Escape the Cubicle: 10 Outdoor Jobs With Good Salaries

Outdoor jobs: river rafting guide
Kate Webster under Creative Commons

Do you spend your days in an office cubicle, longingly looking at the window, waiting for the end of the day or the weekend, when you can finally feel the sun and smell the fresh air? Have you ever considered trading in your job for one that lets you work outside for at least part of each day?

To land some outdoor jobs you’ll need a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but those positions can offer six-figure salaries. For others, all you need is a high school diploma. And you can find full-time, part-time and seasonal positions that let you spend part or all of your days outside.

A few of your outdoor options might surprise you. When I was a security guard, I was outside 90% of the time, and as a tram driver for a retirement community I drove open-sided vehicles through mangrove swamps where I saw alligators, bobcats, birds and giant lizards. I also spent quite a bit of time outside when I worked as a house painter.

So whether you need a high-paying job or want to get outside at any wage; whether you want to make the change full time or stay with your current employer while you test your tolerance for working in all kinds of weather, here are 10 of the best outdoor jobs.

1. River Rafting Guide

When I lived a few blocks from the Arkansas River in Colorado, I rafted through the Royal Gorge twice. On one trip, a raft in our group flipped, and myself and other passengers had to pull struggling people from the river into our raft to save them from the even-worse rapids ahead. The rafting guides told us what to do and took it all in stride. After a short stop, they happily ordered everyone back to the boats and the trip continued. They clearly loved their work.

River guiding is a seasonal job, and it’s often part time. In fact, River Riders, Inc. in Oregon, says, “Most river guides are ordinary people who work a weekday job and go out on the weekends to play and get paid for it.” How much can you make? It varies around the country, but River Riders’ guides get $50 to $80 per trip and do up to two trips daily — and tips are common.

How do you become a guide? If you have $400, a Farmer John wetsuit and six free weekends, you can get your training on the Wenatchee, Methow and Nooksack Rivers from River Riders. They’ll even refund all of your tuition if you work 12 commercial river trips with them during your first season.

2. Geoscientist

You’ll spend half of your time outside for this job, and it “can require extensive travel to remote locations and irregular working hours.” That’s from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) description, which adds that you’ll “study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure and processes, to learn about its past, present and future.

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree, and some states have licensing requirements. “Geoscientist” is a category that includes mineralogists, crystallographers, paleontologists, geodesists and seismologists. The median annual income is $90,890. Want to make even more? The average annual wage for geoscientists working for oil companies is $154,230.

3. Landscape Architect

As a landscape architect, you’ll spend quite a bit of time in the office, according to the BLS. But inevitably, when you “plan and design land areas for parks, recreational facilities, private homes, campuses and other open spaces,” you have to get outside.

Most states have licensing requirements. You’ll also need a degree in landscape architecture from an accredited school, and you’ll probably need to do an internship. But you’ll have a decent job for your efforts; the most recent median annual wage figure for landscape architects is $64,180, and job growth is expected to be at least average.

4. Forester

This occupation is lumped together with Conservation Scientists by the BLS, and in both positions you “manage overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands and other natural resources.” Much of your time is spent outdoors.

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related field. The job outlook is not great for foresters (only 3% growth by 2022), but the pay is decent; the median wage is $59,060 per year.

5. Archaeologist

You may not have archaeology adventures like those of Indiana Jones, but there is something exciting about exploring old ruins and making new discoveries about the past. And although you have to do some research indoors, much of the work is done outside.

This job requires more education than most on this list. A master’s degree or Ph.D. is the norm, although you can do fieldwork as an assistant with a bachelor’s degree. The BLS says the median annual wage of archaeologists and anthropologists (which are grouped together) is $57,420, and job growth is expected to be above average.

6. Surveyor

“When working outside, surveyors must stand for long periods and often walk long distances, sometimes in bad weather,” warns the BLS. But you want to be outdoors, right? And you’ll be out there in good weather too. The niches in which you might work include surveying for homeowners, new construction, mapmaking and mining.

A bachelor’s degree and licensing are typical for the position, and the median wage is $56,230 per year.

7. Camp Counselor

If you love to be outdoors and love to work with kids, this might be a good temporary job for you. The low pay will probably discourage you from making it a career, but suggests that being a camp counselor looks good on your resume. The site also notes that, “Many universities offer internship credit in various fields like parks and recreation, education, child development, tourism, etc.”

8. Geographer

As a geographer, you study land features, of course, but also “political or cultural structures as they relate to geography,” explains the BLS. You’ll have plenty of fieldwork, which can involve “travel to foreign countries or remote locations.”

In the U.S., about half of geographers work for the federal government. A bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some government positions, but for private-sector jobs you’ll likely need a master’s degree. Job growth is expected to be much faster than the average, and the median wage is $74,760 per year.

9. Environmental Scientist

If you want to protect the environment and human health and work outdoors, consider becoming an environmental scientist. You might organize cleanup efforts in polluted areas, help policy makers design proper regulations or work with companies to find ways for them to reduce waste. Depending on the niche, you’ll spend some or most of your time outside.

You need a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or a related field for entry-level jobs. Job growth is projected to be above average, and the median wage is $63,570 per year.

10. Trail Builder

If you really love the outdoors and are even willing to spend your work week in a tent, why not build and maintain trails? You’ll get to work in some of the most beautiful settings imaginable, and you’ll stay in great shape with this hard labor. Here’s the breakdown of how your time will be spent, according to a job offer posted on the Professional Trail Builders Association (PTBA) website:

  • Labor: 70%
  • Traveling: 20%
  • Hiking: 10%

You’ll also be “lifting 25 pounds continuously and 50 pounds occasionally.”

These jobs are often seasonal, and the pay varies. Current job openings listed on the PBTA site include one that that pays $540 per week, but many offer significantly lower wages. For example, one position offers a fixed payment of $3,500 for the season (three months in the fall). Of course, if you’re living in tents much of that time instead of paying rent, you might be able to save some of that money.

More Outdoor Opportunities

The Penny Hoarder has previously reported on various other ways to make a buck in the great outdoors. For example, you could:

Your Turn: Have you ever had a job (or other way to make money) that let you work outdoors most of the time? Tell us about it.

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of Of the more than 100 ways he has personally made money, writing is his favorite (so far).