Job Awesome: Grand Canyon Worker

Once a month, we’re going to talk about awesome/weird/adventurous jobs that you (maybe) didn’t even know existed and talk to people who have done them. If you’re sick of your current gig, get to applying! You can read about other awesome jobs here. This interview comes to us via the lovely Whitney Lenox.

Can you tell us about your experience working in the Grand Canyon?

First of all, let me clear up the myth that everyone who works at the Grand Canyon is a park ranger or mule wrangler. That just isn’t the case. There are loads of jobs out here, and the best part is, your back yard is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World!
I work for Xanterra, the largest state and national park concessioner in the United States. I’m currently located at the Grand Canyon, and spend my working days as a cashier at a food court near the rim of the canyon. Though I’m overqualified for this position, I am happy to have my foot in the door of a company that boasts vast opportunities for advancement. I’m hoping to work my way into the HR department, specifically into a role as a trainer for newly hired employees. I have lots of room to grow here, and I’m excited about my future.
During my time off, I take long walks along the canyon, read books beneath the Ponderosa pines, and catch up on writing and other correspondence at the local public library. Life is slow and simple inside the park, and I’m happy to ease my pace while enjoying the wildlife and gorgeous landscapes.
Why did you decide to work in the national parks?
Ok, I’ll admit, I was one of those people who thought you had to be a ranger or wrangler. I hadn’t even considered working in a national park until a recent road trip. My boyfriend and I stopped at the Grand Canyon on our way back across the country, and we overheard an employee saying how much he enjoyed his job. Much to our surprise, the park, as well as many of the positions, are open year-round. It seemed like the opportunity had fallen into our laps for a reason.
We applied for jobs at the Human Resources department while we were visiting the park, and were hired just a few weeks after we returned home from our trip. We knew we’d be hired into positions that we were overqualified to do, but we took a risk to see if there was in fact, growth opportunity for us.We were also looking to ease back into life in the U.S., as we have spent the last few years living abroad in Asia. This company has allowed us to do just that, without planting too many roots. We have no car. We’ve signed no lease.

Can you tell us about the application process?

The application process is quite simple. For U.S. applicants, applying for a position using the appropriate online application is the first step. You must provide several, recent work references along with your application. The hiring manager will then review the completed application and references.
This process can take up to six weeks for entry level positions, while skilled trade and/or supervisory positions may take longer. If the hiring manager is interested in the applicant, they will contact the applicant directly with a job offer and a start date.
International student’s with J-1 visa status are also encouraged to apply for seasonal positions and internships. Loads of other helpful information about the hiring process can be found on Xanterra’s website.
What’s an average work day like?
I usually work from 9-5p or 12-9p most days. I don a green and black uniform, tie up my hair, and get my register ready for a busy shift serving hungry travelers. My cashier job is easy, and it affords me loads of time to connect with travelers from all over the world. Meeting people is my favorite part of the job, and it is easy when the guests are just so excited to be here. I connect with people about my travels in Asia, make suggestions for folks currently on road trips, and give lots of directions and advice about various areas and activities in the park. For many guests, this is a “bucket list” trip, and I feel happy knowing that I’ve positively contributed to their experience.
How much money are you earning?
I am earning just above minimum wage for the time being. In addition to pay, the dormitory that I share with my boyfriend only cost me $16/week. I also get 50% off meals, laundry and uniforms are free, and the shuttles around the park allow me to live without a car. My expenses here are so low, I am currently living off just $10 a day. Simple living at its finest.
Who would be a good fit for this work?
While it’s great to live next to a natural wonder, this place is not for the faint of heart. The park has its own (slow) rhythm, living with a roommate can be challenging, and being contained in a tiny town can seem mundane at times. If you’re someone who can go out and make your own adventures, exhibit flexibility and patience, and display cultural sensitivity to guests and coworkers, you’ll be appropriately prepared to enjoy all the perks of being here. You also might fit one of the following descriptions:
Outdoorsy-types looking to work where they play. College students seeking seasonal work or internships. Gypsies, like me, who love to try new places without planting roots. Anyone looking for advancement opportunities in hospitality, food & beverage, or retail departments. Park hoppers who would like to live and work in various national parks across the country.
What are some of the best resources to help someone prepare for this work?
Make sure park living is right for you by checking out this link before you apply.
Browse through the frequently asked questions here.
Visit the Xanterra website for an application.Thanks so much for sharing, Whitney!  Have any of you guys working in a national park?  Would you?

photo with tourists by grand canyon nps // cc // all other photos by whitney

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  1. M. at Making Sense of Cents

    Wow this is awesome! W has actually been talking about getting a park job a lot lately, I may have to show him this 🙂

  2. Maria

    It sounds totally incredible, amazing pictures too 🙂

  3. Amy Roberson

    This is amazing. I just read about National Park jobs in Outside magazine last night. I had never even thought about there being jobs beyond rangers in those parks. lol


  4. Jenni

    I look back at the summer I spent working at Yellowstone National Park as the best summer job ever! What Whitney says is spot-on: your living expenses are low, you get to spend a season (or longer) where other people just go for vacation and you meet people from all over the world. What an amazing opportunity!

  5. Alinor

    that clearly must be an amazing experience! any international (and no longer student) ever done that around here?

  6. Sarah

    Hi Whitney! My parents work at the Grand Canyon (and for Xanterra) too! My mom works at Hopi House and my dad works at the El Tovar. They are on the opposite end of their careers from you and your boyfriend, but the same kinds of things appealed to them (great location, no need for a car). They have worked at the canyon for the last three summers and then spend the winter months traveling.

    • Whit B Nimble

      Hi Sarah! 🙂 I love that your parents get to work here, and then spend part of their time traveling. (I'd love to meet them!) My boyfriend and I aspire to that lifestyle one day. What a life!

  7. Courtney

    Awesome piece! I applied and got a job with Xanterra my second year out of college. I was supposed to work at Yellowstone but it didn't work out timing-wise. I always think I'd like to take a few months and go do it some day soon.

  8. Diana


    I just ran across your article. I am planning on working in the USA next summer but I haven’t picked the location yet.
    I’m interested in working at Xanterra Grand Canyon South Rim as a cafeteria worker or hostess, but I don’t know if I can do overtime hours or take a second job to earn more money.
    Could you tell me if there’s the possibility to get a second job or to find other jobs nearby?


  9. Jill

    I have recently been hired on by the North Rim. Do you have any packing suggestions? I’m sure I’ll need things I won’t even think about. Is there a sort of packing list I can refer to?

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