Workcamping as a Campground Host in a National Forest
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.
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.
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.
- Decide on the state and specific National Forest you want to work in.
- Do a Google search on that National Forest and find the phone number of the Ranger Station nearest to where you want to work.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.