Frequently Asked Questions


About the Learning Center

Accommodations at the Learning Center

Participating in a Learning Center program

Participating in a Family Getaway


About the Learning Center

What is the Learning Center?

North Cascades Institute operates the Learning Center, which opened in 2005, in partnership with the City of Seattle and the National Park Service. It is located in the heart of North Cascades National Park just off of Highway 20 on the north shore of Diablo Lake. Facilities include overnight lodging for up to 92 participants; multimedia classrooms, a library and meeting spaces; a lakeside dining hall with a recycling/composting center; an amphitheater, outdoor learning shelters, trails leading into the surrounding wildlands and a dock on Diablo Lake for paddling adventures.

What happens at the learning Center?

North Cascades Institute is responsible for all of the programming at the Learning Center, and there are a wide variety of activities and gatherings for people of all ages in support of the Institute's mission to "conserve and restore Northwest environments through education." Youth programs include Mountain School, North Cascades Wild and the Cascade Climate Challenge, while family opportunities include Base Camp, Family Getaways and Day Trips. Adults visit the Learning Center to participate in Diablo Downtimes, the Sourdough Speaker Series and a wide variety of classes and retreats focused on the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades. The Learning Center is also used as a base camp for a variety of backcountry excursions like Ross Lake By Boat and Boot, Family Backpacking Adventures and hikes in the surrounding mountains. Finally, as the educational calendar allows, the Learning Center is available to meet the needs of groups who want to experience the North Cascades through educational retreats and conferences through our Group Rentals program.

How long does it take to get there?

The Learning Center is located approximately 75 miles east of Burlington, at milepost 127.5 on the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20). We suggest allowing three hoursof  travel time from Seattle, two hours from Bellingham and one-and-a-half hours from Winthrop.

What are the temperatures like at the Learning Center?

The Learning Center sits at 1,200 feet, so temperatures are not as extreme as you might imagine. Summertime is moderate with temperatures often in the 70-80s. Spring is warm and wet and fall brings warm days with chilly, crisp mornings and evenings. Winters are cold and wet and occasionally bring significant snowfall. Rain is a possibility in all four seasons. We believe that "there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing choices" and encourage you to bring clothing for the whole range of weather so that you will be comfortable no matter what comes!

Are there bears or cougars near the Learning Center?

We are fortunate to have black bears and cougars living in the Learning Center's neighborhood (there are no grizzly bears). These animals are rarely dangerous unless provoked and we have never had an incident. Cougars are very elusive and you'll probably never encounter one; however, we occasionally see black bears on the trails near the Learning Center. Don't feed them, don't surprise them and don't approach them and chances are an encounter will become a memorable part of your visit. Instructions on how to behave if you see a bear are available from your host during bear season.

Can I bring my dog to the Learning Center or for a hike?

Due to our cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, dogs are not allowed on the Learning Center campus, with the exception of aid dogs. Dogs on leash are allowed on all trails within the surrounding National Recreation Area, and the Diablo Lake Trail, accessible from our parking lot, is a great dog-friendly hike.

Can I launch my personal canoe or kayak from the Learning Center dock?

The Learning Center dock is for the use of Learning Center watercraft and programs only. You are welcome to bring your personal watercraft, but please launch it just south of our parking lot (south of Sourdough Creek) or else drive to Colonial Creek Campground (three miles east on Highway 20) and use the public dock there.


Accommodations at the Learning Center

What are the Learning Center accommodations like?

The Learning Center has three beautiful, eco-friendly guest lodges, each with seven to eight rooms and gender-specific restrooms; two of the lodges also have comfortable group lounges with gas-lit stoves. Each room has four twin beds (in the form of two bunk beds), at least one desk, a reading lamp and a wardrobe with lockable compartments.

How big are the rooms?

Our rooms have two sets of bunk beds, enough to comfortably sleep four people.

Is there a key to my room?

While we don't provide keys to the lodge rooms, you can lock your room when you are inside it. There is a lock box in each room for your valuables with enough room for a purse, camera, laptop or other small valuables. We have padlocks to loan out.

Is there heat in the rooms?

Yes, there is radiator heat in each room with a thermostat so you can control the heat for individual comfort.

If I forgot a sleeping bag or towel, will they be available at the Learning Center?

Yes. While we encourage everyone to bring what they need for their stay, we have limited linen supplies for rent. The cost is $10 for each complete set of bed and bath linens.

Will my cell phone work at the Learning Center?

The remote location of the Learning Center campus is not conducive to cell phone reception. You can call out on our phones – Seattle calls are considered local, but for all other calls, please bring a calling card with you.

How is Internet access provided? How many power outlets are in the room?

Internet access at the Learning Center is supplied by wireless router in each dorm, classroom, library and dining hall. There are also internet-connected computers in the library, bookstore and each classroom available for your use. There are two power outlets in each room.

Can we bring our own snacks? A bottle of wine?

Yes, you can bring your own snacks provided they are stored in airtight containers to discourage any little critters from moving into guest lodges. You are welcome to bring your own adult beverages and consume them in your room. Depending on your program, there may be a no-host (cash or credit card accepted) bar serving beer and wine available during dinner.

Is there a place I can store my own food?

All of your meals during your stay are provided, but if you would like to bring some of your own snacks or beverages, there is some cold storage available in the lounges of the lodges and in the kitchenette in the dining hall.

Is there a place nearby to purchase food, snacks or supplies?

Newhalem, eight miles west of the Learning Center, has a small seasonal convenience store. The nearest gas station to the Learning Center is in Marblemount, 20 miles west of the Learning Center. Marblemount also has a small convenience store, post office, overnight accommodations and several eateries. Concrete, approximately 40 miles west of the Learning Center, has the nearest full-service grocery store.

Is the campus wheelchair-accessible?

All of the buildings and campus pathways are ADA-accessible and we have a ADA scooter available too. The Learning Center campus is built on a hillside, so we recommend assistance in navigating beyond the central campus.


Participating in a Learning Center program

When do I check in and check out? What will I need to bring?

Check-in and check-out times vary program to program. A detailed letter will be emailed to you before your stay at the Learning Center with all the information you will need to be prepared for your stay with us, including check-in/check-out times, supplies list, class roster, directions and an activity agenda.

Do you arrange carpools?

We encourage people to connect with other registrants in their area to arrange carpools. The letter mentioned above will include a roster of everyone enrolled in your program and their contact information.

Is there any need to bring money to a class at the Learning Center?

The store at the Learning Center sells items such as t-shirts, jackets, hats, water bottles, postcards and field naturalist supplies. The store does not sell food, phone cards or stamps. There may also be a no-host bar available during dinner; your class letter will specify if this is the case. We accept cash, Visa, MasterCard and personal checks. There are no ATM or vending machines on campus.

Can my partner or friend stay with me even if they don't want to attend a class?

Our Base Camp program is a flexible, inexpensive way for people to stay at the Learning Center without being enrolled in a specific class or retreat. Your family member or friend could enroll in Base Camp while you are taking a natural history class or art retreat. In other programs like Diablo Downtimes and Family Getaways, everybody gets to decide how much they want to participate in the group activities, so if a friend wants to register, come up and simply relax, they are most welcome to.

Can I come the night before a class starts, or stay an extra night?

Our Base Camp program is a flexible, inexpensive way for people to stay at the Learning Center without being enrolled in a specific class or retreat. You could potentially sign up for a night of Base Camp before or after your class to extend your stay. Other options include camping at nearby Colonial Creek Campground or a staying at one of the motels in Marblemount or Concrete.

How far is the Learning Center from definitive medical care? What if I get hurt or sick when I am at the Learning Center?

The closest hospital is in Sedro-Woolley, 90 minutes away. The closest advanced life-support ambulance comes from Concrete, one hour away. Emergency Medical Technicians that work in the national park and/or the Learning Center may be available sooner. If you have a medical condition and are concerned about being more than one hour from definitive medical care, please consult your physician.


Participating in a Family Getaway

What are Family Getaways?

Recognizing that affordable opportunities for families to explore nature together were missing from environmental education, North Cascades Institute began offering Family Getaways at the Learning Center in 2005. Family Getaways are outdoor-based learning experiences that provide multigenerational families an opportunity to gather together in the North Cascades. You can leave the tent at home because accommodations in our comfortable lodges offer the excitement of the great outdoors without the complications of camping. Wonderful meals, prepared with the tastes of young diners in mind, are served buffet-style in our lakeside dining hall. Kids and adults will enjoy learning about nature through adventures on the lake and trails, games, arts and crafts, storytelling and scientific explorations. Plus, there will be plenty of free time so your family can do your own thing too.

A great description of one family's experience at a Family Getaway can be read on ParentMap's website. We also invite you to view our online multimedia presentation.

What types of families generally participate in Family Getaways?

Family groups range from large, extended family groups to blended families, friends and small "new" families. We've had four generations of women attend, fathers come with their sons, "Big Sisters" bringing their "kids," grandparents with grandchildren and so forth. Family Getaways are becoming the anticipated annual get-together experience for many different kinds of families year after year!

Can you provide my family with some kind of itinerary? What kind of activities are there to choose from?

First of all, we want you to remember that this is your family getaway. You can choose to do as much or as little as you like. We offer many choices for fun learning and opportunities to get outside and explore the North Cascades together.

Activities: Once you are checked into your room, you will meet for a site orientation before lunch in the dining hall. After lunch, everyone can go for an introductory hike (we offer different intensity options). Upon your return, there will be large sign-up sheets posted with different activities to choose from. You can sign up for activities individually, paired or as a family unit. If you change your minds, no worries. The coordinators are amazing at accommodating changes.

Samples of choices from past years include "Birds and Butterflies," art projects, creative writing, story time in the Wild Ginger library, canoeing, "Ferns and Flowers," yoga and wild edibles walks. Each Family Getaway will offer different options depending on the expertise of the staff and instructors. Days are generally broken up as morning activity / lunch / afternoon activity or all-day hike / dinner / evening program. Again, you can do as much or as little as you wish.

Please note that children must be 6 years or older (and accompanied by parent) to participate in the big canoes and 10 years or older (and accompanied by parent) for tandems canoes.

When are meals served?

On a typical day, breakfast is at 8 AM, lunch is at noon and dinner is at 6 PM in the dining hall. Meals may include a sack lunch taken afield for the day, depending on your activity itinerary. As part of our Foodshed Project we try to obtain as many ingredients as possible from local growers and suppliers. Additionally, we make every effort to accommodate dietary restrictions and food allergies with advance notice.

Can I bring my young child?

Yes, but alert supervision of young children at Family Getaways is the key to a successful and safe experience. Children under the age of six may participate in most activities with a parent but they need to be supervised at all times. Unfortunately, children under age six are not allowed in canoe activities.

What time is check-in and check-out?

Family Getaways generally check in between 10 – 11 AM on the first day at the Learning Center office. At check-in, you will be asked for your completed and signed participant information and release forms (sent to you prior to your Getaway) and you'll receive a campus orientation. Family Getaways finish up after lunch on the last day.

How big are the rooms?

Our rooms have two sets of bunk beds, enough to comfortably sleep four people.