Outdoor Education

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Challenge plus emotional, social, and ethical growth

Our goal is to educate the whole student. While we are rightfully proud of our classroom education, Catlin Gabel provides extensive avenues for students to learn and grow outside the classroom in ways that will enhance their emotional, social, and ethical development. Outdoor education is an essential component of this effort and is integrated into the curriculum from 1st through 12th grades.

The Middle and Upper School outdoor program provides opportunities for students to face and overcome challenges, learn group living skills, and understand how the natural world works. Outdoor activities broaden education by fostering self-awareness, exposure to new environments, and important leadership opportunities.

Outdoor education's key components

  • Adventure education through trips ranging from day hikes to lengthy backpack, skiing, or river trips
  • Leadership and skill development through a weekly afternoon program, OLA, for Upper School students
  • Environmental education using field resources both on and off campus
  • Experiential education that applies classroom education to real-world settings
  • Group and individual learning opportunities on Catlin Gabel's brand-new challenge course.


Outdoor education in the Upper School focuses on teaching group living skills and providing students with challenges that expand their ability to work in new environments. More than 20 trips are offered each year ranging from two to seven days long. Many of these trips take place during the school year on weekends, and include rafting, climbing, biking, skiing, and hiking. Summer trips are an excellent way for students to leave their cares behind and really dive into a new environment, learn new skills, and meet new people. Upper School students may also choose an after-school outdoor adventure course and a rock climbing course for P.E. credit. Financial aid is available for trips.


Many weekend trips are available to Middle School students during the year, ranging from rock climbing to rafting to hiking. Adventurous summer trips are offered in June and July as well. These trips are led by experienced adults who have led trips in the wilderness for years.

Outdoor education is part of the sixth grade curriculum during the school year. Students learn about the geography of the state, how to take care of themselves in the woods, and basic camping and backpacking skills.


Outdoor education begins with our youngest students closely observing nature — drawing insects and plants, writing poetry about trees and rain, and respectfully building creations using stones, leaves, and sticks. Field trips are embedded throughout the Lower School curriculum as a way to build a love and understanding of the outdoors. Students hike, follow the water cycle from Portland’s headwaters to the Bull Run reservoir, watch birds, and learn about the salmon cycle. First graders have their first class overnight camped in tents on the field next to the Lower School building. Second graders spend two nights and three days in yurts at Champoeg State Park as they learn about early Oregon history and how the native Americans lived off the land. Third graders spend two nights and three days at the Oregon coast, studying tide pool creatures and the regions of Oregon. Fourth graders take several forest hikes throughout the year, and fifth graders study sustainable farming practices and spend three nights and four days exploring farms in the Willamette Valley.

Please see our upcoming trips for Middle and Upper Schoolers.