My summer living and working in a national park
In the summer of 2018, I spent 3 months working full time in Yellowstone National Park. I was a cashier and scooper at the ice cream parlor, and an occasional housekeeper in the Mammoth Hotel in Mammoth Hot Springs.
It’s been fantastic living in a place where natural phenomena such as hot springs and elk are just a hop-skip-leap away, but living and working in the same area did have its downsides. Overall, the experience was overwhelmingly positive, but it’s important to know that attitude plays a big role in whether or not this kind of job is right for you.
Here is my list of pros and cons, drafted from my personal experience working for Xanterra at YNP
We’ll start with cons, because every post deserves a happy ending!
I guess this doesn’t just refer to location, it refers to the difficulty of packing up a few choice belongings and moving to a completely new environment. I remember lying awake terrified the night before my flight left, imagining hyperbolic scenarios in which my roommate would try and kill me (she’s fantastic, don’t worry)
It also took a bit of time to get over the fatigue and short-of-breathness associated with the altitude increase. (Midwest to mountains was a hefty adjustment)
2. Potentially isolated location
Often times, destinations that hire seasonal workers can become a bubble for those who live there. In Yellowstone, the internet is VERY spotty. I was lucky enough to live 5miles away from an actual town, Gardenier MT, but common comforts such as McDonalds and Walmart were at least 3 hours away!
Unfortunately, most seasonal positions, at least with Xanterra, are entry-level. This means you are looking at <$10 USD/hour before deductions for room and board. A good mindset to keep is that you’re here for the experience!
Another thing to keep in mind is that most companies will not pay travel costs to and from at your destination.
4. Dorm Style living
Being a college student, this was not a difficult adjustment. However, for those used to a more private lifestyle, I would seriously consider your personal comfort-level with community style living. Small rooms with 1-3 roommates, shared bathrooms, and no heating/AC are the norm with this company, and for many others from what I’ve heard.
All of the other Cons were factors I had anticipated before arriving here in Wyoming, but learning to handle irritated tourists was quite possibly the most difficult lesson to learn. While over half of the travelers I’ve encountered have been nothing but kind and respectful of the park, there are many who have been either intentionally or unintentionally disrespectful towards the park employees. There are times when my friends and I have been complained to, (nearly) swindled, laughed at, and screamed at. Language and cultural barriers can also make communication difficult, which can lead to frustration on both ends. While these things can become frustrating, and even make you want to go home, sometimes the only thing you can do is take it as a learning experience.
I hope I haven’t dissuaded you yet, keep reading!
Spoiler alert: pros>>>>cons
- Living somewhere that many only dream of visiting.
This one is kind of obvious.
Can you imagine getting to wake up every day to the waves crashing on the shoreline, or the sun rising over a snow-capped mountain range?
Living in Yellowstone has been such a blessing, and with three months, I was really able to take my time exploring off the beaten path and really getting to see so much of what tourists miss due to time constraints.
2. Making money and traveling at the same time
Yes, you will most likely be paying for room and board. However, at least in my case, you are paying much less than you would at home. No utility, water, or electric bills has been very nice.
Therefore, if you’re conscientious, you can divert most of your paycheck into savings.
This is how I saved for my semester abroad in Europe in 2019!
3. A nice break from the real world
As a student, a break from the books and the concrete jungle has been a delightful cleanse for the body, mind, and soul.
For many, seasonal work also serves as a break from the predictable rhythm of an office job.
4. Making friends from around the world
People come from all over the world to work seasonally at national parks, resorts, and other attractions, and most of these people are incredibly friendly. The people you will meet in jobs like these are what I like to call, ‘crunchy’. They are friendly, free spirited, and down to earth. It’s incredible and so healthy to be surrounded by such inspiring co-workers!
5. Gaining valuable skills
At a seasonal destination, you can expect to be visited by clientele from all over the world. While language and cultural barriers can make some interactions difficult, there is so much that you can learn about different cultures, as well as becoming culturally aware and gaining better people skills. This will not only help you in the customer service industry, but may be useful in future travels!
Was it difficult to adjust to this lifestyle: Yes and No
- The community living, rural location, and chaotic work environment are aspects of ife that I thrive on. Plus, who doesn’t love constant opportunity for wilderness adventures?
- Existing in a social environment with a completely new group of people makes me incredibly anxious, the first two weeks were very stressful as I attempted to remember new names and make friends.
Was it fun: Yes!
- Quite possibly the most fun in my entire life. Being surrounded by nature with countless hikes, swimming holes, and places to explore is my own personal heaven. I love Yellowstone!!
- With this in mind, I would not recommend Yellowstone as a location to those who are not fans of hiking, bugs, the outdoors, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that! It just means that a different location might be a better choice for you.
- What really made the experience unforgettable was the people. Myself and several others have agreed that without the adventurous and inclusive group environment, the long hours and difficult work may not have been worth it.
Would I do it again: Yes and No
- Yellowstone was better than I could have ever imagined, but I have a vagabond soul. If I were to work for Xanterra or another seasonal work company, I would like to explore and get to know a new place, possibly Glacier Bay in Alaska!
Well… that’s all I’ve got! But if you have any more questions about seasonal work or are considering trying it out, absolutely feel free to email me with any questions/concerns.
Also pls give the CC (*constructive criticism)
as this is my very first seasonal work post!
Also Also, comment your very own experiences/best stories about seasonal work! Maybe I’ll share some with you all someday 😉
Thanks and ily all,