Top 10 FAQ -> Lighthouse Volunteering/Hosting
I’ve got a BUNCH of photos to share of the gorgeous place we’re staying, but before I get to them I thought I’d follow-up our previous post with one last lighthouse-related item -> a compilation of the top 10 questions we’ve been asked about lighthouse hosting over the past 3 years. As certified “lighthouse nuts” we’ve visited a bunch of lighthouses, talked to many volunteers and inquired about hosting at a bunch more. All our “hands on” experience is West Coast, so I certainly don’t profess to know everything there is to know about this topic, but hopefully this gives the rest of you lighthouse nuts something to refer back to:
1/ Where Do I find Lighthouse Hosting Jobs? How Far Ahead Of Time Should I Apply?
Depends on the State. In OR & WA the majority of the RV friendly hosting jobs are managed by the State Parks, but a few lighthouses are managed by other agencies (BLM, NPS, or even County). Your best bets to find jobs are either through your local State Park Volunteer Program, via volunteer.gov or by contacting the lighthouse you’re interested in directly. As to time-frame, lighthouse hosting jobs are often summer-only (select lighthouses are open year-round), tend to be popular and typically book ahead (some of the most popular spots even have years of waiting lists). However every now then cancellations come in and you can get a last minute slot, so if you keep your travel plans flexible you have a good shot. We got our first job at Cape Blanco within ~2 months of starting due to a last-minute cancellation from another couple. The job here in WA I applied for 5 months ahead of time. Once you’re “in” you’ll typically get some priority for following years. People who do these jobs often fall in love with them and you’ll hear of hosts who come back year after year to the same position.
2/ Is 1 Month The Typical Time To Volunteer?
This depends entirely on where you are volunteering. WA and OR State Parks ask for a minimum of 1 month, but you are welcome to do more. For example we have co-hosts here at North Head Lighthouse, WA who’ve decided to stay for 3 months. Other State Parks might ask for more time. For example, the few inquiries we’ve made into CA have asked us for 4-6 month minimum commitments. Still other areas, such as some of the lighthouses in MI only offer limited stays of 1-2 weeks. We like hitting a variety of different spots so we typically pick-up 1-2 months at a time and move on.
3/ What Are Typical Volunteer Hours?
This also depends entirely on where you volunteer! All 3 lighthouses we’ve hosted at in WA/OR had light schedules requiring only ~14-18 hours/person/week, but we’ve looked at positions at other lighthouses which required much more time. Some were even full-time (9-5) or required flexible hours/overtime when needed. There is no single standard here. I would say that if you volunteer for either WA or OR State Parks you will never be asked for more than 20 hours/week, but other states or other agencies may require something entirely different. Always be sure to ask in detail about volunteer hours when you’re applying.
4/ Do All Lighthouse Volunteer Jobs Provide RV Sites?
NO. Most of the lighthouses in OR do, a select few in WA do (exactly two that I’ve found in fact), but other states are very, very spotty. Some lighthouses provide on-site lodging (e.g. staying at the lighthouse) but no RV sites while others only use local volunteers or only accept paid guests. In fact I’ve only found a handful of lighthouses outside of WA/OR that offer RV sites (see some of the responses below for specific details). I’m hoping to find more!
5/ Do You Need Any Special Training For Lighthouse Hosting? What About Physical Requirements?
Typically NO. The minimum requirement is simply a love of lighthouses and comfort speaking in front of groups. Most lighthouses will offer some kind of training before you start volunteering, some just a day others more. As lighthouse hosts your typical duties are to lead tours, man the interpretive center (if there is one) and sometimes handle a cash register (if there is one). Physically you do need to be able to walk to the lighthouse (some require a hike), walk up the lighthouse stairs (if you’re hosting in the lens room) and be prepared to be on your feet for the duration of your shift (all of the lighthouses we’ve hosted at on the West Coast have chairs to rest, but we don’t typically have time to use them!). Some lighthouses require more active physical work especially if you are living on-site or giving tours that require you to mount the stairs for each tour (for example Heceta Head, OR requires hosts to lead tours up the stairs as does Umpqua River, OR). Some may even require maintenance & cleaning work too (Battery Point, CA comes to mind). Always check physical requirements beforehand.
6/ Can You Volunteer As A Single?
YES, In Some Spots. Most lighthouses, especially those offering RV sites/lodging prefer couples (some even require them), but a few will accept single volunteers. For example Cape Blanco, OR accepts single volunteers and the ranger at North Head, WA told us he does on occasion too. I wouldn’t say it’s the norm, but the opportunities are definitely there. If you’re a single guy/gal looking for lighthouse or interpretive-type hosting ask around and be persistent. Outside of lighthouses there are also lots of museums, forts and historic houses that need interpretive hosts. Also last-minute cancellation almost always come up. So, just keep asking around and you’ll definitely be able to find a fit!
7/ Can You Host At Lighthouses On The East Coast? Or Midwest?
YES, there are opportunities although there seem to be far less RV friendly lighthouse volunteer positions than on the West Coast. Many of the East Coast & Midwest lighthouses use either local volunteers or rely on paid guests (i.e. people pay to stay there -> this is a very popular/growing model). But, there are exceptions. For example Bodie Island Lighthouse & Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, NC have volunteer positions with space for RVers, as does 40-Mile Lighthouse, MI. There are likely others I don’t know about.
8/ Are There Any Paid Lighthouse Hosting Positions?
Not exactly. Lighthouses are historic structures that require lots of funds to upkeep, so the vast majority of short-term positions are either volunteer-supported or guest-paying. However a select few lighthouses do hire seasonal caretakers on paid salary. There are not many of these jobs around and they’re not exactly set-up for RVers, but they are out there. I found some old job listings (from 2009) listing a few positions on the East Coast so I know they exist, but I wouldn’t be able to give you much more.
9/ Is There Anywhere I Can LIVE In A Lighthouse As A Volunteer/Keeper?
YES, actually there are several of these opportunities around. Many lighthouses require you to pay a fee to stay overnight, but there are a select number that have volunteer positions where you stay for free in the historic lighthouse (typically the old keepers house) in return for hosting tours and sometimes maintenance/cleaning/upkeep. Some of these lighthouses are on islands which are rather isolated/primitive, but also provide some of the coolest experiences. Most of these only take couples & NO pets (and obviously you can’t bring your RV). Examples of these opportunities are Battery Point in CA, the Apostle Islands, WI, Au Sable Point Light Station, MI, and Bakers Island, MA. Many more out there. These tend to be popular and are booked early (we heard Battery Point has a 2-year waiting list) so be persistent if this is what you’d like to do.
10/ Are There Any Negatives To Lighthouse Hosing?
Hmmmm….difficult one to answer this. We LOVE lighthouses so we pretty much love our jobs, but I guess there are potential drawbacks. Lighthouses are often in exposed areas with finicky weather so you may endure cold, wind, rain and even combinations of all three. Our first summer hosting at Cape Blanco we wore thermal underwear the entire time LOL. Also, you have deal with people, sometimes lots of people and that can be both very rewarding and very frustrating especially when tours get backed-up and folks are getting antsy waiting for their turn. Lastly, this is not exactly a high paid job. It’s volunteer work and the only “pay” we usually get is our RV site. If you’re looking for return on $$, volunteering is not exactly the way to go. That said, all of these negatives pale (for us) in comparison to the fun of being at a historic structure in a gorgeous location (lighthouses tend to be in the prettiest areas). We love lighthouses and we hope we encourage you to become nuts just like us!
- US Lighthouse Accomodations -> Partial list of overnight (paying) stays as well as free volunteer opportunities at Lighthouses across the US.
- Mapped List Of Lighthouses In US -> Interactive map of all lighthouses in the US
- Michigan Lighthouse Volunteer Programs -> Partial list of MI lighthouse volunteer programs. Also, another link HERE.
- Washington Lighthouse Volunteers -> Lists of contact e-mails and numbers. Note/ I’ve contacted all these and only North Head and Grey’s Harbor offer RV sites.
- Oregon State Park Volunteers -> List of open opportunities at OR State Parks (incl. lighthouses). Also Check Yaquina Head & Umqua River as these are managed by other organizations.
- Cape Hatteras Volunteer Positions -> Covers Cape Hatteras & Bodie Island Lighthouses in NC.
- Apostle Islands Volunteer Positions -> Covers the lighthouses on the Apostle Islands, WI
Other Bloggers Who’ve Written About Lighthouse Volunteering:
- Birding RVers -> These folks have volunteered at several lighthouses including Umpqua River (OR), Cape Blanco (OR) and Coquille River (OR). Just do a search on “lighthouse” on their blog HERE
- Because we can -> These guys volunteered at Umpqua River Ligthhouse (OR). Click HERE
- Technomadia -> They volunteered with us at Cape Blanco (OR) last year. Click HERE
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
I love reading your blog posts! You have inspired my husband and I to be lighthouse hosts. We will be at Heceta Head for the month of September. I just need to get in some stair climbing practice before we get there!
Whoo hoo! Glad to hear you’ve come to the “dark side” LOL. Heceta Head is a gorgeous lighthouse (such a stunning location) and Sept is a superb time to be there. I’m sure you’ll love it!
I adore lighthouses and really appreciate your enthusiasm and all the information. This is definitely on my bucket list!
Every time I see a lighthouse I think of the paint. In 1976-77 it was Formula 30 white, Spruce Green for the trim and I just don’t recall the color of the roof…
I enjoy your lighthouse posts…
Interesting. Surely the paint depends on the lighthouse since many of them have distinctive day markings (esp. On the east coast although the roof often serves as day marking out west). Or perhaps the white you mentioned was the base white used in the 70’s on all lighthouses with a white base color? Many of the original lighthouses were simply whitewashed back in the day, and some of the restored lighthouses have gone back to more original methods to help ensure the buildings breathe and are properly preserved. Our current lighthouse (North Head, WA) has gone through several color iterations over the years. They even tried to camouflage it during WWII! Currently it’s white with red roof.
It’s an interesting question…I’ll look into it.
Jil mohr says
We have friends who volunteered for many years as lighthouse hosts in Michigan and loved it….
Jil, do you happen to know what lighthouse they volunteered at? Been trying to look for RV (and pet) friendly opportunities there (for the future). Have only found a few options.
Jil mohr says
No but I will ask them….
I will be most interested in hearing your thoughts on New Dungeness Lighthouse, which I believe you mentioned hiking to when you are in the Sequim area at some point. We hiked there last summer, and while we love, love, loved the hike, we were struck by the remoteness of the lighthouse, and how relatively flexible the hosts there needed to be. They are visited by a boat once a week, which takes them back to land to do errands and shopping, but otherwise it’s just them, the lighthouse and the sea. And, of course, the hearty visitors like ourselves that relish the 11 mile round trip hike!
New Dungeness Lighthouse is a paying volunteer position…and by that I mean you (as the volunteer) pay to stay there, plus you also do the tours/cleaning etc. We just met some volunteers who told us about their hosting experience up there last week. It’s a beautiful lighthouse and an amazing location, but we’re just not ready to pay cash to do it. Plus we’d have to store the RV and kennel the pets (no pets allowed). Maybe one day when we’re no longer RVing?
The fee for volunteer keepers at Dungeness is $350 per person per week. You can read more about it here:
We hope to hike up there when we’re staying in Sequim later next month.
Interesting- I don’t remember that added little wrinkle when we spoke to the temporary keepers. Hmm, why does needing to pay to volunteer strike me as somehow adding insult to injury??? 🙂
It’s actually a really popular (and growing) model for lighthouses. The old structures always require funds for upkeep, and many folks look at it like a relatively inexpensive way to stay overnight at a historic place. So, it’s like a combination donation of time and money to support the lighthouse. You’ll find many lighthouses operate this way esp. In Midwest and East Coast. Quite a few in WA and CA too.
We’re just not there yet (I.e. Paying money to volunteer), but maybe sometime in the future. Who knows. We do love the lighthouses.
We have been ready to come over to the dark side as well. As soon as we get back out west, we plan to look into lighthouse hosting, as we are pretty nuts about them too.
Awesome! It would be fun if we ended up at the same lighthouse!
Cheryl oftwomanyadventures says
I love your posts and your photos. Being a desert rat my whole life makes me love, love, love the Oregon and Washington lighthouses.
They are pretty amazing structures. Plus the coast is gorgeous to boot. It’s a great combo.
Rusty Glen says
I sent an email to you from another of your email address’s re dentistry, sorry this is off topic for this blog post.
can you provide me some advise on visiting Los algodones on day trips for this work, as im not a US citizen, but a green card resident ?
Feel free to email me, thanks again
Just bring your passport and Green Card with you when you cross the border. The Green Card is the most important of the two, and in fact I think your Green Card (alone) is enough to get you back into the US, but I would bring the passport anyway. No other special requirements needed (by the way I’m also a Green Card holder and that’s how I did all my crossings).
John Huggins says
We love your comments about Light Houst hosting and we would like to use some of your material (acknowledged, of course) on our weekly podcast about the RV lifestyle called Living the RV Dream. Please let us know if that is satisfactory.
Sure. Go ahead. I’m delighted to be part of your podcast 🙂
gail and Don the Winecoasters says
Hi Nina – enjoy your posts!
Thought you might like to look at a post I did recently on training to be an interpretive host . Would enjoy if you liked my blog as well http://winecoastersblog.wordpress.com – am having fun with it as inspired by Jen Nealy of NealysonWheels. We just spent a few days with them in Yellowstone.
Thanks and hope to meet sometime on the road.
Interpretive host training blog:
Good info for aspiring interpretive hosts. Thanks for sharing.
gail and Don the Winecoasters says
and ps we are currently working as kayak hosts at Milo McIver in Oregon and will follow with a kayak host gig at Fort Stevens. Come see us for a kayak tour!
Nice to “meet” you on the blog. Seems we have very similar interests in volunteering. We’re definitely very partial to interpretive-type hosting and I have to admit I did not know about the certification program you mentioned in your blog post. Sounds like you’ve got some nice gigs lined up this summer. Enjoy your time in OR!
Ken Steely says
Very nice article! My wife Barb and I (yes, we are Ken and Barbie) are keepers at Battery Point for a month or two each year, and yes they are booked out a few years.
That said, it is a marvelous way to spend a month if you like people, history and enjoy solitude (it’s an island a little more than half the day) in a beautiful place.
Thanks for taking the time to write about all this. We still have much to learn. If you get down that way it would be great to meet you!