If you love the idea of working outside, becoming a park ranger might be for you. This is a career path that will put you outside and offer many different opportunities. From working as security to taking guided tours to working on the grounds, park rangers take on many positions.
Some consider the job of a park ranger to be one of the coolest jobs available. Whether you’re spending your days taking care of park guests or you need to find a lost hiker, there’s always something to do. It’s an outdoor job with plenty to offer.
Those looking into the career path of a park ranger need to know what’s required. First, you will need to become a well-trained professional. Here are the necessary steps to become a park ranger.
How to Become a Park Ranger: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step #1 – Finish High School
Before you can become a park ranger, you’ll need to finish high school or your GED. Make sure you get good enough grades to get into a decent college or university. It’s also important to spend some time looking into this career. Visit state parks and national parks. Take tours and, if possible, shadow a park ranger for a day or two.
During high school, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the potential career path you want to take. For example, if you shadow a park ranger, you’ll have a better idea if this career suits you.
Step #2 – Get a Bachelor’s Degree
It’s necessary to get a bachelor’s degree if you want to become a park ranger. This type of position at a national or state park is high-trained, and it’s a rather competitive field. You can choose from many different majors, including:
- Biological sciences
- Environmental science
- Wildlife and forestry
- Fisheries and wildlife law enforcement
- Parks and recreation management
The best degrees for park rangers will be related to botany, ecology, earth science, conservation, and forestry. You will also need to take specific courses when getting your degree. Some of the most important courses include:
- Social sciences
- Public administration
- Natural sciences
- Law enforcement/police science
- Behavioral science
- Public administration
- Natural sciences
- Natural resource management
- Museum sciences
With the right education, you’ll be able to gain a degree that employers will be looking for.
Step #3 – Gain Some Experience
You can start gaining some experience during high school and college before you qualify to be a park ranger. This is one of the most important steps in the process of how to become a park ranger. State and National parks will look for candidates with some experience.
During high school, your options will be limited. However, any work you can get part-time, over the summer, or volunteering at a local park, state park, or national park will help. Even if you can work at a nature center or an outdoor education center, you can gain some experience for your resume.
If you know the park ranger career path is for you, you can also take some extra courses during the summer. When you’re in high school, anything you can do that helps you add to your resume is helpful.
College offers a few more opportunities. For example, you might be able to volunteer or work seasonally at a nearby park. There are even some internship options you use to gain experience.
Step #4 – Pass All Necessary Background Checks
Most states will do at least a criminal background check. Make sure you keep your record clean during high school and college. Even being in the wrong place at the wrong time can cause issues.
Along with a criminal check, you will likely need to pass a drug screening test. In some cases, you will also need to go through a polygraph exam and a psychological evaluation.
Step #5 – Complete New Park Ranger Recruit Training
You will need to complete one final step before you can become a park ranger. New park ranger recruits will need to train for their role at the park. This training can vary and will be based on your specific role.
In some cases, you may need to complete academic training. This may include firefighter training, arrest and restraint techniques, hunting and fishing regulations, and patrolling.
Advancing and Earning More Money as a Park Ranger
After becoming a park ranger, you will likely want to grow your salary. You might want to advance to a higher position, too.
The following factors will determine your salary:
- Your park ranger position
- The size of the park you work at
- How much overtime you work
- Whether you work at a county, city, state, or federal park
- Your education and experience
It’s common for park rangers to move to a larger park to earn a higher salary. As you gain experience, you can also apply for senior park ranger positions or supervisory positions. These are coveted positions, however, so they don’t open up very often. Again, a master’s degree in a relevant field can help with advancement opportunities.
Duties of a Park Ranger
Your main duty will be protecting the wildlife and ecosystems of the park. You might serve as a historian, law enforcement officer, or environmental expert. Some of the common duties include:
- Patrolling the grounds
- Helping park guests
- Enforcing the rules of the park
- Conducting tours
- Answering questions
- Participating in search-and-rescue missions
- Work within the visitor center
- And more!
Your actual duties will depend on the position and the park you work at. For example, many park rangers handle several different jobs, especially if the park is short-staffed.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Park Ranger
How much can I earn as a park ranger?
Most park rangers are paid hourly. The range of pay goes all the way from $7.25 per hour to $29.85 per hour. The average pay for a park ranger is about $14.18 per hour. For senior park rangers, the average is a little higher at $15.60 per hour.
Your actual salary will depend on where you work and your role at the park. Smaller state parks pay less than larger national parks. It’s also common for park rangers to work seasonally. When a park ranger holds a supervisory position at a larger state park or a national park, they will earn the highest range of the salary for a park ranger.
It’s also possible to earn overtime pay as a park ranger. This usually happens during the in-season months, where the park may be much busier.
What type of hours do park rangers work each day?
Hours for park rangers can vary, depending on the season. Most larger parks will hire full-time park rangers, while smaller parks may hire part-time park rangers. A typical day will usually consist of a 9-to-5 type of schedule. However, park rangers often start their shift much earlier in the day.
Park rangers often work longer hours during the busier season. For example, they might need to work 10-hour or 12-hour shifts, depending on the season and the park. Parks with campgrounds may even have park rangers that live on-site and host campers.
Is the career of park rangers in high demand?
No. However, the career of park rangers is growing. It’s expected to grow by about 3% over the next decade. This is slower than the average of all occupations. Most of the growth is expected with state and local forests in the Western United States. Many park rangers will likely retire and need to be replaced, as well.
How long does it take to become a park ranger?
If you want to become a park ranger, you will likely need to train for three to five years. While a bachelor’s degree isn’t required for some positions, most park rangers hold a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree. So expect to get your degree and complete further training before you become a park ranger.
Without a degree, you will need to gain many years of experience to move up the ladder. A degree helps you gain the education you need to become a senior park ranger or work as a supervisor.
Will I have to live at the park to be a park ranger?
In some cases, park rangers are provided housing on the grounds of the park. This can be a perk and can make the salary worth even more with free housing. However, it might be required for some parks. Other parks don’t require park rangers to live on the grounds.
Where do park rangers work?
The obvious answer is at a park, but there are many different types of parks. Most park rangers work at federal parks, state parks, and county parks.
What are the age requirements to be a park ranger?
The age requirements to become a park ranger depend on the type of park you work at and the location. National parks require applicants to be 21 years of age but no older than 37 years of age when they apply for the position. Mandatory retirement happens at age 57 for park rangers working with the National Park Service.