Hawaii Park Ranger Training and Degree Requirements

Hawaii’s natural beauty – including plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world – draw a lot of tourists to the state, providing significant economic benefits to the areas they visit.

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In 2012, 5.1 million people came from all over the world to visit Hawaii’s seven national parks.  They spent over $314 million in Hawaii and supported over 3,700 jobs in the state.  One of the most popular national parks in Hawaii is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that drew an estimated 1.48 million visitors in 2012.

Park rangers work throughout Hawaii’s parks helping the public to appreciate their natural wonders and providing law enforcement services to protect the parks and their visitors.  They have two sources of employment:  Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Park Service.

The requirements to become a park ranger in Hawaii differ depending on whether applicants are seeking state or federal jobs.

Joining the Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement

The DNLR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) employs Hawaii’s state park rangers and gives them full police powers, including being armed when they are on the job. Though they are employed by the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement as Conservation and Resources Enforcement Officers (CREOs), Hawaii’s park rangers serve the Hawaii Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks.

Obtaining a job as a state park ranger in Hawaii is a multistep process that involves the State Recruiting Office of the Department of Human Resources Development.  The requirements vary depending on the level of the position.  Entry level is Level 1, while being a Branch Chief is Level 5.

Minimum Requirements:

  • Being able to legally work in the US:
    • Being a US citizen or permanent resident alien
    • Being eligible for unrestricted employment
  • Having a valid Hawaii driver’s license
  • Being able to meet all state and federal requirements to use firearms
  • Being able to do the following physical activities:
    • Swim 100 meters in 3:00 or less
    • Hike 1 mile within 20:00
  • Being a legal Hawaii resident at the time of the application
  • Not having a domestic violence conviction

Experience and Education Requirements:

While DOCARE does not require its applicants to have a college degree, education can substitute for the required general experience for CREO positions.  Obtaining formal training in criminal justice or natural resources management can help candidates stand out for these highly competitive positions.

These are the levels of education that can substitute for general experience:

  • College study (each year completed is equal to 1 year of experience)
  • High school diploma equals one year of experience

The following types of experience are required to become a Level III CREO:

  • General:  Two years that demonstrates the following abilities:
    • Reading and comprehending complex material
    • Writing clear and factual reports
    • Meeting and dealing effectively with people
    • Understanding and applying various rules and regulations
    • Law enforcement:  A year of progressively responsible LEO work
    • Conservation law enforcement:  A year of progressively responsible work

Steps to Be Hired as a CREO Officer:

  • Submit a completed civil service application
  • Meet the following requirements:
    • Public employment law
    • Minimum qualification requirements
    • Pass an examination

Becoming a Federal Park Ranger in Hawaii

Applicants for federal park ranger positions have a choice of different types of jobs ranging from those that mostly involve teaching the public about the plants and animals of the parks to protective positions.  The latter positions involve becoming certified as law enforcement officers. 

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The requirements to become a federal protective park ranger are shown below:

Basic Requirements:

  • Being 21 years
  • Having a valid driver’s license

Educational Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree for a GS-05 level position
    • Must include 24 hours of relevant coursework
    • One year of graduate school for a GS-07 level position

Experience Requirements:

Those without a formal college education can apply for protective federal park ranger positions if they have the following types of experience:

  • One year of experience at the GS-04 level such as:
    • Having been a park guide
    • Having been a law enforcement officer
    • One year of experience applying law enforcement skills to the protection of resources and visitors

Applicants can also meet these requirements with a combination of education and experience.

Serving and Protecting Hawaii’s Natural Beauty

Hawaii showcases its unique ecosystems through its 55 state parks that encompass nearly 30,000 acres.  State parks are found throughout the five major islands.  Some of the particularly popular state parks include the following:

  • Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside Park
    • A scenic lookout on O’ahu
  • Wailua River State Park
    • The most popular state park in Kaua’i
    • Wailua Falls is an 80 foot double waterfall
  • Diamond Head State Monument
    • The profile of Diamond Head is the state’s most famous landmark

Park rangers who work for DOCARE are responsible for enforcing all of the laws for the following areas:

  • State lands
  • Historic sites
  • State parks
  • Forest reserves
  • Coastal zones
  • Aquatic life and wildlife areas
  • State shores
  • Conservation districts
  • County ordinances for county parks
  • Firearms, dangerous weapons, and ammunition laws

Hawaii Park Ranger Salaries

The islands of Hawaii are rich with culture and history. Park rangers are tasked with interpreting this history as well as engaging and enlightening the public. They are employed by the Division of State Parks, which is actually a subset of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The starting park ranger salary in Hawaii – HI is $31,212. In Hawaii, park rangers are actually paid on a 13-step pay scale, which provides a great deal of financial potential. Here is a look at that pay scale:

  • Step A: $31,212
  • Step B: $32,424
  • Step C: $33,756
  • Step D: $35,064
  • Step E: $36,516
  • Step F: $37,968
  • Step G: $39,480
  • Step H: $41,040
  • Step I: $42,684
  • Step J: $44,412
  • Step K: $46,176
  • Step L: $48,048
  • Step M: $49,932

One advancement opportunity that park rangers have is Park Interpretive Center Coordinator:

  • Step C: $43,812
  • Step D: $45,576
  • Step E: $47,400
  • Step F: $49,308
  • Step G: $51,300
  • Step H: $53,364
  • Step I: $55,488
  • Step J: $57,720
  • Step K: $60,012
  • Step L: $62,424
  • Step M: $64,920

Additional entry-level salary data is shown in the tables below. This includes various titles that park rangers in various roles are recognized:

Recreation Workers Salaries in Hawaii

Area name
Annual mean wage
Honolulu HI
Hawaii / Maui / Kauai nonmetropolitan area

Tour Guides and Escorts Salaries in Hawaii

Area name
Annual mean wage
Honolulu HI
Hawaii / Maui / Kauai nonmetropolitan area

Recreational Protective Service Workers Salaries in Hawaii

Area name
Annual mean wage
Honolulu HI
Hawaii / Maui / Kauai nonmetropolitan area

Diamond Head is the most recognized landmark in Hawaii and is one of the most popular visitor attractions in the state.  About 800,000 people a year visit this park, which is one of the most significant cultural, natural, recreational, and historical resources the state has to offer.

Diamond Head State Monument was created in 1962 and received such an influx of visitors over the years that the Department of Land and Natural Resources had to expand the system of trails and lookouts to prevent damage to the fragile landscape.  This included building a concrete walkway to reduce erosion.

Park rangers at Diamond Head National Monument are certified law enforcement officers who help make sure that the park’s visitors stick to the newly designed trail that loops along the rim of the crater and then returns to the tunnel.  They also assist with volunteer projects and resource management.

The Role of a Park Ranger Roles at Diamond Head State Monument

The major responsibility of the park rangers at Diamond Head State Monument is to interact with the visitors and promote awareness of the park’s resources, its rules, and the need to stay safe when traversing the park.

The rangers reiterate how the weather is always hot at Diamond Head and that the visitors should have plenty of water.  The Department of Land and Natural Resources has tried to make the site safer by installing metal steps where a ladder once led to the summit.  Diamond Head National Monument has a landing pad in case helicopters need to land for medical emergencies, and the park rangers are trained in search and rescue.

The moderately difficult Diamond Head Summit Trail takes about two hours to traverse and has an elevation gain of 560 feet.  The summit has some notable buildings, since it was once part of the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system.

A Fire Control Station was built there in 1911.  This station directed artillery fire from batteries in Fort Ruger and Waikiki outside of the crater.  In addition to bunkers at the summit, the site features a large navigational lighthouse that was built in 1917.

Park rangers have also been involved with efforts to restore some of the natural resources of Diamond Head State Monument.  For instance, the wetland inside the crater had been extensively filled.  The park’s staff has been restoring the wetland with non-potable brackish water.  In addition to providing habitat for native birds, this enabled people to replant the crater floor with native plants.

Haleakala National Park

The land at Haleakala National Park has been protected since the inception of the National Park Service (NPS).  This park was established as part of the Hawaii National Park in 1916 within a week of the creation of the NPS.  Over 1 million people visited this park in 2012, spending nearly $64.5 million that year.

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Currently, Haleakala National Park is comprised of 30,183 acres of land on Maui.  It ranges from sea level to over 10,000 feet in elevation.  The park has a number of different ecosystems and is home to at least six endangered species of birds and about 30-35 endangered species of plants.

The Various Roles Park Rangers Serve at Haleakala National Park

Interpretive Programs for General Visitors – Park rangers present a variety of programs for the visitors of Haleakala National Park.  The park is open every day of the year, and the interpretive programs take place year round including the following types:

  • Guided talks and walks
  • Cultural demonstrations
  • Citizen science projects

A number of events take place daily in the Kipahulu area.  They include the following activities:

  • A two hour hike along Pipiwai Trail
  • Cultural demonstrations near the visitor center
  • Nature talks at the visitor center that can include the following topics:
    • Plants
    • Animals
    • Hawaiians and the environment
    • The surrounding ecosystem

Regular activities in the Summit area include a three-hour hike through the cloud forest at the Waikamoi Preserve that is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy.

Ranger-Guided Programs for School Children – The staff and management of Haleakala National Park worked with Hawaii’s Department of Education to design programs that address the standards for each grade level.  When reservations are made in advance, rangers lead free programs designed for each elementary school grade level.

These programs include having the following activities for various grades:

  • First:  explore Hosmer Grove to study the park’s animals.
  • Third:   take part in activities that help them to understand how species came to the islands, adapted, and became unique.
  • Fourth:  use a historic trail to learn that environment and culture are tied together
  • Fifth:  learn about geology by hiking a volcanic landscape, mapping it, and doing exercises.

Guided programs can also be scheduled for older students, including those in college.

Safety Education – The park rangers educate visitors on how to stay safe in Haleakala National Park, since it does not have food, beverages, or gasoline available within its boundaries.  The area has unpredictable natural hazards including weather, currents, and earthquakes.

The rangers warn visitors about the summit area in particular, since it ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation.  Some people experience breathing difficulties from being at such a high altitude, and those with heart conditions or respiratory problems are advised to contact their doctors before traveling to the summit area.

Safety hazards are also an issue in the Kipahulu District.  Swimming in the ‘Ohe’o pools appeals to visitors, but they need to be careful about the flash flooding that can occur from heavy rains up on the mountain.  Current conditions are posted at the visitor center, and rangers stress the importance of obeying the signs posted by the water.

What Every Aspiring Park Ranger Should Know about Haleakala National Park

Visitors to the park travel to two main areas.  The summit area features a stunning view from the summit of Haleakala volcano.  It has one of the best views of the night sky in the world.  This area is unusual in that it is easily accessed, yet has thriving populations of rare and endemic Hawaiian species that can be viewed from over 35 miles of hiking trails.

The other area of the park that draws visitors is the Kipahulu District, accessible from Hana Highway.  Three trails in this area lead to views of the ocean and waterfalls.  They include the following:

  • Pipiwai Trail
    • This four mile round trip trail showcases a freshwater stream and forest areas.
    • Visitors can view the Makahiku and Waimoku Falls.
  • Kuloa Point Trail
    • This half mile trail goes past a Hawaiian cultural demonstration area.
  • Kahakai Trail
    • This half mile trail goes from Kuloa Point to the campground.
    • It passes by archaeological sites and ocean views.

Ha’ena State Park

Ha’ena State Park is a scenic wildland park that is popular with both tourists and residents of Kaua’i.  According to a study by the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, the park receives some 680,000 visitors each year.  The number of visitors to the park has been increasing steadily over the years, particularly at the areas of Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail. Park rangers here enforce the permits required to hike the eleven-mile Kalalau Trail.

Kalalau Trail is so heavily used that it is necessary to get a permit a year ahead of time for some of the most popular weeks in summer.  Illegal camping is a persistent problem in this area.  Subsequently, additional rangers have been brought in by helicopter to check that all of the hikers have valid permits.

In addition to rule enforcement, park rangers here help visitors understand the natural wonders and archaeological history of Ha’ena State Park.

The Natural and Historically Significant Features of Ha’ena State Park

Ha’ena State Park is the last destination on Kaua’i’s north shore, and its stunning views make it highly popular with visitors.  It offers a spectacular view of the entire Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.

Visitors come to Ha’ena State Park for a number of reasons.  Many people come to hike the Kalalau Trail.  Seasoned park goers advise planning on taking several days for this hike.  Parts of this trail are dangerous, and rangers sometimes have to rescue inexperience hikers.

Ke’e Beach has a lagoon with reefs that protect it from the ocean.  Snorkeling is a popular activity there during the summer’s calm ocean conditions.  At times, the ocean can have strong currents.  Several lifeguards have been stationed there to protect swimmers.

Ha’ena State Park is also notable for its wet caves.  These ancient caves were thought to have been formed about 4,000 years ago.  Traditional Hawaiian culture credited the god Pele with having dug them.

A native settlement existed at Ha’ena State Park from about 1000 to 1800 AD.  Historical features include a hula platform and a heiau (sacred place).  The Ha’ena Archaeological Complex was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The area is considered significant because it represents a mostly intact complex of features, including burial grounds, that date from the early prehistoric period to recent times.  Native Hawaiians consider the face of the cliff to be significant, because of its association with customs, legends, and beliefs.

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

The 1,160-acre Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park was created in 1978 to protect a complex of archeological sites from encroaching development.  The park also includes a number of natural resources, including some of the most productive wetlands for endangered water birds on Hawaii Island.  These include the Hawaiian coot and the Hawaiian stilt.

The cultural and historical resources in this park include the following:

  • Kaloko Fishpond (An example of native Hawaiian technological achievements)
  • Temple and house platforms
  • Trails
  • Grave features
  • Coastal village sites

Together, these resources give an example of Hawaiian life before contact with Western civilization in the late 1700s.  The native Hawaiians were experts with their fishing skills and knew the location of the fresh water that feeds into the brackish pools that exist throughout the park.

Over 153,000 people visited Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park in 2012 with many of them interacting with the park’s rangers.  These professionals lead programs about the park’s history, particularly for classes of school children.  They also work to ensure that the park’s visitors stay the mandated distance away from endangered animals that have come onto shore.

Park Ranger Roles at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

Interpretive – The park rangers lead programs tailored to their audience.  For high school students, the rangers discuss stewardship roles as related to caring for the land.  They also describe marine resources using the Kaloko Fishpond as an example.

Park rangers lead younger visitors (kindergarteners through second graders) on short nature walks and present a story time about turtles.  For third and fourth graders, they discuss turtles and take the children on activities such as bird watching and walking to look at native plants.  They also discuss the uses of stone, conservation methods on land and sea, and the Kaloko Fishpond.

Junior high students are introduced to all of these topics except for the ones that are introduced to the youngest children—the short nature walk and the stories about turtles.

Protection of Animals – Some of the threatened and endangered species at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park come onto the beach to bask in the sunshine.  The park’s rangers enforce the prohibitions that visitors stay at least 100 feet away from the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and at least 15 feet away from the threatened green sea turtle.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Over 442,000 people visited the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park in 2012.  They spent nearly $24 million, thus greatly benefitting the local economy.

Puuhonua means place of refuge, and the 420 acre Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park was a sacred place of refuge several hundred years ago.  Those who had violated the kapu or sacred laws were sentenced to death.  They could be saved if they reached this Puuhonua before their pursuers and were granted absolution by a priest.  Noncombatants and defeated warriors could also find sanctuary at this location.

Although visitors snorkel in the waters off this park, the park’s management restricts the activities that can take place at the Royal Grounds.  Since this area is still considered sacred, smoking, beach chairs, towels, coolers, pets, and recreational activities are among the activities that are not permitted.

The park rangers at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park enforce these restrictions.  They also give free talks twice a day to introduce visitors to the physical sites at the park and the way of life in ancient Hawaii.

Interpretive Roles of Park Rangers at Puuhonua o Honaunau National
Historical Park

The rangers at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park describe both the features of this park and its sacred history to visitors.  They do this through brochures that they have designed and through the talks they give twice a day.

Sanctuary and Royal Grounds – Many chiefs are buried at the Hale o Keawe, and carved wooden images protect them.  The Great Wall surrounds the place of refuge at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.  This masonry wall is 965 feet long.  It separates the sanctuary from the Royal Grounds.

The Royal Grounds is the area where Hawaiian royalty established important ceremonial and residential sites.  This site was the original seat of the Kona’s chiefdom and was the ancestral home of the Kamehameha dynasty.

Ponds at the Royal Grounds provided the chiefs’ favorite fish such as mullet and moi.  In recent years, these ponds have contained tilapia to control mosquitoes.  The park’s staff is now introducing native Hawaiian fish back into these ponds.

General Hawaiian History – The rangers explain a great deal about the history at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.  Sites at the park reflect over 400 years of Hawaii’s history.

The 1871 Trail is a one-mile segment of a trail that passes by the park’s coastline.  It also leads to the remains of the Ki’ilae Village.  This village has the following features:

  • Agricultural
  • Abandoned house sites
  • Salt vats
  • Animal pens

The rangers describe how the old religions and the kapu system were discontinued soon after the death of Kamehameha I in 1819.

Rare Animals – The park rangers work to ensure that the protected and endangered animal species at Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park remain undisturbed.

Hawaiian green sea turtles are indigenous to the park.  They had been hunting so badly that they were considered endangered.  The species is now recovering and is considered protected.  Visitors can see them as they feed on algae on rocks in the ocean and when they bask in the sun at low tide.

The only land animal that is native to Hawaii is the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat.  Visitors can observe the bat after sunset in Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.  Studies of the bat at this park are expected to reveal quite a bit about its habitats, diet, and behavior.

The most endangered marine mammal in the US—the Hawaiian monk seal can sometimes be seen near the shores of Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 323,431 acres of land and is visited by two million people a year who come to see its two active volcanoes.  Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, although it is probably the safest active volcano to visit.  In addition, Mauna Loa is the largest subaerial volcano in the world.

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In addition to the volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the wide diversity of ecosystems draws visitors to this location.  The environment at the park ranges from tropical rain forests to an arid desert.  Four endangered species inhabit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  They include the following:

  • Nene
  • Hawksbill turtle
  • Hawaiian petrel
  • Mauna Loa silversword

The rangers here do everything from lead visitors on hikes to the volcanoes, to perform search and rescue operations for lost hikers.

Park Ranger Roles at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Interpretation ­­­- Rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offer a number of programs to educate and entertain visitors to this park.  These range from short presentations in the auditorium of the visitor center to short and long hikes into the park.

One hike that’s available twice a day offers a spectacular view of the caldera of the Kilaueau volcano.  Rangers also talk about how plants and birds arrived in the Hawaiian Islands and describe the culture and history of the islands.

Longer hikes lead to the following sites of the island:

  • Lava trees
  • Lava tubes
  • Hawaiian petroglyphs
  • Traverse crates

Once a month, a ranger-led hike is offered in the new Kahuku Unit of the park.

Rangers also offer a geology talk twice a day called “How it all Started.”  It explores the history of the six volcanoes on Hawaii Island, the current volcanic activity of Kilauea, and describes how to see the eruptions during the visits.

Safety – Periodically, visitors to the park become lost as they explore the park’s features or fall and injure themselves.  One of the park’s rangers is the Search and Rescue (SAR) coordinator at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Rangers search on foot or work with a helicopter pilot to rescue stranded or injured visitors.  In 2012, they performed 26 SAR incidents.

The rangers also perform a vital role of educating the tourists about safety.  As the popularity of volcano geotourism has increased, so has the number of injuries and deaths at volcanoes.  Kilauea is an unusually safe volcano for two reasons.  Its eruption is an effusive type, and the rangers provided detailed information on how to stay safe.

Visitors need to be careful about the volcanic haze.  Although it appears to be white steam, it has a high concentration of hydrochloric acid that can be fatal if inhaled.  Flying rocks and scalding hot ocean water are additional threats.  These can be minimized if hikers follow the rules and stay behind the warning signs.

Natural Resource Management – Over 90% of the terrestrial animals and plants in Hawaii are found only in these islands.  They are threatened from a number of different entities including the following:

  • Invasive plants
  • Wildfires
  • Bird malaria
  • Feral cats and pigs
  • Sheep
  • Introduced goats
  • Rats
  • Mongoose
  • Wasps
  • Ants

The state of Hawaii is dedicated to removing alien invasive species and restoring the park’s ecosystems.  They are focusing on recovery of the four endangered species found in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park while monitoring all of the rare and threatened animal and plant species.  While this work is generally done by biologists, rangers assist with these efforts when possible.

Wailua River State Park

Wailua River State Park is the most popular state park on the island of Kaua’i.  More than 850,000 people a year visit this location to enjoy its rich scenic beauty and archaeological sites.  In old Hawaii, this area was an important seat of chiefly power.  Some of the most valuable historical sites at Wailua River State Park are the heiau or places of worship.

Although the park was established in 1954, Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources added the heiau to the park in 1962 to promote their preservation and raise public awareness of their cultural and historic importance.  These heiau were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

Visitors are drawn to this lush river valley for a number of additional reasons, including the opportunity to take a riverboat cruise to Fern Grotto.  Wailua Falls is another popular site in the park.  This double waterfall flows 80 feet into a large round pool and was featured on the TV show Fantasy Island.

Park rangers at Wailua River State Park have a number of roles.  They help to ensure the safety of visitors and are experts in search and rescue.  They also help to interpret the historic significance of the park to its visitors.

Park Ranger Job Duties at Wailua River State Park

As certified law enforcement officers, the park rangers at Wailua River State Park enforce the rules of the park.  This includes protecting the heiau, the birthstones of royalty, and the places of refuge found along Wailua River.  Since boating is a popular pastime on this river, the park rangers here are skilled at rescuing boaters in distress.

Park rangers have also had a role in developing the interpretive signage found along the historic sites.  One place where improvements have recently been made is at the platform at Fern Grotto.  Interpretive information is also found at the park’s visitor center.

The use of this area is thought to date back to the 1300s.  In the 1700s, massive walls enclosed the sacred area along Wailua River.  The area where the first rays of the sun struck the Kaua’i shore was celebrated with prayers and chants.  This area was known as Hikinaakala.

In the year 1700, massive walls surrounded the Hikinaakala.  They were six feet high and eleven feet wide.  A row of wooden images watched over this site.  This area was converted to secular use starting in 1810 when traditional religion was abolished.  It is thought that some of the heiau were used as animal pens in the 1830s.

Other parts of history along Wailua River remain in the form of petroglyphs that are marked on the boulders along the riverbank.  The meaning of these images has been lost to time.

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