Frequently Asked Questions

What precautions are you taking for COVID-19?

Check out our COVID-19 Information page for more details!

What does the application process look like?

Applicants should follow the link to our application. Applicants should be prepared to fill out their basic info and some short answer questions. Applicants should have a parent/guardian fill in their information (including basic financial info) and the sliding scale tuition information.

What is the admissions timeline?

May 5: All applications are due on or before this date
May 8th: You will hear back from us if you have a confirmed spot or are on the waitlist.

May 15th:  Acceptance due. You must let us know if you accept your spot by this date and pay the $25 (non-refundable) acceptance fee to hold your spot. 

June 26th: All tuition due (unless you contact our staff and set up an alternative payment plan).

I am in 8th grade now (Spring, 2023) and will be in 9th grade next year. Can I apply?

 Yes, you can still apply, but you will not be given priority.  This means if we receive more applications than we have spots, you will be put on the waitlist.  But waitlisted students from the previous year ARE given priority so applying this year will increase your chances of getting  spot next year.  We sometimes do pull from the waitlist so there is also a chance you can be waitlisted but then receive a spot as we get closer to the trip.

If you are a current senior, you can still apply!

Where and when do courses begin?

We provide transportation from Mount Vernon, Sedro Woolley, Bellingham & Mount Baker to our Environmental Learning Center. Participants outside of our transportation area will be assisted in finding carpool to one of out pickup locations if needed.  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 then head to a campground for night 1.

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!

How many people are in each group?

Each group consists of 8-10 students and 2 instructors, so 10-12 people total.  

Who are the course instructors?

Our instructors are experienced outdoor educators 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?

You will sleep in a tent every night of your YLA trip. The first night you will stay in 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.  

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, peanut 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 not likely 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.

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, 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. We do not allow weapons, including camping knives and hatchets, fireworks, tobacco products, illegal drugs, and alcohol. Students can bring a cell phone with them to the Environmental Learning Center, but it will be collected and securely stored during their course. 

Will I be able to take a shower?

Once in the field, you can bathe using water from a refreshing stream or lake. Your instructors will explain more about hygiene in the outdoors. 

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 our staff at the North Cascades Institute office at (206) 526-2599.  Office staff can contact groups in the field in the event of an emergency. 

How physically challenging are the trips?

Our 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 sharp 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?

We recommend being physically active (running, basketball, biking, fast walking, etc.) before you arrive. 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 in water deeper than chest depth.

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 happens if I am placed on the waitlist?

Unfortunately, we receive more applications than we have spots on courses every year.  We generally enroll students who are older and have more availability first. Students placed on our waitlist still have an excellent chance of attending. We call students on our waitlist as space becomes 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. Many students who are initially waitlisted receive a spot, so please do not be discouraged. Students who do not get an opportunity to attend this year will be prioritized for the following year.

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 tuition on a sliding scale and scholarships to those in need. Up to 85% of participants will receive a full or partial scholarship. 

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?

We are typically able to give students they tuition amount they select on our sliding scale, and a scholarship to cover the rest of the cost. All applicants and parents will be notified when offered a spot about their tuition amount.

When are the fees for courses due?

If you are accepted to one of our courses, you must submit a $25 non-refundable acceptance fee by your acceptance deadline to hold your spot. All course fees will be due June 26th. If submitting payment in full by that date 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. 

Are there additional costs?

No. Our tuition includes all gear and food during the course. We provide transportation from Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley, Mount Vernon, Concrete, Darrington and the surrounding area. Students outside of our pickup locations can receive carpool and other transportation assistance.

Should I bring spending money?

Money is not needed during our courses.

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?

The acceptance fee is non-refundable.  If a course is cancelled by NCI for any reason, including COVID or a weather event, participants will receive a full refund.

We cannot provide refunds to any student who is removed from a trip.  If a student needs to leave a trip for behavioral or medical reason, they will not be eligible for a refund.  

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.”

Have additional Questions? Please contact North Cascades Institute at (360) 854-2579 or .