Summer Jobs at US National Parks / Working for Xanterra
What are you doing this summer? While I’m busy trying to camp and hike in as much of the wilderness as possible on weekends, some people are getting paid to live in the most beautiful national parks around the US. Jonas decided to do just that – working at Rocky Mountain National Park for his university summer break. Xanterra is the concessionaire for several of the most famous National Parks, offering both summer and year-round jobs at national and state parks. While they don’t have jobs in all of the US National Parks, they cover the biggies like Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and the like. While the pay might be low for summer service jobs, the experience is rich and the reward is the opportunity to have the time to thoroughly explore a season in paradise. They also offer a way for international applicants to apply as well, working with agencies that can help you obtain a J-1 visa (necessary for non US citizens). And don’t think you have to be a student for these national park jobs either – pretty much anyone over 18 can apply. Xanterra also happens to have jobs on a cruise line and as a tour leader (some are international). On my latest visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is practically located in my backyard, I asked Jonas, a cashier at the Park, some questions about his experience. Jonas Kobiske is a 20 year-old business major in his junior year at UW-Oshkosh in Wisconsin. He’s interested in sports, traveling and most importantly, trying lots of new things.
What made you decide to apply for a concessions job in the national parks?
I was sick of working at home and was ready to spend the summer somewhere new and on my on.
What attracted you to applying in the first place?
My uncle has been working in national parks for years and he told me it was an option if I wanted to spend the summer away from home.
How did you apply and how long did it take for you to get the job?
I applied online on the Xanterra website in January, and it took a few weeks to get the job. They do the hiring in late winter. I think I was hired in February. There was a short phone interview as well. I had a reference and think I was a virtual lock for the job, so I am not sure if other people’s interviews were more intense than mine. I just had a short half hour conversation with the General Manager at the time and afterwards was offered the job.
Now that you’re working with the concessionaire do you know anything that might help those applying for a similar job get the job?
I only applied at one park, so I’m not sure if the hiring or type of qualifications are the same at the others. At RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park), they look for previous experience in a restaurant setting for their kitchen staff, but other than that, nothing special. I would recommend applying around the beginning of January so they have your application right away.
Did you get to pick the national park where you would work since this concessionaire operates in several national parks?
You have the choice to apply to any of the parks that Xanterra operates in, but each park does their own hiring. So you can work at whichever one hires you.
Did you do any research about working in a national park or RMNP before you went?
I talked to my uncle about the job before I applied, but that was the only research I did.
What type of information did the employer give you to prepare for working in a national park for the summer – clothing lists, things to pack, info on transportation, where you would live, anything else?
The communication could definitely have been better. I knew I would have a roommate, but i did not know what type of housing we would be in. The clothing list just told us we would receive a uniform, but nothing else for outside of work. They did offer transportation to and from the airport which was nice.
What’s the employee orientation like when you get to the park?
Because employees are arriving at different times, they do two formal orientations, one with the first large group that arrives for the snow removal, and then another once everyone has arrived. If you arrive in between those two orientations, they give you your own mini orientation which is helpful, but also lacks a bit on information. On arrival, I didn’t know when I started working or when I needed to be ready to go. They expect you to be self sufficient, which is good, but can be a little frustrating.
What is the summer season / start & end dates and does that vary depending on the park? Is the employer flexible about start & end dates?
As far as I know, RMNP is the only Xanterra store that closes in the winter, but I may be wrong. For us, we could start as soon as the first two weeks in May, and we could stay as long as the first couple of weeks of October. The final date however is dependent on the weather. As soon as the park closes the Trail Ridge Road (due to snow), we are done working. They are very flexible on when you can start and end. I was coming from school so I couldn’t start until the end of may and they were very understanding.
Is this a work program specifically geared toward college age students? If so, have you met a lot of college students from all over the country?
I would say yes. A majority of the positions are held by college students, but there are a fair amount of middle aged and older adults who do some of the more difficult jobs such as being managers and driving the van to the store. I have met a lot of students not just from all over the country, but from all over the world. There are people from Macedonia, Slovakia, and Taiwan working here, as well as people from all over the states, which makes this a great place to get a little bit of culture.
Does the employer provide any group activities or outings where you can get to know other employees?
In the past they have, but they have not done any yet this summer. I heard they used to go to some baseball games and into town a few times a summer, but this summer we have only been taken to town once. It may pick up now that all of the employees have finally arrived however.
Does the employer provide any discounts for activities or anything else?
Yes, we have free access to the park and we get discounts in the store.
Did the employer offer accommodation? If so, where, what type and did you have to pay for it / if so, how much? Was there an option to live outside the park or on your own?
Yes, we live in an old motel just outside of the park. It costs $10 dollars a day, which is removed from our paycheck, but also includes three meals a day and free laundry. So all in all, its a pretty sweet deal. You can choose to live outside the park if you would like, but for college students, there are almost no cheaper options than taking the company housing. Its not fancy or that nice, but its a good deal, and not the worst housing college kids are likely to live in.
If you’re living in employee housing, what’s it like, are there options to choose from?
It was interesting. They assign you a roommate at random, so it can be a perfect fit or a disaster. We got lucky, and everyone seems to enjoy their living situation so far.
Did you come on your own or with a friend?
I came with my girlfriend and my uncle who has been working at this particular park for 8 years.
What kind of people are you working with (college age / international / etc)? What’s it been like making friends? Do you think these are friendships that will be long lasting?
All sorts of different people. Mostly college students and internationals, but there are also Colorado locals, retirees who spend their summers in different parks, and life long Xanterra employees. It has been awesome getting to know everyone, and they are definitely connections I plan on keeping throughout my life.
What’s the rate of pay and if it’s low, do you need to make sure you have some of your own money to spend or is it enough pay for you to enjoy your summer / save any money?
$8.50 an hour with a $0.50 bonus for every hour you work if you fulfill your entire contract. This was more than I was making at home, and I am pretty good with my money, so I am able to make it work. If you want to make a lot of money during the summer, this won’t be the place for you. Its more about the experience here than the money.
How much time do you get off during the week?
Everyone gets two days off a week. Most people choose to have them as back to back days, but if you have plans and need them separated, they are very flexible and can move them around as you need it.
Do you have any say in your work schedule or what type of work you’re doing for the concessionaire?
No, not really. You can tell them your preferences, but in the end you will work when and where they need you. You are constantly doing different jobs though. Very rarely does anyone work the same position two days in a row.
Have you found that you have enough time to explore and enjoy the park?
Yes, two days off is enough for meto get in the park and do some hiking
and see what I want to see. If you are looking to go on a long camping trip, you’ll need to try and rearrange your schedule, but it could probably be done once or twice a summer.
Did you bring a car? do you think you need one?
My uncle lets me use his car, and it is a nice thing to have. I would recommend one, but you don’t need one. There is a shuttle going into the park, but it is nice to have your own transportation. It gives you a chance to go places like Denver or Ft. Collins if you want.
Have you heard any info from others that have worked in other parks about which park is the best to work in for a certain reason(s)? Something like…everyone says that RMNP is the best park to work in because the housing is cool and the bosses are great…
It depends what you are interested in. RMNP in my opinion is the best because of the scenery. I love mountains and this park has incredible hikes and views. I’ve heard all the jobs are similar between the parks, so I would recommend going to the park you want to see the most.
Are there any options to transfer to another national park if you don’t like the one you’re currently working in?
As far as I know, no. But I never really asked.
What is great about this experience? Why?
Everything. The views, the nature, the hikes, the people, the culture, it is all amazing.
What is difficult about this experience? Why?
The job itself isn’t that great. You have to be ready to do menial labor all day. At this point in my life, I’m ready for more of a challenging job, and this is not that job. But, with that said, this job is more about the experience. You get to wake up every morning and ride up one of the most scenic roads in America to your job. So it makes up for it.
What’s it like being single and dating in a national park job?
Most people aren’t looking for that while they are here. From what I can tell, everyone is just interested in making friends and enjoying this incredible place together. There hasn’t been much drama between the genders which has been nice.
What’s it like socially – are there lots of employee parties in the off hours? What do employees your age typically do in their off hours?
Where we are, there is not much to do when it gets late, so yes, there are quite a few get togethers. Just about every night. But that is to be expected when you get a group of 20 college kids together and there’s no where else to go. Its not obnoxious however. And if you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to. you can hang out without drinking, no one judges you or your choices.
What would you say to someone thinking of working in a national park for the summer? Tips, advice, things you might do differently / the same?
If you are thinking about it, do it. If you are already thinking about leaving for the summer and not being around the same people you’ve spent the last 18 years with, there is no better place to go than a park. You get to meet new people your age from all over the world, you get to spend a summer in some of the most beautiful places our country has to offer, and its only for a few months, so if it doesn’t work out, lesson learned. But when it does, you will have a summer’s worth of stories to tell everyone at home. Very few people will have a more interesting summer than you if you choose to come to a national park.
What are the definite dos and don’ts when you work in a national park?
Be open minded and tolerant. You’ll meet people you don’t see eye to eye with, but its just for a summer. This is an opportunity to form your own opinions, so listen to what they have to say
Take advantage of the place you’re in. Don’t get sucked into drinking all the time. Go out and enjoy the nature around you.
Work hard. Your job will always be easier if you make your bosses like you by busting your ass everyday.
Slack off. The last thing you want is to be sent home from a job that could be thousands of miles from your house.
Do anything stupid in the park. It’s Federal property. If you want to get drunk, find somewhere else to do it.
Be safe. There is something that can kill you in just about every park. Tell people when and where you’ll be hiking -You aren’t immune to anything.
Finally, would you do it again and why?
Absolutely! It’s an incredible experience and I would recommend it to anyone. This is a cool way to see some of the country and get paid for it. You can’t go wrong!
Xanterra Career Website
Comments, questions? – now it’s your turn