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 trail conditions.

  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 and/or use a counter/clicker device. 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 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). 

Leslie Brodhead on patrol

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.  

  2. Volunteers serve as "ambassadors of the wilderness" and do not write tickets or act as law enforcement. Strive for a minimum level of contact by allowing visitors to initiate contact. We help educate the public on wilderness issues if safe to do so (ex. dogs are required to be on a leash in the wilderness in order to protect the fragile ecosystem and prevent negative wildlife encounters). Be personable, remove your sunglasses and introduce yourself if someone has a question (ex. how far to the lake). 

  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 and picking up litter. 

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.