How to Become a Park Ranger
Park rangers have a wide variety of job duties that are exciting and fulfilling, especially for those who love the outdoors. But, what does it take to be a park ranger? In this guide, we’ll cover what it’s like working as a park ranger and the steps to becoming a park ranger.
- What Does a Park Ranger Do?
- Where Do Park Rangers Work?
- What’s It Like Being a Park Ranger?
- Average Park Ranger Salary
- What Is the Park Ranger Job Outlook?
- What Are the Requirements to Be a Park Ranger?
- Park Ranger Education Requirements
- Explore More Jobs Similar to Park Rangers
4-Year Bachelor’s Degree
Average Salary (2020)
$64,020 (for all ‘conservation scientists and foresters’)
Workers Employed in U.S. (2020)
39,000 (for all ‘conservation scientists and foresters’)
Projected Job Openings by 2030
2,900 (for all ‘conservation scientists and foresters’)
Projected Growth Rate
7%, as fast as average
Other Job Titles
Forest Ranger, State Park Ranger, National Forest Ranger
What Does a Park Ranger Do?
For someone working as a park ranger, each day on the job can bring something new. A park ranger career combines wildlife conservation, environmental policing, public relations, administrative duties, public education, and outdoor enthusiasm.
Park rangers spend most of their time outside in the field. They take a hands-on approach to environmental health and maintenance, public safety, education, and wildlife protection. However, there is also some administrative work involved. For example, they develop educational curricula and keep track of visitor requests.
Park Ranger Job Duties
Since park rangers are responsible for park operations as a whole, their duties are vast and varied. Park rangers protect the parks from damage, whether it’s in the form of litter, vandalism, or negligence. Additionally, park rangers greet and interact with the public to create memorable visitor experiences.
- Law enforcement
- Public education
- Park operations and administration
- Wildlife management
It’s important to note that National Park Service rangers and park rangers employed by state parks have jobs that differ slightly. While their overall duties are the same, National Park rangers focus more on law enforcement. State park rangers, on the other hand, focus more on visitor interaction and environmental maintenance.
Types of Park Rangers
As mentioned above, different entities employ park rangers. Once you’ve decided you want to become a park ranger, you should look into the different types of park rangers and decide which one you want to be.
- National Park Service Ranger: Enforce laws within national parks to protect natural resources
- State Park Ranger: Protect natural resources, wildlife, and visitors in state parks
- County Park Ranger: Provide park visitors with information and education while protecting natural resources
- Temporary or Seasonal Park Ranger: Work in national, state, or county parks during the spring and summer months when visitorship is highest
Forest Ranger vs Park Ranger
Park rangers typically work for state or national parks and carry out the job duties mentioned above. However, forest rangers might not necessarily work for a specific state or national park.
Forest rangers can perform conservation work for entities unrelated to a specific park. In some cases, people use “forest ranger” and “park ranger” as interchangeable terms, but they are not entirely the same.
Interpretive Duties vs Law Enforcement Duties
An interpretive park ranger spends most of their time with park visitors. Interpretive park ranger duties include planning and leading guided tours. In addition, they give informative talks on history, geology, wildlife, and other aspects of the park.
Where Do Park Rangers Work?
Park rangers work on protected lands, like state and national parks. They spend a great deal of their time on the job outside in the park itself. This is typically a perk for those who love the idea of being outside in nature all day. But, the hours can be tough on those who do not enjoy manual labor in outdoor conditions.
Park rangers must work when visitor numbers are at their highest, which means holidays, weekends, and during hot Spring and Summer days. Park rangers work at:
- National Parks
- State Parks
- County Parks
National Park Rangers
The National Park Service calls its rangers “law enforcement rangers.” This highlights its focus on law enforcement. If you’re wondering how to get a job as a park ranger, national park rangers usually start as seasonal employees. Then, they go through a training academy before becoming full-time federally employed park rangers.
Mounted Park Rangers
The National Park Service assigns horse-mounted patrols to a few U.S. federal parks. These park rangers focus on maintaining order and crowd control. They’re also able to patrol from a higher vantage point. The U.S. Park Police Horse Mounted Patrol often travels and is highly respected.
State Park Rangers
State park rangers enforce laws like national park rangers do. However, state park rangers tend to focus more on the interpretive side of park ranger duties. State park rangers provide tours and educational materials to visitors while working to conserve the environment and wildlife.
County Park Rangers
County park rangers have many visitor-focused tasks, like greeting guests and providing visitor information. County park rangers provide services and memorable experiences while performing administrative duties. These park rangers also manage the parks and maintain the environment.
What’s It Like Being a Park Ranger?
When wondering what it’s like to be a park ranger, a lot of people ask, “Do park rangers live in the park?” In many cases, the answer is yes. Parks often provide housing for park rangers. This provides rangers a convenience that many other occupations do not have.
Other benefits of being a park ranger include the constant interaction with nature and the unique learning experiences of interacting with wildlife daily. Also, if you like to travel, you’ll likely get the chance to move around as you move up the park ranger ladder.
Source: National Recreation & Park Association, Annual Salary Survey, January 2018.
Average Park Ranger Salary
The average salary for conservation scientists and foresters according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook was $64,020 in 2020. Park rangers typically fall into this category, particularly those with degrees in the natural sciences. This is one of the best degrees for park rangers. The highest-paid conservation scientists work in Washington D.C., Connecticut, Maryland, California, and Oregon.
- Median: $64,020
- Top 10%: $100,350
- Bottom 10%: $39,230
Here are the top paying states for conservation scientists and foresters.
Average Hourly Wage
Average Annual Salary
What Is the Park Ranger Job Outlook?
The job outlook for park rangers is on par with the national average. According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, there will be about 41,900 jobs in the industry by 2030.
- Estimate of Jobs available: 39,000
- Rate of projected job growth: 7%
- New jobs to be added in the next ten years: 2,900
- Fastest growing states for jobs: Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington
It is a highly competitive field and those with prior experience and advanced degrees are more likely to find work. Many of the projected job openings are related to the need to replace workers who will retire from the industry.
Park Ranger Education Requirements
If you’re interested in pursuing this career, you may be asking yourself what the requirements are to be a park ranger. Having a Bachelor’s degree is not necessarily one of the requirements to be a park ranger – but the job market is highly competitive so having a degree will give prospective rangers a leg-up. Those looking to move up to management positions may need a degree among other park ranger qualifications.
Park Ranger High School Requirements
For high school students interested in becoming park rangers, there are ways to get a head-start. First, take any seasonal or volunteer opportunities available at parks and historic sites. National, state, county, and municipal parks often hire seasonally during peak times. Those with seasonal, or even volunteer experience, will have an advantage over those who have none.
Students can also volunteer or get part-time jobs at museums as docents. Since park rangers spend a lot of time giving tours and interacting with visitors, this experience will be valuable. It’s also highly useful to join any youth conservation or forestry organizations available in your area.
- Seasonal employment as a park ranger
- Volunteer work at parks and historic sites
- Student Conservation Association and related organizations
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Park Ranger?
While schools may not offer park ranger majors, there are a lot of degree paths that are relevant to this career. Many different sciences come into play in this job, including biology, zoology, botany, and geology. Also, degrees in conservation and wildlife management are especially helpful.
Excellent undergraduate degrees for park rangers include natural sciences like biology, botany, and zoology. Degrees that are more specific to the park ranger field include Environmental Science, Forestry, and Wildlife Conservation. Some colleges even offer park management degrees.
A postgraduate degree, such as a Master of Science or even a Ph.D., can be extremely desirable for those who want to work in parks. Along with park management, a Master’s degree environmental studies and sustainability or any of the programs mentioned above would be ideal.
Additional Certifications and Licenses
Those with law enforcement training could have an additional advantage in this occupation. Park rangers are considered law enforcement officials and are licensed to carry weapons. In addition, work experience as a park ranger is required to move up into higher roles within the park. The longer you work in a particular role the more likely you are to be promoted.
Park Ranger Degrees and Courses
Those interested in conservation law enforcement careers, such as park rangers, will benefit tremendously from a Bachelor of Science in Conservation Law Enforcement. Students learn to protect the earth’s precious resources while maintaining a healthy relationship with nature.
Available in both a hybrid and fully online class format, the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies degree prepares students to become leaders in environmental fields. Those interested in environmental careers, like park rangers, will benefit from the sustainable science framework.
A Master of Professional Science in Environmental Studies and Sustainability will give students a “problem-based, solution-oriented framework.” Those with this degree will have the tools to make conservation-minded, adaptive decisions in their careers.
Explore More Jobs Similar to Park Rangers
Those who are interested in the environment and wildlife might enjoy a career in wildlife conservation. Both park rangers and wildlife conservationists work to protect the earth’s natural resources. They also seek to diminish the human impact on forests and other natural habitats.
A game warden is similar to a park ranger in that they are both law enforcement officers who protect nature. For those who love nature and want to dedicate themselves to the laws of the outdoors, becoming a game warden is a great potential career path.