El Capitan Canyon & Ocean Mesa

Groups staying at El Capitan are a quick hike away from both the verdant tide pools of El Capitan State Beach and the riparian wilderness growing along the canyon floor.

El Capitan Canyon & Ocean Mesa
Located on the coast a few miles north of Santa Barbara, this site has it all– a beautiful location, excellent accommodations, a variety of environments, and numerous outdoor education opportunities.

Majestic oaks and sycamores line the canyon’s meandering stream. Large fields make perfect outdoor classrooms. The tidepools and beaches of El Capitan State Park are a fifteen-minute walk away. Kayaking and/or visiting the Llama Farm is an option that can be included in most programs. A high ropes adventure course is available.

Students and chaperons stay in modern bunk cabins with baths. Wholesome meals are served under the oaks.

Educational Overview

Naturalists at Large’s experience has been that the students’ participation in the process of learning and living together provides the basic framework for a successful outdoor education program. The program emphasizes outdoor skills along with an introduction to the various environ­ments of the Santa Barbara Mountains and seashores. Naturalists at Large takes respon­sibility for all evening ac­tivities, in addition to the day’s activities.

Students discover the unique natural and human history of the area, develop group cooperation through shared experiences, enhance leadership abili­ties, and learn basic outdoor skills. All Naturalists at Large programs are intended to give the students a “sense of place”. This is ac­com­plished by intro­ducing them to the natural and cultural history of the canyon and surrounding area while they explore the trails, study the various habitats, and live in the area for three to five days.

Organized into groups of twelve to fourteen, students discover the unique natural history of the area, and solve problems posed by their instruc­tors. Naturalists at Large instructors work with their groups to teach basic outdoor travel skills, conduct educational activities (primari­ly hands-on activities) on the canyon trails. Students are placed in situations that en­courage them to work together. In addition, they are constantly encouraged to solve problems posed by the Naturalists at Large instructors, comprised of both intel­lectual problems and well thought-out and well executed physical problems (i.e. initiative activities). There is an educational component to all activities.

Each trail group is with a Naturalists at Large naturalist-instructor and a faculty or parent chaperon for the entire program. Working in pods of 2 or 3 trail groups, each pod rotates to a new location each day, participating in activities that focus their attention on a particular concept or environment. The activities use active learning techniques plus “hands on” games and learning activities to help students grasp concepts.

Areas of Study
  • Freshwater biology and the water (hydrologic) cycle
  • Saltwater biology, tidepool, marine environments
  • Plant communities – botany, ecology, plant classification, taxonomy & the use of plant keys
  • Adapta­tions of plants and animals for surviving this land of little rain
  • Geology – landforms and weathering
  • The stars – the solar system, cosmology, star identification & constellations
  • Environmen­tal resource management
  • Water resources – pollution, sewage treatment, water sources
  • Outdoor skills
  • Invertebrate zoology & bird watching

We will also stress the importance of safe outdoor travel. Emphasis will be tailored to complement the goals of the school.

  • The academic aspects of the program emphasize the study of water: fresh, marine, and brackish
  • The natural history of the Santa Barbara Moun­tains
  • Human’s role in the modification of the mountains
  • Using natural resources wisely

Leadership development and decision-making is enhanced through group building and initiative activities.