A Day in the Life of a Wilderness Volunteer

Here you'll find an outline of what a wilderness volunteer patrol ranger does to plan for a patrol hike, get out on the trail and fill out their trip report. This page also provides helpful tips for interacting with the public, emergencies, in case of injury/illness and trail maintenance.

For more information on how to become a wilderness volunteer, visit the Summer Patrol Program page.

I. Plan your patrol hike​

  1. Volunteers may go on solo patrols or with hiking partner(s). ​If you are a first-year volunteer, you must complete at least two hikes with a mentor before going out on your own. If you're planning on hiking with others (fellow volunteers or friends/family), contact them to discuss who will drive, where you'll meet, who will bring what, etc.​ ​

  2. Review IPWA Volunteer Portal for hikes that others have scheduled so you can schedule a different trailhead and/or different time. 

  3. Schedule your patrol hike on the Volunteer Portal AND let someone outside the IPWA (and not hiking with you) know where you are going and when to expect you back.

  4. If you're backpacking overnight, make sure to contact the FS to obtain a permit - its free to volunteers but backpacking permits are booked up well in advance so plan ahead!

  5. Check the weather forecast and current summer trail conditions (June-October) or winter trail conditions (November-May).

  6. Prep your gear for the trail including: your uniform (shirt, nametag, rain jacket & hat), your IPWA handbook and map, and the ten essentials. Additional gear that may be useful includes a small notepad and pen, trash bags, extra water/water bottle, extra dog leash, work gloves, pruning saw, and an avalanche shovel.

    • To complete counts during your patrol (number of cars, people, dogs on & off leash, backpackers, etc.), you can print out the Contact Form cheat sheet and use to write down the counts as you hike. Alternately, you may opt to bring your phone/tablet and use a "tally counter" application such as Thing Counter (for Android) or Tally Counter (for Apple). A pen and paper is always a good backup.

  7. Read up on where you are going so you can answer questions about the wilderness boundary, trail and trailhead names, camping areas, distances to lakes or passes, etc. 

II. Arrive at the trailhead​

  1. Arrive early if hiking in the morning since most parking lots fill up quickly! If you will be traveling across the divide or traveling to a high altitude, make sure to start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms (be off the pass no later than 1pm). If the weather is really nasty, don’t be afraid to turn around or postpone your trip. Your safety comes first.

  2. Write down the time and do a parking lot survey (count the cars). 

  3. Greet people at the trailhead and answer any questions they may have. Look for obvious backpackers who do not have a visible permit and let them know that they need a permit to camp in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (note: permits are optional in the James Peak Wilderness). 

IPWA Volunteer Leslie Brodhead on patrol

III. Hiking the trail

  1. Keep a record of the number of hikers and dogs (on and off leash) you see while hiking, as well as number of anglers, equestrians and backpackers (and whether or not they have a permit).  

  2. Strive for a minimum level of contact by allowing visitors to initiate contact. We also strive to educate the public on issues and violations if safe to do so. Be personable, remove your sunglasses and introduce yourself if someone has a question (ex. how far to the lake). See the "Interacting with the Public" tips below.

  3. Record trail conditions noting any downed trees or other hazards requiring attention. If able, perform light trail maintenance such as breaking up illegal fire rings. See "Trail Maintenance" tips below.

IV. Return to the trailhead and home

  1. At the trailhead, record the time and do another parking lot survey. 

  2. When you return home, login to the Volunteer Portal and submit your report. It is very important to get your report in as soon as possible so that others planning a hike soon will have your latest information and so the Forest Service can view your report. Also, report any emergencies or aid given to the Forest Service.


Interacting with the Public
  • When you put on your uniform, you're representing the USFS, so remember to act professionally at all times and lead by example. Leave any personal prejudices at the trailhead and treat all members of the public equally and with respect.

  • If you see someone obviously breaking regulations or causing problems, do a scene assessment before deciding to engage or talk to them!

    • Remember the phrase from training: "Me/You/Goo/Who/BooHoo". When presented with a 'situation' (e.g. dogs off leash, camp fires in the wilderness, injured hiker, members of the public hiking up into a storm, etc.), consider the following:

      • "Me" Are you comfortable engaging? If so great; if not disengage.

      • "You" What is the situation/status/demeanor of the individual you are engaging with?

      • "Goo" Anything going on in the environment you should be concerned with (e.g. lightning?)

      • "Who" How many individuals are you addressing? What is the general scene like?

      • "BooHoo" What is your summary assessment? Thumbs up or Thumbs down?

    • NEVER initiate contact with an individual where drugs, alcohol, guns or other suspicious activity is taking place and/or you don't feel comfortable - your safety is # 1!

  • As always, our goal is to strive for the minimum level of contact necessary with visitors to disseminate information or establish a presence. A simple "Hello" will suffice for most contacts. When visitors do initiate contact with questions or comments, always be personable, remove your sunglasses and introduce yourself as an Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance volunteer and/or Forest Service volunteer. Then address their questions - and/or situation - based on your comfort level!

  • As a volunteer, we are "ambassadors of the wilderness" and not law enforcement, so if you decide to engage remember to be polite, non-confrontational and diplomatic. The most common issue we encounter are dogs off leash (see the Dogs in the Wilderness page). We may also talk to visitors about the requirements for backpacking permits, where to camp, fire regulations, staying on the trail (and keeping off social trails/embankments), etc. Use the “Authority of the Resource” and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles to talk about the impacts, rather than emphasizing regulations

    • ​Authority of the Resource (ATR) is a concept developed by Professor George Wallace at Colorado State University. "Resource" refers to ecosystems - land and wildlife. "Authority" refers to ecosystems speaking to hikers and campers regarding how their actions are impacting soils, vegetation, water and wildlife. Examples include explaining that hikers should not be afraid to get their boots dirty and should walk on the trail through mud and snow. Walking off the main trail tramples the delicate vegetation and exposes soils which wash away with rain or snow.  Their footsteps invite other hikers to follow which increase the erosion, affecting the health of the whole surrounding ecosystem.

  • All violations and suspicious/illegal activities should be reported as soon as possible. ​​Document illegal activities in your patrol report AND phone Mary, the Forest Service Ranger (number is in your handbook). Observe and report. If there is illegal activity at or near a trailhead then call 911 or use an emergency callbox, do not attempt to interfere.


Cell phone reception is limited or non-existent in the backcountry. Know where emergency phones are located:

  1. Town of Eldora at the end of paved road.

  2. Peaceful Valley, east side of Hwy 72 across from Forest Service Campground.

  3. Town of Allenspark.

In case of injury/illness
  1. Send one volunteer for help (with the keys to your vehicle). Leave another volunteer with the injured visitor.

  2. Mark the location on a map to give to rescuers.

  3. You may offer any first aid you are trained to provide if you wish to do so but it is not your job as a volunteer. Your job is to get help.

  4. Report any emergencies or aid given to the Forest Service.

Trail Maintenance

Recommended equipment: small saw, small collapsible shovel, leather work gloves, plastic trash bags, small baggies to pick up trash.

  • Divert running water off of trails when possible by knocking down berm on side of trail to allow running water or pools of water to flow off trail. Place stepping stones when terrain does not allow water to flow off trail. (Try to use reasonably flat and stable rocks to prevent twisted ankles) This will prevent people from going around creating new trails.

  • Block/slash off new trails.

  • Move or cut fallen trees off trail. If unable to move tree off trail, trim any branches and stubs at a place directly above trail so hikers will climb over the tree and still be on the trail. (Only if you can do so safely)

  • Remove loose rocks from the trail that are the size of your fist or greater.(recognizing certain trails are really rocky where this is impossible)

  • Always pick up trash and pack it out.

  • Break up fire rings and make them disappear.

  • Report any needed trail maintenance beyond your ability to the Forest Service.

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Saving Wilderness. Changing Lives.


P.O. Box 17382, Boulder CO 80308   |   hikers@indianpeakswilderness.org