Fall 2025: August 29 - October 30, 2025
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This course takes place in western and central Montana on successive explorations of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Blackfeet Reservation, the Missouri River, Fort Belknap Reservation, Yellowstone National Park, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and the Tongue River Basin in southeastern Montana. The course begins and ends in Missoula, Montana.

Permitted activity takes place on the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest and the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. 

Semester Credits

Browse Course Syllabi

15 Total Semester Credits/22.5 Total Quarter Units:

Environmental Studies 395: Environmental Ethics and Industrial Society (3 credits)
Students will receive an introduction to some contemporary approaches to environmental ethics that have developed in several ethical traditions, including Western philosophical thought in Deontological, Utilitarian, and Virtue ethics; Native American philosophies, Ecofeminism, and “Deep Ecology.” We will examine many current regional environmental issues through these lenses, including fossil fuel extraction and use, renewable energy, agricultural policy, endangered species conservation, and climate change.
Environmental Studies 395: Public Lands Issues and Policy in Montana (3 credits)
This course is designed to help students develop a reasoned position on how to best manage Montana’s public lands and wildlife. Students will become well-acquainted with the historical roots, legal underpinnings, and current state of complex conservation and rural development issues. We will explore these topics through extended expeditions on public lands, meetings with diverse stakeholders on those lands, background readings in land policy and class discussions.
Geography 348: Environmental Geography of Central Montana (3 credits)
Students will examine relationships between humans and the natural environment in several regions of Montana. We explore both wild and settled environments to understand the following questions: What are the elements (climate, vegetation, landforms) that characterize landscapes in this area? How and why have successive human cultures modified these landscapes? How have environmental conditions here influenced human activities?
Geography 348: Sustainability and Resilience in Montana (3 credits)
Students will gain an understanding of the concept of sustainability and resilience, and their application to a variety of issues specific to the geography Montana, including: wilderness, agriculture, mining, energy production, systems theory, transportation, and climate change. The common dynamics seen in environmental, climatic, cultural, economic, and interpersonal systems will provide students with a powerful way to perceive patterns in these diverse realms, and allow them to position themselves more effectively as citizens and actors in these systems.
Native American Studies 352: Montana's Indians-Relationships with the Land (3 credits)
The course is designed to give students a greater understanding of Indian Peoples’ traditional relationships with the land in Montana, and to understand how and why those relationships have changed. Visits, meetings, projects, and ceremonies with elders, activists, and tribal officials on the Blackfeet, Ft. Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Reservations provide students with an experiential basis for understanding Native American perspectives and issues.

Academic Credit:

All courses offered through the Wild Rockies Field Institute are accredited through the University of Montana and the School for Extended and Lifelong Learning. Each Wild Rockies Field Institute course is approved and supported by University of Montana departmental leadership and faculty.

The “Montana Afoot and Afloat” semester offers five independent courses, each worth 3 semester credits, for a total of 15 credits earned for successfully completing the program.

Quarter System Students:
For colleges and universities on the quarter system, each of the five courses is typically worth 4.5 quarter system units, for a total of 22.5 units upon successful completion of the program.

Block System Students:
At institutions where one course is equal to one credit, each class (e.g. CCS 391) within a WRFI course is typically equal to one credit.

Montana Afoot and Afloat Course Description

The course is split into four sections, each lasting between 12-15 days. Approximately one half of the course is spent in the backcountry, traveling across the landscape. When the group is not traveling in the backcountry they will visit small towns and meet with a variety of local citizens, land managers, scientists, elected officials, farmers, recreationists, and ranchers. These guest speakers expose students to diverse perspectives on the landscapes and cultures of the area.

The days between sections are also used to re-supply the course with food and other supplies. Typically, students have the opportunity to receive mail, check email, take showers, buy personal food and do laundry between each section. There is a course recess approximately half way through this course in which students and instructors get a brief break from the rigors of traveling and academics.

Section One: Bob Marshall Wilderness | Backpacking & Site Visits

Students begin their exploration backpacking in the famed Bob Marshall Wilderness, one of the largest wildernesses in the continental United States. Meetings with land managers and tribal members living on the neighboring Blackfeet Reservation provide perspectives on a variety of public lands management issues.

Section Two: Missouri River |Kayaking & Site Visits

The Missouri River in north central Montana has a rich cultural heritage and provides students the opportunity to delve into the historical context and contemporary realities of the area while kayaking over one-hundred miles through the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Students will learn about bison reintroduction efforts through service project with American Prairie Reserve and meetings with guest speakers on the Fort Belknap Reservation.

Section Three: Yellowstone Ecoregion Uplands| Backpacking & Site Visits

This section begins with an autumn backpack in the Big Snowy Mountains, an Island Range that emerges out of Montana’s eastern plains. In addition to several site visits in the area exploring rural livelihoods and energy production, the students will also visit Yellowstone National Park with an academic focus on public lands management and the unique environmental geography of the Greater Yellowstone Ecoregion.

Section Four: Tongue River & Neighboring Communities | Kayaking & Site Visits

The final section of the course takes the group back to plains and into the kayaks, this time to the Montana border with Wyoming and the headwaters of the Tongue River. The second half of this section connects local to global perspectives through site visits to neighboring Native American Reservations, ranches, and coal production facilities in the continuing quest to explore varied perspectives on human/land relations.

In addition to the academic topics mentioned above, throughout the course students learn and cultivate skills in wilderness travel, minimum impact camping, orienteering, and natural history.


One week of remote coursework before and five weeks after the field portion of the course entails participating in a peer-review process aimed at helping students complete their final cumulative assignment.

Sample Backpacking Daily Itinerary