Love getting outside and interested in giving back to your local community? Then you might want to look into outdoor volunteer opportunities! With so many out there, it can be hard to know where to start and what organization to join. I’m a member of the 2022 Therm-A-Rest Summer Dream Team and a volunteer climb leader with The Mountaineers. I’m going to help get you started by talking about my personal outdoor volunteer journey and then discuss ideas and other organizations that may fit with your interests. 

Getting outside for me isn’t just a personal journey, it’s also about sharing my love for the outdoors with others. It’s because of this that I looked into outdoor volunteer opportunities several years ago and ultimately joined The Mountaineers in 2015. The Mountaineers is a Washington State-based non-profit and volunteer-run organization that has been offering youth and adult outdoor courses and programs throughout the state since 1906. 

My Experience Volunteering

When I joined and I began as a hike leader. At that point I never could have imagined how much this organization would eventually enrich my life and how involved I would become. After taking the Basic Alpine Climbing Course in 2017, I was on my way to becoming a volunteer climbing instructor, Intermediate Alpine Climbing student, and a rope leader on basic alpine climbs. 

author volunteering leading

Shortly after instructing and volunteering at events, I took on the role of running the Beta & Brews speaker series for the Seattle Climbing Committee. Later became a Climb Leader for the Seattle branch. My next step was becoming the Seattle Climbing Chair. During my tenure, I helped all of our volunteer course leaders run their programs. I love taking climbing students out on some of their first alpine climbs ever. The joy of sharing my knowledge and witnessing them in awe of the mountains is the essence of what has kept me involved year after year.

How to Get Involved With The Mountaineers

To become a volunteer leader with The Mountaineers you will need to have prior experience in the course or program material and be vetted by a current leader/instructor. Each branch of the organization (Seattle, Everett, Foothills, Bellingham, Tacoma, Olympia, and Kitsap) and activity has their own vetting process. 

Generally, each consists of becoming a member, taking the courses needed or taking an equivalency test to demonstrate your technical skills, and then doing a mentored outing or two with a current leader. If you are interested in leading day hikes, that is an easy process of attending a one-night lecture training session to learn about being a hike leader, and then going on a mentored day hike with a current hike leader and participants. 

For climbing and more technical activities, the process can take a lot longer and includes multiple checkpoints and an application process. I highly recommend starting as an event volunteer or a hike leader and then working your way up from there as you get more involved with the club. If you’re a climber with a lot of climbing experience who wants to help teach climbing techniques, it can be easy to get involved by talking with a course leader and then helping out at one of their field trips. Our climbing courses are always in need of qualified instructors, so if you have a lot of experience, reach out to the climbing committee chair for your branch and they can get you involved. Activity chair information can be found on The Mountaineers website.

top rope rock climbing

One of the things that makes The Mountaineers unique is that the organization is run almost entirely by volunteers. From leading trips, to building course curricula, to managing budgets – our volunteers are involved at all levels of our programs. As a staff member, it is pretty special to work with such a large and varied group of volunteers. We have volunteers from all different backgrounds and professions, with a wide variety of experience in the outdoors, which creates a really vibrant community of folks supporting our mission.” – Sara Ramsay, Associate Director of Leadership & Operations

Environmental Advocacy 

Aside from all the courses and programs offered, The Mountaineers are fierce advocates for wild places. The conservation department staff sends out a lot of action requests to members on ways to speak up for our local public lands. 

“At The Mountaineers, we speak up for the trails where we wander, the mountains we climb, and the waters we paddle. Our goal is to protect the natural landscapes that make our adventures possible, and our members are powerful advocates for public lands and wild places. We provide opportunities for our members and volunteers to take action on conservation and climate, steward outdoor places, and learn how to recreate respectfully.” – Betsy Robblee, Conservation & Advocacy Director

Advocacy work at The Mountaineers mainly focuses on protecting the landscapes and ecosystems where we recreate and the outdoor experience these places provide. The majority of the focus is on national public lands including National Forests and Parks, as almost 60% of The Mountaineers outdoor activities take place on federal lands. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can advocate for public lands, learn more here

on a trip as a volunteer leader

My experience with The Mountaineers has been so wonderful and has introduced me to so many people in my local outdoor community. Not only do I still volunteer with the Seattle Climbing Committee, but I also enjoy helping out at events that The Mountaineers staff run for our community. It means so much to be able to give back and help teach others how to love the outdoors and climbing as much as I do. 

Getting Started With Outdoor Volunteer Opportunities

Getting started and finding the right outdoor volunteer opportunities can be overwhelming. You may find an organization you want to volunteer at, but are unsure how to get started. In the next few paragraphs, I will help you find outdoor organizations to get involved with so you can have an exciting journey into an organization that resonates with you. 

volunteer climbing leaders

If you are local to Washington and want to get involved with The Mountaineers, here are some ways to get started:

  •  Find out what branch is closest to you, there are branches in Seattle, Everett, Foothills (the east side), Bellingham, Tacoma, Olympia, and Kitsap. Branches are The Mountaineers way of helping members get involved with their local communities based on the area of Washington they live in. All of which offer courses and trips in a variety of outdoor activities including climbing, hiking, backpacking, skiing, sea kayaking, and more. 
  • Once you find the closest branch to you, figure out what activities interest you and reach out to the chair of that committee. Mountaineers staff can help assist you to find the right person. 
  • Become a member. Membership allows you to participate in outdoor activities and gives you discounts on courses. 
  • Check out open volunteer opportunities on the website, and attend a Meet The Mountaineers event to learn more about the organization and what opportunities are available to you. Not interested in leading an activity? That’s okay, you can volunteer at a stewardship outing or an event like a film festival. There are ways for everyone to get involved, no matter your skill set or ability. Learn more about volunteering with The Mountaineers here

Other Outdoor Volunteer Opportunities

Aside from The Mountaineers, there are many outdoor nonprofits that are always looking for volunteers. If you’re local to Washington and interested in giving back and doing trail maintenance, Washington Trails Association offers trail work parties on a regular basis. You can head out on a hike and help create new trails, or fix damaged sections of trails you use regularly. 

If you are a climber, Access Fund and Washington Climbers Coalition are always looking for volunteers to get involved at their events and crag work parties. There are climbers coalitions all over, so there is a place for you to get involved no matter where you live. Climbers of Color is also local to the Seattle area and is non-profit that aims to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the climbing and mountaineering community by developing leaders of color.

Here are some other organizations that provide outdoor volunteer opportunities outside of Washington that are similar to The Mountaineers:

  • The Mazamas: an outdoor club based in Oregon, whose mission is to inspire everyone to love and protect the outdoors.
  • Colorado Mountain Club: an outdoor organization very similar to The Mountaineers but based in Colorado and is the Rocky Mountain community for mountaincraft education, adventure, and conservation. 
  • American Alpine Club: a long-established climbing organization that offers clinics and grants, but also does a lot of conservation of climbing areas across the US. Their mission is to provide knowledge and inspiration, conservation and advocacy, and logistical support for the climbing community.
  • Access Fund: a nonprofit advocacy organization that leads and inspires the climbing community toward sustainable access and conservation of the climbing environment.
  • She Jumps: an outdoor organization that serves girls ages 6 and up, women 18 & older who either have never participated in outdoor activities or are active members of the outdoor community looking to give back and share their passion.
  • Big City Mountaineers: an organization that partners with youth agencies to get young people outside, whose mission is to provide transformative experiences through connections to nature that strengthen life skills and build community for youth from disinvested communities.
  • For more, check out this Therm-A-Rest blog on Making Camp for Everyone that talks about five organizations who are pursuing equitable outdoor access

Still not sure where to start? Check out the following resources to help you find outdoor volunteer opportunities in your area: