how to get the job

I often get asked how one gets to be a Wilderness Ranger. Navigating the wilds of attaining a Wilderness Ranger position is no small feat. The process is made up of many steps. For most Wilderness/backcountry ranger positions you will be part of a pool of 100+ other applicants. But fear not ranger hopeful, I'm going to tell you about how the process works.

First things first: all federal Wilderness/backcountry ranger positions be it for Forest Service, National Park Service or Bureau of Land Management will ALL be posted to In general, the jobs "fly" or are posted for application generally October-December (along with most other jobs for the outdoor government agencies) so that time period give or take a month on either end is really when you need to be looking for them. The official job posting title for Forest Service jobs will normally say "Forestry Technician- Wilderness." Sometimes, the jobs are only open for application for a couple days so you need to check USAjobs very regularly to catch the positions. When I looked for jobs I would type "wilderness" into the search box and then under  the "pay grade" left drop down menu I select the appropriate pay grade. If you are new to ranger work you probably won't be able to start at a pay grade higher than a 4 or 5 so it's probably not worth your time to apply to/sift through the higher grade postings. The gist of things at least ranger-wise seems to be that pay grade 3 (GS-3) is entry level (though I've never seen a GS-1, 2 or 3 ranger job....I've actually never seen a GS-1 or GS-2 job period) and GS-4 is you have 6 months relevant work experience but maybe no federal experience. Generally the government agencies want you to work your way up the pay grade, if your resume doesn't reflect your correct time at each pay grade in a federal job (ie 12 months working at a GS-4 ranger position to qualify for a GS-5 ranger position) you may get overlooked, even if you have the experience in a non-government position that seems to qualify you for that GS-5 job. Here's how the Forest Service breaks it down, and here's how the pay for each grade breaks down (this article is a bit old) it may differ slightly from how the other outdoor government agencies do it. Most folks come into a GS-4 level for ranger work and most Wilderness Ranger and Trails positions are GS-4 and GS-5, if you have a relevant degree you are technically qualified for GS-5 but if you have not worked for a government agency before you may have a hard time competing with folks who have and may likely have to start at a GS-4 level...there is only a dollar or so per hour difference in these two pay grades.

When you start to apply, you'll be asked a series of multiple choice questions. Some of these may be automatic disqualifiers depending on how you answer so pay attention and make sure you read everything carefully. I have accidentally disqualified myself from jobs I was qualified for by answering these incorrectly. USAjobs will have you upload a resume. This is important so listen up! Your resume for these jobs needs to be VERY detailed. This is not the resume you learned to write in high school. My resume is at least 7 pages long, I kid you not. Since you will likely be hired based mostly on your resume and you probably will not meet your boss until your first day of work, you need to list a lot of information. For example when I list being a trail crew member I list the types of projects we worked on, the kinds of tools we used, materials used, the types of terrain we were in etc. Each of my job descriptions on my USAjobs resume are about as long as this paragraph is. The other reason it's important to have a detailed resume is because the first step in getting hired is getting your resume through the initial human resources scan. When you apply to a job someone reads over your resume and reads over the job you are applying to to see if you seem qualified. This person may have no experience with the job you are applying to so your resume has to very clearly reflect and transfer to the job you are applying to. Read over the job description and look for any key words or vocabulary you can use in your resume to make it easier for this person to know you have direct experience related to the job you're applying to. Once you get past this step you are hopefully put on a list of qualified applicants. If you are among the "most qualified" applicants your name is "referred" or sent to the person in charge of hiring for the job.

At that point you often get an "interest email" or phone call from the person in charge of hiring on that ranger district to see if you are still interested in the job (this tends to happen in February in my experience). To increase your name's visibility you should have already gotten in touch with this person or someone on the district who is the supervisor for this job and made contact to let them know how much you want the job. The person who does hiring is not necessarily your supervisor or person listed on USAjobs as the contact for that position. You will be competing with 100+ people so even just that small gesture of sending them an email or phone call to let them know you're applying can really make a difference. Sometimes an email is listed on the USAjobs posting...buried in there somewhere. If not, you may have to do a little research and call the ranger district to find out who would be in charge of your position. Once the person in charge of hiring makes their selection of who they want the job to go to they have to get it approved by the Forest Supervisor which is top of the chain of command for the entire forest and it then goes back to Albuquerque for a final revision and approval to be sure one final time that you are in fact qualified..

The hiring process takes a long time. From the day I applied to the day I get my job offer for my two first seasons it has been about 2 months.

Be sure to apply to lots of jobs! I have applied to ranger jobs, been referred the job and then I contacted the Wilderness Manager who told me they didn't actually get funding and that job will not in fact exist. The less exciting places will have less applicants and the more likely you are to have a chance so consider spending a summer somewhere that isn't your ideal location so you can get your foot in the door with the agency. Also consider ranger jobs with a short season as may have less competition too....I got an interest email from a National Park in Washington the 2015 season and it said they were only looking to fill their ranger position for a 3 month period, I imagine they have a harder time filling a job with such a short time frame.

When I got my first Wilderness Ranger job all of my relevant work experience was volunteer. Trail crew work with groups like the PCTA and Bay Area Ridge Trail....trips leading with groups like Girl Scouts and GirlVentures. Don't sell yourself short, put all relevant work experience whether you were paid or not. Try and get some other qualifications. Some good training that makes you more competitive to be a Wilderness/backcountry ranger are CPR/first aid, Wilderness First Aid/Wilderness First Responder/Wilderness EMT, Leave No Trace certification. Most Wilderness Rangers have CPR, first aid and WFA at the very least, many have WFR. I had CPR, first aid, WFA, and open-water lifeguard training when I landed my first ranger gig. Another great way to get experience (if you can afford to spend a summer without getting paid) is to be a volunteer Wilderness Ranger for a season. Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation has a program for that, generally Sierra National Forest in California has a few volunteer rangers and Mount Adams Institute has Wilderness Ranger internships in the Pacific Northwest. I'm sure there are lots of other places who do this, these are just the ones I know of, you just have to get in touch with the different Wilderness Managers of the various ranger districts in the forests and ask. There are many places to look for these types opportunities, as they may not be posted on USAjobs (though I have applied to one that was). has jobs and internships for the outdoor government agencies posted as does the Student Conservation Association. The vast majority of backcountry rangers I've met spent at least one full season as an intern/volunteer or working for SCA, ACE, MAI or similar conservation organization. You can find federal volunteer opportunities on  If there is a ranger district you are specifically interested in, contact the Wilderness Manager there and they sometimes keep an email list to let people know when their jobs will be flying on USAjobs.

It's a long stressful process for which you have to be very patient. Don't give up! If you have any questions at all don't hesitate to ask me: