How to Become an Adventure Guide: Starting Your Career in Outdoor Education

Do you love hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and helping get other people outside? Did you know you can make your love of adventure more than just a hobby? Becoming an adventure guide might be the career for you, and starting is much easier than you think.

What you need to know to become an Adventure Guide:

Adventure guiding falls under the umbrella of Outdoor Education— a field focused on teaching in and about the outdoors, environmental stewardship, and of course, adventure guiding. 

There are several ways to become an adventure guide. Whether you are looking to jump right into an entry level position and learn on the fly, or you are interested in a degree in Adventure Guiding, there is a spot for you as a wilderness educator and adventure guide.

Starting as an Entry Level Guide

I took my first job as an adventure guide after I graduated college with a degree in a completely unrelated field. I started out as an assistant sea kayaking guide, and had very little experience sea kayaking. The company I worked for help trained me, and provided instruction in sea kayaking, guiding, and important lessons in risk management. Since then, I’ve worked two summers as a sea kayaking guide and trainer, and currently hold a Costal Kayaking ACA Level 3 Certificate and am working toward my level 4.

Breaking into the outdoor industry can be intimidating, but most outfitters invest in training their guides, so there is often no discipline-specific experience necessary. Many companies are willing to invest in you if you have a positive attitude and willingness to learn.

What you will need? CPR and First Aid certifications at the least and good interpersonal skills!

How to Get a Degree in Outdoor Education and Adventure Guiding

Getting a degree in Outdoor Education will prepare you to be an adventure guide and guide trainer, and is the perfect qualification for some of the most highly sought adventure jobs in the world. Course work will focus on skills like adventure leadership, natural history, and risk management.

Here are some schools and options to consider:

  • Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin offers a hands-on program in Outdoor Education right on the shores of Lake Superior.
  • Prescott College in Arizona’s BA in Adventure Education will prep you to be a wilderness educator while studying in the backdrop of beautiful Northern Arizona, with opportunities to study in the outdoors all over the world.
  • Vermillion Community College in Ely, Minnesota offers a two year degree in Outdoor Leadership, with numerous certificate add-ons. Much of your study will be conducted in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, one of the most popular wilderness areas in the United States.
  • Humak University in Finland offers a 3.5 year degree in Outdoor Education, where students learn a wide range of outdoor skills, including sea kayaking, cross country skiing, and dogsledding.
  • Folk Schools in countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are popular options for adventure study as well. Folk Schools often abandon the traditional classroom model of grades and curriculum, and instead focus on an immersive learning experience. Working knowledge (but not necessarily fluency) in Norwegian is strongly recommended.

Wilderness Education Courses

It’s also possible to take a course in Wilderness Education without pursuing a 2-4 year degree. NOLS offers courses in both Wilderness Medicine and Risk Management training, two subject areas that are incredibly important in Outdoor Education. NOLS also offers expeditions for those looking to get experience outside without necessarily leading a trip, but these expeditions do tend to be expensive. Semester programs include adventures like backpacking in the Patagonia range, semesters in Baja, Alaska, or the Rockies, and even a program in India.

The Secret to Adventure Guiding Jobs…

Adventure guiding is the best job in the world, but there is almost always a shortage of guides, and outfitters are chronically understaffed. Guiding jobs entail long hours and hard work, with the reward of getting to work outside everyday. There is a huge demand for qualified adventure guides in just about every region that has adventure or outdoor tourism— you just have to know where to look.

Where to find Adventure Guiding Jobs

One way to find Adventure Guiding Jobs is to join an Outdoor Education focused Facebook group. Another way is to research the area you want and locate a company yourself.

First, decide what type of guiding it is you want to do. Are you passionate about cross country skiing? Look into ski guiding in places like Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, or Northern Minnesota. First, search for the trips themselves, then locate a company you like. Check for applications on their website, and if you can’t easily find one, don’t be afraid to email and ask if they are looking for extra help this season! In general, seasonal adventure guiding jobs hire 4-6 months before the start date, but there are always companies understaffed before the seasons start.

Some Quick Tips to get an Adventure Guiding Job

  • Having a WFR (a Wilderness First Responder certification) is not usually required for entry-level positions, but will make you a more promising candidate. As you continue guiding, a WFR will become a requirement. 
  • Broaden your search— everyone wants to be a backpacking guide for youth trips or guide in Alaska, but there are hundreds of interesting opportunities throughout the US and abroad. Look into dogsled guiding in the Minnesota Boundary Waters, white water rafting in Montana, or sea kayak guiding in Acadia National Park.
  • The most important think you can bring to any guiding job is a positive attitude— don’t quit when it gets hard, and be a team player.

Hi there, my name is Maddy and I’m a writer/photographer from Michigan currently loosely based in Northern Minnesota. If you’re a regular reader, thanks for sticking around! If you’re new here, enter your email in the handy little email list or follow me on Instagram to make sure you keep getting free tips and tricks, travel guides, and adventure stories. 

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