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Trails guide jobs

If you enjoy walking in nature, observing wildlife and hosting guests, then a trails guide job might be right for you.

Before you can get a job as a trails guide, there are a few things you’ll need to know (and a few qualifications you’ll need to earn). Trails guides are responsible for safely and responsibly guiding guests on foot in areas with dangerous game in the African bush.

Trails are most commonly guided on foot, but they may also be on horseback or bicycle.

To become a trails guide, you must first be a qualified field guide. In this article we will explain what a trails guide is, the types of jobs available to trails guides, and how you can become a certified trails guide.


Trails guide


What is a trails guide?

A trails guide is distinguished from a field guide (or safari guide) by their ability to guide guests on foot in areas with dangerous game.

A field guide who is not a qualified trails guide is not allowed to carry a rifle or walk in dangerous game areas with guests. However, to become a certified trails guide, you must first be a certified field guide. The minimum qualification is Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) – this ensures that you have a sufficient understanding of the environment to provide a guided experience. Some trails guides also offer guided experiences on horseback or bicycle.

Just as with field guide qualifications, there are different levels of trails guide qualifications. The first is Apprentice Trails Guide (previously known as Backup Trails Guide or NQF2), followed by Trails Guide (NQF4), Professional Trails Guide, and Specialised Knowledge and Skills Dangerous Game Trails Guide.

Apprentice trails guides serve as second rifle to trails guides and above as they work towards higher levels. To ensure utmost safety in trails guiding, entry-level apprentice trails guides must walk for a minimum of 150 hours and log 50 encounters to become a full trails guide. This process is lengthy because it carries significant responsibilities!

How do I become a trails guide?

To become an apprentice trails guide, you must first earn your CATHSSETA Nature Site Guide (NQF2) qualification.


At Bushwise we go beyond the minimum training requirements for apprentice field guides, offering you all the basic training you need to also become an apprentice trails guide. During our 6- and 12-month courses, students study rifle handling theory and learn how to use a rifle safely and accurately. You’ll write theory exams and undergo an Advanced Rifle Handling (ARH) practical evaluation.


Once you’ve passed these assessments, combined with your Nature Site Guide qualification, you can join the Bushwise trails guide course to become a qualified back-up trails guide.

What kind of trails guide jobs are there?

As an apprentice trails guide, you can qualify for many different trails guide jobs. Lodges and reserves typically support an entry-level guide as they gain the hours and experience needed to become a lead trails guide. You can find jobs posted on many field guide social media platforms or directly on lodge and reserve websites. As a Bushwise alumni, you can also speak to our staff about various trails guide jobs – from trails guide to horse trails guide.

Some companies, such as Africa on Foot (a Bushwise placement location), specialise in walking safaris. You could begin your career as an assistant or apprentice trails guide, working with a qualified guide, and gaining hours and experience. Or you might get a job as a safari guide at a reputable lodge, reserve or protected area. Most of these field guide jobs also involve walking safaris, so you will gain experience as you work. Many companies encourage their guides to gain additional qualifications and will help you as you grow in your career. Buswise can also assist you with finding the best job for your specific interests.

Horseback trails guide

A popular type of trails guide job is horseback trails guide. This career is unique and qualifications for this position are still being developed. Not all reserves offer horseback trails, as this requires guides who are not only skilled with being around dangerous game, but also know about horses and are confident riders.

Although there are currently no specific certifications for horseback trails guides, lodges and reserves do tend to require certain qualifications for their guides. They want candidates that are experienced working with horses and riding trails, either single day trips or overnight. Ideally they also want people who can manage stables and look after their horses. Depending on the type of reserve (Big Five or not), they may require a trails guide certification, ARH and dangerous game experience. Job requirements vary between lodges.

There are a few places in the Greater Kruger National Park and other protected areas in South Africa that offer horseback trails. Wait a Little is a horseback trails company located in Makalali and Karongwe, near our Bushwise campus and the GVI Karongwe research base. Ants Hill and Ants Nest in the Waterberg, specialise in horseback safaris. Horseback trails are also popular in places like Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya, with companies such as African Horse Safaris offering experiences around the continent.

Bushwise students have even worked for some of these tour operators, so it’s definitely possible to become a horseback trails guide if that’s where your passion lies.

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