our advice? Keep trying until you get there.
Thor Industries provides this information for entertainment and inspiration. Things may have changed since we posted this. Thor Industries is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or paid by any of the state parks, places, brands, merchants, attractions, organizations, or websites mentioned in this post. Participation as a volunteer is at your own risk and Thor Industries will not be liable for injuries or damages sustained. You should check ahead of your trip to confirm availability, hours of operation, pricing, and the like. Safe travels!
Learn how you can make a lasting local impact by volunteering at a state park.