Figuring the Pay at Cedar Pass

figuring-the-pay-at-cedar-passHow much money do you really make working with concessionaire companies who contract with the National Parks? Well I can’t speak for all of them, but I can share my experience with Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands.

So far I have received 6 bi-weekly paychecks during my time here. For the first 5, I was being paid at a rate of $7.25 per hour, and having $14 for my RV spot and $70 for the meal plan (3 meals a day, 7 days a week) deducted from each check before I got my money. I worked anywhere from 32 to 45 hours a week depending on staffing needs.

My average take home for those first 5 checks was $419.22. That’s less than $850 a month, not a lot. Partway into July I was promoted to a lead and started making $8 per hour, my next check after that was $520.72. Better, but still not great.

But then you need to think about the other benefits. That amount was after rent, utilities, and food were all taken care of. There is a shuttle running too and from work, so you could theoretically go the summer without having to put gas in your car (I still chose to drive Bertha, worked with my schedule better), there are a few other perks of employment here too: laundry (and laundry soap) are free, toilet paper is free, little things like that that add up over time.

Of course the biggest benefit is the location. The Badlands is a pretty fantastic place to live if you like natural settings which I’m guessing you do if you’re reading this. No need to drive an hour to a park or someplace to hike, it’s right here. Even just the drive to and from work is amazing, if you can let go of the bustle of the day enough to appreciate it.

No job is perfect. Here in the Badlands you need to drive over an hour to find a Walmart or a full-size grocery store. The closest movie theater is 45 minutes away. If you need gas, be prepared to pay higher than average costs, since there are few gas stations they have a corner on the market. Because of the nature of the work, people are always coming and going, it’s hard to find stability. Some just have shorter contracts, but some leave early because the job wasn’t what they expected it to be.

All in all though, I have saved up $472.14 in the first two full months I was here. At a savings rate of over $200 a month, that still puts this job slightly higher than the last Real Job I held, where I made a lot more but my cost of living was a lot higher. Like at Amazon though, I’m very careful about what I spend my money on (I value experiences over possessions remember). If you’re going to drive to Rapid every weekend, if you’re going to be buying a lot of stuff at the gift store, if you’re going to be buying a lot of food on top of what the meal plan offers, then your savings rate won’t be as nice. I’m still saving up to buy a solar setup and a nice propane heater so that someday I can take winters off to go boondocking in the southwest.

I’ll be doing a full review at the end of my time here in the Badlands like usual, but so far I’m giving the experience a thumbs up. In the future, I’ll likely continue to track down and work at jobs like this in National Parks.

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Becky on August 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I’m looking at the Camco Olympian Wave 3 catalytic heater, it can be found on Amazon for around $200 but that doesn’t include the cover, carbon monoxide detector that I’d buy, and connections to hook it up to the trailer’s existing LP system (I’ll be getting it installed by someone cause thats something I don’t want to do myself).

    Unlike a standard RV furnace there is no blowing air, it’s a radiant heater (so easier to sleep through at night) it runs on a low pressure LP system so burns less, and reviewers say there’s no smell to it (ventilation is still required).

  2. Lee on August 11, 2013 at 1:23 am

    Hi Becky

    I see your saving up for a propane heater. I was wondering what size or brand your looking at?


  3. Bob Wells on August 10, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Becky, as I am sure you are aware nearly all concessionaires pay the minimum wage of the state you’re in. So if you go to a state with a higher minimum wage, it goes up. I was a campground host for 4 years (1 in CO Rockies and 3 in the CA Sierras) in National Forest campgrounds. They all give you a free campsite. The minimum wage in CA is $8.00 an hour but the company I worked for in the Sierras started you at $8.50 and it went up every year you went back. Had I gone back for my 4th year I would have made $9.50 an hour.

    In the big campgrounds you get free hookups but I like going remote so I went deep into the Sierras and didn’t get any. I had a creek in my campsite and a pit toilet nearby. I have solar so I produce my own power. I stocked up on food at the beginning of the season so I didn’t need anything but perishables from the local small mountain town. The weather in the Sierras is PERFECT so no need for heat or air conditioning except in early spring and late fall when you need heat. Because I go remote, I only get people who WANT to be in nature=NO DRAMA!

    At the end of the summer I think you would have saved more money there. I know you aren’t looking now, but it’s never to early to be thinking of next year! I loved the company I worked for and if you are interested I can almost guarantee you a job with them.

    • Becky on August 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Yeah, I’m aware. Yellowstone for instance started their workers at $8.00, but then you had to pay more for your site and food, so Cedar Pass at 75 cents less per hour still worked out to be the better deal cost-wise, it’s a matter of looking at the whole picture.

      I’ve bookmarked that site to think about. I am actually starting to peek around at options for next summer, but I haven’t pinpointed what I’ll do exactly yet. I certainly wont’ leave it till the last minute like last year. Live and learn. 😉

  4. Paul on August 10, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Hey Becky, consider the Idaho mountains for your next seasonal work. Some terrific parks up here such as the one we’re staying in right now, which is Ponderosa State Park on the edge of McCall, Idaho. Check it out! 🙂

    • Becky on August 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      Idaho does look like a beautiful state, and I certainly will be checking it out at some point, though next summer is still kind of up in the air. 🙂

  5. Eric on August 9, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Yeah..possessions are way overrated. I use that same philosophy when people ask me why I never take photographs. It’s because I’m interested in the memory more than fumbling with a camera.

    • Becky on August 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      I’ve heard that philosophy before Eric, and it makes sense. I still like having the pictures to share with people myself, although in some situations I leave the camera at home.

  6. Chip Cavender on August 9, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    With your meal deal does that mean you need to go to your work place to eat on your days off.? Sorta sounds like paying for meals you do not eat.

    • Becky on August 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Yep I do Chip! Still saves me money over buying food in a grocery store for those two days.

  7. Emily on August 9, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Great info, as always, Becky. I really enjoy your thoughtful approach to everything you do. Isn’t it amazing that you can save more doing this kind of job on the road that with a “real” job in the workaday world!!
    Emily recently posted..Baja Bash (1) – Riding on the Coattails of a Hurricane!My Profile

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      It is amazing Emily! And I’m having so much more fun this way. 😀 Btw I’m sending you an e-mail. I’ve been convinced by a few of my readers that putting up a Donate button isn’t compromising on my principles, and would be appreciated as a way to show support for those who don’t buy stuff from Yours was user friendly and not big and intrusive, and I’m wondering how you set it up. 😛

  8. David Roderick on August 9, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Great post Becky. I enjoy learning about the nitty-gritty facts of life on the road and comparing your results with ours. We’ve been full-timing for six years now and volunteer several months a year to be on purpose and experience another park or location. Every five years we take a few Christmas seasons off to work for 4-8 weeks. This allows us to keep our cash bucket full with $40,000 for extra expenses beyond Social Security. Fortunately, we live beneath our income so have not had to dip into our reserves as yet. Our emergency funds hover around $10,000 which we did need this year with new tires for the RV and Honda CRV, plus a major repair to the RV engine.

    We are signed up to work at Amazon this next holiday season at Fernley. I find the work physically challenging at age 76, but also fun and a chance to mingle with other RVers during a slow part of the year. I am starting a new blog soon so will send you more details as they develop. After teaching for five years in the Middle East as one part of our retirement, it’s wonderful to experience the freedom of RVing around North America. Love your blog!

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Hey David, thanks for sharing!

      Seems like Fernley is the place to be this winter, you’re not the only reader here who’s heading that way this fall.

      Man, the things I could do with $40,000… But really, there’s no point dwelling on what isn’t, the time is much better spent working out what you can do with what you have! I might be volunteering with the NPS here in the Badlands in another week or two around work when the Sturgis craziness settles down. I’m trying to get some experience with them so that in the future I can get a seasonal job directly with them (and thus make more money).

      Thank you, safe travels and happy trails!

      • David Roderick on August 9, 2013 at 6:30 pm

        Just a short comment on jobs for next summer. Oregon State Parks are among the best in the nation as they are funded by three different tax bases including the State Lottery. They are one of the few state parks hiring both full time and seasonal park rangers. Thus, you might consider The State Parks here. I believe the starting salary is about $2400 a month for seasonals. Unfortunately, they do not pay for your RV site. However, they do provide sites free for the Volunteer staff. (We are volunteering at the moment in Port Orford, OR on the south coast.)

        During the winter, we often boondock in Anza Borrego State Park in southern California. About an hour from Palm Springs and Indio, it has a small town called Borrego Springs close to the Park Headquarters. Most of the park is open to free
        camping and the internet is available by Verizon Mifi. Imagine 70 degree temps in January and February. Lots of choices for camping alone or with others to enjoy Happy Hour with people from all over the USA.
        David Roderick recently posted..Eastern Sierra NevadaMy Profile

        • Becky on August 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm

          I’ll keep that in mind David. 🙂 I do want to make it out to the West coast eventually!

  9. John of Sinbad and I on the Loose on August 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I suppose the real litmus test will be if you can squirrel away enough money to get you through the winter months boondocking. Best wishes to you.
    John of Sinbad and I on the Loose recently posted..The Georgia CoastMy Profile

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      I won’t have enough this winter John, I still gotta save enough for the equipment to be able to do it. That’s in the future still. 🙂

      Oh, and I’ve been to Jekyll Island before, a pretty place!

  10. Marvin on August 9, 2013 at 10:30 am


    Becky ,

    I think I understand the meal deduction of $35 per week , but I have missed something about the RV space . What is the $14 amount for ?

    Will you have free time between Badlands and Amazon ? Which job do you charge the travel costs ?

    Be Safe and Make Each Day Count !


    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Ooops, I meant $28. That’s what I pay for rent/water/electric/sewer Marvin, it’s $2 a day which works out to $28 a pay period. Like my $35 for meals ($5 a day) it comes out of my paycheck before I get my hands on it.

      I’ll have a bit of free time between Badlands and Amazon, but am unsure how much. This gig could go as late as 10/15, but there’s the possibility it’ll get done sooner if the weather turns before that. I’m due in at Coffeyville on on 10/24 for orientation, so will probably arrive there on 10/22 for a breather before work starts.

      This job hasn’t been as draining on me physically or emotionally, so I feel less of a need for a ‘break’ between it an Amazon, but chances are, after Amazon I’ll want one. 😛

  11. Dave on August 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    I sure enjoy your blog Becky, nice insight on many areas of life. One thing to add is that if one is older (uh, like us), living on retirement/ss, then a job like what you have allows one to save even more money. This also brings you experience so that your next National Park job might start at even more than $8 per hour…at least that is sure my hope for your sake.

    Dave (Marcia and Bubba and Skruffy)
    Dave recently posted..What Squirrels Do All Day LongMy Profile

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Heya Dave,

      Yes, we have had a few employees at Cedar Pass who were retirement age and getting SS checks, although none of them have stayed because they didn’t want to put up with the drama and instability. You could definitely save up more money than us younger folks. In fact, the majority of Amazon CamperForce workers are retirement age, and Amazon is the only job they do all year.

  12. Lynn on August 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Hi Becky – you are certainly good with your dollars and have a great attitude. I think anyone would be glad to have you as an employee.

    I took a course this spring at the Kelowna college for people like me that are interested in buying trailer/RV. It covered everything you wanted to know about RV – it was excellent and taught by the RV Tech instructors. They mentioned during the classes that there is a shortage of Certified RV Technicians in the US and mentioned that as a warning to us to be sure to check on credentials before we get work done in the US.

    I was thinking that if I was younger and had more technical interest that it would be a good job for someone that wanted to travel and work and live in RV parks. I don’t think one would run out of customers.
    Lynn recently posted..RV School – Part 2 – A class about gasMy Profile

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      Probably not Lynn! Alas, like you I’m not interested in fixing things/technical stuff. In fact, I rather hate having to fix things, but accept it as a necessary part of RVing life.

      Sounds like a very informative class though, great for folks who want to get on the road!

  13. cozygirl on August 8, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Glad this experience is turning out so well for you! Sorry we didn’t manage to get that far West this time…would have loved to hang out with you. Hope we pass each other this winter.

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Heya Carla, I’m sad we didn’t get a chance to meet either, but I’m sure someday our paths will cross, and I’m greatly looking forward to it!

      Do you know where you’re planning to be this winter yet?

  14. Lee on August 8, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Great Job Becky!
    Budget skills are a must, no matter what you do. I know when I’m in “Super Saver Mode” I watch every dollar. Also it’s nice having a little buffer zone from living right on the financial edge.

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      I started RVing with an emergency fund of $5000, to cover breakdowns, medical costs, things like that. I dipped into it briefly at the beginning of the year when I was unable to find a winter job that let me save money, but the idea is that is for emergencies only and not to be touched for every-day expenses! I feel better having that cushion in place. I won’t be buying my solar stuff with that money, I gotta save up more on top of that.

  15. Todd on August 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Sounds to me like the Park Service (or the contract service) is very fortunate to have a person like you working for them. Unfortunate that they don’t realize that & adjust the pay scale accordingly.
    You go girl!!

    • Ross Macintosh on August 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Todd’s comment gets a thumbs-up from me! I’m impressed you are managing to save money even with the low pay. Certainly most people earning your level of wages struggle living paycheck-to-paycheck and others earning far more dig themselves deeper into a hole month-by-month. I’m happy to see you are making this full-time rv thing work for you. Even more inspiring is how gracefully you do it. Keep your chin up!

      For next summer perhaps you should expand your job search to include up here in Canada and our amazing national parks. Minimum wage here in Canada is about $10/hr — it varies Province to Province. I know many of the ‘work-camping’ type jobs here are filled by Americans.

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      Yeah, let me stress that I am Not working for the Park Service! I’m working for a private company that has a contract with the NPS to run the concession type stuff at the park. Some time ago I wrote about how to get jobs at National Parks and it had two parts – getting jobs with companies like Forever Resorts (Aramark, Xanterra, Delaware North Companies, etc.), and then getting jobs with the NPS, which is an entirely different animal (it pays better, but the work is harder, application process is complicated, and there are drastically fewer positions open with the economic slump).

      Forever Resorts, like the other three companies I listed, is huge – multinational. And like most big companies, the profits for their upper echelon is more important than the little guys like me, sad but true.

      I could rage about that, but instead I’m working on other ways to bring in money, so that I’m not so dependent on seasonal jobs like this. Ross – Working in Canada one summer would be fun, although I’ve still got so much to see here! Again I’ll say though, I make the money work because of the experiences over possessions thing. Having that extra money for solar power will give me freedom to work less and experience more, so it’s worth saving for!

  16. Lynne on August 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for the detailed information Becky. That kind of gig really sounds pretty good, all things considered!
    Lynne recently posted..Weekend in VailMy Profile

    • Becky on August 9, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Yep, I have no regrets! Money wise not as nice as Amazon, but better living conditions I guess you could say – job isn’t as hard on the body, more time to do fun stuff, more interaction with like-minded people, fun environment for outdoor activities.