Workcamping as a Campground Host in a National Forest

This is the view from one of the campgrounds I've been a host at in the National Forest. Wouldn't you like this to be the view from your cubicle! But actually be there instead!!

This is the view from one of the campgrounds I was a host at in the National Forest. That’s Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado. Probably half my campers were there to climb it and the other 14-ers around it. Wouldn’t you like this to be the view from your cubicle–but actually be there instead!! You wouldn’t hate going to work every day if it was!

In my last post I pointed out 8 different kinds of workcamping jobs but today I want to focus on the one that I think will work for the most people because 1) it has among the lowest physical demands, 2) pays you for every hour you work, 3) provides a free campsite, 4) is located in a beautiful National Forest with great weather, that job is a Campground Host in the National Forests. It’s also the only one I’ve actually done so I know it the best. I’ll try to answer all your questions about it.

Q. Did you like it?

A. I loved it! I was always in beautiful areas in deeply forested mountains and they were high enough to stay cool all summer. I was lucky and had good bosses and never had any real bad campers. In fact most people were enjoying themselves so much there were a pleasure to have around. They often asked me over for dinner or a beer. I have to be honest and say cleaning the toilets got old but that was just a wrinkle in what was otherwise a great summer.

Tis was my campground right below Mount Elbert.

This was my campground right below Mount Elbert.

Q. Is it easy to get a job in a National Forest campground?

A. Probably, but it depends on where you want to work. Many National Forest campgrounds offer the hosts full hook-ups, those jobs are popular with RVers and so they may have more difficult requirements and they may not be available for all of us. But there are also more remote campgrounds that don’t offer hook-ups, and they are NOT popular with RVers, in fact they have a hard time filling those positions so they’re open to almost anyone who’s willing to take them. Where I worked we had campground hosts who lived in tents in the High Sierras of California because the RVers would not go back there. However, it’s perfect for vandwellers who love boondocking because it’s fantastically beautiful and the weather was perfect all summer.

So if you’re willing to go to a remote or primitive campground, you won’t have any problem getting a job. If you only want full-hook ups or in a populated areas, it gets harder.

This was a remote, primitive campground which means I didn't have electricity or hook-ups. All I had was an outhouse and a hand pump for water. In some campgrounds my only water was a creek.

This was a remote, primitive campground which means I didn’t have electricity or hook-ups. All I had was an outhouse and a hand pump for water. In some campgrounds my only water was a creek.

Q. What do I have to do?

If you like working with people it’s really a pretty easy job. But you are independent most of the time so you have to be self-motivated. There won’t be a boss looking over your shoulder barking orders, but he will be around to see if you’re doing your job. If you keep a clean campground and happy campers you’ll it Here are the details of what you’re required to do:

  • Greeting Campers and Controlling Noise: I tried to meet all my campers and be friendly and help them have a better stay in any way I could. I found that by being friendly I rarely had problems with rowdy campers. The big campgrounds had problems regularly but the people who came to my remote campgrounds were much more serious about nature and camping and less likely to be partiers and create a problem for me. If I did have a problem I asked people to quiet down and explained that if they didn’t I’d have to call the authorities and have them removed. That always worked for me, I never had to call for help.
  • Cleaning the Toilets: This is by far the most unpleasant part of the job and it’s something you do a lot. In some campgrounds at the peak of the season you are required to clean the toilets three times a day, in the early and late part of the season only twice a day. The first time in the morning is a full scrub after being used hard all night. That means sweeping the floor, scrubbing the inside and outside of the toilet, mopping the floor and hit the walls. In the afternoon it’s a light touch-up and in the evening it’s a middling job, just a quick sweeping of the floor, hitting it with a cleaner, putting in toilet paper and picking up trash.  Cleaning toilets is no fun but after awhile you just get used to it and it’s no big deal. If you go to a remote campground the toilets get used much less and in peak season you only have to clean them twice a day. In the early and late part of the season you only clean them once a day.
  • Collect and Account for Money: Most National Forest campgrounds now use the reservation system and you won’t have to handle much money, which is a good thing. But at many of the remote campgrounds it’s not practical to use reservations so you’ll have to collect all the money and turn it over to your boss. All four years I had to collect money and at my busiest campground that meant I had $2000 in cash with me by the end of most weeks. I rarely had less than $1000. Both companies I worked for had forms that made accounting for it fairly easy. On Sundays my boss would come up and count the money and give me a receipt for it. I tried to be very careful and I had no problems but it would be easy to mess up and come up short. If it had happened I would assume it was my error and put in my own money to cover it.
  • Clean the Sites: Cleaning the sites was much easier than you would think. The giant majority of people left the sites clean and some left it cleaner than they found it. Mainly what I had to do was what we called micro-trash–stuff that is so small people didn’t bother with it. Things like cigarette butts, Band-Aids and bottle caps. A classic example is candy bar wrappers; I rarely picked up the wrapper itself but I often picked up the little piece on the end that you tear off to get started opening it. If you don’t pick up the micro trash, eventually it accumulates and makes the site look really bad.
  • Clean the Fire Pits: Almost all campgrounds will have firepits and one of your main jobs will be to empty them out and throw the ashes into the trash. If a camper leaves an unattended or smoldering fire you’ll need to bring water over in 5 gallon buckets and douse it.

Q. Are there restrictions on who they hire?

A. That depends on where you’re going to work, if you are going remote there probably won’t be anything else they ask of you; they’ll take anyone, in any rig. On the other hand if you are working in a Campground with Full-Hooks, they may ask you for these things:

  • A description and picture of your vehicle. Sometimes they only want nicer and newer RVs. Most don’t care but some do.
  • Do you have a separate vehicle so you can leave the RV in camp; either the tow vehicle with a trailer or a towed vehicle with a motorized RV? They may not hire you without it, it depends on many variables.
  • Are you a couple? If they have to hire two single people instead of one couple they lose the income from more campsites going to hosts, so sometimes they only want couples.

But again, if you are willing to go to a remote or primitive campground, they probably won’t ask for any of these things.

Q. How do I get a job?

A. There are primarily three ways to get hired:

I. Contact employers directly. If you know which state and National Forest you want to work in, all you have to do is get their website and see if they have job openings listed and call them to ask for a phone interview. Here is a step-by-step guide to how-to do that.

  1. Decide on the state and specific National Forest you want to work in.
  2. Do a Google search on that National Forest and find the phone number of the Ranger Station nearest to where you want to work.
  3. Call the Ranger Station and tell them you want to work in their area as a campground host, can they tell you the name of the concessionaire that operates their campgrounds?
  4. Now that you know their name do a Google search and see if they have a list of job openings and see if they have any you’re interested in. Even if they don’t, fill out an on-line application anyway. But don’t depend on the application, get their main phone number.
  5. Call the company and tell them you want to apply for work with them this summer, if you found a campground you want to work at, tell them which one. If you didn’t find one you want, apply anyway—a lot can change before summer.
  6. Go a step further and tell them you’d like the phone number of the person doing the interviews so you can call them and do a phone interview or make an appointment.
  7. Call the person and tell them how excited you are to work in such a beautiful area and you really want a job there.  If you’ve been a host before be sure to slip that in right away. Also, by law they can’t ask you how old you are so if you are young, less than 60, volunteer your age—that gives you an advantage. Chances are you can get a job where you want this way.

II. Join a website dedicated to jobs for RVers and Nomads. Two very good ones are workcamper.com and coolworx.com. Once you join you post a resume to get employers to contact you and watch the “Help Wanted” ads to apply for jobs you’re interested in. You’ll be amazed at the huge number and variety of jobs available! I’ve just listed a few of the kinds of jobs, there’ll be many more and lots of choices within each category. It’s very likely you can get a job you want from either of these websites.  https://www.workamper.com/  http://www.coolworks.com/

III. Come to the RTR and apply at the Big Tent RV Show. There are many concessionaires who set up booths at the Big Tent and do job interviews and hire right there. The company I worked for has a booth there and they hope to hire someone for every position by the times it’s done.

Cleaning the toilets is by far the most unpleasant part of the job, but you get used to it. After awhile it's just something you do. Compared to how great the rest of the job is, it's just no big deal.

Cleaning the toilets is by far the most unpleasant part of the job, but you get used to it. After awhile it’s just something you do. Compared to how great the rest of the job is, it’s just no big deal.

Q. What is the pay?

A. Usually its minimum wage of the state you’re in or slightly higher. So you may want to do a search and find which states pay the most and try to get a job there. Here is a website to get you started finding the minimum wage in each state: http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx

Q. How many hours will I work in a day?

A. The best I can tell you is that it will vary. There is no time clock and you don’t even keep track of your hours, instead, your campground is assigned a set number of hours (most are 40, but a few are less, usually 20 or 32) and that’s what you’re going to be paid every week all summer. During the early and late part of the season you may not work all those hours but during the peak season you may work more. Over the course of the season it will average out but you will never be paid overtime.

One of my campgrounds was a weekend heavy campground so it was full every weekend but nearly empty most weeks. Saturday was a 12 hour day without exception, partly because I had to wait until then to do my accounting to give the money to the boss the next day. But, during the week I usually had 6 hour days, and then early and late in the season I didn’t even work the whole 40.

Much of your time will be spent cleaning the sites. That means patrolling for trash and keeping the ash out of the firepits. I found this much easier than I had expected.

Much of your time will be spent cleaning the sites. That means patrolling for trash and keeping the ash out of the firepits. I found this much easier than I had expected.

Q. Can I leave on my days off?

A. Yes, in fact I always left on my days off. If you’re there, campers will keep asking you questions. Usually I drove around Colorado taking photos, but sometimes I’d just go a few miles down the road and disperse camp.

Q. How long is the season?

A. Most employers will ask you to commit to work from Memorial Day to Labor Day but the season will probably start a week or two before then and probably go a week or two past then. A lot depends on the weather. Most National Forests are high in the mountains and are opened and closed by snow. So a light snow year may let you get there early and stay later, or a heavy snow year may make you arrive later and leave early. Of the four years I did it two years didn’t start until June because of heavy snows late in May. One friend had her season cut short by wildfire dangers when they closed her campground.

If you’re wanting to leave to get to the Sugar Beet Harvest or Amazon, you can leave any time after Labor Day which will give you plenty of time.

Cleaning the firepot will be something you do a lot. You just shovel the ashes in a 5 gallon bucket and dump it in your dumpster. If someone leaves a hot or an unattended fire, you'll have dump water on it first to put it out.

Cleaning the firepit will be something you do a lot. You just shovel the ashes in a 5 gallon bucket and dump it in your dumpster. If someone leaves a hot or an unattended fire, you’ll have dump water on it first to put it out.

Q. Will I get a free campsite?

As far as I know you always get a free site, but there are probably exceptions somewhere. If you check a job and they don’t offer a free site, forget them and find someone who does. There are so many who do that you don’t have to pay.

Q. Can I have my dog?

Again, everywhere I’ve been they were not only allowed but expected you to have one. My dog was very well behaved so he went everywhere with me—of course he was always on a leash in the campground.When I pulled into a campground, there would be a cloud of kids around us wanting to pet Homer!! Your well-socialized dog will love the job and it’s one of the main reasons I started doing it the first place.

So there you have an overview of campground hosting. I loved the job and I highly recommend it to you. I think you’ll find it works well for most people.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_W_E5SFCxwpSOaqMjOOBTg

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This is the view of Mt. Elbert I saw every time i went into or away from camp. My campground was at the base of its right flank. Imagine seeing this on every trip to and from work!

This is the view of Mt. Elbert I saw every time I went into or away from camp. My campground was at the base of its right flank. Imagine seeing this on every trip to and from work!

Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

25 comments on “Workcamping as a Campground Host in a National Forest
  1. Boy Blue says:

    Bob,

    I went to work for the campground management company you worked for only my campgrounds were in northwest Colorado. That area is beautiful. I had 6 campgrounds at roughly 9800 feet altitude. My job as host was actually supposed to be done by a couple. The company did provide a little truck to get around and do my chores, a good thing. I had all the equipment I needed to do the regular chores you describe so well in your post. It may have been automated in the 2 years since I did that job but the paperwork required of a campground host is very tedious, if not onerous. The host must account for each site that is rented and all the money. The company has its way of tracking how busy the campgrounds are each week but the host is also filling out the forms required by the Forest Service. In the beginning it took me 8-hours to prepare it each week; I got that down to about 6.5 hours. One has to like tedium or that part becomes a detractor in the job. I would rather have cleaned the toilets twice than do that paperwork. These management companies will let a host work as many hours as they want and you are correct in that each campground is allocated only a certain amout of hours. My direct supervisor complained all the time about how much she worked and did not get paid for. Consequently, she expected us to track our hours but not claim any over those formally allocated for the job. I went above her head to get the overtime I had worked but it made her furious. Eventually, I worked only the hours I was supposed to and let everything else go. At 9800 feet the only communications is accomplished by radio phone. The only radio phone I had access to was a half mile down the road from my campground at a privately run lodge which meant that, had I a problem or emergency, I had to first get to the radio phone. Actual help from the local sherrifs department was then 40 minutes away (the time it would take for the deputy to get up the mountain). I felt pretty vulunerable up in those beautiful mountains. The enforcement part of the job: Everyone considering this type of work should think about it this way: picture your noisiest, most obnoxious neighbor and consider that person, only in a campground. Most of what you are enforcing is the lack of consideration people show for others, all lot of it noise-related. One thing about a high altitude campground is that it takes a certain courage to be there so the campers were mostly fine people with some exceptions.

  2. Boy Blue says:

    I did get a free site. At 9800 feet there was no electricity but my solar setup provided what little I needed. There was running water that was actually treated mountain run-off.

    People should consider picking a campground with as many ammenities as possible. Some of my co-workers were hosts at campgrounds with the lowest rates and spent an incredible amount of their time collecting and dealing with trash.

  3. David Michael says:

    Thanks Bob for these two posts on workamping. I agree with most of your observations.
    Having worked in several jobs (Christmas Trees, Amazon, Camp Hosting) I enjoyed all of them. Amazon was the most physical with 50 hour weeks from 6 to 6 but the overtime was great. A great opportunity to work side by side with fellow RVers.

    I told my Campgound Company that I wouldn’t work for less than $1600 a month. Consequently, thay gave me seven campgrounds to oversee. Never a dull moment in beautiful Oregon Country. I didn’t like policing that much, but a necessary responsibility. Most people were great and easy to deal with. Mucho hours per day and my direct boss always wanted me to finish with eight hours, but it took me an average of ten hours a day. My wife worked with me on the two other jobs (Xmas and Amazon) but Amazon finished her off so she spent lots of time with the kids and grandkids at their homes. Unfortunately I had a micro manager as a boss and he was a real PITA. The company was so-so. They prefer you have a partner to work with you although the pay is the same. They wanted me to work six days a week…heck, seven if one was crazy enough to do it, but I only worked five days a week. Basically, I think most of the companies are similar, wanting to work you the most with the least pay. It’s real important to stress in writing what you are willing to do vs. their wishes.

    I was real clear on the pay. I was OK with 50 hour weeks, though they paid me for 40. Slave wages for working in a beautiful environment. It was worth it for one season but I would never work for the same person again. He was a real PITA as a micromanager with a bulldog personality. In contrast, at Amazon my direct supervisor was a Filipino woman who was outstanding in her leadership and support. And, I would work for Amazon again.

    Everyone should be aware that these are very physical jobs. Most were challenging the first few weeks but I came out stronger and healthier. Next year I will be 80. A few people (Amazon) were taken to the hospital for heart attacks and other ailments. One person died in a forklift accident. So stuff happens.

    I look upon this work as paid gym hours. I will probably camp host with another company in the future, most likely in a National Park for variety. Love the Oregon State Parks for volunteering.

  4. Canine says:

    This is a great Blog!! Very much enjoyed it, Bob. Thank you.

    Did you (or anyone who has worked at a remote campsite) give a ride to someone that broke down at the campsite? Or anything out of the ordinary like treating injuries, helping to find lost hikers, campers asking if they could have some of your food, etc? Of course anything could happen, but if that question is too vague, I don’t want it to detract from the Blog.

    Every campsite host I ever met was cool as could be. Same with those who brought their dog. Never met a host that had more than one dog.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Canine, one time I did have a camper break down and there was no cell reception up there. So I drove her to the nearest phone which was about 15 miles away. It was no big deal.
      Bob

    • Tammi says:

      Hey Canine, I am lucky enough to have a landline (there is absolutely no cell phone signal up here) so I got a lot of requests to use a phone from people who had vehicle problems. We didn’t have any lost hikers, but we did have an allergic reaction to a bee-sting. None of my campers ever asked for food, but some do expect you to do all of their thinking for them. I did have a woman drive up for the day, with a car full of kids, and her vehicle overheated, and the kids started complaining about being starved, so I gave them some apples and granola bars.

      Fire Restrictions are in effect during most of the summer, and all reservations were notified in three different ways that they would not be allowed to have a campfire or charcoal barbecue, but they would still come up without a propane stove and would get SO angry when you dumped water on their campfire! “How are we supposed to cook our food?!” “Can we just have a LITTLE fire?” My most traumatic event was after the season was over. There were only a couple of campers in the campground, and some hunters drove right into the middle of the campground, parked on the bridge, and shot my baby bear right at the river’s edge, about 25 feet from newly arrived campers that were just setting up their tent. I was so furious that I wasn’t at all scared to confront two grisly-looking men armed with rifles. They won’t return to this part of the forest any time soon, I assure you.

      I’ve also broken up fights, handled crazy drunk parties, and patched up some skinned knees and elbows. The people who make reservations this time of year (December, 4100′ elevation) and then are shocked and angry that it’s cold and covered in snow, crack me up the most. Some of my favorite campers were two young men on motorcycles, who had been traveling since Alaska, were ending their journey in Southern California, low on money and food, and desperately needed a place to spend the night. I did share food with them, and as it was really cold, allowed them to use their few spare dollars to purchase firewood, instead of putting it toward the campsite fee (season was over, very few campers, and fire restrictions had been lifted).

      PS: I have a Pacific Fisher at my campground now that the camping traffic has died down. He’s gorgeous!!

      • Canine says:

        On the few times I’ve been in charge of something and someone needed some guidance, they pretty much did what I asked as long as I gave them a few minutes to get over being told what to do. While conflict does happen, I can’t imagine it being a big deal except on rare occasions. Probably about as rare as working at most any other job.

        • Tammi says:

          You are correct for the most part. Two words that change the entire game, however: “Drunk People”

          • Bob Bob says:

            You’re very right Tammi. By going remote I had a lot less than that. In my 4 years I only had 2 problems with drunks but our big campgrounds had them almost every week. I think they called the Sheriff or NF LEO almost every weekend.
            bob

      • Bob Bob says:

        Thanks Tammi. those are great stories!
        Bob

  5. Cae says:

    Love the videos. Very informative.
    Thanks

  6. Tim says:

    Yet another great post that speaks to me.

    I’ve been contemplating the idea of getting a job while on my trip to prolong it, but I haven’t liked anything I’ve read or seen until reading this. Everything you mentioned seemed up my alley and something I’d enjoy doing.

    I’ve spent a good 30 minutes online trying to find a more secluded campground area that has a paid hosting position. I’ve seen a lot of the volunteer hosting, but none paid that’s not at a huge campground.

    I also visited both links you provided and couldn’t seem to find anything appealing, or much at all.

    So I’m hoping I can get a little more direction.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Tim, take the steps I laid out. Chose a state chose a National Forest and get the phone number of the concessionaire. Right now is probably the worst time to be looking for a job so it’s going to be a matter of persistence.

      Stay on those websites and keep calling the concessionaires. The jobs are out there but it may take a whole lot more than 30 minutes.
      Bob

      • Tim says:

        I failed to fully explain what I meant in that post.

        I’m leaving around Spring to begin my trip, and was hoping to get a job somewhere around Colorado as a camp host at a small site.

        After following your steps on contacting the forest ranger for a concessionaire number (which I somehow missed the first 5 times i read this post), within 30 minutes I was talking to the right people. I was very surprised how helpful everyone on the other end of the phone was, from the ranger to the man who hires people.

        Long story short, I landed a job as a host in a campground with 20 sites.

        Thank you for everything you do on this blog. It’s helped me find my way in quite a few ways.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Tom, I’m really glad to hear that!! The reason they were so helpful is that everybody wins when you have campground hosts there who want to be there–I’m sure they are glad to have you!

          Have fun this summer!
          Bob

  7. Jordan says:

    Hi Bob,

    I’m planning on coming to the RTR, but will miss most of the first week – am installing a solar system & can’t leave till it’s done. I hope to make it for the Workcamping seminar because i am interested in doing that this summer & want to learn more about it. I want to go to the big tent & see what jobs are available, but wanted to know if i will need to bring my updated resume for them. I would like to get that done & copies made before i leave Lake Havasu.

    Thanks for organizing the RTR – it sounds like a wonderful gathering & i’m really looking forward to meeting other full-timers. You have really done an outstanding job of helping so many of us live our dream thru your website. Thank you for the time, energy & passion you put into it. It IS appreciated & valued!!

    Jordan

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thank you Jordan, very kind of you. I don’t think they use resumes, but it can’t hurt to bring a current one just in case.

      See you then!
      Bob

  8. Wayne says:

    Hi Bob, Thanks again for all you do. I would like to know if any simi remote BLM or Forest service workcamping jobs have wifi. Do they usually have it or is it rare. Thanks, Wayne

  9. Howard Hughes says:

    The wife and I worked at flagstaff az last summer for Recreation Resource Management. Great company to work for our supervisors, Cindy and Clint were fantastic. They have campgrounds from 12 spaces to 90. The pay was light but it only required 4.5 hrs per day / person with 2 days off. Mon,Tue or We’d/Thu. U have to be your own boss when it comes to time spent working. Off duty/On duty signs are a must. If working with others u must decide who does what. Have a good time and don’t worry if u don’t like it you can leave, they want to have happy people working for them

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