Camera Kyle Cassling

‹ Back to Results

Yellowstone Wilderness - 16 and 17 only


Jul 7 - Aug 5, 2025


30 days


16 - 17 yrs



Apply Now

Make this summer one to remember

Join a group of 16 and 17-year-old students and explore a beautiful and rugged mountain range near Yellowstone National Park. The Absaroka (Ab-soar-ka) Mountain range sits to the east of Yellowstone and is famous for its sweeping forested mountains, unique geology, and diverse wildlife. You’ll camp where elk roam and sparkling mountain streams tumble down from craggy peaks. The leadership and outdoor living skills you learn while exploring the Yellowstone region will serve you long after your course ends. If you’re ready to unplug from city living for a while, to work hard and practice leadership in an amazing mountain range, then this is the course for you.

Your course will begin with basic skills: cooking and stove use, map reading, Leave No Trace practices, expedition behavior, and techniques for hiking and camping in grizzly bear habitat. The group will then move into more advanced topics, such as: leadership styles, effective communication and feedback skills, wilderness first aid, and navigation using a GPS and compass. Other skills that may be taught based on conditions, group interest, and instructor focus include: baking, fly-fishing, snow travel, geology, and plant identification.

You’ll travel in a small hiking group so you have more opportunities to lead, make decisions, and practice navigation as you move through the wilderness. You will occasionally have a layover day to rest, enjoy a beautiful campsite, or summit a peak. 

Group dynamics and leadership are integral parts of your course’s curriculum. A foundational course goal is building an inclusive community with your peers. Learning the value of teamwork, you will tackle group challenges and achieve common goals. The emphasis of the leadership curriculum will be on experiential learning, though you’ll also be exposed to formal classes. As your group demonstrates strong interpersonal skills, your instructors will give you greater responsibility for leading yourself and your peers. By the end of this course, you’ll have the technical and leadership skills to pursue your own backpacking trips in the wilderness.

At the beginning of the course your instructors will travel with you to teach travel skills including navigation, leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making. As you develop competence, instructors will gradually give you more responsibilities. Once you gain proficiency and demonstrate competence to your instructors, you may travel in student-led groups without instructors for up to a day at a time—we call this independent student group travel. 

After successful practice with independent student group travel and if your instructors think your group is ready, your course may culminate in a multi-day student-led expedition. Usually, for the Student Expeditions you will travel in a group of four to six students independently of instructors for two to five days (depending on group competency, terrain, and route). This independent expedition caps off your NOLS experience and gives you a chance both to put into practice the skills you’ve learned and to appreciate the relationships you’ve formed with your expedition mates over the duration of your course.

Independent student group travel is carefully planned with your instructors and emergency plans are created for each group. Your instructors may be up to 24 hours away, but each group carries an electronic emergency communication device to alert the NOLS emergency response system in the event of an accident. Ultimately, on this course you will develop the competence to travel independently in the wilderness and with your family and friends.

Return with new friends, lasting memories, and confidence to lead in the outdoors and beyond.

Backpack through thick forests and high mountain passes formed by ancient volcanoes. Challenge yourself to climb rugged peaks, pausing to enjoy the sweeping views at the summit. Camp beside clear alpine lakes and enjoy the view. As you travel, keep your eyes out for a diverse array of wildlife: elk, moose, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and more. 

Whether you’re an experienced outdoorsperson or new to backpacking, expect to learn something each day. Start with the basics, like reading a map, pitching a tent, and cooking on a campstove. Later, move on to more advanced topics, like compass use, snow travel, and first aid techniques.

As you build your outdoor skills, you’ll also grow your leadership skills. Practice effective communication and decision-making while working with your team to cross a river. Grow your problem-solving skills while navigating a boulder field or resolving a group conflict. Return with new friends, lasting memories, and confidence to lead in the outdoors and beyond.

Additional Details

Essential Eligibility Criteria