Park Ranger Salary
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Park Ranger Salary: What to Expect From a Career at the State or Federal Level

This is what you can expect from a park ranger salary.

One of the more unique careers involving the outdoors is that of a park ranger. Whether they are at the state or federal level, our rangers help protect the precious natural resources we all know and love on our favorite public lands. They are both the first and probably last line of defense for keepings vast swaths of wilderness safe for future generations to enjoy.

One of the cool things about park ranger jobs are the number of variations in the title. If you're interested in law enforcement and direct protection of these sensitive and beloved places, they have positions for that. If you like helping others to learn, and sharing history or natural facts about these places, they have interpretive positions for that too.

Working as a ranger at a state or federal park is not an easy path, however it is by all accounts, an incredibly rewarding one. Here's a little more on just what to expect from the pay, and some of the paths one can take to earn one of these unique jobs working in some of our country's most beautiful places.

What does it take to become a park ranger? And how long does it take?

Park Ranger Salary

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As we've already mentioned, the job of a full-time park ranger is not an easy career path. According to, an education is not always necessary to get a job as a ranger. However, most people do three to five years of schooling to prepare for the job. Most states require some sort of education after high school. In some cases, it may be a certain number of credit hours in a related field. Other states want at minimum an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree for their park ranger positions. The National Park Service requires the latter of applicants.

As for coursework, there's a variety of ways to approach this depending on a person's career aspirations. Many people study law enforcement because many park rangers are in fact full-fledged law enforcement officers. Many colleges now offer programs specializing in tourism, recreation, parks management, human resources, natural sciences, and forestry resource management.

Higher level jobs like park managers or park superintendent may require even more education and a master's degree in a relevant field. Although sometimes years of experience within the system will substitute too. Although sometimes years of experience within the system will substitute too. Many of these state and federal agencies are not shy about saying experience counts. For instance, notes that Michigan's hiring system for federal rangers gives preferences to applicants with a motorboat operator certification, or a certification as an instructor. Which makes sense for a state with so many lakes. Applicants who have certification as a firefighter or first responder will likely receive preference. Military service or training is usually helpful for applicants too.

In addition to schoolwork, almost every state has some sort of additional training and testing for their applicants. For instance, Texas has their own Park Ranger training program that teaches things like laws and regulations, communications skills, first aid, CPR certification, management, and more. Applicants may also be required to take part in a mandatory law enforcement training program. In New York, their ranger positions are considered full-time police officers. The state requires applicants to pass a Civil Service exam.

Some states will also require applicants to pass a physical fitness test. Drug screenings and medical examinations are also often required for the job. It should go without saying, but a clean record with no arrests is almost always a requirement for any federal or state park ranger job. We should also mention that some states have minimum and maximum ages for application too. In some states one cannot even apply for a ranger position unless they are at least 21 and younger than 35 years of age.

At the state level, the highest paying ranger jobs are usually those in management or supervisor positions, just like any other job. They usually top out in the $60,000 to $85,000 range depending on the state and cost of living.

How much do park rangers make?

Park Ranger Salary

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This depends on many factors. As with most things in life, the entry-level positions do not pay as well as the high-level jobs that are only earned with years of experience. There are other extenuating circumstances too. Such as the cost of living. Rangers taking a job at a National Park or Monument near a large city like Washington D.C., or San Francisco are always going to earn more than someone who's serving as a ranger at a remote recreation area in a place like Oregon or Wyoming. The pay range also depends on the agency. The National Park Service is almost always going to pay the most depending on the job title.

According to, the national average park ranger salary for someone in a federal position is $74,533. The starting annual salary is usually much less than that though. According to, general and interpretive park rangers are paid based on the federal general schedule pay scale. Where a ranger starts on the scale depends on education, and experience usually. Most internships and part-time jobs start off on the low end, grades GS-3 to GS-4. Most full-time park ranger job start at level GS-5.

For an interpretive park ranger at that level, the people who usually interact the most with park visitors, the starting salary is between $30,119 and $39,149. That's the low end of these grades. Just slightly higher than the middle of this scale is GS-11, which has heavy education requirements. Rangers at this level earn between $55,204 and $71,764.

Rangers who are level GS-13 and above have the potential of earning between $100,000 and $142,180, although this level usually has the highest education and experience requirements.

Dedicated law enforcement park ranger positions are paid on a law enforcement officer pay scale (GL) and often receive slightly better pay to start, between $37,000 and $46,000. Rangers at level GL-10 receive a base salary between $51,921 and $66,996.

On the state level, most rangers earn considerably less depending on location and job description. For example, entry-level park rangers in Oklahoma only earn between $22,844 and $33,504 according to However, for a state like California, which calls their rookie rangers cadets, the salary range is better, between $38,000 and $51,700, mostly depending upon each ranger's experience.

At the state level, the highest paying ranger jobs are usually those in management or supervisor positions, just like any other job. They usually top out in the $60,000 to $85,000 range depending on the state and cost of living.

There are also park ranger positions at some county and city levels. However, there's fewer positions available at this level and it's a little too difficult to come up with salary information for these types of ranger jobs. Mostly because it depends on the number of job openings and how much the city or county has budgeted for these positions.

One thing you will often hear from park rangers if you start talking to them is that they usually pursued a career in this line of work more out of a love for the outdoors and a particular park than for the salary it provides. If you're looking for a career where you get to share that love of the outdoors with the public and protect special, wild places, a job as a park ranger may be a perfect match for you.

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