NOLS Pacific Northwest

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About

Bounded by both mountains and ocean, NOLS Pacific Northwest is your gateway to backcountry adventures in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, Canada. In wilderness classrooms ranging from ocean to alpine and rainforest to high desert, we offer courses in five outdoor skills: backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, sea kayaking, and keelboat sailing. No matter which skill type you tackle and which classroom you explore, you’ll find memorable challenges in the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s completing a peak ascent at sunrise or waking early to check weather conditions before planning the day’s paddling route, you’ll return home with experiences to remember. And, the best kept secret of the Pacific Northwest? It’s not as rainy as you might think!

Forest and ocean. Glacier and river. Heather and pine. This is the Pacific Northwest, with its temperate rain forests, stunning ice-covered volcanoes, hidden bays and coves, and lush old-growth forests.

Popular Programs

Two sailboats anchored in a sound.

Get outside the classroom and find new adventures in the striking landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Grow your leadership skills as you explore quiet coves, dense forests, and rugged mountains, all while learning about local ecology and earn an industry-respected Wilderness First Aid.

A student stands along the shoreline after a day of sea kayaking.

Your course will start out working on paddle and rescue techniques along protected stretches of coastline, then move to more exposed and challenging waters. As you master the basics of paddling, you’ll learn about reading tides and currents as well as minimizing risk on the ocean. You’ll develop essential backcountry living skills, like cooking and Leave No Trace.

Students backpacking through the Pasayten Wilderness.

Depending on when your course begins, you will either spend a month exploring the dry, vast Pasayten Wilderness or the lush temperate rainforest of Olympic National Park. You will learn the basics of wilderness living, including cooking, campsite selection, and Leave No Trace practices. You will cover more advanced topics, including map reading, first aid, leadership, ecosystems, and environmental issues.

A student rests on their way to the summit in the North Cascades.

If you want to learn what it takes to be a mountaineer and a leader, then this is the course for you. Practice leadership and learn to live well with a group in a demanding environment. On this course, you'll head to the glaciers and forests of the North Cascades. In a place that's the training ground for some of the world's best mountaineers, you'll learn about leading a team, living on a glacier, and wake up each morning to stunning views and new challenges.

Mountaineering students resting towards the summit.

Your development as a mountaineer will begin with the basics. Learning to care for yourself, your expedition members, your equipment, and the environment in a variety of conditions are the foundation for mountaineering and the focus of our core curriculum. As you bushwhack through thick forest and undergrowth on your way to the glaciers, you'll master camping, cooking and basic travel skills.

Students discuss knots on a mountaineering course.

On this course, you will go through a well-designed progression to develop skills to become a well-rounded outdoor educator and mountaineer. You will start by spending a few days on the campus of NOLS Pacific Northwest learning foundational skills to work with groups and plan trips. Then, you will head into the field to explore the North Cascades.

Questions & Answers

Thank you for your interest in the NOLS Semester in the Pacific Northwest and for your question about accidents while glacier mountaineering in British Columbia. This particular course does not do any mountaineering in British Columbia. The semester with the mountaineering option is conducted in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington. NOLS does offer mountaineering courses on Mt. Waddington in...

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Heather
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A life changing experience

I completed this semester program while taking time off from college. There are few memories I have from my college years that compare with hiking the Olympic coast under moonlight to work with the tides, or arriving at the summit of Mt. Baker after convincing myself there was no way I would make it, or the feeling of pride and accomplishment after I completed my first lead climb. This semester deepened my connection with nature, and forged my lifelong committment to helping others develop that connection, it gave me the confidence to later apply for (and complete) a NOLS instructor course. Personally, I don't think I could have gained the confidence that comes with serious intentional introspection, feedback, and leadership curriculum that is unique to a NOLS course. The diversity of skills offered on this particular semester (climbing, sailing, mountaineering, backpacking...) is what drew me to this course, and I will forever have a very special place in my heart for the Pacific Northwest because of it

What would you improve about this program?
In my particular semester group, there were only two students (myself included) who were over 21. The group dynamic might have been a bit better if it had been less heavily weighted with younger students. That being said, working through challenging group dynamics are one of the most important parts of getting to know yourself as a group member and leader and I learned a huge amount from the process.
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