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Step-by-step guide to becoming a Park Ranger (and salary data)

Get paid to help protect the nation’s parks, visitors, and wildlife by becoming a national park ranger.

park ranger vehicle

Enjoy the great outdoors and get paid for it. As a park ranger, you’ll protect, educate, and perform a variety of other nature-related duties. If you love being outside and want to be part of conservation efforts, this law enforcement career may be a perfect fit.

In this article

5 steps to become a park ranger

Determine what type of ranger you want to be.

male student standing in forest

Do you want to stay close to home or be relocated to a national park for your posting? Park rangers come in three categories:

• National park rangers
• State park rangers
• County park rangers

From there you’ll need to figure out if you want to work on the law enforcement and fire protection side, or the conservation and environmental research side of rangering. These determinations can help you assess what education you’ll need to earn.

Earn the appropriate degree.

botony student examining flower on trail

While you can enter the field with an associate degree in some cases, the more acceptable degree to earn is a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Common areas in which to earn a bachelor’s may include:

• Forestry
• Conservation management
• Botany
• Geology
• Parks and recreation management

If you want to move into management or administration, you may be required to add a master’s degree on top of your bachelor’s.

Get work experience or an internship.

group of college students volunteering with forest cleanup

Getting a seasonal or summer entry-level job working in the parks system is a great way to gain experience and discover whether this is the career for you. The National Park Service has a volunteer program that can help you figure out what area you’d like to pursue and if you’re still taking classes, the Student Conservation Association offers expense-paid internships that can give you a feel for what you’ll really do on the job.

Apply for jobs.

female park ranger talking to park visitors

Each level of park has different criteria and application process, so you’ll need to know if a federal, state or county park ranger job is what you want. You can learn about federal application requirements at USAjobs.gov. To find state park ranger application steps, visit your state’s Department of Wildlife site. County park ranger applicants can visit their county Department of Parks and Recreation.

Pass the necessary requirements.

park ranger surveying tree growth in forest

If you’re application is accepted, you’ll need to move to the next step and successfully complete interviews, submit proof of citizenship and your college transcripts. You’ll then move on to physical agility tests, a drug test and a psychological evaluation.

Once you’ve passed these and conditional employment is offered, you’ll need to start on-the-job training, which may consist of weapons training since at a federal and state level you’ll be considered a law enforcement official.

Job duties: What does a park ranger do?

Park rangers are law enforcement officers, nature experts, or both. They are charged with protecting parks, visitors, and wildlife. They often work in rural and wilderness settings but can be found in city parks, historical sites, nature preserves, and recreation areas.

Park rangers share a wealth of knowledge with visitors and their role includes these tasks:

  • Prepare exhibits and informational material about the park
  • Develop conservation programs
  • Lead tours and nature walks
  • Enforcing park regulations

A large part of a park ranger’s job is conserving the lands they oversee, including studying wildlife behavior and monitoring air and water quality to determine if an ecosystem is in working order.

In larger parks, rangers may search for lost hikers, rescue stranded mountain climbers, supervise fire-fighting crews, and tend to injured park visitors.

Park ranger jobs often require adapting to various situations, some of which are urgent or emergencies. The ability to work independently and in groups is especially important. Leadership skills are also very important, as park rangers often have to manage staff and coordinate groups of people.

Park ranger education requirements

A minimum of an associate’s degree is generally required of park rangers, but some locations may require a bachelor’s degree. You can find associate’s forestry technology degree programs at most colleges and technical schools. Your coursework is likely to include:

  • Natural sciences
  • Law enforcement
  • Recreation management

If you’re interested in furthering your education even more, you can also find bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in the following areas:

  • Environmental sciences
  • Botany
  • Geology
  • Criminal justice

Park ranger salary and job outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics, the median national annual salary for park rangers, as part of the larger category of fish and game wardens, is $59,500. The annual salary for conservation scientists and foresters is $64,420.

Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Overall job growth for police and sheriffs will be slower than the national average, at 3.1% through 2031. Similarly, employment of conservation scientists and foresters is expected to be 4.5%—as fast as average—though 2031, adding another 1,800 jobs in that time frame. The BLS predicts that state-owned forests will likely see the most growth in employment.