A Different Way to Enjoy National Parks: Volunteer!

Tips for finding great opportunities and what to expect.

Lindsay & Dan McKenzie Lindsay & Dan McKenzie  |  05.21.2018

It seems every RVer’s goal is to see as many of our country’s National Parks as they can. It’s not hard to fall in love with them; each one is unique and has different views and activities to offer. Every time we visit one, we leave with a greater appreciation, along with photos and memories we’ll cherish forever. But volunteering in National Parks offers an even deeper experience.

We had the opportunity to volunteer in Acadia National Park last fall and it changed our whole perspective. It was such a memorable experience and inspired us to continue seeking out ways to do more than just explore when visiting the parks.

Our experience volunteering in Acadia National Park

When planning our trip to Acadia National Park, we came across an organization called Friends of Acadia. We were touched to see a group of individuals come together and dedicate so much time, energy, and research into protecting such a special place so that people like us can enjoy it for years to come. Then, we were thrilled to see that they offered drop-in volunteer days. One of the struggles we’ve found on the road, is finding ways to volunteer without needing a long-term commitment or making arrangements far in advance.

Friends of Acadia is a non-profit organization that organizes volunteer efforts and private philanthropy for the benefit and preservation of Acadia National Park. They offer drop-in volunteering three days a week. We showed up on a Saturday morning, were provided with the equipment we needed, and given options of what jobs we felt comfortable doing. That day, we helped restore one of the trails in the park.

national park volunteer

Dan was on the “rock crew” and was hitting large boulders with a sledge hammer to break them into small rocks to lay on top of the dirt trail. I tried that job, but was exhausted after two swings! So, I moved to the “harvesting crew” and pulled up moss from down below the trail and replanted it along the sides of the trail. That day, we helped finish the trail restoration that they had been working weeks on and it was so rewarding to see the final product.

It was a lot of hard work, but was just a few hours in the morning, great exercise, and it truly felt amazing to give back. It was also a fun way to meet locals who regularly commit their time to volunteering with Friends of Acadia. They gave us great recommendations for things to do in the area, too. Now, every time we’re hiking along the trails in National Parks, we think about the people, the hands and hard work that went into making it possible for us to explore such magnificent places.

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How you can volunteer in the National Parks

We’ve found that many people don’t know about the volunteer events that are offered at the National Parks. Volunteering can range from a variety of projects, such as trail maintenance, habitat restoration, invasive plant removal, etc.

For example, Redwoods National Park needed volunteers last summer to walk around the parking lots and talk to visitors before they started on the trail. They had brochures to pass out and wanted to spread the word about the increase in baby elk on the trails during the early summer months. Mother elk can be extremely aggressive and protective, so hikers needed to be extra cautious. So not every volunteer project is physically demanding and there is truly a job for everyone!

Volunteering in the parks can also be an educational experience, which allows you to give back while learning about the land. What a fun activity for families or large groups to do together! You can view the one-day volunteer events the NPS offers here. They also offer a variety of volunteer opportunities for people with specific skills and expertise that require varying time commitments. You can get more information on those opportunities here.

national park volunteer

Another simple way to find volunteer work in the parks is by doing a Google search. You may come across organizations separate from the NPS that you can get involved with. Also, simply asking a ranger when you arrive at the park about the ways you can volunteer can be helpful too. There’s always something you can do and if we all did even one small task to help, we could make a huge difference.

We definitely plan to do more National Park volunteering during our summer travels and we sure hope you do, too! We believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to help protect our nation’s incredible parks and we hope we’ve inspired you to get involved. It makes your visit more meaningful and allows you to leave a part of yourself at each park, other than just your footprints!


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2 Comments

  1. Kathleen L Abbate Posted on 06.07.2018

    Where in Acadia National park were you able to take the dogs hiking? I thought dogs were not allowed on the trails in National Parks.

    1. Brooke Baum Posted on 06.08.2018

      Hi Kathleen, While this is true in most National Parks, on the website for Acadia it states that “There are 100 miles (161 km) of hiking trails and 45 miles (72 km) of carriage roads in the park where pets are permitted.” You can read more here: https://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/pets.htm

      Thanks! -GoLife Editor