A Working Vacation

Yosemite vacation

Learn about an expanding program that allows you to visit your favorite national park, but also work to preserve it.

Yosemite National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada, is renowned for its ancient sequoia trees and iconic Tunnel View, which gives an expansive look of Yosemite Valley, the breathtaking vista of the towering Bridalveil Fall, and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

This majestic treasure of the Sierra Nevada receives millions of visitors from all over the world, and maintaining Yosemite is no small task for the National Park Service. For reinforcement, the NPS’s philanthropic partner, Yosemite Conservancy, steps up to help preserve the park and enrich the visitor experience through its Work Week program.

The park service utilizes Work Week crews to complete various vital restorations projects and trail-building around the park.

To participate, volunteers are required to pay a $325 fee to help cover the cost of the program, share a group campsite and provide their own camping equipment (including a tent, sleeping bag and pad, as well as appropriate outdoor gear). Food is provided by Yosemite Conservancy, with three hearty meals a day that are prepared by its cooks. The volunteers work four days and have one day off to experience the park.

This year the Yosemite Conservancy will bring in 280 volunteers to assist in areas of the park in need of field labor.

In total, there will be 14 different work weeks. Half of the season will be dedicated to trail rehabilitation work for climbers visiting the famous cliffs and rock climbing walls. Other projects range from removing invasive plant species around the park to preventing visitor injuries and accidents over the Fourth of July week as search and rescue volunteers.

In these various projects around the park, tasks for volunteers can include planting, duff collecting and spreading or moving logs. The work days are strenuous with hiking and heavy lifting in exposed environments: Participants could walk up to 3 miles and carry loads of up to 40 pounds.

Despite all of the hard work, long hours and lengthy hikes put in by the volunteers, popularity of the program is booming.

“We used to offer eight work weeks but we bumped them up to 14 weeks, and that was because we always had a really big waiting list and the park has an ever-growing need to have that contributed labor,” says Adonia Ripple, Director of Yosemite Operations for the Yosemite Conservancy. “In the past, open spots for Work Week would be filled within minutes. But because we did increase the number of weeks there are a few openings still. We have a steady growing interest in volunteerism.”

Ripple added there is no deadline to join and as long as there are openings in the program, it will still accept volunteers to help on the important efforts to maintain the beauty, habitat and wildlife of the park. Ripple also anticipates further expansion of the Work Week program moving forward.

“I think the heart of this program is people who make a tradition of this,” Ripple says. “We have many people who have been volunteering for these work weeks for upwards of 30 years. I think it’s the community that forms around the volunteers and these projects. And the ritual of coming to the park each summer and giving back in this way…appears to only be growing.”

For more information about Work Week or to donate to the Yosemite Conservancy, visit yosemiteconservancy.org/volunteer/work-week-crews.