Be a Trail Volunteer on Your Next Vacation

If you can't get paid to hike and backpack, consider volunteering on your next outdoor vacation. Join the American Hiking Society for a week (or so) in 2011 and give back by building and maintaining trails across the country.

Help construct a new trail in Maine's Baxter State Park, control invasive species in Alaska's Chugach National Forest, or create and maintain educational field sites for the Hawaii Nature Center.

Projects range from moderate to very strenuous in difficulty and spots are limited. You'll likely stay in a tent at primitive camp sites and need to bring your own gear and personal items.  

Registration is $275 ($245 for AHS members).

Filed under: People & Organizations


244 reviewer rep
5,245 forum posts
December 21, 2010 at 4:10 p.m. (EST)

Sounds like a great way to give back for all the years one has hiked on trails and maintained trails. I often see people, whether park employee's and volunteers and often wonder how to get that job. Thanks for the information, Alicia!

0 reviewer rep
265 forum posts
December 21, 2010 at 7:18 p.m. (EST)

I'm a bit astonished about one line in the text. "Registration is $275 ($245 for AHS members)." Do they really ask you to PAY for something in addition to the work that you do for free for one week? You are supposed to have your own tent and gear and food as I understood it.

denis daly
271 reviewer rep
1,867 forum posts
December 21, 2010 at 10:33 p.m. (EST)

Alecia- I think this is a great opertunity for we who use the trails to give back. But like otto I have reservations. When I did the math on these programs roughly it comes out to 637 people. Now thats maxium 7 days that food would be provided thats the 245 per person. Which comes out to roughly 156065 in revanue. They cant supply the food with all the free donations they get from members? I dont see why you have to pay to donate your time. I plan on donateing mine as I trek the appalachian and see the trail crews and give what I can. After then I will participate more.

848 reviewer rep
3,897 forum posts
December 22, 2010 at 7:24 a.m. (EST)

For those wondering about the cost, this is from AHS's FAQ page.

Why must I pay to volunteer?

American Hiking is a non-profit organization. The registration fee helps offset the costs associated with coordinating more than 70 different projects in 30 states. Meals are included, except when volunteers opt to eat out in a nearby town. Our volunteers also are exempt from paying park entrance fees, campground fees and backcountry permit fees, which for a typical week in a U.S. National Park could run upwards of $100. Your registration fee also includes a crew member t-shirt and a year's membership in American Hiking for new participants. The registration fee is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

FYI, American Hiking Society is a small, but national non-profit that works to protect hiking trails and the hiking experience. In the interest of full disclosure, Trailspace contributes to them.

I've asked them to expand more on the registration fee and where the money goes (it's good to ask those questions, even of reputable non-profits).

Of course, their Volunteer Vacations are just one option for giving back. Anyone who's interested in doing trail work can just ask around among their local trail organizations, land trusts, outdoor clubs, etc. Many organize trail work days and can notify you if/when they need help.

If there's a trail you use, someone is probably in charge of stewarding it and volunteers are usually involved.

0 reviewer rep
265 forum posts
December 23, 2010 at 2:46 a.m. (EST)

OK, thank you Alicia. We also have a lot of unpaid work in our local DNT organisation (BOT), here we call it dugnad. Since we do not have any entrance fees, campground fees and backcountry fees we do not need to collect anything in order to work in the NP's and in the backcountry.

My cousin has been busy the last two years with dugnad building two huts for BOT. Me and my wife is pondering to take resposability for one hut that we visits quite often anyway. Responsible means doing small maintenance work, cleaning the bedlinen, aso, and participating when there is a dugnad for firewood and other big jobs. As I have so many years used the huts quite much, it is perhaps time to give something back.

Margie C.
0 reviewer rep
1 forum posts
December 23, 2010 at 9:32 a.m. (EST)

Margie from American Hiking Society chimming in....

Thanks Alicia for posting information about American Hiking Society's Volunteer Vacations and thanks to all of the bloggers for their interest.

Regarding the registration cost associated with participating in an AHS Volunteer Vacation, as Alicia mentioned, American Hiking is a non-profit organization and the registration fee helps offset the costs associated with developing, organizing, and orchestrating the projects.

Meals are included; our volunteers are exempt from paying park entrance fees, campground fees and backcountry permit fees; group camping equipment is provided; and all tools and safety gear are provided. Also important,  for most trips, transportation to the site is included (typically from the closest airport). With folks traveling from all across the country to participate in trips, transportation can be complicated. For example, I participated in a trip last September in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in Utah. Airport pick-up was in Salt Lake City and it was a 4 hour drive to the very remote site. All the group camping equipment and food for an entire week needed to be coordinated and brought in. 

FYI - There is an 'early bird' special - Register before February 28, 2011 and your first trip is $220 (or $250 for non-members). And then, each additioinal trip is $175. Many of our volunteers do multiple trips in one year!

We hope you will join us as a volunteer in 2011.

denis daly
271 reviewer rep
1,867 forum posts
December 23, 2010 at 1:43 p.m. (EST)

Margie and Alecia thanks for the information. That explains alot and its easier to understand. Thats a great program! If I weren't already commited to my plans I would deffinantly put this at the top of my list. 3/4 of the programs are in my state and around my area. I am going to contact the local groups and get involved with support and man power. I can now understand the cost. thank you for laying it out for me.

Krumholz Kid
0 reviewer rep
50 forum posts
December 25, 2010 at 9:36 p.m. (EST)


I too appreciate the information but with all due respect I'm gonna be an opinionated SOB and play Devil's Advocate because I can't begin to buy it and here's why:

There's NO WAY you could get a corporate sponsor to come up with the REAL COST of volunteers? No insurance company can throw something out there for you? How do you prospect corporate participation? If they can't do it in a time of RECORD profits how can we expect ordinary Americans to do it in the wake of the worst financial crisis in darn near all of our lifetimes?

No entrance fee for National Forests, no? 12 people in a van. Why would a park charge a volunteer to do trail work or anything else that BENEFITS the park? In my of course biased opinion if you can't lobby the Park Service to waive fees for volunteers let alone people that have to decide between $25 bucks worth of groceries for their family or a day in the park you have to IMO truly rethink your mission.

Why are you having people fly into UTAH, a state with boqou volunteerism as it is? Why are we not "Acting locally and thinking globally? Can we not make FAR better use of all of our resources? Can you not get a respectable amount of contributions to sponsor local scout troops or colleges to do cleanups and encourage locals to care more instead of doing little more than making people from points far afield feel good about getting onto a plane that isn't gonna !@#$ ice cream on their way home?

I appreciate the hiking society does some IMPORTANT lobbying but for any organization to not be able to get the funding to allow everyone to volunteer their time and muscle after spending their hard earned money to get there then something sure stinks on K Street.

If you need someone to write up a campaign to get funding to do this right than have a contest or something, don't hire another lobbyist or wherer the money that can't fund volunteers is going. Sorry to be argumentative but the death of volunteerism should never be the inability to make it an actual volunteer experience.

Thanks for your time and like many of us I look for bigger things from organizations like the AHS in 2011. Good luck with whatever you gotta do to do this sort of thing a whole lot better. Peace,


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