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Summer Jobs That Could Change Your Life

Imagine spending your summer on an idyllic guest ranch in the Old West, or paddling along the tranquil shores of Lake Superior, or riding in a helicopter through the wilds of Alaska. Sound appealing?Yeah, we thought so.How about getting paid for it? Even better.

Summer jobs that could change your life

February is peak hiring season for many seasonal employers, so we reached out to the staff of seasonal jobs board Cool Works to share some of their favorite listings. There were almost too many to choose from: “The list kept growing as we talked so we had to try to rein it in,” said Cool Works spokeswoman Courtenay Sprunger. In the end they narrowed it down to 11 unique jobs in scenic locations.

From horse wrangler to gondola operator, the list runs the gamut. Most are entry level and all require a love of the great outdoors.

And you don’t have to be a college student to apply, either. Teachers, retirees, those looking for a career change — anyone with the right skills, really — can benefit from an active summer outside.

Take Eileen Spillane of San Francisco for example. Spillane, 45, has been a nurse for 25 years, but decided last year she needed more balance in her life. She applied to work as a guide for the adventure travel company Backroads and spent last summer leading multisport tours through the Tetons and Yellowstone.

“It’s my form of finding balance, and of finding my way to things that make me feel alive,” she said. Spillane now works part time at her nursing job and plans on spending part of this year back on the road, wherever Backroads may send her. (She hopes it’s Alaska.)

Still, there are drawbacks to many seasonal jobs. The pay is usually low; housing, while often provided, is frequently shared; transportation costs to and from the destination aren’t usually covered.

But for the adventurous and able, the perks of spending an entire season in the outdoors can be invigorating and — yes, we’ll say it — life-changing.

Still interested?

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Summit steward in the Adirondacks

How’s this for your morning commute: waking up in the backcountry and hiking to the top of a mountain. Summit stewards for the Adirondack Mountain Club do just that five days a week (they spend the other two days in a yurt), sometimes footing it as far as seven and a half miles and ascending New York’s highest peaks, says former summit steward and current program coordinator Julia Goren. Summit stewards are entrusted with protecting the fragile alpine ecosystem in the High Peaks area near Lake Placid, N.Y., and educating hikers about its natural history.

Apply now

Gondola operator in Telluride

You don’t have to be a ski bum to enjoy Telluride. Amidst the fourteeners of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the historic town has ready access to plenty of hiking, mountain biking and climbing opportunities on your days off, not to mention a full calendar of summer entertainment and four national parks within a three-hour drive. The Wisper Wayfarer is available as a Step-through, touring bike, or a brilliant electric mountain bike. And those days off? You get three of them a week when you work as an operator on this free, scenic gondola that connects the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village.

Apply now

Vessel crew in Alaska’s Inside Passage

There’s no better time of year to visit Alaska than in the summer. As a crew member with Allen Marine Tours, you’ll spend your days on a tour boat navigating southeast Alaska’s wild coast. Whales, orcas, bears and glaciers are among the sights you’ll see on a daily basis on one of the company’s 24 vessels. On-boat job openings include captain, deckhand, naturalist and passenger service specialist, and are based in three cities: Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.

Apply now

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Volunteer in Yellowstone National Park

Whether you’re retired, a school teacher or simply have a free summer, volunteering as a program assistant for the Yellowstone Association can put you up close and personal with one of the most remarkable ecosystems in the world. Volunteers assist instructors during educational seminars in and around the park, and those based out of the Buffalo Ranch Field Campus live in a shared cabin in the Lamar Valley. A limited number of paid positions are available, too.

Apply now

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Kayaking guide on Lake Superior

The northernmost town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the gateway to Isle Royale National Park, Copper Harbor is a sea kayaking and mountain biking paradise. Keweenaw Adventure Company (KAC) leads sea kayaking tours of the peaceful shores surrounding Copper Harbor, opening up a world of sea caves and sea arches, uninhabited barrier islands and more. (The company also leads mountain bikers through the Copper Harbor trail system, recognized as a silver medal-level “epic” ride by the International Mountain Biking Association.) KAC is looking for a wilderness first aid-certified kayaking guide, preferably one who can double as a bike mechanic in the shop. According to owner Sam Raymond, perks include at-cost discounts on gear from Keweenaw’s suppliers, personal use of the the company’s equipment, and low-cost housing — you’ll have to do without a cell phone signal, though.

Apply now

Ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail

Many people choose to spend their summers on the Appalachian Trail, but few get paid to do it. Ridgerunners for the Appalachian Mountain Club are the “eyes and ears of the AT” along a 141-mile stretch in Massachusetts and Connecticut and are entrusted with educating hikers about the leave-no-trace principle as well as monitoring trail conditions and serving the hiking public. Backpackers need apply: ridgerunners spend 10 days at a time on the trail (with four-day breaks), covering up to 12 miles a day and camping at designated sites. For those who can’t meet the strenuous commitment, there are weekend-only positions as well.

Apply now

Glacier guide in Alaska

It’s no mistake that there are two Alaska-based jobs on this list: summer tourism thrives when this vast northern wilderness thaws out. Another way to really immerse yourself in Alaska’s natural beauty is working as a glacier guide for award-winning Temsco Helicopters. Based either out of Juneau, Skagway or Petersburg, guides assist with group helicopter tours to remote glaciers and spend the majority of their time out in the elements, on the ice. As a guide, your helicopter ride to and from the glacier will take you over “rain forests, alpine ridges and mountain peaks,” according to one tour description. Guides must be certified in CPR and first aid.

Apply now

Camp counselor in Upstate New York

There’s more to working at Morry’s Camp in Glen Spey, N.Y., than escaping the city. You’re helping inner-city kids do the same, says former counselor Emily Bishoff. This free camp for underprivileged children from New York City and surrounding areas takes the kids out of their urban environments into a tranquil 900-acre campsite overlooking the Delaware River, where they sleep in tents, play sports, participate in outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking, and take classes. “It’s definitely opening them up to new things,” said Bishoff, who worked there last summer after graduating from college. “The kids love it and they don’t get that at home.” No stranger to the outdoors, Bishoff traveled to New York from her home in Billings, Mont. “I took the job wanting to make a difference in the kids’ lives. I wanted to be that person the kids go home and tell their parents about and it ended up being the opposite. I came home and told my mom about the kids that made my summer so fun.”

Apply now

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Dude ranch wrangler in Wyoming

This is a job for anyone who loves horses and the American West. Paradise Ranch in Bighorn National Forest is one of the oldest dude ranches in the business and located in a lush mountain meadow often blanketed with wildflowers — hence the name visitors gave it in the early 1900s. “When you’re loping across the mesa you feel like you’re actually in a western movie,” said Ellise Chase, a Pittsburgh college student who worked as a wrangler there for parts of the last two summers. Wranglers bring horses in from pasture, lead guests on rides into the wilderness and conduct rodeo clinics. “We spend most of our day on horseback,” said Chase.

Apply now

Backpacking trip leader in Colorado

If backpacking’s in your blood and you love sharing your love of the outdoors with others, Colvig Silver Camps near Durango, Colo., has an adventurous job that combines the two. Pathfinding Instructors with this summer camp lead 6 to 12 teenage campers on 25-day backpacking trips deep into the San Juan Mountains. (There are three re-supply drops and three days between sessions). In addition to teaching the kids low-impact wilderness skills and assigning them to important camp roles, trip leaders teach rock climbing, mountaineering and leadership in a challenging alpine environment. Expect to learn as much as the kids. If 25 days at a time in the backcountry sounds a little too adventurous, Tyler Dixon, assistant director of Colvig Silver Camps, suggests checking out the head counselor position, which leads shorter trips into the Weminuche Wilderness and leads creative programming on site.

Apply now

Trip leader with Backroads

One of the widest-reaching adventure travel companies on the planet, Backroads leads hiking, biking, walking and multisport trips on five continents and 38 countries. Working as a trip leader during the peak summer season, from May through September, can take you just about anywhere, provided you have the fitness level and language skills. Eileen Spillane, a part-time nurse based in San Francisco, applied last year because she wanted to add balance to her life after spending 25 years at an indoor job. Spillane went through a two-week training period, after which she was assigned to Yellowstone and the Tetons for the season. (Her first choice was Alaska.) “You don’t always get your first preference, but everywhere they go is a desirable location,” she said.

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