COVID-19 Updates

“When NOLS was founded, mountains were its heart and soul. But as the school has grown, so has our understanding of that heart and soul and what it can teach us. In addition to mountains, wilderness is also embodied in gravel coastlines reached only by a few hardy paddlers, or winding desert canyons, or sweltering jungles. Leadership doesn’t only mean attaining a summit in good style; it also means forging relationships across cultures and acting decisively in an emergency.” 

- Molly Herber, in A Worthy Expedition: the History of NOLS

Latest Course Updates as of December 2, 2020

Please find the most recent course impacts due to COVID-19 here:

  • NOLS to Reopen Expeditions in Mexico in 2021
    NOLS has been actively monitoring global conditions with regard to COVID-19 since April 2020 through its Restart Task Force. After careful deliberation, the NOLS Restart Task Force has recommended that NOLS can responsibly open select Expedition courses in Mexico.

    This conclusion resulted from close consultation with public health experts, the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border has remained stable and open to travel throughout the pandemic, and through strict adherence to NOLS’ standards for risk management and course quality. Specific travel details for an Expedition can be found in the travel and logistics document that corresponds to that course.

  • Updated Wilderness Medicine Certification Extension Plan
    If your certification expired/expires between 3/13/2019 and 8/31/2021 we are automatically adding 12 months to your certification length. Your twelve-month re-entry period begins at the end of your new expiration date. This extension applies to all NOLS Wilderness Medicine certifications including wilderness medicine, CPR, and epinephrine auto-injector. If your  certification was issued by another training provider, please contact them  directly. It is our understanding that other programs are developing plans to support their graduates. It will take some time to make these changes in our data system, thank you for your patience. 

Check out the new student resources page outlining COVID-19 practices for upcoming courses. 

Practicing Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty

NOLS has been actively monitoring and responding to the evolving situation around COVID-19. The school’s leadership has been in close consultation with federal and state public health experts, peer organizations, and our educational partners since January. 

For 55 years, NOLS has helped over 350,000 students learn the lessons of the wilderness: self-reliance, judgment, risk management, and the skills to thrive in a changing world. The current environment of uncertainty speaks directly to the NOLS curriculum and our values as a school. This is truly a time for leadership and judgment, given the unpredictable trajectory of the pandemic. We thank you for your support, patience, and understanding as we navigate the rapidly changing landscape. 

We will continue to assess the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on escalating travel, health, and safety restrictions and proactively communicate any impacts on future courses. Please check this page for the latest updates.


Community Notices


Archived Course Updates

August 13:

  • The school operated 24 field courses and 13 classroom courses in July and plans to run 15 field courses and 36 classroom courses in August. These totals represent approximately 15% of normal for field and 40% of normal for classroom courses.
  • NOLS will continue to offer field courses (primarily expedition semesters) at domestic US campuses through spring 2021. The Restart Task Force continues to monitor location, regional, and international travel advisories and will review resuming international operations in 2021.
  • Expedition courses (domestic Spring and Summer 2021) and Alumni trips are currently enrolling. View available courses
  • Wilderness Medicine welcomed 25  WEMT students to the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus in July. WEMT programs are scheduled monthly from August to December. Currently, all courses are full with waitlists. Shorter wilderness medicine courses and recertification programs are also scheduled for the fall and winter. View available courses. The team continues to monitor opportunities to run additional courses where local guidelines permit. 
  • Risk Services completed its inaugural online Risk Management Training (RMT) course. There will be additional RMT courses available this fall with both in-person and online options.
  • Registration for the fully-online 2020 Wilderness Risk Management Conference is now open. This year’s conference features keynote speaker José González, and topical panels addressing COVID-19 field practices, inequity in the outdoors, and more. 

June 4:

  • NOLS announces limited operations as it resumes select field and classroom courses starting July 1. Courses in Alaska have been cancelled due to continuing travel restrictions.
  • Field expeditions will operate from two Wyoming locations, Lander and Boulder, and include a small mix of backpacking and horse packing courses.
  • A small selection of Wilderness Medicine courses will resume in the U.S. and internationally. 
  • The 27th Wilderness Risk Management Conference will pivot to a digital event. Registration and event details will be announced soon.

May 12:

  • Additional Expedition field courses scheduled for July and August have been cancelled including Adventure courses (for ages 14 and 15), as well as whitewater and rock climbing courses. NOLS campuses in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, River Base, and Teton Valley have suspended summer operations in addition to the previously announced closures in Scandinavia and Yukon. 
  • Select July and August Expedition and Custom Education field courses at NOLS Rocky Mountain and NOLS Alaska enrolling and scheduled to run.
  • Assessing ability to conduct class-room based courses for Wilderness Medicine, Risk Services, and Custom Education starting after July 1 on a rolling basis 30-45 days prior to scheduled start date.

April 1:

  • Expedition courses, Custom Education field courses, and Alumni trips are cancelled through June 30.
  • Wilderness Medicine, Risk Services, and Custom Education classroom-based courses are suspended through June 30.

March 25:

  • NOLS Wilderness Medicine, Custom Education, and Risk Services extended the suspension of all classroom courses through May 11.

March 17:

  • NOLS Expedition, Custom Education and Alumni Trips announced the cancellation of all field courses through May 11.

March 16:

  • NOLS Expeditions made the decision to suspend courses in the field and implemented a separation plan to bring students back to campuses and facilitate their return home.

March 12:

  • NOLS Wilderness Medicine, Custom Education and Risk Services announced the suspension of all classroom courses through April 23.
  • NOLS Expedition and Alumni Trips announced the cancellation of international field courses through April 23.

General FAQ

  • What is the school’s reopening plan?

    NOLS has successfully completed a limited scale summer season serving over 1,500 students in expeditions, wilderness medicine, and custom education programming. Students enrolled on fall season courses have started in the field and the school is enrolling for courses in spring of 2021 and beyond.

    As background, the school suspended programs in mid-March due to coronavirus concerns worldwide, The school has been closely monitoring the novel coronavirus pandemic both domestically and abroad. NOLS created a restart task force charged with defining the criteria needed for resuming operations and identifying changes needed to bring students, staff, and faculty together in a responsible manner. Their recommendation considered learnings from peer organizations, and external public health and medical experts. The task force’s methods for proceeding with limited offerings were reviewed and supported by NOLS medical advisors, local health departments, and federal land management agencies.

    Please review the school’s COVID-19 practices for students.

  • What is the school’s risk management policy?

    Risk is essential to a NOLS education. We operate in dynamic, unpredictable environments and practice thoughtful and effective risk management to attain our educational objectives. Contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, is a new risk for everyone and (like other risks) cannot be eliminated.

    The principles for NOLS COVID-19 risk management are:

    • Informed consent
    • Physical distancing
    • Face coverings (masks) when physical distancing is not practical
    • Increased attention to hygiene, with a focus on hands
    • Screening for symptoms (daily health checks)
  • What is NOLS’ pandemic plan?

    We have a COVID-19 response plan and use a decision matrix to guide the school’s response to a pandemic or other major event that might affect our programming. This matrix is a tool we have used in the past for natural disasters such as a tsunami, earthquakes, or volcanoes as well as political unrest and other events. The plan includes:

    1. Actively monitoring the situation as it evolves
    2. Following government guidance on on travel risks when making course cancellation decisions
    3. Being prepared to respond to students or staff who show symptoms of flu-like illness
    4. Following government guidance on methods to prevent illness
    5. Planning for possibility of widespread illness and program disruption
  • What resources are you using to make decisions?

    While there are many sources for coronavirus information, our primary resources include:

    • Health information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
    • State, County and other local health department advisories
    • The CDC Traveler’s Health page
    • Reputable news sources 

    We are also monitoring updates from:

    • The U.S. State Department including travel and other information
    • U.S. Embassies in our operational countries
    • Specific country government health websites (i.e. NZ Ministry of Health)
  • What is NOLS doing to limit the spread of COVID-19 on courses?

    NOLS has created a task force to support the decision-making criteria for resuming operations. The group represents members from risk management, field and classroom programs, admissions, and field staffing. Their charge is to identify and develop program and risk management practices for operating during the pandemic.  

    In addition, the school places a strong emphasis on hygiene and illness prevention. In our current world situation this is just as important now as it has always been. We follow guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for preventing the spread of illness. 

    These practices will be emphasized on courses and include:<meta charset="utf-8">

    • Screening for symptoms (daily health checks)
    • Physical distancing
    • Face coverings such as masks when physical distancing is not practical
    • Individual sleeping arrangements
    • Frequent handwashing with soap and water and when that is not available, using alcohol-based sanitizer with greater than 60% alcohol.
    • Using the crook of your arm (inner elbow) to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
    • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Carry disinfectant wipes to wipe surfaces before touching.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in classrooms and buildings.
  • Can I enroll on a NOLS course at this time?

    Yes. We encourage you to do so and will provide flexibility so that you can have the time and information you need to complete your application. In the event your course cancels, we are providing full tuition refunds, opportunities to transfer to a future course, and other student support. 

    At this time, you can apply for courses with start dates after July 1. Please bear in mind that right now we are monitoring COVID-19 impacts closely and although we are hopeful that the school will resume some course types, if external indicators, the CDC and governing authorities are providing guidance that would not allow NOLS to operate, this schedule may change. Please check this page often for updates. We invite you to view courses online.

Wilderness Medicine FAQ

  • Does NOLS Wilderness Medicine have educational resources for students?

    On May 8, Wilderness Medicine released a free online platform to support students in keeping their knowledge up to date while in-person training opportunities are limited. You can access the platform via the Wilderness Medicine Resources page.

  • How will NOLS help people whose wilderness medicine certifications were impacted by the pandemic?

    If your certification expired/expires between 3/13/2019 and 8/31/2021 we are automatically adding 12 months to your certification length. Your twelve-month re-entry period begins at the end of your new expiration date. This extension applies to all NOLS Wilderness Medicine certifications including wilderness medicine, CPR, and epinephrine auto-injector. If your certification was issued by another training provider, please contact them directly. It is our understanding that other programs are developing plans to support their graduates. It will take some time to make these changes in our data system, thank you for your patience.

    Check out the new student resources page outlining COVID-19 practices for upcoming courses.

Expeditions / Field Course FAQ

  • What courses are scheduled to run?

    After completing a succesful and limited summer season, NOLS has resumed all program types on a smaller scale including courses in Expedition, Wilderness Medicone, Custom Education, Risk Services, as well as Alumni trips. Select domestic campuses are on-hold and all International campuses and programs are suspended through the spring of 2021. 

    The Restart Task Force will continue monitoring international, national and local restrictions and policies and make adjustments to the operational schedule accordingly. NOLS faculty and staff will continue to focus on consistent implementation of new and existing protocols to support student health and wellbeing.

  • What precautions are you taking to help students arrive healthy and stay healthy?

    NOLS is operating with the following principles for COVID-19 risk management:

    • Informed consent
    • Physical distancing
    • Face coverings (masks) when physical distancing is not practical
    • Increased attention to hygiene, with a focus on hands
    • Screening for symptoms (daily health checks)

    The school is confident our practices are sound and consistent with medical advice for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The practices will take place throughout the course and student compliance is required. Students, as well as faculty and staff, will be asked to take steps to limit their exposure to COVID-19 for 14 days prior to and while traveling their course. This may include practicing physical distancing, using a face covering when physical distancing is not possible, frequent hand washing, and monitoring their health for symptoms of COVID-19. We ask that students refer to the CDC guidelines for additional information.

  • What happens if someone has COVID-19 symptoms?

    Any students who have COVID-19 symptoms, have been in close contact with someone suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19, or are confirmed or suspected as having COVID-19 in the past 14 days will be asked to not travel to their NOLS course.

  • Why has NOLS suspended programming at certain campuses?

    As of May 12, NOLS announced that it will suspend operations at the following campuses: Northeast, Pacific Nothwest, River Base (UT), and Teton Valley (ID).

    NOLS utilized a number of factors to determine upcoming operational schedules for this summer.  A dedicated task force reviewed policies and recommendations issued by state and local authorities in our operating areas to help inform the school’s decision-making matrix. The task force also reviewed business re-opening and travel guidelines and restrictions in local areas. 

    As the school developed a plan to move forward, we determined that narrowing summer operations would support consistent implementation of our risk management protocols to support the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff. This would also allow our faculty and staff to be more efficient when enacting NOLS’ field protocols.

  • Why is NOLS cancelling Adventure courses?

    NOLS has been offering expedition courses specifically developed for 14 and 15 year old students since 1967. The school supports these students with dedicated instructors, age-appropriate curriculum, and thoughtfully selected routes and activities best suited for their developmental needs. After careful consideration and a review of potential COVID-19 impacts on travel and risk management protocols, the school decided the most responsible course of action would be to suspend Adventure Courses for the 2020 summer season.

    The Restart Task Force is working with field operations to provide guidance on how to resume Adventure Courses for the 2021 summer season. Please check the coursefinder for the most up-to-date availability.

  • If I’m enrolled on an upcoming course that is scheduled to run and concerned about COVID-19 impacts, what are my options?

    NOLS is fully committed to providing flexible options if you have concerns about taking an expedition during the current pandemic and/or you are directly impacted by COVID-19 symptions, illnesss or restrictions. Please visit the COVID-19 Practices webpage in the FAQ section for specific cancellation policy details. 

  • I signed up for a future Expedition course or Alumni trip. Will my course run as scheduled?

    At this time, NOLS is planning to run scheduled Expedition courses and Alumni Trips as indicated via the coursefinder. Please note, the school is actively monitoring COVID-19 impacts closely and the schedule may change if external indicators, the CDC, and governing authorities provide guidance that would not allow NOLS to operate. We appreciate your understanding, patience, and flexibility. 

  • My course was cancelled due to COVID-19, what is the school doing to support me?

    NOLS is committed to working with enrolled students on an individual basis whose course was cancelled in the Spring or Summer 2020 season to provide a 100% tuition refund, opportunities to transfer to a future course or choose tuition credit, and support with other aspects of your enrollment. 

    For current and future enrolled students, if NOLS cancels your course or suspends a ccourse in the field due to COVID-19 developments (ie. travel restrictions, local stay-in-place orders, etc.), the school will provide a full or prorated tuition credit. Enrolled students can also choose to purchase travel and tutition protection via a third-party provider. Please inquire with your admissions officer for more information.