What Does a National Park Ranger Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a National Park Ranger

Tim Liedtke/The Balance 

What do Mount McKinley, the Grand Canyon, the Florida Everglades, and Old Faithful have in common? Besides being national treasures, they all sit within national parks.

The people on the front lines protecting these and other national treasures are national park rangers. They assist visitors, conduct educational activities, perform emergency medical services and protect the land from those who abuse it. For those with a yearning to work outdoors and a call to public service, a career as a national park ranger might be a fitting option.

National Park Ranger Duties & Responsibilities

The national park ranger uses their experience and knowledge of natural and cultural resource management principles used on public lands, and performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Ensures communication with the public on special recreation permit policy requirements and reviews permit applications
  • Distributes and collects permits and fees at established fee sites
  • Maintains the park's visitor use databases
  • Monitors both commercial and public river use; conducts river patrols to monitor and clean campsites
  • Assists recreation staff in planning and implementing recreation enhancement, resource protection, environmental education, and volunteer stewardship projects

National Park Ranger Salary

National park ranger jobs are posted at GS-5 positions in the federal salary scale. Additional experience or education may be required. Law enforcement rangers and individuals who have completed a master's degree in a relevant subject apply to enter as high as a GS-7 pay grade.

As of May 2019, the salary range for a GS-5 employee, which varies geographically, is $27,705 to $36,021. The national salary range for the GS-7 pay grade is $34,319 to $44,615.

For areas where the cost of living is higher than the national average, the federal government often offers locality pay in order to equalize employees’ buying power across geographic locations, which may result in higher pay than the above-mentioned ranges.

Park ranger jobs don’t pay a lot, but you can’t beat the office. Sure, some rangers work in extreme temperatures, and all work in inclement weather from time to time, but fresh air and natural light are rare commodities for most other federal employees. And the employee benefits are hard to beat when you compare them to nonprofits and the private sector.

Education, Training & Certification

The national park ranger position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:

  • Education: A four-year degree is preferred, as well as a master's degree in a relevant subject.
  • Experience: The ranger job is a GS-7 pay level, which requires one year of specialized experience or education that meets the requirements for the GS-5 grade level. The specialized experience must result in demonstrating a general knowledge of recreation planning in a historical, cultural or natural resource environment, where established procedures are followed. Alternatively, applicants can substitute one year of academic experience, or a combination of both, as long as the two percentages equate to 100 percent, or one year's combined experience/education.

    National Park Ranger Skills & Competencies

    In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

    • Management skills: A park ranger needs to be able to communicate very well with his colleagues, and guests in the park
    • Physical stamina: A park ranger may walk long distances often in wooded and steep areas, and work in extreme heat and cold weather
    • Analytical skills: A park ranger must be able to analyze situations to resolve problems
    • Critical thinking: A ranger must use sound judgment and reasoning in decision-making

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't follow the growth of the national park ranger job specifically. However, it does follow the job growth outlook for conservation scientists and foresters. The growth in jobs is expected to be 6% for the period between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.

    Work Environment

    A park ranger spends a good amount of time outdoors, working in isolated areas, at high altitudes, in heat or cold, travel in hazardous terrain, and possible overnight camping when working in remote areas of the park.

    Work Schedule

    The job requires a full-time work schedule. You may be required to work on-call, evenings, weekends, holidays, overtime and shift work. You may also be required to travel overnight away from home up to two nights per month.

    How to Get the Job

    PREPARE

    Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Research the job listings on USAJOBS.gov to find out if you meet all of the job's requirements. If you have bilingual abilities, this can be very valuable for certain park locations.

    PRACTICE

    Sharpen your interviewing skills by role-playing with a family member or friend. The job requires a panel interview, and practicing ahead can help you to not feel overwhelmed.


    National park rangers are selected through the normal government hiring process; however, hiring managers often involve other people in the process. In cities, other department heads or parks and recreation commission members may sit in on panel interviews. Using panel interviews helps the director gather other people’s perspectives on the interviewed finalists. Hiring decisions are too important to make in a vacuum, so prudent managers gather outside perspectives during the process.


    APPLY

    Navigate to the job-search resource USAJOBS.gov and search for available positions, then start the application process.

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