A photo of the lake at the wilderness field station


Wilderness Field Station - FAQs

fieldstation map

View map

What is the Coe College Wilderness Field Station?

The Coe College Wilderness Field station is a rustic but comfortable setting for summer classes investigating the wilderness around the station, in classes ranging from Conservation and Ecology of Mammals to Environmental Justice. We focus on educating students about the wilderness, with a goal of fostering a sense of care for the world around them. Located on remote Low Lake, the station has access to the full range of ecological communities of the northern aspen-conifer forests of this biome, from open pine woodlands to cattail marsh and lily-pad meadows to cranberry-sphagnum bogs. Fauna ranging from bear and wolf down to the Laurentian Tiger Beetle pass by the station every summer. It is an amazing place to study wilderness.

The field station was operated from 1961 to 2002 by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). When ACM decided to close the field station after the summer program of 2002, Coe College assumed its operation. We are committed to continuing the traditions and wonderful learning opportunities that made the field station beloved to so many.

Where is the Coe College Wilderness Field Station?

The field station is located about 5 miles north of Ely, Minnesota in the 2 ½ million acre Superior National Forest on remote Low Lake. Groups paddle directly by canoe from the field station to the edge of the fabled Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in about 2 hours, and to Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park in about 8, adding 2 million more acres to the field station "classroom". This is the largest and most pristine wilderness area in the Eastern United States. Here human impact is minimal. Landscapes are not fragmented by towns or farms, lakes and rivers are clear and clean, the air is filled with sounds of wind in the pines, bird song, and the calls of loons and wolves, not of tractors, sirens and traffic.

Who should take a class at the field station?

Students willing to challenge themselves mentally and physically by stepping outside their familiar classrooms and human-centered world to learn through exploration, hands-on activities, small group and individual projects in a wilderness setting. To minimize impact on the environment, maximum class size for the undergraduate program is 8 students, so you get to know your instructor and classmates well. Classes are academically rigorous, but informal and supportive. This is a natural way to learn. You find yourself and your classmates studying for the excitement of learning rather than to survive a test. Many field station students have found their wilderness class the best experience of their college career.

When should I take a course?

The best time to take a class at the field station is whenever you have the time and resources to do so. Don't put it off. Next year is apt to be more complicated than this. Many students have taken a field station class after their first or second year of college, then used this success to launch themselves into competitive, paid research positions elsewhere after their sophomore or junior year. The qualities needed for success in a field station class are: the ability to get along well in small groups, being self-motivated, the ability to successfully "step outside of the box", physical stamina, intelligence and industry. These qualities will look good on applications to research labs, professional schools and future employers. Your WFS professor will then know you well enough to write a recommendation for you!

When should I apply for the program?

Application deadline: April 6, 2024

View application materials.

How should I apply?

Apply on the website here. Credit is received through Coe College's summer school and must be transferred to your home school if other than Coe. Check with your registrar for more details. Classes transfer as 4 semester hour credits or 1 course credit.

Apply early: remember that space is limited to 8 students per class! A $350 non-refundable deposit is due 3 weeks after acceptance which will apply to your total cost and guarantee your place in a course.

Five reasons why one should take a class at the Coe College Wilderness Field Station.

  1. It is unique. While many Midwestern colleges and universities have field sites, typically these are farms that have been more or less replanted to native vegetation, forming "islands" of habitat in a "sea" of roads, farmland, and cities. Species diversity is low because of "island biogeographical phenomena". Coe's Wilderness Field Station is the only field station within canoeing distance of the BWCAW. Big universities typically have research field stations where teaching is secondary. Teaching and mentoring are our reason for existence, class sizes are small enough to allow us to work closely with our students, and our landscapes are big and unfragmented, so natural ecological processes are at work much as they always have been. You cannot replicate your field station experience anywhere else.
  2. It is complementary. Our program complements what you do on campus. Campuses have libraries, lecture halls, computers and Power Point. We have wolves, loons, beautiful vistas and the time to enjoy them while we are studying. On campus a nature writing class would meet for 3 one hour classes a week, and you would seek your inspiration from the writings of others. At the field station you find your inspiration in the observations and experiences you and your classmates have as you travel and camp in the canoe country. In a campus biology class you might meet for 3 hours of lecture where you learn from the findings of others presented to you by a professor, and a 3 hour lab where you learn some of the techniques of the discipline. At the field station you learn from your own outdoor observations and data collected by you and your classmates in the wilderness. Professional field biologists discover new information through the same type of field research. Many of our alumni have gone on to graduate programs and are now doing field research professionally.
  3. It fosters self awareness and self confidence. Our classes will challenge you physically as well as mentally. When you are working in the out of doors you must always react to what the climate throws at you. A portage might be muddy after last night's storm and seem longer than usual. The wind might be in your face and paddling might be difficult. You might need to hoist a food pack out of reach of bears, and not be able to find an obviously-suitable tree. In these classes you continuously set new goals and attain them, alone or with the help of group members. You will likely find that you are much less limited than you thought! Self-confidence will result from your experiences.
  4. It teaches canoeing and camping skills. The program has 40 years of wisdom teaching college students, who may have never canoed or camped before, how to canoe and portage effectively and safely and camp sensitively and comfortably. You will use these skills to reach your next educational adventure. Additionally, you will have the skills and ability to lead your own personal trips. Many of our alumni return to the canoe country year after year with family or friends, using the outdoor skills that they mastered in their field station class.
  5. You will have an adventure! No matter how stimulating your campus class may be, no matter how clear the PowerPoint Presentation, during that class an eagle will never sweep down and pick up a fish just off the bow of your canoe and fly away with it. No matter how successful your field trip to your college field site is, you will never walk around the corner and see a moose feeding on lily pads, or a bear munching forest tent caterpillars from aspen leaves. Those are adventures reserved for the Coe College Wilderness Field Station. The sense of adventure permeates every field station class outing. Around the bend is always something new and unexpected to see. A wolf lapping water at the river's edge? An otter family hunting crayfish? A moose belly deep in a wild rice bed? They might not be around that bend, but they could be.

Come be a part of the Coe College Wilderness Field Station!