Working in Yellowstone National Park

Alright, this post is long overdue. Yellowstone was the first National Park I’ve worked at, and, fittingly, it was the first National Park erected back in 1872. It is a rare gem in the U.S. and deserves to be hyped because it is, hands down, one of the coolest places you’ll ever visit.

In this post, I want to talk not only about being a Yellowstone tourist, but also about living and working in a resort by the eastern gate. Let’s dive into what it’s like to call the first National Park your home and playground!

The sights

Yellowstone is located partly in Wyoming, partly in Idaho, and partly in Montana, but mostly in Wyoming. It is nearly 3,500 square miles and is made of forests, geysers, natural hot springs, a big lake, and waterfalls. Here, you will see animals such as elk, bison, moose, deer, and even brown bears.

Bison in Yellowstone

There are many, many walking trails that are on boardwalks that meander between geyser basins and hot springs. and allow people to get so close that they can feel the hot, sulfuric air brush past them.

The boardwalk trails are plenty and loop around the geysers, making for a relaxing walk that is usually less than a mile. My personal favorite is Biscuit Basin, which features a vibrant moss colored stream.

A green stream off of a geyser basin

While there are a lot of heavily trafficked trails, there are also backcountry trails for the hardcore hikers. If you want to see how fast you can get out of breath, try Avalanche Peak. Insane incline, even more insane views.

Of course, who can forget Old Faithful? This beautiful geyser has quite an audience year-round and erupts almost hourly. The anticipation and excitement that comes with it is palpable and it’s fun to just people watch as strangers jostle for a front-row look at the geyser.

The highlights

There are a couple places that I personally loved in Yellowstone, and not all of them are tourist attractions. Although I have to say, the gift shops are very nice.

There’s this one hike around the east side of Yellowstone Lake that was just breathtaking. It’s called Stormpoint. On this trail, you will go through trees, a sandy beach, and what I think are limestone rocks that are smooth and slippery from the waves. Overall, it was a beautiful hike.

The shores of Yellowstone Lake at Stormpoint
Another angle from Stormpoint
Yellowstone Lake

The other hike that I really, really liked was Mystic Falls off of Biscuit Basin. It’s only like a three mile hike if you include the boardwalk of the basin as well, but it kicked my ass when I did it. Granted, I didn’t have any water with me and was wearing fashion converse. I never said I was smart.

Mammoth hot springs was beautiful, too, but I felt like the town nearby was not that lively. I loved the town of West Yellowstone the best as far as entrances to the park go- it has a lot of personality and tourist-targeted shops, which I am a sucker for.

Tie-dye Yellowstone hoodies, tumbled stones, dreamcatchers, mugs with bears and moose on them, and overpriced snacks line the walls of most souvenir shops and give the place its charm. My favorite place was this cool rock shop called “New Pioneer” that has rocks, geodes, beads, incense, et cetera. I am really into rocks and spent over fifty bucks there.

There’s also this amazing wildlife preserve called “Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center” right outside the Yellowstone entrance and it was very cool. It’s mainly for children but I got to see a wolf pooping just ten feet away from me! Sweet!

While this town has my heart, my favorite place in Yellowstone has to be either Black Sand Basin or Biscuit basin, which are both right next to Old Faithful. These basins are so pigmented and simply gorgeous to look at. Fair warning, though: the smell of sulfur is strong there, so come prepared.

Beautiful geysers
The sulfuric mist rising from the earth
A beautiful blue geyser basin
A very blue hole

An honorable mention is a place called Thermopolis- it’s this town southeast of Yellowstone and Cody by about two hours, and it has really cool hot springs and a river that has geyser runoff in one of its bays. There was a rock shop there, too. You can get there either by taking the 120 from Cody, or taking I-14 east, then I-20 south.

I highly suggest soaking in the Bighorn river if you get a chance- there’s a pocket where it is really warm because of geyser runoff and the water is shallow. There are tiny shells and fish everywhere! It’s just south of the swinging bridge, by the Hot Springs State park boat ramp.

Thermopolis’ main river, Bighorn
Natural hot springs near Bighorn in Thermopolis

How to Work in Yellowstone

So, one might think that you need a Bachelor’s in Ecology or some profoundly intricate background in forestry to work in any National Park, let alone Yellowstone. That’s just not the case. I got my job at Pahaska Tepee Resort through Coolworks. If you want to learn more about this job board site and seasonal work in general, check out my introductory article here.

The application process was just like any regular process- and low and behold, I got a phone call later and was interviewed on the spot. Because this kind of work is usually out of state for mot people, phone interviews are the primary way of getting hired.

After talking to a very energetic and engaging woman on the phone for an hour, I got the job. Because I was going through a divorce, I called it off not once, but twice, but the lady in charge of hiring let me come anyway. Thanks, boss.

Living in Yellowstone

Working an entire summer in Yellowstone was a major blessing for me. It was quite literally my dream to work and live there. I remember getting the job at Pahaska Tepee Resort and I was so darn excited.

Getting there was as easy as packing my bags and being driven to the airport by my soon to be ex-husband. When I got to the town of Cody, Pahaska had arranged to pick me and a couple other people up. We all went to Walmart to get essentials and then we were on our merry way to our new home.

The owner of the place introduced me and other newcomers to some people working outside, then I was taken to my dorm room by the lady I spoke with on the phone. The girl’s building was right in the middle of the resort, resting between the gift shop/restaurant building and the rec room/boys dorm.

Resort A-frames

The girls dorm was the second floor of the laundry and warehouse, so it was always warm and smelled of fresh linen. There was a rec room with cushy and slightly questionably clean couches, a television, a bookshelf, and a microwave and mini fridge. The dorm room was beautiful and the biggest in the building, and had a pin-based lock on it for privacy.

I got that rest of the day to just relax and settle in, and just walk around the property to familiarize myself with everything. Dinner was served around five to six. After, it was time to shower and get ready for the day ahead.

When I got there, I had mono, so it took every ounce of my strength to lug my two suitcases and backpack to my room. I remember just crashing on my bed until dinnertime that day because I was so exhausted. Mono drains you like nothing else.

Anyway, I worked as a food prep person and worked full time with the line cooks and Employee Dining Room (EDR) chef. It was a pretty chill job with steady hours. I sliced and diced vegetables, portioned meat and soups, and shared inappropriate jokes with my coworkers. It was a lot of fun.

My work day started around eight thirty and lasted anywhere from two to five. What was nice about working at Pahaska was that management tried their best to give my boyfriend and I the same days off- and similar shifts, when they could.

Now, let me tell you about the head chef there. This might be considered gossip but I simply must tell you about him- he is crazy. He used to drop metal pans on the floor to scare me in the morning. He has a missing toe. He shares the most inappropriate things with me and other coworkers, and he has the weirdest sense of humor ever. He is known to have a reputation of being in people’s face a lot, but he has a heart of gold. I’ll never forget him.

The food they served us was… mixed. the head chef hated cooking for the EDR because he was already working the line for the restaurant, so when he was in charge, it was limp noodles and cold broccoli.

Sometimes, he would cook up some Mexican enchiladas or chipotle dinner and it was simply amazing. When the actual designated EDR cook made food, it was pretty good. Except lunch. Lunch always sucked because it was a rotation of hard burgers, BLT’s, and hot dogs. But I don’t blame the staff because there was a strict budged to follow.

Life in Pahaska sometimes got crazy. If you’re the party type, you would spend most of your time under this bridge about a third of a mile from the site, where our ancestors from like the 70’s built a bonfire there. I only went to a handful of these bonfires because I am an introvert at heart. But when I was there, it was cool. Booze, bongs, and rave toys. I’m talking glow-in-the-dark poi balls and fairy whips. I want to say I got good pictures, but I didn’t because my phone camera just sucks when exposed to darkness.

Pahaska at dusk

Pahaska is located about fifty minutes west from Cody, which is the nearest town for hours, so getting food often is out of the question. Some people would still go to the bars there regularly and just hang out.

The town of Cody is quaint, with its main street harboring 95% of the attractions and appeal. The historic Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel and Restaurant is a gem in its own right because of how old and preserved it is, with its creaky floorboards and fancy, dim-lit dining room. I highly recommend just stopping by if you are ever in town.

After work, my boyfriend and I would oftentimes retire to our room and play video games, even though we had satellite internet, so when a bird flew overhead, you would lose signal. Sometimes, it was so unusable that I would resort to my crafts.

Since we both flew in to Cody, we had no vehicle. Since we were smack in the middle of a town and the park, we decided to purchase a minivan for only $1,200, which was an amazing decision. It lasted us the entire summer and even got us back home to Wisconsin for the winter.

Our all-wheel drive Chevy Venture

If the weather was nice, we would go by the Shoshone River that was three minutes away by foot. It was crazy how the water levels fluctuated that year, turning the river from a docile, shallow stream in late May to a roaring torrent in August.

Shoshone River in the beginning of July

Sometimes, we would go into the park itself and hang out by Yellowstone Lake and look for sea glass and shells. There weren’t many places to park that were isolated yet easily accessible, so we had to find our own secret hideout

P.S. If you are looking for the best swimming areas in Yellowstone, check out this post by No Money Nomad. The post gifts comprehensive information not only on where to swim in the lake, but other spots like Firehole river and Yellowstone River.

One of the most beautiful sunsets on Yellowstone Lake

The lake was cold most of the season, so swimming was a little hard to do, and kayak rentals were only available in certain hotspots like Fishing Bridge or West Thumb, so unfortunately, I didn’t get to go kayaking that summer.

On the weekends, we would oftentimes go into Yellowstone and walk around the geyser basins- once or twice, we went as far as Grand Teton National Park south of Yellowstone, where we both fell in love with the mountains there.

The Teton range

If you want to read more about what it’s like to work in the Tetons, you can read my post on that here.

Memorable days

There were definitely some days at Pahaska that were… unforgettable. For starters, half the staff got COVID around the first week of July and had to be quarantined for two weeks in guest cabins. That was interesting because we were out of work and could do whatever we wanted to while still being on resort property and getting meals. They even paid us!

Those days were spent by the river lazing around and sun tanning. Bf and I would play “The Witcher III” on my laptop and eat snacks my mom sent us. We only had wifi in the resort parking lot, seeing as we couldn’t go to the rec room or EDR, so sometimes everyone would gather there and stare at their phones.

There were also holidays and staff appreciation nights at Pahaska. We had a Hawaiian dinner one night, complete with decorations and an upside-down pineapple cake. We had our own Christmas, where the restaurant closed for the night and was decked with ornaments. Everyone exchanged gifts and got drunk off of free drinks made by the resort owner.

Oh, yes. How could I forget the end of the year party? Everyone celebrated in the largest cabin available and had a blast in the hot tub and at the bar. Bf and I retired early because we couldn’t handle the commotion.

Final words

The summer spent in Yellowstone was one of the most memorable and happiest times I’ve had, without exception. This National Park is close to my heart for so many reasons. If you are considering working in Yellowstone, make sure to do your research. Working in a National Park is great but it is technically working on Federal land, which means any violations are not going to go unnoticed. I think you know what I’m talking about.

Truthfully, Pahaska was sometimes not the most prestigious place to be but it had good people and Yellowstone itself was unforgettable. The geyser basins, the hot springs, the valleys, and the hiking were gorgeous and unique, and I couldn’t think of a better way of starting my seasonal life adventure. Thanks for reading, and until next time, hobble on!

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