Don’t Pay Rent This Summer: Live for Free as a Campground Host

Campground host jobs
Frank Kovalchek under Creative Commons

One lucky volunteer will soon be living in a Montana ghost town for free, courtesy of the federal government.

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management posted an ad for a resident volunteer position at Garnet Ghost Town and received an avalanche of responses. Their phone was ringing off the hook and inquiries poured in from around the globe.

You might have missed that opportunity, but if you’re looking for outdoor jobs for this summer, we have another idea: try a resident volunteer position. Federal, state and local campgrounds offer hundreds of campground host jobs throughout the U.S., though most hosts work at regular campgrounds, not ghost towns.

Here’s the major perk of the job: You get to live in a cool place for free.

Save Money With Free Housing

Living for free in national parks, forests and on other public lands is a great way to save money and have a unique experience. Most campgrounds limit how long visitors can stay, usually about 14 days, so serving as a volunteer campground host is often the only way to stay for months on end and get to know a particular area.

In addition to receiving free housing, which can range from a place to park your RV to a fully furnished cabin, you’ll get to interact with visitors from around the world, and sometimes even receive reimbursements for propane, food or other incidentals.

Ready to sign up? Below are a handful of hosting options, and the U.S. government’s volunteer website offers hundreds of other volunteer campground host positions all over the country. Now’s the time to apply if you want to land a cool summer job in one of these beautiful places.

Prineville, Oregon

The Prineville Bureau of Land Management district in north-central Oregon is looking for a number of volunteer campground hosts to live in one of their six campgrounds. To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen or legally able to work in the U.S., and be over the age of 21. You must supply your own self-contained camping unit like a trailer or RV; some sites have electricity and sewer hook-ups.

If selected, you’ll volunteer 20 hours a week, mostly on weekends, over a two-month or longer period. Your duties will include communicating with visitors, advising them of rules, conducting light maintenance, collecting fees and serving as an emergency contact if necessary.

In exchange, you can live at the campsite for free and, if funding is available, you may even receive reimbursement for certain camping-related expenses such as propane. To apply, visit Prineville BLM’s information page on campground host volunteering.

Isle Royale National Park

Head up to Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park and serve as a host at a remote backcountry campground. This position involves checking camping permits and reservations, patrolling trails, sharing interpretive programs, providing visitor information, performing maintenance and more.

In return, you will live in a cabin in a spectacular national park. For more information and to apply, check here.

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, New Mexico

If you’re enchanted by the beauty of the desert, check out this campground hosting opportunity in New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. You could be a site host for the Rio Pueblo Campground, located 22 miles southwest of Taos, New Mexico. The site has electricity, sewer connectivity, a telephone line, a fire ring, a grill and a table, and water is available only a quarter mile away.

You’ll start June 1, and commit to volunteering five days a week, including weekends. Your duties will include cleaning the restrooms, maintaining the facilities and picking up litter. Ideally, you’ll apply as a couple with your own RV, and be able to commit to staying for at least three months. Depending on funding, you may even get reimbursements of up to $20 per day, per person for food and other incidentals. For more information and to apply, check here.

How to Make Money as a Campground Host

Since campground hosting gigs typically don’t pay, you’ll likely want to have another way to earn income for basic necessities during your time as a host. Most hosting gigs require you to be near the campground the majority of time, so focus on these close-to-home ways to earn money.

More and more campgrounds are starting to offer Wifi and, even if they don’t, chances are there’s a coffee shop in a neighboring town where you can enjoy some Wifi while eating breakfast one morning. Depending on your area’s level of cell phone service, you could also consider tethering your computer to your smartphone.

  • Create crafts to sell on Etsy. We all know Etsy can be a great way to earn lots of money. Why not use your peaceful time in the woods to focus on a number of different arts and crafts projects to sell and make some money? From crafting nature-inspired hair decorations to knitting scarves to woodworking, nature can offer plenty of inspiration.
  • Sell campfire wood. If it is allowed, why not consider obtaining a permit to chop and sell firewood right from your site? Many campground hosts sell wood already to benefit the park or forest they’re in, but some campgrounds may allow you to privately sell wood from your hosting gig. It never hurts to ask.
  • Work from home jobs. If you have reliable internet and phone access and enough down time to work, consider getting a work from home job. This list of 76 companies is a great place to start when looking for location-flexible employment opportunities.

Your Turn: Would you want to work as a campground host? If you’ve tried it, we’d love to hear about your experience!

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.