Registration for the 2023 program is now closed. Registration for the 2024 program will open in late fall of 2023. To be notified about the 2024 program, click the link below:

Become an expert on the volcano in our backyard as a Volcano Naturalist at Mount St. Helens. The Volcano Naturalist Program is a 12-week certification course offered by the Mount St. Helens Institute. Participants in this program will explore diverse aspects of the natural and cultural history of Mount St. Helens.

Each class takes an in-depth look at a different subject, including:

  • The mountain’s eruptive history
  • The ecology of the blast zone
  • The cultural history of Mount St. Helens
  • And much more! 

Classes are led by instructors who are experts in the field. With 36 hours of virtual classroom instruction, and three hands-on field trips, participants leave the class not only as a certified Volcano Naturalist, but with a greater understanding and appreciation for the powerful geological and ecological forces at play in our community.

"Without exception, every speaker was worth the commitment. I feel very fortunate to have learned from top scientists, journalists, and conservationists who have dedicated much of their adult lives to the mountain.”

-Past participant

The Volcano Naturalist Program is hosted by the Mount St. Helens Institute with the support of community, university, and government partners including the U.S. Forest Service.


Registration for the 2023 program is now closed. Registration for the 2024 program will open in late fall of 2023. To be notified about the 2024 program, click here.

Course Schedule and Format:

The 2023 program will run from January 31st - May 2nd. The program will be held virtually on Zoom, along with three in-person field trips.

  • Virtual Evening Classes: Every Tuesday from 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM PST
    • NO CLASS February 14th or March 28th.
    • We’ve taken extra steps to ensure virtual classes are engaging, informative, and enjoyable. 
    • You can sign up no matter where you live! 
  • Optional In-Person Field Trips:
    • Saturday February 11th: Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake
    • Saturday, April 1st: Ape Cave
    • Saturday April 29th: Hummocks Trail

Course Fee & Registration Dates

  • Registration fee: $480.
    • Registration fee includes course materials and book mailed to participants.
  • Registration closes January 9th, 2023 (or when program is full).

Course Requirements:

  • Anyone who is interested in learning more about Mount St. Helens is welcome to register as a participant. No prior knowledge of natural history is needed by participants, as all that is needed is a willingness to learn.
  • Participants must be at least  14* years of age.
    • *Participants between the ages of 14-17 must be accompanied by an adult parent or guardian for in-person field trips.
  • Participants must provide their own device and internet connection to participate in virtual classes.
  • Field trip requirements:
    • Participants must be able to walk 3 miles on uneven, unpaved surface while carrying 10 lbs, and must provide their own transportation to and from the site.
    • Participants must follow MSHI's current program policies for in-person programming.


Volcano Naturalists must complete a minimum of 30 hours of virtual classroom instruction (not including field trips) to receive their certification. Participants who need to miss more than two classes should contact the facilitator before registering to make sure that they will meet the minimum hour requirements.

Volunteer Commitment:

Volunteering is NOT a requirement for participation in this course. The Volcano Naturalist Program was originally developed as a volunteer training course, and historically participants were required to volunteer at least 40 hours to earn their certification. Today, we recognize volunteering may not be an option for everyone, but participants are welcomed and encouraged to become MSHI volunteers if they wish.
Mount St. Helens Institute volunteers support education, safety, and stewardship of Mount St. Helens in a variety of exciting assignments, which are flexible as far as interest, ability, and availability. Learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Mount St. Helens Institute online here.

Participant Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Identify geological and ecological forces of Mount St. Helens.
  • Describe the nature of Mount St. Helens’ dynamic landscape.
  • Relate the natural and cultural history of Mount St. Helens to others using interpretive methods.

Course Materials:

Before the course begins, participants will receive a packet in the mail with printed reference materials for the course. Participants will also receive one book of their choice, selected during registration. Book choices include:

  • In the Blast Zone: Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens edited by Charles Goodrich, Kathleen Dean Moore & Fred Swanson
  • Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson
  • Echoes of Fury: The 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens and the Lives it Changed Forever by Frank Parchman
  • In the Path of Destruction: Eyewitness Chronicles of Mount St. Helens by Richard Waitt
  • After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mount St. Helens by Eric Wagner
  • Day Hiking Mount St. Helens by Craig Romano & Aaron Theisen
  • Cascadia Revealed: A Guide to the Plants, Animals & Geology of the Pacific Northwest Mountains by Daniel Mathews
  • Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon
  • Return to Spirit Lake: Journey through a Lost Landscape by Christine Colasurdo

Participants will also have access to a course website with links, resources, slides, and video recordings of online classes (when available). Not all class sessions are recorded, at the discretion of each guest presenter. The course website will remain accessible through the end of the calendar year.

2023 Partners:

  • US Geological Survey
  • US Forest Service 
  • Washington State Parks 
  • Cowlitz Indian Tribe
  • Longview Daily News 
  • WSU Vancouver
  • Cascadia Wild

Clock hours may be available for teachers through OSPI.

For more information contact: Sarah Koppelman, Volunteer & Community Engagement Manager, at sarah@mshinstitute.org or (360) 784-2108.