Nature lovers are intimately familiar with the fundamental tension that exists between work and play. They feel most alive in nature and thrive in the deep solitude or carefully chosen company of a wilderness experience. Work can so often feel at odds with that — to work and earn a wage requires regular human engagement whether you’re selling crops to a grocer or doing business consulting over the phone. At its very core, work is the social manifestation of the quiet awesomeness that nature imparts to those who spend time in it. Balance is all about finding a job that encourages both.
The perfect jobs for nature lovers allow them to balance their inner wildness with the social necessities in one of two ways: the work either offers spaciousness — meaning it pays enough, leaves plenty of free time, and isn’t terribly stressful — or it is a job that is fully immersed in the care and enjoyment of the natural world. Here are ten of the best!
1: Adventure Trip Leader
One of the coolest random perks of spending time outdoors is that you naturally gather skills and knowledge about the local environment that others can benefit from. Add a training or two to your arsenal, and you’re as good as gold.
It’s simple: the more time you spend in a particular wilderness environment, the better you are at reading it and the more respect you have for it. Imagine where mountaineering would be without Nepali Sherpas to guide climbers up Everest. Tourists and travelers have a great need for an experienced guide, and if you put yourself in an area where there’s a lot of need for your expertise, you’ve got yourself a full-time job.
2: Organic Farmer
Agribusiness has changed the way we produce and consume food. With large-scale mechanization and bulk production, modern farming hardly feels like connecting with the earth. But if you love soil and planting and raising animals, simply paring-down the idea of what a farm is leads to a small but rewarding thing: organic farming.
Organic farming will rarely turn into a huge-scale operation, but the rewards include a supply of wholesome food, a clear line from farm to table, and having a daily connection to the natural rhythms of fertilization, growth, and death that keep our planet alive. Not too shabby.
3: Wildland Firefighter
Speaking of natural cycles, let talk about wildfires. Wildland firefighters shoulder the work of stewarding our natural areas. They go beyond the typical dousing of flames and digging of fire lines when a town is threatened; they also clear brush, make burn piles, and generally keep an eye out for the health of the ecosystem.
Plus, yes, once you’ve had several years on a ground crew you could land a gig as a smokejumper and parachute into wildfires from a plane. If one of your career goals is to accrue serious badass points, this could be the job for you.
4: Environmental Scientist
The environmental sciences are a great way to apply classroom learning to the natural world. There will always be the need for intelligent people to keep track of the health and wellbeing of our planet. To land a job in the environmental sciences you’ll have to have a degree, but a few years in a classroom is nothing compared to a whole career outdoors.
If you’re passionate about water conservation, get a degree in watershed science. If rocks and volcanoes are more your thing, study geology. Plant nerd, biology; animal lover, zoology. The career options are endless when it comes to studying and observing the natural world.
With the general increase in conservation awareness, nature writers, photographers, and artists are seeing a resurgence in appreciation for their art and the window they provide into nature.
If you love writing about wild people and places, take a page from the book of nature fiction writers like Pam Houston, Annie Dillard, and Bill Bryson. There are lots of eager readers out there. While it can be tough to earn your keep solely as an artist, there are lots of cool nature residencies and fellowships, like the National Park Service Artist-in-Residence program, that will help you along the way.
6: Landscape Architect
If your lifestyle requires a little more urban involvement, try being a landscape architect.
The most unbearable cities for nature lovers are the ones that have stamped-out their wildness by pouring concrete over every last inch of soil and replacing trees with parking garages. Landscape architects take an active role in combating that by finding creative ways to intermarry natural elements with the urban environment.
7: Conservation Advocate
If you have the activist fire within you, the planet needs your voice. There are nonprofit groups all around the globe that advocate for the environment — from policy-making to personal conservation awareness. By dedicating your energy to one of them, you’ll be helping the rest of the world get up to speed with how important it is to protect our planet.
After all, without the health of the earth, there’s nothing.
8: Park Ranger
Potentially one of the coolest jobs around, Park Rangers get to spend their seasons in beautiful National Parks and get paid to do it. The work of a Ranger can range anywhere from greeting campers at a campground to patrolling the backcountry.
That said, it’s a sought-after job and competition is high. Start training and keeping your eye out for openings now.
9: Language Teacher
So often great nature experiences come through travel — our planet is huge, and every swath of it harbors natural wonders. If you’re looking for a way to travel to new places, consider putting to use a skill that you already possess: the English language.
Students all over the world are keen on learning English. If you get a job teaching English in South Korea, for example, you could take the weekend to visit stunning Jeju Island and climb the highest mountain in the country.
10: Small Business Owner
Sometimes the best work for nature lovers is the kind that lets you experience the freedom the draws you to the wilderness. Small business owners make their own schedules and have a say over every aspect of their work. More importantly, starting a nature-based small business allows you to bring wilderness conservation, awareness, and appreciation to the forefront of everything you do.
If you’ve ever thought about starting a small business, consider this: owning a nature-based business gives you just enough control over your work life to allow you to balance meaningful work that contributes to society with the freedom to play and be wild.
Do you have any jobs you would add to the list? Please share them in the comments below!
Author: Katie la Kapro
Katie Kapro holds her MFA in nonfiction writing. She grew up in a family of backcountry rangers and is presently consumed with finding the best canyon hikes in the country.