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Travel Tips

How To Volunteer in the US National Parks



April 18, 2024

5 min read

In 2023, 325.5 million people visited US national parks. That included the official parks that you know and love (looking at you, Yellowstone and Yosemite), but it also included visitors to national forests, seashores, monuments, wildlife refuges, historic sites, conservation areas, and more, all of which are public lands that fall under the National Park Service, or NPS. 

With visitor numbers like that, it’s paramount that our parks have a system in place so that trails stay maintained, streams are clean, and visitor centers are staffed to assist with the flow of traffic. 

Thanks to some 300,000 volunteers per year—accumulating 6.5 million hours of service—that’s possible. And would you believe it if we told you it’s super easy to get out there and devote a bit of your time to the greatest outdoors that the US has to offer? 

Not only do you feel the satisfaction of being a steward of our national parks, volunteering also typically grants you free access to the parks and sites—not an easy feat when we’re talking about the Grand Canyons, Zions, and Great Smoky Mountains of the world. Win, win. 

Here are a few ways you can get involved in our national parks. 


Opportunities to volunteer at your local national park—or one far away that you’ve been dreaming of visiting—are virtually limitless through its Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program. Work can include visitor services, planting trees, maintaining trails, hosting a campground, clearing invasive species, and more. 

What’s more, the NPS makes it incredibly easy to sign up. Only have a single day to contribute? No problem. Looking for a year-long position? Also cool. Visiting on your own? That works. Bringing the kids or an entire group? There’s work for everyone. Whether you’re looking to help out in the next couple of weeks or several months down the road, the NPS likely has a spot for you. 

If you know exactly where you’d like to volunteer, contact the park directly to see how you can help out. (NPS also encourages you to reach out if you’re volunteering with children or someone with a disability to confirm that the park has accessibility measures in place.)

Search for a park to learn about its volunteer options using this NPS map; you can also Google opportunities easily by formatting your internet search like this: [national park name] NPS volunteer

For example, Mount Rainier National Park NPS volunteer or Biscayne National Park NPS volunteer.

On the other hand, if you don’t know where you’d like to volunteer but you’re open to possibilities, you can find opportunities through or the NPS volunteer events calendar.

On, you can filter by NPS volunteer opportunities and see nearly 500 posted positions of ways that you can help out. (Virtual opportunities are also available). 

Note that some of these positions are long-term stints (think several months to a year), perfect if you’re seeking a healthy dose of the outdoors. At the time of writing, some long-term positions include:

  • River patrol volunteer: Run equipment maintenance, arrange shuttles, and help out with overnight river trips at Big Bend National Park from November 2024–April 2025
  • Volunteer photographer: Photograph the wildlife, landscapes, park activities, and night-sky programs for social media, web, and advertising at Lassen Volcanic National Park from now through March 2025
  • Campground host: Assist with visitor reservations for the peak camping season at Joshua Tree National Park between September 2024 and May 2025 (must commit to at least three months of service)

Sift through the results, though, and you’ll uncover plenty of short-term opportunities as well. For instance: 

  • Earth Day shoreline cleanup: Remove single-use plastics and trash from Oxon Cove Park and Fort Foote Park in Maryland on April 27 
  • BioBlitz: Use your phone and the free iNaturalist app to photograph birds, insects, and more to document the wildlife in St. Louis’s Gateway Arch National Park on April 28 
  • Mount Rainier Cascades Butterfly Project volunteer: Help ecologists identify and count butterflies and monitor flowering plants across Washington’s alpine regions this summer (must commit to 1–3 days at a time and participate in at least three surveys)

All volunteer opportunities require participants to fill out an application for identification and liability purposes. For general placements, you may just need to provide basic contact information, demographics (optional), and an emergency contact, while more advanced placements may require you to provide background information, such as education and skills, as well as references and availability. 

View NPS volunteer opportunities at

NPS volunteer events calendar

The NPS volunteer events calendar is a great resource if you have a specific day or time frame that you’re able to volunteer at the parks. For instance, NPS hosts a half dozen annual service days throughout the year—including the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and National Volunteer Week during the third week of April—so if you happen to have off work or school during these periods, you can head to the calendar and learn more about the service opportunities available on those specific days. 

For every other day of the year, scroll down to the calendar view, where you can peruse events and service opportunities and filter by state to narrow your search. Events on the calendar include guided tours, beach cleanups, cultural demonstrations, adopt-a-trail events (essentially trail maintenance), and more. 

View the NPS volunteer events calendar.

Internships and apprenticeships 

For opportunities that go beyond volunteering—for instance, if you’re interested in something that could progress into a career in our parks—there are internships, apprenticeships, and other service opportunities through the NPS and partner organizations. A few include:

  • Cultural Landscape Apprentice Program at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Texas). Apply here.
  • Guardians of the Trail youth internship at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Learn more.
  • Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship for hands-on experience in the natural resource science department. Learn more and apply.
  • HBCUI program for students enrolled in one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Learn more and prep to apply for the 2024–2025 season.
  • Service corps projects through organizations such as American Youthworks and the Appalachian Mountain Club. Learn about opportunities through The Corps Network.

Access dozens of other internship opportunities through the NPS website.

Supporting a national park 

If you aren’t able to volunteer but still want to be a steward of our parks, there are other ways that you can partake. For instance, you can take a virtual visit to a national park. Whether it’s a bear webcam at Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, a  360-degree video of Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, or a live ocean webcam of California’s Channel Islands National Park, virtual tours are a wonderful way to appreciate—and learn more about—the wonders of our world. 

Another way you can be an apt steward: Leave no trace. 

There are seven principles of leaving no trace, which can be applied no matter where in the outdoors you are, whether that’s at a national park or your backyard. They’re meant to help minimize your impact and keep nature wild for generations to come.

The seven principles are: 

  1. Plan ahead & prepare
  2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts 
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of others

For more information on how you can leave no trace and help out our national parks in the process, follow Instagram accounts like @leavenotraceorg, @recreate.responsibly, @nationalparkservice, or the individual pages for your favorite national parks.

Published April 18, 2024

Last updated April 18, 2024

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