Guide to Volunteering Outdoors in Parks and Wilderness Areas

Love being outside? There are a variety of volunteering opportunities for those who love the outdoors. Most of these opportunities require the volunteer to pay for all travel costs. Some require the volunteer to hike and camp as well. Please read the volunteer requirements of each opportunity carefully before signing up to help.

Also check with state parks, and local advocacy groups like the Sierra Club or trail volunteers (like the Maine Appalachian Trail Club), for information about outdoor volunteering in your area, or in an area you plan on visiting.

Wilderness Volunteers
An organization promoting volunteer service to America's wild lands. Matches volunteers with work projects for public land agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife. The web site includes a trip list, ranging from moderate car camping to strenuous backpacking. All trips are led by volunteer leaders in cooperation with land agency representatives. Trips are one week long and are limited to 12 or fewer participants. Participants provide their own camping gear (a list specific to each trip will be mailed with registration confirmation), a sense of adventure, and a willingness to contribute time and energy to worthwhile projects.

Volunteers in the U.S. National Forests

Volunteers are the heartbeat of the Forest Service. Talents and skills are matched with work preference to obtain a role that satisfies you and best fulfills the mission of the Forest Service/USDA. You may work on a part-time or full-time basis. You can participate in a one-time project or serve over several months, seasons or year- round. Training may be provided to you if your job requires it. If you are retired or have summers free, you may wish to live on a national forest while you work as a volunteer. College students may perform volunteer service related to their course work for college credit. There are also numerous opportunities to perform vigorous but satisfying physical labor outdoors.

Specialized programs include:

  • Touch America Project (TAP), a special youth volunteer program managed through the Forest Service, where young people ages 14-17 may work with and learn more about America's natural resources. The theme "Touch America" refers to volunteer projects on public lands developed cooperatively with private organizations, groups or individuals.
  • The Council on International Educational Exchange, which recruits volunteers from around the world to join projects hosted by various National Forests. Volunteers come prepared to work 30-35 hours a week on a in exchange for room,board and the opportunity to learn about the host community.
  • Passport in Time (PIT), a volunteer program that provides opportunities for individuals and families to work with professional archaeologists and historians on historic preservation projects.

Volunteers for Peace

A non-profit organization, part of the U.S. Forest Service, offers over 1200 short-term voluntary service projects in 70 countries. These International Workcamps are an opportunity to complete meaningful community service while living and interacting in an international environment. Typical work projects with the Forest Service include: - historic preservation - archeology - environmental projects such as trail building - environmental education - wildlife surveying - campground maintenance.

National Park Service

  • Volunteers in Parks
    Volunteers for the National Park Service come from every state and nearly every country in the world to help preserve and protect America's natural and cultural heritage for the enjoyment of this and future generations. Young and old alike, give of their time and expertise to assist paid staff in achieving our national mission. This site has a good Volunteering Opportunities section as well as a fine section designed for Volunteer Management.
  • The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC)
    YCC is a summer employment program for young men and women, ages 15-18, who work, learn, and earn together on projects that further the development and conservation of the natural resources of the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) operates YCC programs throughout the country. Conservation work may involve constructing trails, campground facilities and fences, planting trees, collecting litter, clearing streams, improving wildlife habitat, providing information to visitors, and general maintenance activities. An understanding of our environment and the management of our natural resources is incorporated into the work program.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

Our country's federally owned public lands are owned by every American, giving each of us a shared interest in their care and in their future. Nearly half of these lands- 264 million acres- are managed by the US Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), making the BLM manager of the nation's largest land trust. That's a big responsibility! Fortunately, help is close at hand. Each year, over 20,000 Americans volunteer their time and talent. Working alone or with a group, BLM volunteers enjoy work that matches their interests and schedules. Some volunteers serve part-time and others enjoy a seasonal or full-time position The important thing to remember is that even a few hours a month can make a big difference.

Landmark Volunteers

A nonprofit summer service organization for high school students 14 and a half years of age or older, entering 10th, 11th or 12th grade. The program offers these youth volunteers the opportunity to spend two weeks working at one of several important U.S. historical, cultural, environmental or social service institutions. "In return for giving two weeks of your summer, lending a hand at one of these institutions, assisting them in their work or keeping up their facility, you'll receive an exceptional learning opportunity and a chance to understand how voluntary service functions as an essential element of the American experience. And you'll have fun!"

U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Volunteers develop a greater understanding and appreciation of refuges, hatcheries and other areas through their hands-on experiences. Working side-by-side with Service employees, volunteers help protect, conserve and restore our nation's fish, wildlife, plants and habitat. There is an excellent Volunteer Opportunities Search Form to search for available volunteer opportunities.

US Geological Survey

Serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life. Use the Regional Map to locate volunteering opportunities near you. Submit the application electronically and a host for each volunteer opportunity you selected will contact you.

State Conservation Corps

Many states have conservation corps, following in the footsteps of the federal Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. These groups have the dual missions of the development of youth and the protection and enhancement of each state's natural resources. Volunteers receive a very low stipend... and a worthwhile experience they will never forget.

The California Conservation Corps, or CCC, is the oldest and largest conservation corps now in operation. Along with its day-to-day conservation work, the CCC has become known as one of California's premier emergency response forces. When floods, fires, oil spills or earthquakes occur, the Corps can provide assistance within hours. The program has a distinctive motto: "hard work, low pay, miserable conditions ... and more!" Despite the truth-in-advertising, more than 70,000 young men and women have participated in the CCC since its inception.

There are also conservation corps in:

Contact your local state volunteerism commission to find out if your state has a Conservation Corps program.