A Fresh Start in Yellowstone
Working in Yellowstone is more than just a job; it’s a way of life. It offers a fulfilling — and often life-changing — way to serve visitors in one of the most beautiful places on earth, whether for a summer or a career.
Although it’s commonly thought that college kids keep Yellowstone running in the summer, that’s not the case. “We do hire a lot of college students in some high-volume positions, but we couldn’t run the park if we hired only college kids,” says Andrew Houk, Regional Talent Manager for Xanterra Travel Collection, the main concessionaire in the park. (Xanterra hires about 2,700 seasonal employees every summer and between 450 and 475 employees for the park’s shorter, quieter winter season.) “There’s no upper age limit in our hiring. We get retirees, adults looking for a change or an adventure, widows and widowers, empty nesters. There are all backgrounds, ethnicities, life experiences, and ages that work in Yellowstone. It is a very diverse environment.”
One of the reasons behind the park’s diversity is the range of jobs available. “There are some positions that require experience, but if you’re just looking to get out to Yellowstone for the summer and are willing to do anything, there is a job for you,” Houk says. Xanterra, which manages Yellowstone National Park Lodges, has jobs across more than 15 departments including Food & Beverage, Housekeeping, Engineering & Maintenance, Guest Services, and Human Resources, among others. There are nine lodges, five campgrounds, and more than 30 food and beverage outlets.
Here’s a variety of perspectives from employees on what it’s like to live and work in the park — and how it has changed their lives.
“I was trying to do some healing,” says Charlotte Ainslie about why she started working in Yellowstone. Her husband of 32 years, George, had died in an accident a year and a half earlier. “Then my son went off to college. I decided I needed to get away and do something different for myself,” she says. Of course, Charlotte still misses her husband daily, but “working in the park made me feel alive again.”
Charlotte is one of the employees for which the “where” is more important than the “what.” “I wanted to be at Old Faithful Inn,” she says. “I was willing to do most anything.” (She started as a porter at Old Faithful Inn and most recently has worked as a guest services assistant.) Her husband George had done significant work at the Inn — and elsewhere around the park — as a historic blacksmith for more than 25 years.
That inspired her to write a biography of George’s life and an encyclopedia of his work at the Inn and around the park. “I never imagined I’d write and photograph a book,” Charlotte says. “No matter your age, parts of you that have never blossomed before come out when you work in Yellowstone. You’re a different person when you live and work there — because of the park itself and because of the people you meet, both guests and fellow employees. Of course it’s not always easy, but I tell anyone who asks that working in Yellowstone will change your life.”
Brandon Beshears came to Yellowstone in 2017 after a reorganization of the South Dakota state government department he worked in left him unemployed. He didn’t mind losing that job, but he was concerned about being jobless in the middle of his career. “I had an email alert set up for jobs in Bozeman, Mont. Seasonal jobs in Yellowstone kept coming up, and they made me think back to when I had applied for a job at Flagg Ranch [at the southern entrance of Yellowstone] in college. But I thought that as an adult those jobs weren’t an option,” he says. “But after I got laid off, I thought, ‘why not?’ I’ll do that for three months and start looking for a ‘real job’ after that.”
Brandon ended up working in Yellowstone for five years and, along the way, picked up skills and built up a resume that gave him a new career: historic preservation. “My time in Yellowstone was such a happy accident that really changed my life,” Brandon says. “I went into my first summer just thinking it’d be something to do for several months.”
Brandon’s three months in Yellowstone turned into five years because he ended up getting a job in Xanterra’s maintenance department working on historic preservation. “That was something I had been looking at doing, but had never been able to pull the trigger on going back to school for,” Brandon says. “And then Yellowstone dropped the opportunity in my lap.”
Brandon only left Yellowstone because he was hired full-time as a preservation carpenter at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia home on the Potomac River and a designated National Historic Landmark. “I would not have gotten the Mount Vernon job if I didn’t have the skills and experience in Yellowstone,” he says.
In 2020, JoAnn Schlueter took a voluntary layoff from her nearly 20-year job at Boeing and came to work in Yellowstone looking for an adventure. She got a job in the reservations department and lived in a dorm at Mammoth. She loved it, “but my neighbor in the dorm did Lost and Found and I thought that was the coolest job,” JoAnn says. So, she returned a for second summer season with the goal of working in the park’s lost and found office, technically as a “property support specialist.” She calls it, “the bomb of a job. It’s fun and I feel like I make a difference.”
She is happiest when she’s able to reunite lost stuffed animals with their owners. “I’ve found some people who were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we cried all the way home and we thought he was lost forever,’” JoAnn says. “But if I know what lodge and room a stuffed animal comes to me from, I can check who stayed there and then email them.” Near the end of the summer 2022 season, JoAnn had reunited more than 40 such animals with their owners.
Like others, Yellowstone changed JoAnn. She came to the park looking for an adventure. She got that, and more. “I’ve made so many friends — the kinds of friends I feel like I’ve known my entire life — and I’ve become a hiker. I was not a hiker before Yellowstone and now I’ve got 13 miles to go to get to 500 miles hiked in two years.”
Amie Ferrell, a native Texan, cares more about where she lives and works in the park than what she does. Her first summer job in Yellowstone was at Old Faithful; her second year, she was placed at Lake Lodge. She’s now been in guest support at Lake Lodge for three seasons.
“I fell in love with the Lake area and Lake Lodge,” she says. “Who can beat staring at the mountains and the lake and trees every day? On my days off, I don’t even need to go out on grand adventures. Sometimes I can just sit on the front porch of the lodge and read and it’s perfect.” 2022 is Amie’s fourth summer working in Yellowstone and she plans to work her first winter in the park in 2022/2023.
“Coming to Yellowstone that first year was the biggest leap of faith I had ever taken,” says Amie, who, at that time, had recently left an abusive marriage and had spent the prior two years taking care of her mother. “I’d only been out of Texas twice before. But since getting out of my comfort zone that first season, it’s become easier. I’ve never been around the cold and snow that Yellowstone gets in the winter and I can’t wait to experience it. My three daughters were surprised by my decision to work in Yellowstone, but now they know it’s my happy place.”
Written by: Dina Mishev
Dina Mishev is a freelance writer based in Jackson Hole, Wyo.