Frequently Asked Questions

What is the admissions timeline?

March 24: Priority Application Deadline! (including reference form and scholarship application, if applicable)
*We're still accepting Applications for the 16-day Science & Sustainability course on a rolling basis! Outdoor Leadership applications can be submitted for our Waitlist.
By mid-April: Interviews completed
April 24: Acceptance & Scholarship status emailed
April 24: Welcome packets mailed
May 15: $50 acceptance fee and medical paperwork due
May 19: Family Orientation meeting in Tukwila
May 21: Family Orientation meetings in Mount Vernon and Shoreline
June 5: All remaining tuition fees due (unless on payment plan; see Payment and Cancellation Policies)

Where and when do courses begin?

All our courses begin at pickup locations in and around the I-5 corridor from Tukwila north to Bellingham on the morning your course starts. We will send information on your pickup location and time in your welcome packet following acceptance. After meeting at pickup locations, we will travel up the Skagit River to the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, in the heart of North Cascades National Park, where you will meet your group, get your gear packed, and stay the night before hitting the trail the following morning.

What does a typical day look like?

Sample daily schedule when on course:
6 am  Rise and shine!
6:15 am Pack up for the day, breakfast, and lunch prep
7 am Eat breakfast and clean
8 am Morning meeting and stretch
8:30 am Start hiking, canoeing, stewardship or work project
All Day Lessons (ecology, public speaking, leadership, team games, reflection, and naturalizing)
4:30 pm Start dinner and free time
6 pm Eat dinner and clean
7:30 pm Evening meeting
9 pm Get ready for bed
9:30 pm In our tents for well-earned sleep!

Who are the course instructors?

Our instructors are experienced outdoor educators and Western Washington University graduate students with extensive experience and training in working with youth in the outdoors. All instructors are Wilderness First Responder First-Aid Certified and have passed background checks.


Where will I sleep?

The first night you will stay in our lodges at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake or at a nearby campground in the North Cascades National Park. Once out in the field, you will sleep in waterproof tents in warm sleeping bags on foam pads. Instructors will sleep in tents close by. There are typically 2 to 4 students in each single-gender tent.


What will I eat?

We love good food! The menu is creative and we try to include as many organic, local ingredients as possible. This includes lots of rice, pasta, cheese, beans, veggies, fruit, and nuts.

A typical menu:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with brown sugar and fruit, and a hot drink

Lunch: Cheese and crackers, pita bread and hummus, sun butter and jelly, or bagels and cream cheese; dried or fresh fruit and cookies

Dinner: Rice and beans, salsa, tortillas, cheese, pasta and sauce, or macaroni and cheese

Snacks: Trail mix, cracker mix, granola bars, fruit, jerky


Can you accommodate my food allergy or special diet?

Yes. We can easily accommodate vegetarians and vegans as well as students with certain food allergies. If you have any special dietary restrictions (nut allergies, lactose intolerance, wheat allergy, etc.), please list them on your health form. We request a minimum of one month’s notice. We may not be able to accommodate certain very severe food allergies; please contact us if you have questions or last-minute changes.

What happens with my prescription medications while on the course?

All prescription medications must be noted on your medical form prior to the course. Instructors oversee use of all medications. Please bring your prescription medications and non-prescription medications in separate, labeled, non-breakable, waterproof containers (Ziploc bags are great!). Students with prescription inhalers and epinephrine injections must bring two sets of medication. An instructor will carry one, and the participant will carry one.

Should I bring contacts or glasses on the course?

Either glasses or contact lenses are acceptable on the course. Regardless of what you wear, we recommend you bring extra contacts or an extra pair of glasses just in case. If using contact lenses please bring adequate cleaning solution for the extent of your course (but a full size bottle will likely not be necessary).

What gear do I need?

A Packing List will be mailed in your Welcome Packet after acceptance.  We can supply all necessary equipment; you only need to bring personal clothing and footwear. If you already own some equipment on the packing list, please bring it along. Your instructors will inspect all personal equipment at the beginning of your course, and help you pack your bag.

If you have a specific question about what gear is appropriate, please contact Kate Rinder, Youth Leadership Coordinator at or (360) 854-2595.


Can I bring a camera?

Please do! Photography is an important aspect of all our programs. Smaller, lightweight cameras are easier to carry. Bring a good case because our expeditions are rigorous and you run the risk of losing or damaging your camera. Consider purchasing a waterproof bag or box for your camera, film, batteries, and memory cards. A Ziploc bag works well, in a pinch. If you are worried, play it safe and bring a disposable waterproof camera. Instructors will also be taking photos during your course and sharing them on Flickr and at the reunion, so don’t worry if you don’t have a camera. Students will not be allowed to bring cell phones to use as a camera.


What should I NOT bring?

Please leave all valuables such as jewelry, iPods and iPads, MP3 players, cell phones, E-readers, hand-held video games, GPS devices and CD players at home. Due to the outdoor — and potentially wet — nature of the places we travel, only watches, small flashlights, headlamps, and cameras are allowed. Instructors will be inspecting your personal items; extra items will be stored at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Other items not allowed are weapons, including camping knives and hatchets, fireworks, tobacco products, illegal drugs, and alcohol.

Will I be able to take a shower?

You can shower at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center (ELC) on the first or second day before heading into the backcountry. Once in the field, you can bathe using water from a refreshing stream or lake. Your instructors will demonstrate bathing options when appropriate and explain more about hygiene in the outdoors. On the 16-day course, you will return to the ELC on approximately day 13, and will have the opportunity to shower then.

How do I go to the bathroom?

In the backcountry, nearly every campground will have a pit toilet with toilet paper. When not near a campground, students will learn how to properly dispose of waste in the backcountry following Leave No Trace principles.

What if I start my period/menstruation while on course?

You will use the same products and methods you would use at home. We follow Leave No Trace principles for disposal of these products in the outdoors. Instructors will teach these principles to the group. Even if you do not expect to get your period during the course, we recommend you bring a small amount of supplies just in case. Instructors will also have extra supplies.


Will my family be able to contact me?

Parents can reach you in case of emergency by contacting North Cascades Institute at 360-854-2599. Messages will be relayed via radio when instructors check in and out daily with North Cascades National Park or Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

How physically challenging are the trips?

Our 8- and 16-day courses can be challenging at times, but your instructors will ensure that everything is within the abilities of the group. You do not need to have any prior outdoor experience to participate. Courses are designed for students who have never been on this type of adventure before.

Our courses may include some or all of the following activities:

  • Daylong hikes of 4-8 miles carrying a 35-50 lb. pack depending on your size and ability
  • Paddling a canoe 4-8 miles in a day
  • Hiking up and down steep terrain carrying tools and supplies
  • Performing service projects involving shoveling, swinging tools, bending, squatting, and walking on uneven ground
  • Living in the outdoors, possibly in cold, hot, humid, rainy, or higher altitude conditions


How should I prepare for my trip?

For the 8- and 16-day courses, we recommend being physically active (running, basketball, biking, fast walking, etc.) before you arrive; it will help but is not required. Come prepared to meet new people, try new things, have fun, and challenge yourself!


Do I need to know how to swim?

No. You do not need to know how to swim to participate in any of our courses. All students are required to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) while canoeing and swimming.

Do I have to carry all of my stuff with me?

While backpacking, you will carry all of your personal belongings as well as some group gear, food, and tools in your backpack. For this reason, we encourage you to pack only what is listed on the Packing List in order to keep your pack as light as possible. While canoeing, you and your group will paddle all of your gear and food from one camp to another. During service, recreation, or work days, you will carry a backpack containing extra layers, rain gear, water, and food for the day.


Do all applicants get accepted? What if I am placed on the waitlist?

Due to the competitive nature of the program, not all applicants can be accepted. Students placed on our waitlist still have an excellent chance of attending and are encouraged to turn in all their paperwork early. This will increase your chances of being placed on a trip. We call students on our waitlist as space comes available. For this reason, if you are accepted and need to cancel, please contact us immediately so we can offer your spot to another student.


Yes, as long as you are between 14 to 18 years old as of June 1, 2015, you can participate in our 8- and 16-day courses.

Do you offer scholarships or financial aid?

Yes! North Cascades Institute is committed to making our programs accessible to students from all backgrounds by offering tiered pricing and scholarships to those in need. Scholarships for the 8- and 16-day courses are awarded based on financial need and application merit. Up to 80% of participants will receive a full or partial scholarship. Recipients of full scholarships need only pay the $50 acceptance fee. Please contact us if the $50 fee is still a barrier.

See our Tuition and Scholarships page for more information. If you have additional questions, please contact us at (360) 854-2579 or

When will I know if I will receive a scholarship?

All applicants and parents will be notified by April 24, 2015 by email.

When are the fees for the 8- and 16-day courses due?

If you are accepted to one of our 8- and 16-day courses, you must submit a $50 non-refundable acceptance fee by May 15, 2015 to hold your spot. All course fees will be due by June 5, 2015. If submitting payment in full by June 5 is a burden, please contact us to schedule a payment plan. 100% of tuition fees must be received seven days before the start of the course. Enrollment after June 5 requires payment in full at registration time.

Please see our Payment and Cancellation Policies for more information and contact us if you have additional questions at (360) 854-2579 or

Are there additional costs?

No. Our tuition includes all gear and food during the course. We provide transportation from Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley, Everett, Seattle, and Tukwila.

Should I bring spending money?

Money is not needed during our courses. However, at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, we have a gift shop to buy North Cascades souvenirs if you like.


What if I need to cancel?

Please contact us immediately so we can offer your spot to another student. Short-notice cancellations often prevent others from attending.

What is your refund policy?

Course fees are refundable up until June 5, 2015, minus the $50 acceptance fee, and are non-refundable thereafter. Please see our Payment and Cancellation Policies for more information.

What are the Family Orientation meetings?

The Family Orientation Meetings are an opportunity for students and their families to get additional questions answered and to meet the program coordinator and trip leaders. We will have examples of gear you will need on your course and you will learn more about the program and the areas you will be exploring this summer.

We are offering these meetings on two evenings in late May in Sedro-Woolley and Seattle. These meetings are optional but we encourage accepted students and their families to attend. We will be serving a delicious pizza dinner!

What is the reunion all about?

Our Reunion will take place in February in the Seattle area. Students who participated in a summer course and their families are invited. We will learn about ways to continue being engaged in the outdoors and conservation, play games, eat a delicious lunch, watch a slideshow of photos from everyone’s summer course, celebrate, and reconnect. Transportation is provided from certain locations.


What is the Youth Leadership Conference? How do I attend?

The Youth Leadership Conference takes place at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center every November. The 3-day conference is a fun way to reconnect with students and trip leaders from your course while continuing to expand your leadership skills. You will have the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions, which may include how to apply for jobs, leadership styles, conflict management, public speaking, the college admissions process, environmental justice, trip planning 101, and more. You will also participate in an Opportunity Fair where you can network and learn about service, job, internship, and next-step opportunities.

The conference is open to alumni of our programs. You must submit a short application, due in early October. The Youth Leadership Conference application will be posted on our website in June.

Please see our Youth Leadership Conference page for more information.

What are the post-course service project requirements for the 16-day Science & Sustainability course? When do I need to get my project completed by?

After your field experience in the North Cascades, you will return to your home community and work with other Youth Leadership Adventures team members (if applying as a team), people in your community, and teachers in your region to design and implement a service-learning project in your home community. (See service project examples below.)

  • We encourage you to identify a teacher or adult mentor in your home community before you apply who can assist you. This teacher or adult mentor should fill out the reference form in your application.
  • We encourage you to apply as a team with other students from your school or local community to aid in the completion of service projects post-course, though this is not required. If you are applying as a team, please note your teammate(s) name(s) on your application.
  • Projects should be completed in your local community.
  • Projects should reach at least 20 individuals on multiple occasions or equivalent to one school day.
  • Projects should be completed within one year of your summer course.
  • You will also receive mentorship from Youth Leadership Adventures staff in order to complete your project.


What are some examples of successful post-course service projects?

  • Teaching lessons on sustainability to local elementary or middle school students
  • Starting an environmental club at your school
  • Hosting a sustainability fair for your classmates in conjunction with your local park
  • Creating an assembly for your school on your experience and what you learned
  • Teaching your soccer team or church youth group about ways they can live more sustainably
  • Initiating a Cool School Challenge energy audit of your high school classrooms

What have other students said about their experiences with this program?

“A program like this is one of the best ways to help. With the experience and information I gained from this trip, I know what I can do. I know I want to focus my service project on helping spread awareness and knowledge about the topic of climate change in my own community.”

“I began this program as a hesitant and unconfident teen but I quickly gained experience presenting and teaching to groups. The thought of talking in front of people terrified me before but now I know what kinds of things I should do. This is a skill I will be able to use in any situation in my life.”

“Climate change is much more complex than I had originally thought, but I do understand it better now and I am even more driven to implement change in my community to produce less of an impact on our environment. I plan to bring composting to my school and hopefully install a water bottle fill station because a group mate on the trip talked about the one at their school.”

“It was the life lessons that changed me. I learned that real happiness is not contained in material things, but can be experienced in the middle of the woods, with not much more than a camp stove and a tent.”

Wait! I have more questions!

Please contact North Cascades Institute at (360) 854-2579 or

Student Voices


Youth Leadership Adventures is a program that opens up a whole new perspective on the way we view nature, a program that tests your limits while still creating a strong community for support and trust."

-- Flor Hernandez, 2014 Participant


Field Guide to North Cascades Institute