RVers perk: Trade out your help for free camping in national parks and monuments

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January 21, 2012

By Bob Difley

campground-hostingDo you want to make $600 to $750 a month while living in your RV in a beautiful location and doing what you like to do. Let’s see how an ad for a job like that might look:

Wanted. RVer to live on location in National Park (NP) or Monument and spend 20 hours a week helping park officials with RV park registrations, light maintenance, and other upkeep needs as necessary. No two week limit on how long you can stay.

If you now enjoy visiting our national parks and monuments this ad would attract your attention. Especially the potential of living in a national park for months where now you are limited to two weeks.   And earning some supplemental income is good too.

The above situation is available now. But let me clarify first. If you were to take a regular job somewhere it is unlikely that you would be given free housing so whatever you earned, some of it would go for housing or, in the case of RVers, staying in an RV park. So to juxtapose the national park offer from one of earning money and paying for an RV park, instead you trade out your earnings for a free campsite. Same result–almost.

If you got a job making $10 – $15 an hour (most temporary or part time jobs don’t pay as well as fulltime or career jobs) and worked 20 hours in a week you would earn $200 – $300 or about $800 – $1,200 a month. After paying $20 to $25 a night (no monthly rates in national parks) you would have between $200 to $450 left over. Out of this would come fuel costs to commute to your job and taxes on the full amount earned. And if you were lucky enough to get a job near enough to a national park that you could live there, you would only be able to stay there for two weeks.

Compare to volunteering in a NP. Instead of earning money and paying for living, you trade out your labor for the campsite. You don’t use any fuel commuting to your job, you walk to it (also gaining the benefits of a little extra exercise), you get to live in a beautiful location for as long as you volunteer, you meet interesting people daily, your work is fullfilling (unlike some drone jobs you might otherwise have to take), and you don’t pay taxes on the value of the campsite/labor trade out.

What makes deals like this even more attractive is that after you work a few of these positions and have a favorable track record, you will find it much easier to get additional positions, especially at the more popular parks where positions are snatched up quickly.

As public agencies and states continue with budget shortfalls, much of the work previously covered in the budget doesn’t get done–unless by volunteers. And that is good news for RVers as more volunteer positions open and for those who use their ingenuity to suggest a volunteer position that works for the agency and gives you free living. And the best part is you can feel good about yourself in helping a job get done–and done will, have a purpose that many retired RVers find lacking, and you can travel from job to job and commit to it only as long as you like. Then play fulltime until your next job. Search online by doing a Google search for “volunteering” with the location you want to work in.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or for Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).

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  8. Pingback: How to get free camping at National Parks | Camping with CC the RV

  9. Ned

    Rich where did you come up with 65 hours a week? We have worked (if you want to call it that) in Texas and New Mexico state parks and both ask for 20 hours a week that’s a lot less than 65. Which adds up to $600 a month for FULL hookups. Go find a park with the kind of view we have for that. We don’t actually do any work, mainly PR.

  10. rich davidson

    I am doing the math, 64 hours a week for a limited hook-up site. At min wage about $7.50 per hour x 65=$480.00 a week for your site!!!!!!! $1920 a month, could stay in pretty fancy mountain cabin!

  11. Ned

    Ken, forgot (senior moment) to mention if you like water and electric hookups your best bet is state parks; most but not all National parks don’t have the hookups.

  12. To clarify a couple of terms I used in my original post, the first being “work” and the second “hours per week.” Every job is different, so when you investigate a position ask for a description of what the job entails. In many cases, the hours per week worked refers to being present at or near your rig to register new campers, answer questions, and be an official presence in the campground. When I hosted at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, many of my on-duty hours were spent at my computer writing my articles until someone showed up to register–which takes all of about 5 minutes. Some volunteers like doing physical work and enjoy being busy for most of their defined work hours. It all depends on the job.

  13. K. Simpson

    Hi Ned
    If you think fuel is expensive, have a look at prices in Quebec Canada.
    Today average of a $1.36 per liter X 3.78 liters for an American gallon
    = $ 5.14 X 150 gallon fuel tank and that is one reason we want to visit
    the USA. Our money is almost par with yours, so for us it’s a good deal.
    Can you help me out with where to stay at national parks.

  14. Ned

    Mike I hope you have budgeted in $$$$$ for fuel. That’s one of the factor’s why we stay in one area for several months at a time and since we do we stay at a beautiful area for free. Can’t afford all that fuel and it’s going up all the time.

  15. Ned

    We do this in state parks. One in southern Texas and one in northern New Mexico.
    We love it. The campers and rangers are great and there is no way your going to get this scenery in a private park. We are ask to be available 24 hours a week. There is no real work involved mostly PR. It’s a great way to tour an area and stay for free.

  16. K. Simpson

    New experience and dream for us. We purchased our motor home in the summer of 2011 and are thinking of traveling at least 6 months a year. We are Canadian ( in our retirement years ) and want to travel the United States. Susan and I have experience in accounting, public relations, retail sales and real estate.
    Q: Can we apply for a job in a national park ?
    Thank you for your support.

  17. B.J. McCord

    Hey Mike,
    If you get close to Grand Junction, Colorado, go South East and stop awhile at Jumbo Campgrounds in the Grand Mesa National Forest, between Cedaredge and Mesa, CO.
    This is an unbelievably beautiful part of the country and a fine place to catch all the Rainbow Trout you will want to eat.
    They will not allow you to ride unlicensed vehicles out of camp to the many trails though, so don’t try it.
    [email protected]

  18. Mike

    Yea we’ve only been retired and fulltiming since the end of June this year 2011,
    and maybe it’s because it’s to new but I don’t think I’d wan’t to have to put in 32 hours a week for me and the wife too just to get a camp site that you’d basically HAVE to stay in the WHOLE summer or probably the camping season.
    Don’t get me wrong we aren’t making all that much but I have budgeted up to $600.
    per month for camp sites if necessary. and right now where down south for the winter and paying $400. per month.
    Also I guess we can stay in a NP for 2 weeks and then move on thats ok. we can always stay in another park or privet park in the area.
    I just can see giving my retirement away 32 hours a week for a camp site. If I were going to have to do that i should have just stayed working making good $$$.
    We plan to RV as long as we can, and NOT work.
    we hope to see you down the road, or in a NP
    By the way if anyone has stayed at a nice park that they would recommend please e-mail us the info. Also I know some of the NP have roads that are very difficult to get through with a big rig. We have an F350 and a 37′ toy hauler 5er total length about 55′ and 13′ height. But we would like to hear about any NP where there isn’t a problem getting in and getting a site for a bigger rig.

  19. David Brugger

    I have only seen Alaska that pays, what are some examples of parks inconus that pay 600 – 750 a month. I also wonder kirk are you getting paid 32 hours as a seasonal ranger and a free camp site as a temp in yellow stone? we have been full timing three years now mostly state parks one refuge and having a great time. We would like to earn some extra from time to time. I feel that 32 hours is alot deoending on what they ask. Texas ask only 24 total. Love the life and will do it till the sun sets for the last time. Love RV.net always good info and people. hope to meet ya on the road
    David and Liz

  20. Kirk Singer

    A minor correction: volunteers at a National Parks are required to give 32 hours a week, and that is for each person, in oder to get a free full hook up site. There are a lot of positions – science research, camp ground hosting, maintenence, and interpretation, doing the same guided walks and tallks as the rangers.

    Since we have been fulltimers, I had worked as a seasonal Ranger at five different parks. The last six summers I have been at Yellowstone and am currently back for my eighth winter at Everglades, Here we have two couples and three single women who do programs with our unit as volunteers. It is a great deal for the public and the tax payer as the budget cuts have really affected teh work that we do with the reduction in paid staff.

    To my knowledge, there is no vet preference for volunteers, only full time and seasonal employees. For those jobs, check out http://www.usajobs.gov. .
    For volunteer positions try www. volunteer.gov

  21. hoppe

    My neighbors of yester-year, went fulltime. They didn’t retire with all that much income so they did the “Hosting” thing a National Forest CGs for quite a few years. Was mostly a good gig. They ‘worked’ the summers here in Colo. and went south for the winters, where they lived off the proceeds of what they made up here.

    Kind of cut into their ‘free’ time, but they didn’t mind since they were living in the National Forest where they worked. Free vehicle to ‘work’ from, so little wear and tear on their Tow Vehicle.

    Here in the Rockies there are CGs that are so small and remote that the host may not see anyone else except for weekends the majority of the summer. This was true to the point that the ‘Management’ company would provide a generator, gas, propane, bottled water, etc to entice people to ‘host’ these remote CGs.

    The downside is that they want you to show up for the whole season. Limiting the RV/sightseeing/traveler part that some folks prefer.

  22. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy guru,

    You sure can make ‘work’ sound interesting!!!!!!! What about the ‘new’ rules, etc.??
    What will all of the returning ‘war-veterans’ do; will they get preference?? THEY SHOULD!!! Be a good way to ‘recondition’ them!!! Let’em wind down & relax!!!