NOLS Semester in the Rockies

Video and Photos


NOLS invented the outdoor semester, and this course is where it all began.

A Rockies Semester will take you on a Wild West tour de force while giving you a complete set of skills to lead and teach in the backcountry, whether in the field of outdoor education or with your own friends and family.

Our grads are among the most well-rounded and self-sufficient backcountry travelers in the world. Learn to paddle a canoe down a class-III rapid, make sound first-aid decisions miles from the nearest road, and navigate through winding slot canyons.

You'll see some of the great American West's most treasured spots, carving a telemark turn through the winter wilderness on one section and jamming your hands into cracks while climbing one of Wyoming's world-class crags on the next.

Questions & Answers


9.25 Rating
based on 4 reviews
  • 9-10 rating 75%
  • 7-8 rating 25%
  • 5-6 rating 0%
  • 3-4 rating 0%
  • 1-2 rating 0%
  • Housing 9.5
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.3
  • Value 9.3
  • Safety 10
Showing 1 - 4 of 4
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Changed My Life

If you are reading this, GO FOR IT! When I arrived in Lander, WY for the Spring Semester in the Rockies (SSR) course, I’d never even owned a backpack before—I was straight out of NYC, lived my entire life in NYC, and the only wilderness I knew, was Central Park. With the guidance and extreme patience and knowledge of the instructors, I learned to be completely comfortable, and even enjoy, living in the wilderness. Most of all, I learned to appreciate the power of the natural world, and become a steward. This experience set the path for the rest of my life. I went on to graduate college the next semester, and straight into (what would become) career as a civil servant in the national parks. Before taking this course, I didn’t know we had national parks. I always look back fondly on the memories and experiences I had with NOLS.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Everything was unfamiliar! Wearing a backpack, camping, skis, sleeping in snow caves! hiking, climbing, caving, kayaking. It was ALL unfamiliar. Open mind is very important.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

NOLS: Unleashing My Full Potential

When I first registered for my semester in the rockies I only expected to be receiving a furthering in my education, just a fun way to continue my college education. Upon arrival I quickly realized that this experience was going to be so much more than basic education. This course was going to enlighten me on how to interact and live with the world around me in a way that I had never thought of before. That is exactly what NOLS did.

Winter camping was rigorous and taxing ;however, It was rewarding to know that you were living efficiently in an environment that most people will never encounter in their entire existence. It is difficult to put into words the beauty of waking up every morning warm and cozy in an igloo with the bold Grand Teton Mountains quite literally at your doorstep.

Rock climbing took me through a technical journey of skills and knowledge that I will continue to use in my personal life. The teaching was thorough and complete leaving me with the feeling that I could accomplish all that was taught on my own. Everyday was an unique adventure as you scrambled hundreds of feet up beautiful red sandstone rock outside Las Vegas, Nevada. This section demanded trust and smooth teamwork which quickly helped to unite the group of men around me. I feel that The NOLS rock climbing section has advanced my climbing career in ways that I could of never imagined.

In addition to my two favorite sections of the semester there were also a river, canyon, and wilderness first responder course. These courses were just as rewarding and full of adventure and helped to create a well rounded experience. I also thoroughly enjoyed building a strong group dynamic with my fellow course mates. You soon create some of your closest friends just a few weeks into the course and learn how to interact appropriately with these friends even under stressful circumstances

From this experience I have grown personally, learned many technical skills, made new friends and most importantly have seen how to be a leader and make wise decisions in any situation.

What would you improve about this program?
My only complaints for the entire program would have to be for the logistical aspects of the course. I felt a little uninformed on the front end of what to bring and what exactly I was doing. I felt that I wasn't able to prepare properly for my course. All this being said once I arrived at headquarters all my questions were quickly sorted out and I had a fulfilling experience
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Great Backcountry Experience!

My NOLS experience was just what I needed at the time. I had just transferred colleges and needed to make up some lost credits. NOLS offered me those credits and I was able to fit in a semester during the summer break.

My course consisted of Backpacking (85 miles over the span of a month) Rock Climbing (Vedauwoo, Devil's Tower, and the Needles) and Whitewater Rafting and Kayaking (on the Green River).

I went into my semester with an open mind. I had dabbled in each of the sections prior to my course, but never before immersed myself so fully in a skill. I left each section with a confidence in the hard skills as well as a better understanding of how I function in a group setting.

There were 15 students on my semester from all over the country between the ages of 17 and 21. We learned how to work as a team over those three months and 10 years later I'm still in contact with a few of them.

I enjoyed learning from the instructors as they taught various classes in the middle of a field, in the middle of a mountain range, far from any typical classroom setting.

What would you improve about this program?
Usable certifications. A wilderness first aid or responder would have been great. I know the fall and spring semesters offer certifications, but it would be nice on the summer semester as well.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

A Rocky Semester in the Rockies

Nothing gets under my skin more than people referring to NOLS as a "life changing" experience. It's not. Please don't place that much pressure on three months of your life. Please be a more stable person that a course doesn't completely change who you are. However, I do think it's fair to say that NOLS gave me a new perspective. While I was going through it, I didn't feel like I was changing or getting a mind-blowing perspective. Years later now, I'm happy I did it because I learned a lot about group dynamics and I learned that I could do such a physically and emotionally challenging thing. It makes problems at work pale in comparison.
I also learned leadership skills because I had both good an terrible instructors. I still want to be more like the good instructors and I still kind-of want to punch the bad instructors.

What would you improve about this program?
I was very irritated by how the groups were formed. There were two groups leaving for their semester at the same time. One was all boys and they were athletic. The other group was mixed and the boys in this group were less athletic. As a girl, I was really frustrated to be in the slower group because I came into the experience ready to push myself physically. Unfortunately, my patience was pushed and I felt like I wasn't getting a fair value simply because I was a girl. On that note, NOLS wasn't proactive in instilling a positive learning environment for co-ed and there were several instances where girls were belittled, excluded, or sexually preyed upon.
Response from NOLS

Thank you for taking the time to review your NOLS semester. We are glad to hear you still use some of the skills learned on your course, but feel badly that you were disappointed by the composition of your group and felt that a positive learning environment was not always maintained. NOLS does not separate semester groups based on athletic ability. We do, however, take into consideration gender mix to avoid isolating a small number of females or males in a group. This usually leads to positive outcomes for our students who feel both physically challenged and supported in their educational goals.

We take the physical and emotional wellbeing of our students very seriously. We invite you to contact us to further discuss your experience. We're available at 800-710-6657 in our admission department.