Cooking or waiting tables in a national park is a rite of passage for college kids out west, some of whom cycle among parks until their midtwenties. The views are amazing, and there’s a jubilant camaraderie that comes from working in some of the country’s most beautiful places. “You have an adventure every day,” says climber and photographer Jimmy Chin, who bagged peaks during college while working as a cashier and waiter in Glacier National Park. “I think of it as the summer of freedom.”
Prereqs: Reliability. These jobs can run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and college kids often promise to stay to the end but leave early. A good reference will help.
How to Break In: Skip park-affiliated resorts, which can be impersonal. Instead, look for independent hotels or restaurants that offer flexible scheduling and employee housing in or near the park. “We have a lot of employees whose older brothers or aunts or uncles worked here,” says Amy Van Dam, owner of Glacier National Park’s Park Cafe. Coolworks.com lists dozens of national-park positions and offers information on specific jobs from current and former employees.
Pay: $8 to $13 per hour, plus tips. Some outfits, including Dornan’s, a restaurant and lodge in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, offer bonuses to employees who stick around until the end of the season.
Romance Potential: “There’s endless hook-up drama,” says Anne Creswell, a nine-season vet of Dornan’s, which houses as many as 65 employees every summer, including quite a few European students.
Résumé Skills: Service with a smile.