Volunteering in Wilderness

Men using a crosscut saw

Over several decades, staffing has declined within the federal land management agencies that stewardship wilderness areas, meaning that wilderness volunteers are more essential than ever before. It’s easy to volunteer when you’re recreating out in wilderness by picking up trash left behind by others or reporting the locations of invasive plants. Better yet, become an official volunteer at a nearby wilderness or take part in organized volunteer work trips offered by non-profit “wilderness friends” groups throughout the country.

Official volunteers and wilderness friends groups work closely with the agencies to offer meaningful volunteer opportunities like helping with trail work, trimming back overgrown brush, restoring damaged campsites, cleaning up fire rings, pulling weeds, removing graffiti, collecting field data, and greeting visitors at trailheads or visitor centers, among other tasks. Experienced trail work volunteers, like those shown above, help clear trails by cutting fallen trees, constructing or maintaining bridges, and may assume some of the responsibilities of wilderness rangers by talking with visitors about Leave No Trace, weather, and safety.

Groups that advocate for the designation of new wilderness areas can also have volunteer opportunities. Doing community outreach to build support for new protections, attending public meetings, and commenting on land management plans are all ways you can volunteer for wilderness when outside the wilderness.

Woman mapping weeds with GPS unit

Volunteers map the location of weeds in Montana's Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.

Girl using a hand saw

Volunteers on Washington's Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest use a variety of tools including hand saws to clear fallen trees from trails.

Woman scrubbing graffiti off a rock

Volunteers in California's Joshua Tree National Park and Joshua Tree Wilderness use brushes and other tools to scrape and wash graffiti from rocks.

Why Volunteer

Removal of fencing

Although there are many reasons people volunteer, people most often volunteer in wilderness to:

  • Give back to wilderness
  • Visit a new wilderness
  • Meet people with similar interests
  • Learn new outdoor skills

The volunteers shown above helped remove old barbed wire fencing from the Owyhee and Little Jacks Creek Wildernesses.

How to Volunteer

People in hardhats digging trail tread.

Use Your Smartphone

National programs like WildSpotter and iNaturalist let you volunteer while you’re out recreating in the wilderness by contributing to national datasets on plants and animals using your smartphone.

Contact the Wilderness Volunteer Coordinator

The Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and National Park Service all have volunteer programs, many at local offices in your city or town. Search Volunteer.gov for backcountry/wilderness volunteer opportunities in your local wilderness, or contact the wilderness area directly and ask for their Volunteer Coordinator. Use this website to find wilderness office contact information.

Join an Organizanized Volunteer Trip

To connect with "wilderness friends" groups offering volunteer trips, like the one above where volunteers dug trail tread on Arizona's Kaibab National Forest, click on your state:

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