Field seminars get you into the woods

  • By Sarah Jackson / Herald Writer
  • Friday, March 30, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Appreciating the great Northwest isn’t always easy, especially when it’s cold and rainy.

But with spring here and summer on the way, it’s time to dream.

How will you get out and enjoy our window of fair weather?

The North Cascades Institute’s spring and summer catalog is good place to start planning, with a wide array of relaxing family getaways, educational seminars, writing retreats, backcountry adventures and special lectures, all open for registration now.

Today we spotlight 10 cool field seminars, all designed to “lead you deeper into the green soul of the Pacific Northwest” and “reinvigorate your connection to this singular, special place.”

Who doesn’t want that?

Many of the courses start at the institute’s new North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on the shores of Diablo Lake, definitely a destination to check out if you haven’t yet.

The learning center and its nearby lodges, new in 2005 and recently awarded for their environmentally friendly construction, are situated in the heart of the North Cascades on Highway 20.

Though some of the seminars by the institute cost more than $100 a person, especially those that run for multiple days and include lodging, there are free events on the schedule, too.

These Free Learning Center Day Trips are a great way for newcomers to check out the learning center and its grounds.

Simply decide if you want to go canoeing on Diablo Lake or hiking to a hidden waterfall. Then choose from one of 10 weekend dates this summer. You’ll spend the day with institute naturalists and National Park Service rangers who are happy to teach all ages.

There is a catch: You can’t register beforehand for the free classes. Doors open for signup at 8:30 a.m. and it’s first come, first served.

If you want to learn more, order a free, full-color catalog from the institute by calling 360-856-5700, ext. 209, or explore the detailed course descriptions at

Bird watching, listening

What: “The Language of Birds: Tracking Avian Life”: Roam forests, meadows and streams with a naturalist who specializes in birdcalls and wildlife tracking. Rise early and stay up late to study a variety of birds by observing calls and songs along with prints, feathers and scat.

When: April 27 to 29

Where: Newhalem Campground

Cost: $195

Spring flower fling

What: “Balsamroot and Butterflies: Spring in the Methow”: The Methow Valley in Eastern Washington is a naturalist’s delight in any season, but it’s prime in spring. Join a botanist and an ornithologist on a four-day journey through colorful tapestries of balsamroot and lupine as well as aspen groves, all alive with migrating birds and butterflies.

When: May 17 to 20

Where: Participants must arrange camping or other accommodations in the nearby town of Winthrop.

Cost: $250

Relaxation weekend

What: “Diablo Downtime: Yoga, Hiking and Slow Food”: Stay two nights in one of the learning center’s lodges and just kick back. Each day you can partake of yoga, canoeing, hiking and stargazing as well as natural history presentations, organic gourmet meals and, if you like, late nights by the campfire. This is a getaway for adults – singles, couples, siblings, friends or parents looking for a hideout.

When: June 15 to 17, July 6 to 8 or Aug. 24 to 26

Where: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

Cost: $375 single occupancy, $220 double, $155 triple. Prices include meals and two nights of lodging.

Naturalist retreat

What: “North Cascades Naturalists Retreat: Reading the Land, Sharing Its Stories”: Spend a full week exploring and learning about the Cascades and other outdoor meccas with first-class instructors. Each day, you’ll break into groups emphasizing different locations and areas of interest, such as wildflowers at Rainy Pass, ecology and fire history of old-growth forests near Thunder Creek, birds and butterflies of the Methow Valley and canoeing on Diablo Lake. Through it all, you’ll have plenty of mentoring along with access to field guides, hand lenses and other equipment to help deepen your experience outdoors. You’ll dine on scrumptious meals and stay in one of the center’s cozy lodges.

When: July 9 to 13

Where: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

Cost: $595 single occupancy, $360 double, $245 triple. Prices include meals and four nights of lodging.

Explore Ross Lake

What: “Ross Lake Revealed: People of the Upper Skagit”: Take a boat-and-boot tour of Ross Lake, the 24-mile-long body of water that winds from the North Cascades Highway all the way to the Canadian border. You’ll take a behind-the-scenes trip like no other. Camp for two nights under the stars and explore with two knowledgeable, longtime park employees who have led this trip for more than 10 years.

When: July 13 to 15

Where: Ross Lake

Cost: $195

Slow food, farming

What: “Roots and Shoots: Skagit Valley Farm Tour”: The Northwest is rich in healthy and diverse farm fare. Learn how local farmers are practicing sustainable agriculture with stops at the historic Larkspur Farm, Frog’s Song Farm, Hedlin Family Farms and the renowned Rexville Grocery, where the institute’s learning center chef will craft a lunch with ingredients from nearby farms. You’ll also stop at Taylor Shellfish Farms on Samish Bay and Slough Foods in Bow, where you’ll peruse a selection of artisan cheese, chocolate and wine.

When: July 21

Where: Skagit Valley

Cost: $95

Writing retreat

What: “Ninth Annual Thunder Arm Writing Retreat”: From hardscrabble explorers and trail crew hands to Beat Generation poets and park rangers, the North Cascades have inspired many to put pen to paper. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or eager newcomer, you’re welcome to join the nourishing, professional, noncompetitive atmosphere in which student groups rotate through instructors each day, enjoying a combination of lecture, discussion and writing activities. Stay in one of the learning center lodges and enjoy meals made with fresh, local and organic ingredients.

When: July 25 to 29

Where: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

Cost: $695 single occupancy, $475 double, $325 triple. Prices include meals and four nights of lodging.

Fly-fishing for women

What: “Casting Connections: Fly-fishing and Stream Ecology for Women”: Learn to appreciate the contemplative art of fly-fishing while enjoying the Skagit Valley in the company of other women, including two expert guides from Northwest Women Flyfishers, who will lead you through the basics of this contemplative sport. Find out where to fish, how to choose equipment and flies, how to read water and the art of casting and knot tying.

When: July 28 to 29

Where: La Conner

Cost: $250

Sustainable gardening

What: “Green Thumb: The Conservation Gardener”: When tending your home landscape, how can you work with nature rather than fight against it? Tour local gardens and farms to see progressive gardening techniques with horticulturist Sarah Reichard, head of conservation at the University of Washington Botanical Gardens. Learn how locals are working with native plants, using drought-tolerant species, incorporating wildlife habitat and putting other ecological principles into practice in their own gardens.

When: Aug. 4

Where: Skagit Valley

Cost: $95


What: “Dragonflies and Their Kin”: Explore the diverse dragonfly habitats of the Skagit and Methow valleys from high mountain lakes and wildflower meadows to cattail ponds and meandering streams. Document your findings, bring specimens back to the lab for inspection under microscopes and help establish a permanent teaching collection for the institute’s learning center.

When: Aug. 10 to 12

Where: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

Cost: $445 single occupancy, $280 double, $195 triple. Prices include meals and two nights of lodging.

Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or

Talk to us

More in Life

Everett comedian Taylor Clark performs stand-up in 2023 at The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mike Bryk)
Comedian Taylor Clark to film first special Friday in Everett

The skateboarding funny-man will record an hour of his stand-up at the Historic Everett Theater.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

A view of King Street Station in Seattle, Washington from an Amtrak Cascades train to Portland, Oregon from Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ride the rails on Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Portland

Make new friends and let Amtrak do the driving on this 5-hour trip past sea, city and forest.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Some collectibles are found in nature; some imitate them. If it weren’t for the attached figure, this Royal Dux porcelain vase might pass for a real conch shell.
This shell-shaped vase would make a fine souvenir of summer fun

It may not be a real shell, but this art nouveau piece could still evoke fond memories of days at the beach.

Arlington Garden Club celebrating its 90th anniversary

The club has monthly programs for north Snohomish County gardeners and awards scholarships to area students.

Spouses Franchesca and Don Simpson talk about their baby girl’s “chubby cheeks” and “button nose” as Kelly Fox RDMS RVT performs a live-view 3D ultrasound on the expecting mother Saturday, August 26, 2023, at Wonder Baby Ultrasound Studio in Everett, Washington. The Simpsons are expecting their first child in October. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Glamour shots in utero? Everett studio offers HD ultrasound keepsakes

For curious parents, these glimpses are exciting, but not medically endorsed.

Most Read