8 Outdoor Jobs That Pay Well

A North Carolina firefighter burns vegetation on the other side of the canal during a prescribed fire on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/flickr

Not all of us are cut out for office jobs. In the past, it was relatively simple to find employment that was indoors or outdoors, depending on the jobseeker’s aptitudes and interests.

In the new millennium, however, success is almost always attached to indoor jobs, especially those that require sitting at a desk. If you’ve tried a number of indoor jobs and found them incompatible with your personality, or you’re leaving college and know you just can’t hack a desk job but still need to earn a decent salary (after all, beach bums also “work” outside), consider one of the jobs below, which combine being outside with a reasonable salary. Some of the jobs require more professional training than others, and some include some inside work, but all of them mean the employee will spend the vast majority of his time out-of-doors.

1. Botanist

This job is going to involve some indoor work (teaching, cataloging experiment results or research), but there should be plenty of time outside too, since that’s where plants grow best. Whether in a farmer’s field working for the agriculture department, or within a university setting, in a greenhouse or in the woods, there’s still plenty to learn about the plants that surround us.

2. Wildlands Firefighter

This is a potentially dangerous job, which is one reason it pays so well. But unlike a traditional firefighter, you won’t be running into burning buildings — instead doing whatever needs to be done to fight forest and wild blazes. Expect to travel to wherever help is needed. The job requires physical stamina, knowledge of first aid, the capacity to think quickly and clearly, and basic practical skills like construction and minor repair.

3. Park Ranger or Naturalist

Glacier National Park ranger
A ranger talks to tourists at Glacier National Park. GlacierNPS/flickr

The people who make the most working for park services (meaning national, state or even one of the well-funded city parks service, like in New York City) are those who have college-level training in environmental science, outdoor education or management. Park naturalists educate the public about their local ecosystems and animals, and spend most of their time outside, while rangers will advise and assist park visitors, a job that could include everything from supplying information about water supplies and hiking routes to search and rescue operations). Think you have what it takes to be a park ranger? Check out the Federal Government listings (and Google your home state — or call your favorite local park for more info.)

4. Geologist

If you love Earth science, there are a host of well-paying jobs you can get with a degree in geology. You can find employment as an instructor at a college or university, work for an oil or gas company, or with an environmental services company (doing things like testing wells for leaks, or checking groundwater). But whichever path you choose, you will most likely spend a good portion of your working day outside. Start your job search or education about geology at the United States Geological Service's page, where you'll find resources from jobs to schools, as well as what's going on in the field.

5. Photographer

wildlife photographer shoots emperor penguin and baby
Wildlife photographers often get to be up close and personal with some pretty amazing animals. Christopher Michel/flickr

Whether you can “make it” as a photographer definitely depends on talent, dedication and probably a bit of luck. The average salary for a photographer is only $36,000 a year, but that’s because plenty of people do the work only part-time. If you choose to specialize in wildlife, environmental or architectural photography, you will not only earn yourself a niche, but have the potential to work for publications that might pay more than for the easier and more straightforward work of editorial, wedding or product photography.

6. Wildlife Rehabber

The estimates of how much you can earn helping distressed animals vary widely, but it does seem that those with the greatest knowledge and talent will earn the most. Also, there is a chance to earn more money by dealing with those animals hurt as a result of human negligence (like, say, an oil spill that can be blamed on a specific party). Another advantage would be expertise with endangered or threatened species. Some kind of veterinary training is expected, and the more experience with healing animals, the higher the expected salary might be.

7. Fisherperson

commercial fishing boat
A fishing crew readies a boat on an overcast Seattle day. Ingrid Taylar/flickr

Fishing is a seasonal activity that is considered dangerous, so pay is high, but it’s not necessarily consistent and the labor is hard and the conditions can be uncomfortable. That being said, if being outdoors at sea, using your body and your head, and working as part of a team to bring in the day’s catch is your idea of great work, there are opportunities for entry-level workers that pay quite well. There are plenty of fishing jobs in Alaska.

8. Construction

Until the building is up, most construction jobs are outside, though usually not in the woods or next to the sea, but more likely in an urban setting. If you are handy with a hammer and don’t mind wearing a hard hat all day, a career in construction will get you outside, and for the most part, you can learn — and advance — on the job as long as you put good effort in and show up on time. Construction managers and those who specialize in operating machinery (like cranes) make the most.