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In the wilderness is the preservation of the world. - Henry David Thoreau

Whether it be for personal challenge, leadership training or professional certification, outdoor education programs offer all participants the experience, inspiration and encouragement to live more sustainable lifestyles.

Outdoor Education Programs and Schools

National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

Headquartered in Wyoming, NOLS is a non-profit, educational institution teaching wilderness and leadership skills, with an emphasis on conservation. Courses range from 10 to 95 days in length, and take place at eight branches in seven countries and on five continents. Skills covered range from backpacking and sea kayaking, orienteering and mountaineering, with many more skills available in a wide variety of courses.

Outward Bound

Outward Bound is a nonprofit, adventure-based education program that develops confidence, leadership, responsibility, and wilderness skills through outdoor challenge and accomplishment. Courses types include mountaineering, mountain biking, sailing, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, backpacking, dogsledding, backcountry skiing/snowboarding, and rock climbing. Environmental stewardship and Leave No Trace skills are taught on all courses. 
Courses in the US are for ages 14 – 65+ and range from four to 81 days.

Colorado Mountain College

The CMC Outdoor Recreational Leadership program offers adventure with extensive training in leadership development. A two-year program offers an Associate in General Studies – Outdoor Recreational Leadership degree which is directly transferrable to several four-year colleges in the state. The college also offers a wide variety of outdoor education courses.

Wilderness Awareness School

Based in Duvall, Washington, the school offers training in the wilderness arts, including tracking, bird language, survival and native living skills, traditional herbalism, and naturalist mentoring. Program choices include home-based, residential courses located in Washington and Vermont, youth programs, and national workshops and expeditions. “Our mission is to preserve and care for the natural world by fostering people’s understanding and appreciation of nature, community and self.”

The Women's Wilderness Institute

The Women’s Wilderness Institute offers high quality outdoor adventures and backcountry trips for women and teen girls in the Rocky Mountains and southwestern deserts and rivers. The Institute offers over 50 courses per year for women of all ages and fitness levels.

SOLO: Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities

Located in Conway, NH, SOLO offers training programs and professional certification in wilderness/rural/disaster emergency medicine, rescue, and leadership. SOLO offers instruction to individuals, guides, mountain rescue teams, and staffs from other outdoor education programs, including the National Park Service.

Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center

Located in Breckenridge, Colorado, this center offers outdoor learning experiences to people of all abilities, including people with disabilities, those with serious illnesses and injuries, and “at risk” populations. The Wilderness Program offers single and multi-day experiences, and individual enrollment adventure trips. Their Adaptive Skiing Program offers varied skiing experiences for people with special needs.

Tom Brown’s Tracker School

Tracker School is located in Asbury, New Jersey, with associated courses in Canada and Florida. Students learn the basics of tracking, stalking, nature observation, and wilderness survival. “If you are looking for a closer attachment to Earth Mother and the skills and philosophy that will help you live in harmony and balance with Creation, then come join us.” Available to ages 18 and over.

Ancient Pathways

Desert survival and bushcraft living skill programs are designed for those seeking to develop proficiency in both primitive and modern wilderness skills. Courses are held throughout northern and central Arizona and at an outfitted basecamp near the Painted Desert, one hour from the Grand Canyon.

Temagami Wilderness Center

The Temagami District in Ontario, Canada, comprises more than 5000 square miles of pristine wilderness. The Temagami Wilderness Center offers guided canoe trips, outfitting, and winter activities such as snowshoeing and dog sledding, along with instructional courses provided through the School of Expedition and Adventure Leadership. The SEAL program is a 97-day, all-inclusive semester program.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum, Senegalese Conservationist

American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)

Located in Golden, Colorado, the AMGA offers training courses and guide certification exams in three disciplines: rock, alpine and ski mountaineering. The programs address the needs of guides working in the mountains, and are structured to be completed sequentially over a two- to three-year period. The first step is a guide program, then an advanced guide course, followed by a certification exam.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Located in western North Carolina, this center provides instruction in whitewater paddling, mountain biking, adventure racing, wilderness first-aid, and river rescue. Other offerings include whitewater rafting on six rivers, group teambuilding programs, retail and mail order operations, and worldwide adventure travel.

Bay Area Wilderness Training Program


Located in California, the program offers professional wilderness leadership training workshops with an emphasis on safety and esteem-building for adult youth workers. Course completion allows free access to an equipment loan system so that youth organizations may outfit their groups for trips of their own free of charge.

Voyageur Wilderness Programme

Quetico Park is 1,800 square miles of protected, pristine wilderness in Northern Ontario’s Precambrian shield and boreal forest. The Voyageur Wilderness Program’s all-inclusive eco-field trips allow students and teachers to experience first-hand one of the world’s last primitive wilderness areas. Professional Development teacher workshops are also offered.

Wilderdom: Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center

Based in Australia, this is a website which provides a wealth of information about the ins and outs of organized outdoor education programs with smatterings of eco-philosophy, etc. “There’s probably enough to get lost in and maybe find oneself again.”

IslandWood Graduate Residency in Education, Environment and Community

Located on Bainbridge Island, Washington, this residency offers a Certificate in Education, Environment, and Community from the University of Washington. Working with students, educators train to create learning environments that offer children the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of both human and natural communities.

Camp Summit

Located in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, this outdoor education and adventure camp provides experiential education and leadership programs, along with overnight summer camping for kids and youths from 7 to 17.

Resources for Families and Classrooms

The average child spends less than one hour a day outside, yet studies show time spent in nature makes us happier, healthier people. The following is a sampling of resources available to teachers, parents, and grandparents looking to reconnect the children in their lives with nature.

Project Learning Tree

Project Learning Tree offers sample lesson plans for teachers or a sampling of nature activities for families and grandparents to help get kids outside and interacting with nature.

David Suzuki Superhero Challenge

This four-week do-it-yourself program helps families and classrooms with children from kindergarten through grade 8 learn about environmental issues and make a difference. Anyone who signs up receives four outdoor activities complete with instructions. The theme changes yearly, so participants can take the challenge again and again. The David Suzuki Foundation also produced the excellent Nature as a Classroom Guide.

National Wildlife Federation Lesson Plans

These plans are a sampling from the NWF’s collection designed to introduce students to life science, ecology, wildlife biology, scientific identification and observation. All lesson plans are aligned to the National Science Education Standards.

Evergreen Teacher’s Corner

Offered by Evergreen, a Canadian charity and international thought leader, this compilation of resources includes information about incorporating nature into lesson plans, outdoor teaching strategies, and activity kits for outdoor learning.

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