IWLS is proud to operate courses in some of the most beautiful, unique, and wild places on the planet. From the pristine waters of Glacier Bay in Alaska to the majestic volcanoes of Ecuador to the jagged peaks of the North Cascades in Washington, the National Parks of the world are ideal backcountry classrooms. The rich natural history, beautiful landscapes, and unique geography of these areas contribute to a perfect blend of outdoor education, technical skills, and high adventure.
Whether hiking the alpine tundra of Kluane or climbing the Torres del Paine these destinations offer an exciting adventure and learning opportunity for everyone.
Glacier Bay National Park*
John Muir came to Glacier Bay in 1879 and was so stunned by its epic beauty that immediately upon his return he began to secure wilderness protection for this spectacular region he called “unspeakably pure and sublime.” The dynamic world of the bay changes continuously as receding glaciers reveal new landscapes. Glacier Bay’s fascinating geology, plentiful wildlife (including the endangered humpback whale), and breathtaking scenery of soaring mountains and gorgeous tidewater glaciers are the setting for an unforgettable wilderness experience.
North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades are the largest area of sustained glaciated alpine terrain in the contiguous United States. Over 75% of the glaciers in the lower 48 are found in this region. It forms an extremely rugged, remote, and challenging mass of glaciated alpine mountains. The skiing, rock climbing, and mountaineering are world class. The Park encompasses landscapes with over 9,000 feet of vertical relief. This large change in elevation results in regions of high biodiversity with over 1,600 different plant species identified.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is an active Cascade volcano encased in over 35 square miles of snow and glacial ice. The 14,410’ mountain is surrounded by lush old growth forests, spectacular subalpine meadows and a National Historic Landmark District that showcases the “NPS Rustic” style architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.
Olympic National Park*
Olympic National Park is a diverse and stunning world. 95% of the park is designated wilderness with most of its interior accessible only by trail. This amazing wilderness park is made up of fog shrouded coast, spectacular alpine country, lush meadows, remote glaciers, and “North America’s finest temperate rain forest”. In addition, Olympic National Park is an UNESCO world heritage site.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands preserves a colorful landscape eroded into countless canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. While these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character and offers different opportunities for exploration. The backpacking and canyoneering options in the park are virtually endless.
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park*
The Chugach, Wrangell, and Saint Elias ranges converge here in what is often referred to as the “mountain kingdom of North America.” The largest unit of the National Park System, this spectacular wilderness includes the continent’s largest assemblage of glaciers, and greatest collection of peaks above 16,000 feet, including 18,008’ Mount St. Elias, the second highest peak in the United States. When combined with neighboring parks in U.S. and Canada, it makes up the largest protected wilderness area on the planet.*
Great Basin National Park
In the shadow of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees grow on rocky glacial moraines. Come to Great Basin National Park to experience the solitude of the desert, the smell of sagebrush after a thunderstorm, the darkest of night skies, and the beauty of Lehman Caves. Far from a wasteland, the Great Basin is a diverse region that awaits your discovery.
Kluane National Park*
Yukon Territory, Canada
A gem in the family of Parks Canada’s national treasures, Kluane National Park and Reserve covers an area of 21,980 square kilometers. It is a land of precipitous, high mountains, immense icefields and lush valleys that yield a diverse array of plant and wildlife species and provides for a host of outdoor activities. Kluane National Park and Reserve is also home to Mount Logan (19,545 ft), Canada’s highest peak. Designated as an UNESCO* world heritage site, the natural beauty of this wilderness is profound. When combined with neighboring U.S. National Parks, it makes up the largest protected wilderness area on the planet.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Gold! Headlines read in 1897, starting the rush. Thousands, hoping to ease the woes of economic depression, sold farms, dropped businesses and boarded ships to follow their dreams north. They braved icy passes to reach the interior of Canada, only to find the gold claims staked by prospectors who preceded them. A few struck gold; many more returned home penniless, yet richer for the adventure.
Ixtaccihuatl and Popocateptl National Park
The park and its peaks tower over nearby Mexico City and are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. The volcanoes; Popocatépetl (17,890 ft), called “smoking mountain” and Iztaccihuatl (17,160ft), called “sleeping woman” are important historical, cultural, and geographic landmarks.
Cotopaxi National Park
An hour and a half south of Quito, along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, lays the dominant image on the Ecuadorian national psyche: the perfectly conical Cotopaxi volcano (19,350 ft), claiming to be the world’s highest active volcano. The views from the top on a clear day are incredible. In addition to the grandeur of the volcano, the surrounding ‘Paramo’ hosts a variety of wildlife included the Andean fox.
Kilimanjaro National Park
With its three peaks, Kibo (Center), Mawensi (East), and Shira (West), Mount Kilimanjaro is an inactive volcano located in north-eastern Tanzania near the Kenyan border. It is the highest peak in Africa at 5,895 metres (19,340 ft), providing a dramatic view from the surrounding plains. This snow-capped volcano seems to rise out of the African savannah.
Torres del Paines National Park
The National Park Torres del Paine is, without doubt, one of the most spectacular national parks in the country. A world biosphere reserve, it has a huge variety of plant and animal species which, with its incredibly beautiful setting has made it an almost unequalled destination for hikers and backpackers, ecology-lovers and adventure seekers alike. Snow-capped mountain peaks, cascading rivers and waterfalls, glaciers and mirrored lakes: in all respects Torres del Paine national park deserves its reputation.
Sagarmatha National Park*
UNESCO listed the park as a World Heritage Site in 1979 for its unique natural, cultural and landscape characteristics. Encompassing the Khumbu area, Sagarmatha is an exceptional area with dramatic mountains, glaciers and deep valleys, dominated by Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world (29,029ft.). Several rare species, such as the snow leopard and the lesser panda, are found in the park. The rich culture of the Sherpa people makes the park an exceptional place to experience and explore.
* UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has identified some of the most spectacular cultural and natural areas around the world. An International treaty names these locations as having outstanding value to humanity and serves to protect and preserve these amazing areas.
IWLS also operates in these UNESCO world heritage sites.
• Baja – Islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California
• Peru – Historic Sanctuary of Macchu Picchu
• Canada – Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park