Imagine the classic small talk scenario – ‘So, what do you do?’
People usually seem surprised and confused at the seemingly random and exciting outdoor recreation jobs I end up in. Most even include housing and utilities, some include meals, some even include stellar health benefits.
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If you’re starting to second guess the 9-5, white picket fence life (and the giant ass mortgage that comes with it!) then a more adventurous, outdoor rec job might be for you.
I’m excited to share some of the outdoor jobs I’ve had and loved over the years, as well as some tips to help get you started if you want to test out this lifestyle.
This was by far my favorite outdoor rec job, at Frost Valley YMCA in upstate New York. We got to take school aged kids from NYC into the woods and teach them all about the wildlife, plant life, watersheds, and how they all work together in an ecosystem through experiential exercises and games.
The specs: This particular YMCA did require a college degree, even if it’s in a loosely related field. The more important thing was a desire to work with youth, to implement Frost Valley’s mission and to be a positive contribution to their small mountain community.
The pay was per diem, and ranged from $65-75 per day. We worked about 5 days a week all through out the school year, then some instructors traveled during the summers or took on a summer job at summer camp.
Now, I know you might be thinking that is ridiculously low pay – BUT all housing, utilities, meals, health benefits, and several other employee perks were provided. So, I had virtually no expenses and got to live in one of the most beautiful, remote locations in the Catskills.
Lessons learned: If it was so amazing why did I leave? Well, most people never leave such an amazing organization, so there was very little wiggle room to ‘move up’ just because positions opened so rarely. As much as I loved teaching environmental education, I also had big dreams of running my own program one day and I figured chances of moving up to director at that location was pretty slim.
Another lesson – not all YMCA’s live and implement their mission and values in the same way. Some are very values-driven and some are literally only trying to get heads in beds. If making an impact and working for a values-based organization is important to you, really dig deep during your interview process to determine which kind of organization you’re applying to.
While I loved, loved, loved Frost Valley, there are lots of places all over the country that teach environmental or outdoor education. You can find those type of job postings here:
- Frost Valley YMCA Jobs
- Outdoor Ed Jobs
- Environmental/Eco Friendly Jobs
- Environmental Career Opportunities
Adventure Trip Leader
This was one of my summer jobs, also at Frost Valley YMCA, to balance out my time when I was teaching environmental education during the school year. Also, one of the most fun. We got to take small groups of pre-teens and teens out into the wilderness on backpacking, rock climbing and backcountry canoeing trips all across New England.
The specs: These vary on the requirements for the position. One big thing that comes to mind is if you will be required to drive a company vehicle, then you may be an age requirement, you might possibly need a CDL license, it depends on their insurance provider. You may also need to be either Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certified, some (not all) companies provide WFA as part of staff training or can at least help cover some of the cost of your course or recertification, if you ask.
Leading wilderness trips is a very physically demanding job and you should have at least some basic outdoor experience already.
I honestly don’t remember how much this paid, but it wasn’t very much. You don’t take on jobs like that for the money, it’s definitely more about the experience and your passion for living in the outdoors. They did provide all meals and place to stay when we were in between trips, plus we got pretty sweet pro deals (discounts) on gear as employees. And of course, got to lead trips in amazing ‘vacation destinations.’
Lessons learned: This is not an easy job, or for the faint of heart. More often than not, it is long grueling hours in the field and you have to be pretty self sufficient in problem solving anything that comes your way from dangerous weather to stranger danger (real thing when traveling with other peoples children) to the kids in your group decide they want to hurt each other. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved this job – it made it on my favorites list – but it wasn’t something I personally could have done long term.
I eventually did move up to be the Assistant Director for this program, which was more of an office job, sorting out the logistics for each trip and serving as the hub of communication for the staff, outfitters and parents of the participants. I could have done that long term, but it was also only a seasonal position, and again, I found the people in the year round positions similar to this – never leave them!
Again, loads and loads of summer camps, non-profits and wilderness therapy organizations need seasonal trip leaders. (Bonus tip: You’ll get paid a lot more if you get into wilderness therapy) You can find more of those types of jobs here:
This was a rather unique situation. I got to live and work as a dorm parent at a public, residential high school in Maine, but was specifically brought on to lead outdoor recreation classes to fulfill the students physical fitness requirements. So, I got to take the students hiking, cycling, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing for their ‘gym classes.’
The specs: This was by far the highest paying, entry level outdoor recreation job I’ve had at $31,000 per year plus housing, all utilities, meals and health benefits were provided. So again, I had virtually no expenses and got to live in and explore a pretty unique part of the country in Northern Maine and New Brunswick.
As a public high school, I don’t think they had very specific requirements for the job or really knew what to look for as far as outdoor recreation professionals go, but I do think my previous outdoor and teaching experience helped me out a lot in scoring this job.
Lessons learned: As much as I loved the work I did and the programs I ran at the school, this one another one of those jobs, much like guiding, where it is very easy to get burnt out and ultimately was not for me for the long term.
If you’re interested in living and working closely with high school students, leading life-changing and skill-building activities with them, check out more dorm parent positions here:
- Boarding School Jobs
- Or course search dorm parent jobs or residential life jobs on sites like Indeed. I’m sorry, I cringe a little bit to recommend Indeed to you, but it is a good starting point and may at least give you some leads as to what schools or organizations are out there and you can stalk each school’s website directly in the future.
I’ve also hopped around to other short seasonal jobs when I’ve been in those ‘in-between’ stages in life, like working as a Logistics Coordinator for Outward Bound (which was awesome!) or harvesting grapes and selling wine at farmer’s markets. And have had other fun residential jobs like being an innkeeper at a small 6-room inn, or right now my husband and I live at a different YMCA in the Colorado Rockies where he works at the front desk.
My point is, if you love to travel and love to do anything and everything other than sit at a desk all day, then these types of jobs and this lifestyle might be for you – and once you know these things exist and know where to look, the options really are limitless!
Please, please, please just promise you won’t settle into a job or town you don’t love just because you think you have to, or that’s what you’re supposed to do.
My sister always used to ask me how I get such awesome jobs, the answer is simple – I apply to a lot of jobs when I’m looking, and only accept the most awesome sounding positions 😉
Wishing you all the best in your job search! Let us know how it goes or what your favorite outdoor recreation jobs have been so far in the comments below.
For more tips on breaking into the outdoor recreation field, check out:
- How to get an outdoor job after a thru hike
- 12 Things that helped me adjust after my long distance hike
Favorite Outdoor Recreation Jobs
Hi there, welcome! I’m Mallory, the voice and mind behind Your Adventure Coach. I love, love, love teaching new hikers everything they need to know to conquer their bucket list hikes. If you’re new to the blog, get started here.