Summertime at the Institute

Learning can feel a lot like play around here—that’s true all year long, but especially in summertime! It took real hustle to create those experiences this season and still, we found ourselves in the middle of some beautiful moments with each other and participants. We heard kids laughing at some unnamed silliness up the trail, and marveled at big views unfolding through the trees. We squinted at the sun sparkling off the lake and felt the shock of ice-cold water splashing off oars. Feet up, we relaxed with friends after a belly-filling meal and watched the campfire spark and spit … we were, and are, here for all of this!

Youth Leadership Adventures

“Never in a million years did I think I would do a trip like this and it has been the best 9 days of my life,” said one student, summing up the impact of another Youth Leadership Adventures season. All said and done, these high schoolers canoed 82 miles, hiked 46 miles, and completed 608 hours of service projects while sustaining no injuries and building skills and community along the way. As their trips concluded, students met adults from our community to talk about what they learned from each other, how their confidence as leaders grew, and what a hopeful and just future looks like in their eyes. Thank You! to the students, donors and YLA crew who make these experiences possible!

The “Wild Crocs” and instructors Talia (left) and Sydney (center) beat the heat with a dip in Ross Lake.
Stewardship projects included trail maintenance, campsite clean-up, replacing trail signs, and brushing off a helicopter pad.
The “Salty Nuts” display flags created during a reflection activity.
Friendship and shenanigans in camp with the “Vibrant Deodorants”.
The “Cheesy Glaciers” spent time in a fire lookout learning from a USFS Ranger, Brandon Helmstetter.
The “Salubrious Slugs” hiked 19 miles along Bridge Creek Trail with instructors Sarah and Emily.
Students get a closer look at a waterfall tucked into Ross Lake’s shoreline.
At the final of three YLA Community Days, Christian welcomed his nieces back from their big adventure.
YLA Community Days gave Institute staff, donors and friends the chance to support and listen to students.

Day Programs at the Learning Center

Hiring challenges dramatically changed our summer plans, but we prevailed in connecting people with nature at the Learning Center. Instructors drew on their creativity and expertise to host interactive learning opportunities like Super Salmon in the Skagit, Skullz & Trackz, and Falling for Waterfalls. It was literally all hands on deck for the launch of a canoe program that offered guided Diablo Lake adventures for walk-up visitors. Staff also provided interpretive services aboard the Diablo Lake Ferry, talking with passengers about the area’s natural and cultural history.

Step right up and choose your fun from the day’s menu. Photo by Jodi Broughton
Matt highlights the tell-tale features of one skull during “The Great Skull Stumper”. Photo by Sarah Thornton
Inspirations like this were written by visitors for the “Love Letters to the North Cascades” activity. Photo by Vishva Nalamalapu
Evan introduces Scott Schuyler of the Upper Skagit Tribe and Andrea Weiser from Seattle City Light for a staff learning session. Photo by Jodi Broughton
All aboard for guided canoe adventures on Diablo Lake. Photo by Alexis Hager
Amparo! Photo by Kim Nelson
Taylor puts the fun in factoids for passengers aboard the Diablo Lake Ferry. Photo by Kim Nelson

August Family Getaway

What a joy to host a Family Getaway this August at the Learning Center! No doubt, our visiting families brought home life-long memories—thanks to the enthusiasm, stamina and creativity of our summer instructors and coordinators, tasty meals served up by the new kitchen team, and attentive support from our hospitality and behind-the-scenes staff. Everyone enjoyed Family Getaway classics like Big Canoe excursions, North Cascades Jeopardy, the costume parade and talent show, and a campfire with s’mores at day’s end!

Our instructors know a hundred ways to make you WIGGLE.
A people-powered family outing in the Salish Dancer.
Crafting fairy houses makes anyone feel like a kid.
Games and puzzles in the Wild Ginger library.
Costume creations on display during the parade.
A time for connecting and creating memories.
Dinner tastes especially good when it comes with a lake view.
And finally, s’mores by the campfire!

Gift Shops

Boxes, boxes, and more boxes. Summer is always a whirlwind for our Retail team operating North Cascades National Park gift shops, but 2022 gave us a season for the record books! Long lines of visitors snapped up souvenirs to remind them of their North Cascades adventures—patches, stickers, mugs, and super cute bobcat finger puppets. But most impressive in numbers sold were the T-shirts, with more than 9,000 flying out the doors!

Darcie managed the mayhem in Retail Central. Photo by Pat Renau
Pat unloaded between walls of snow when prepping the gift shop at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center.
Ryan ready to help you find a souvenir, map, water bottle or other essentials at Heather Meadows Gift Shop.
Ready for business in the Skagit Information Center gift shop.
Lines literally wrapped around the interior of the North Cascades Visitor Center. Photo by Pat Renau
It was the ear tufts that sold it.

Field Courses

This summer’s classes and field excursions took learners to distant corners of the region. Mari Schramm brought wildflower enthusiasts to Stevens Pass, an ideal setting to learn flower identification in July. Students joined Andy Porter at Artist Point on a moonless night to capture dramatic images of the Milky Way over Koma Kulshan and Mount Shuksan. Bob Gillespie’s pollinator workshop met at WSU’s Research Center in Mount Vernon to net and identify active pollinators while touring the gardens. Where will we go next? Learn about future field courses in Field Notes, our monthly enewsletter.

Blooms abound in early July at Stevens Pass. Photo by Mari Schramm
Before stepping out on the trail, Mari teaches the group about the parts of a flower. Photo by MK Kirkpatrick-Waite
Hand lenses help identify the salient features that indicate the family to which a flower belongs. Photo by Mari Schramm
Bob “I never met a bee I didn’t like” Gillespie (far right). Photo by Evan Holmstrom
Some particularly pretty pollinators in Bob’s specimen collection. Photo by Evan Holmstrom
A participant makes friends with the workshop’s subject. Photo by Evan Holmstrom
Nets ready for participants to capture, identify and release active pollinators. Photo by Evan Holmstrom
A midsummer night’s dream at Artist Point. Photo by Andy Porter


We packed in so much over 3 short months. And somehow on top of all these programs, the incredible Learning Center staff also helped host several private conferences and weddings. (Is there a more spectacular place to pledge one’s love than in the North Cascades?) There’s much to feel proud of—thanks for taking a tour of this summer’s best!


  1. Melissa

    Hi my kiddos are 6/7 and I’m wondering what summer events you have for that age group

Leave a Comment