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How do I Become a Park Ranger?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Many people who love the outdoors, and especially state or national parks, decide they want to become park rangers. While it is a career open to nearly anyone, it does take a great deal of dedication and hard work, and often involves skills that many people do not expect. Those who want to work as a park ranger in order to wander freely in the woods may find the job of naturalist to be more to their liking, as a ranger may be placed into a position where they have very different job descriptions.

Modern park rangers are much more specialized than they were in the past, with most people who choose to become a park ranger focusing on one area to study and work towards. In some ways, this can be disappointing to some people, as it means they are unlikely to have a position where they handle all aspects of the job. On the other hand, it also means that those who are interested in certain aspects can specialize exclusively in law enforcement or looking after the biology-related areas of the park.

The first step to become a park ranger is to decide what type of ranger you want to be, and whether having the actual job title Park Ranger is important to you, or whether you just want to wear the uniform and work in a park. There are people who work at park campgrounds, looking after campers, checking them in, and collecting fees. Other people patrol parks, with all the duties and capacities of law enforcement, fighting poachers to protect the land for everyone. There are also those who help guide visitors to the parks, teaching them about the flora, fauna, and natural formations found within it.

Once you know what you want to focus on, you can start getting the education that you'll need. Most rangers have a bachelor's degree, although the major often depends on what they want to focus on. Naturalist rangers, for example, might have a degree in geology or biology, while enforcement rangers might have a degree in criminal justice, or might come from another field of law enforcement or the military. There are also colleges that offer degrees in park administration, which teaches many of the fundamentals of management necessary for a ranger to help run a park. In addition, basic certifications such as those in CPR and first aid are necessary for most positions, and more advanced emergency medical training can help your chances of getting a job.

After acquiring some education, the next step is to work in a park for a while. Most want people who have spent at least two years, and preferably more like four or five years, working seasonally. Part time jobs are much easier to acquire than full time ones, and they give in the field training to potential rangers. While working as a seasonal ranger, most people acquire the connections they need to become a park ranger full time, so that when job openings come up they have strong references, and they may be tipped off to the openings as soon as they are available.

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Discussion Comments
By healthy4life — On Jan 26, 2013

The park rangers who collect fees at the entrances can usually answer any questions you have about the park. I imagine that knowing the park and the surrounding area is a requirement for getting the job.

These people are really helpful to travelers coming from out of state. When I visited a state park in Florida on vacation last summer, the ranger at the entrance told me all the cool spots I should go to in the park. He also gave me a map and pointed them out to me on it.

By StarJo — On Jan 25, 2013

I wanted to become either a private investigator or a park ranger when I was little. Since being a private investigator would involve risking my life a lot, I decided on becoming a park ranger.

I'm currently in school focusing on a degree in botany. I plan to apply to all internships for park rangers when I become eligible for them.

It could be fun to spend some time in another state. I'll have to go where the jobs are, at least to build my experience.

I only hate being away from home when I'm cooped up in a hotel. I wouldn't mind being away at all if I could work outside in nature all day.

By seag47 — On Jan 25, 2013

@orangey03 – That depends on where they work. My cousin lives in California, and he says that park rangers there don't carry guns. They wear bulletproof vests for protection, but they are unarmed.

In other states, the enforcement rangers do have guns. I think it's not a bad idea for all of the rangers to have guns, since they are at risk of running into mischievous people.

Many times, I have been in a state park alone and felt really unsafe. If I worked there, I would definitely want to carry a gun.

By orangey03 — On Jan 24, 2013

Do all park rangers carry guns? I would expect the enforcement rangers to, but it would seem a little strange for someone who was there just to tell visitors about the park to be armed. I might feel a little uneasy talking to someone with a gun strapped to their belt.

By donbri5 — On Mar 06, 2011

@famnfriends--You should check out the websites for national park services that the government has. Not only will they tell you the different jobs available as a ranger, they should give you information about internships, summer jobs, even some schools.

Since it's the national database, you may need to think about if you would be willing to relocate if needed.

By famnfriends — On Mar 03, 2011

Wow! It sounds a lot more complicated to become a park ranger than I ever thought about! Does anyone know the best way to find out about all the possible areas of specialty?

I have done some research but I'm not sure where to focus.

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