Published on October 29, 2021

Now more than ever, people are heading for America’s national parks, forests and wild open space. With its unique topography, diverse flora and fauna, and notable cultural sites, Yosemite National Park is a natural American icon that attracts close to 5 million visitors annually. Fortunately the vast majority of today’s visitors approach this citadel of conservation with a sense of stewardship and “leave no trace” ethos.

Even so, preserving Yosemite Mariposa County for future generations calls for a collective extra step to transcend ethos into action. Voluntourism is an essential way that this happens. With the award-winning programs managed by organizations such as the Yosemite Conservancy and National Park Service, this spectacular yet fragile realm is in good hands as folks volunteer their time while on vacation. Here are a few ways to get involved during your trip to Yosemite Mariposa County.

Yosemite Conservancy

Friendly visitor information assistants in Yosemite
Yosemite Conservancy volunteers play many important roles in Yosemite, including staffing visitor assistance booths to share their knowledge and love of the park with other visitors. Photo: Yosemite Conservancy | Mark Marschall

Yosemite Conservancy is the nonprofit dedicated to preserving Yosemite’s resources and providing enriching visitor experiences in the park. As Yosemite’s official philanthropic partner and cooperating association, it works closely with the park to fund high-priority projects and provide enriching educational programs.

Volunteers working at in a giant sequoia grove
Becoming a park volunteer automatically puts you in contact with others who are as passionate about Yosemite as you are. Give back to Yosemite, and make a few friends along the way. Photo: Yosemite Conservancy | Mark Marschall

Yosemite Conservancy’s volunteer programs exemplify the best practices of voluntourism. They include work week crews, visitor information assistants, corporate work projects, and art instruction for adults and kids. For decades, Conservancy volunteers have pitched in to restore meadows, create climbing-access trails, and connected with tens of thousands of travelers at Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows visitor information centers.

“Our volunteers play an important role all over Yosemite. They restore trails and habitat, teach art classes, and draw on their Yosemite knowledge to help visitors. And in the process, they deepen their relationship with Yosemite, meet fellow Yosemite fans, and make a tangible difference for the park,” said Adonia Ripple, Yosemite Conservancy’s Chief of Yosemite Operations.

As expressed by Yosemite Conservancy volunteer Randy Shannahan: “Living in Yosemite for a week made me feel a stronger attachment to the park. By investing my time and energy, I become a part of Yosemite, and it becomes a part of me.”

Back to Ripple, who distills the heart, soul and reward of voluntourism full circle: “Yosemite gives so much in rejuvenating the mind, body and spirit, volunteering here is driven by the authentic need to give back to the Park. Yosemite commands a feeling of gratitude that can be naturally expressed by volunteering for it.”

To learn more and get updates on Yosemite Conservancy’s volunteer vacation programs, subscribe to the organization’s e-newsletter.

Yosemite National Park Service Programs

Volunteers protecting an oak sapling.
Yosemite volunteers come from all over the world, and help with everything from studying birds, to building trails, and picking up trash. Here, two volunteers are helping to protect an oak sapling. Credit: NPS photo.

Yosemite National Park has a vibrant volunteer program, welcoming people from all over the world into positions ranging from visitor information assistants to trail builders and general terrain cleanup crews. Volunteers gain work experience, stay active, and amplify awareness about the natural environment and cultural history of the Park, all while preserving one of America’s greatest natural and cultural legacies.

The Yosemite Volunteer Program is organized into three basic areas: individuals, groups and events / drop-in projects. Get the complete story on volunteering with Yosemite National Park at the official NPS site.

Yosemite Facelift

Man collecting trash during the Yosemite Facelift
Help keep Yosemite clean during the annual Yosemite Facelift! Credit: NPS Photo

Yosemite Facelift is an annual late-September tradition founded by Yosemite rock climbing legend Ken Yager, and renowned as Yosemite Valley’s largest volunteer clean up event. The week-long event is the perfect opportunity for volunteers to come and help it recover from the peak season’s visitors. Ready for action? Autumn’s allure and seasonal lodging values make volunteering during Yosemite Facelift a win-win.

Additional volunteer opportunities in Yosemite are offered by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, American Hiking Society, youth programs from the Student Conservation Association and more.

Voluntouring in Mariposa County

Two volunteers carrying a log together
Work together as a team and see what you can accomplish! Mariposa Trails volunteers keep our lesser known trails beautiful. Photo: Mariposa Trails | Bill King

Mariposa County is home to Yosemite National Park, but this vast “Mother of Counties” needs help for the network of hiking trails outside of the Park as well. Mariposa Trails is a non-profit organization that tends front-country trails for the enjoyment of all types of nature-based recreation, including hikers, cyclists, runners and equestrians. Most trail-tending days happen in the fall and winter, when the soil is soft and the air is cool ““ the best time for “mountain-moving” work! New volunteers are always needed.

Take Voluntourism Head On!

A group of volunteers pose after picking up trash in Yosemite Valley
Picking up trash is something we all can do, whether it is in a big group or just having a small bag for trash that you pick up while you’re out exploring. Thanks again to all our great Yosemite volunteers! Credit: NPS photo

You don’t need to get in with an organized group to make a big impact in your visit to Yosemite Mariposa County. Voluntourism can be as simple as including a pair of gloves and a grocery bag in your hiking gear to pick up along the trail after those who won’t do it for themselves. Even doing things as simple as turning your car off to reduce carbon emissions while waiting in line or better yet, understanding when the peak times to enter Yosemite are and avoiding those lines altogether, can help your trip be a less impactful one on one of America’s premier natural destinations. Take a look at our Nature Rules to learn how to travel smarter and safer to reduce your ecological footprint.

Take Your Vacation to Higher Ground

Vacationing with purpose comes with powerful intrinsic rewards. Voluntourism is a form of “slow travel,” the approach that enhances connection to local places, people, and culture. It relies on the idea that a trip is meant to educate and have emotional impact, in the present moment and beyond, while staying sustainable for local communities and the environment.

And whether you’re with an official organization or going solo, voluntourism in its pure form can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience. Roll up those sleeves! Today and tomorrow, an “always-on” approach to environmental stewardship wins the day.

To explore lodging options, things to do and places to eat, visit, the #1 trip planning site for vacations to Yosemite National Park and historic Mariposa County. To stay up to date, follow @YosemiteNation on social media and subscribe to our newsletter, “The Wanderer”. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for great videos on the people and places of Yosemite Mariposa County.

Categories: General Travel Tips, Outdoor Activities