How to Start a Career as a Park Ranger

Of all the questions sent into the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR), job inquiries are far and away the most common. If you're thinking of a career as a Park Ranger and have some of the following questions, this guide is for you.

How do I become a Park Ranger?

Are Park Rangers federal employees?

What program should I major in for a career as a Park Ranger?

Who is a Park Ranger?

One of the biggest difficulties in the employment inquires that are sent into us is simply defining who a Park Ranger is. The word Park Ranger itself seems to connote the idea of park law enforcement and it would be accurate to say that the majority of the employment requests that we receive would fit perceived generalization. However, diving into the definition one can see that the term is much more encompassing, being defined as:

A person entrusted with protecting and preserving parklands – national, state, provincial, or local parks...The profession includes a number of disciplines and specializations, and park rangers are often required to be proficient in more than one.

Source: Wikipedia - Park Ranger

For this reason the Association of National Park Rangers will forever refer to the individuals working for the National Park Service as PARK RANGERS irrespective of their stated division or job series. Additionally, despite being the Association of National Park Rangers, we whole heartedly support the work park rangers are doing at their respective state, local, and county parks in addition to the other federal agencies tasked with preserving and protecting public lands. We hope that many of the issues that ANPR advocates on and the trainings we provide benefit and support the work being done in these other agencies as well.

Introduction to Federal Employment

Having shown how overarching the term Park Ranger is, we arrive at one of the next most common questions.

Are Park Rangers Federal Employees?

The short answer is that some are. The United States has four main federal organizations tasked with land management. Each these operate with different missions and goals. These four agencies ranked by number of acres managed are the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and finally the National Park Service. These 4 agencies collectively manage roughly 610 million of the 640 million acres of federal land in the U.S.

With this many different agencies handling land management in the U.S. you might think that all Park Rangers are federal, but various levels of state, county, and city parks employ thousands more individuals around the country. The state park systems alone account for 8,565 sites spread over 18 million acres employing more than 50,000 Park Rangers (Source:

While the Association of National Park Rangers seeks to advance the careers of all Park Rangers and strives to provide quality content and training that can be applied to other agencies, our area of expertise centers around the National Park Service specifically.

Federal Lands in the United States - USGS Map

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Land Holdings: 248,300,000 acres

Percent of Federal Land: 38.8%

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget: $1.087 billion

Number of Employees: 9,000

Founded: 1946

Mission: The Bureau of Land Management's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

BLM Area Map

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Land Holdings: 192,900,000 acres

Percent of Federal Land: 30.1%

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget: $5.198 billion

Number of Employees: 36,431

Founded: February 1, 1905

Mission: The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

FS Area Map

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Land Holdings: 89,100,000 acres

Percent of Federal Land: 13.9%

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget: $1.303 billion

Number of Employees: 8,271

Founded: June 30, 1940

Mission: The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

FWS Area Map

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Land Holdings: 79,400,000 acres

Percent of Federal Land: 12.4%

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget: $2.553 billion

Number of Employees: 18,265

Founded: August 25, 1916

Mission: The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

NPS Area Map

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

What Do National Park Service Employees Do?

Perhaps the most confusing question ANPR is often asked involves explaining what NPS employees do. It's fairly standard that most people approach the subject thinking that the National Park Service is only law enforcement and that a criminal justice degree would be a requirement, however this is not the case.

The employment divisions of the National Park Service include:

With so many different divisions, law enforcement is by no means the only method for gaining employment as a Park Ranger. That being said, if you are interested in going into law enforcement see our Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program Page for more information specific to that route.

Something that many people find particularly engaging about an NPS career is experiencing just how much the divisions rely on each other, and work closely together to protect our parks and park visitors. Interpretation and Fees Rangers serving the front-line public often assist with the medical incidents, searches and rescues. Resource and Maintenance Rangers have vast knowledge of the roads, trail systems, and topography of their sites which can be invaluable when a wildfire breaks out in a park. No two days are ever quite the same. In addition, the staffing needs of each site differ wildly and requirements change accordingly. Given the diversity of the over 400 sites in the National Park Service system, Rangers are responsible for monitoring wildlife populations, patrolling lakes and rivers, explaining the natural, cultural and historic significance of NPS sites in our nation's history, constructing and maintaining trails and park buildings, all while ensuring the protection and preservation of the sites themselves.

USAJOBS: An Introduction Logo

Having an understanding of who Park Rangers are, how the National Park Service fits into the crowded land management hierarchy, and what sorts of positions exist within the National Park Service, we hope you're still asking yourself:

How do I apply for a National Park Service job?

Similar to many positions in the federal government, employment opportunities within the National Park Service will be posted on the government's centralized jobs directory, In addition, USAJOBS handles the full job application process, resume building, communication about application status and more.

If you intend to work for the federal government, having a USAJOBS account is an absolute must.

Once you have your account created, you'll have the ability to search for positions directly by querying "National Park Service". This will show all positions currently open. There are a number of additional ways that you can refine your search by limiting the location, but the main filters will be:

Continue reading below for more information on what these terms mean and how they apply to careers in the National Park Service.

For questions specific to applying on USAJobs, ANPR has put together a video presentation with an NPS hiring official to assist those new to this process.

Work Schedules: Seasonal, Term, or Permanent

One of the biggest questions for many people beginning careers in the National Park Service is:

Are you seasonal or permanent?


Given the higher uneven nature of visitation to National Park Service sites, much of the work is done by seasonal employees. The term seasonal refers to a position that last at most 1039 hours which would typically be 6 months or less. The majority of NPS seasonal positions occur in the summer when visitation skyrockets, however many parks have busy fall (typically in the east for the fall colors) and winter/spring seasons (typically in the south where summer temperatures limit visitation).

By successfully completing a season with a satisfactory evaluation, seasonal employees may be offered the ability to be rehired without having to go through the full hiring process again next season. Seasonal positions are found in most divisions, though rarely in Administration or Human Resources.

As it can often be difficult to acquire short term housing during the busiest months of the year near National Park Service sites, many seasonal positions, but not all, may have employee housing available. In terms of benefits you have access to health insurance options but seasonal positions do not convey retirement benefits.


For jobs that require more than the maximum 1039 hours of a seasonal position, but are not needed permanently, a site may offer term positions. They are often found in the maintenance division for multi-year construction projects. The benefits of these positions vary by the individual posting so it's important to read the full description on USAJOBS for questions regarding health and retirement benefits.


The majority of the remaining positions are permanent. As the name implies, these are positions that necessitate continuous staffing and are available in all divisions. Permanent positions will offer health and retirement benefits.

Job Series/Grade

One of the most important parts about employment with the National Park Service is determining what job series and grade level you qualify for given your past experience.

Grade 1-4

Positions in these series require either a high school diploma or less than a year of outside experience.

Grade 5-7

If you've worked a year at a GS-4 level you can then qualify for a GS-5. Additionally, you may qualify directly for a GS-5 with a college degree. GS-6 positions are exceedingly rare in the NPS and a year of experience at the GS-5 level will allow you to qualify for a GS-7 level.

Grades >7

Having completed a year of employment at the GS-7 level you would then qualify for a GS-9. Alternatively, you may also qualify by obtaining a master's degree. Similarly qualification for a GS-11 position occurs after a year of employment at the GS-9 level or by obtaining a doctorate.

Additional levels above the GS-11 require an additional year of service at each series level.

For more information on job series and grade requirements visit USAJOBS's Help Center.

Places to Start

There are many opportunities for youth and young adults 15-30 years old and veterans up to age 35 to work with the National Park Service. Many of these developmental opportunities and jobs are filled at the park level — so contact the park that interests you—but others opportunities are advertised and recruited nationally by the National Park Service or in partnership with youth and veteran serving organizations.

National Park Service Youth Program:

American Conservation Experience:

Student Conservation Association:

Additional Resources

NPS New Employee Handbook

The NPS New Employee Handbook contains background information on the National Park Service, information on ethics and personal conduct, career development, benefit information, and more.