Field Trips | FAQ

A photo of a student holding up an object and looking in awe at their discover. On top of the image is text that reads "Frequently Asked Questions".

To help you learn more about our field trip programs, and determine if they're right for your student group, check out our frequently asked questions (FAQ) below! 

Before you book

When can we visit for a field trip?

During the school year (September through May), our field trip programs run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays of each week, excluding holidays. During the summer (June through August), we run our programs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. All our field trips happen from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm (noon) MT, with lunch occuring after. If you need an exception to the timing, let us know! 

Who should go on a field trip?

We encourage visits from PreK-12 grade student groups, including preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, post-secondary, non-traditional, and mixed-age groups from homeschools and clubs. Please note that the maximum group size is 50 students per day, and we can split larger groups into multiple programs across different days.

What happens on a field trip to NSF NCAR?

During the school year, our experienced science educators host a Learning Lab field trip that includes a hands-on learning experience of your choice and a guided exploration of the NSF NCAR Visitor Center exhibits (see our current list of Learning Labs). In the summer, we offer a pre-designed learning experience for all age ranges, that we tailor for your student's ages.

Upon the end of the program, student groups are welcome to eat their lunch onsite, either on our outdoor Tree Plaza (weather-dependent) or inside the Mesa Lab Café. Afterward, student groups are welcome to spend self-guided time exploring the exhibits and/or take a short walk on the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail. We will do our best to make the field trip meet the needs of your group.

How much does a field trip cost?

Field trips to the NSF NCAR Visitor Center are free! As a renowned national science center, we want to inspire students to learn more about the world around them. You will need to provide your own transportation to the site and have lunches for your group, but there is no charge for the program.

How can I arrange a field trip to NSF NCAR?

Before you get in touch, make sure you've reviewed this FAQ. Then visit our Reserve Your Field Trip page to fill out an online program request. A School & Public Programs team member will be in touch to complete the reservation process for your program booking. Visits are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, and we tend to fill up our school year. We recommend requesting your field trip five months in advance. You can expect to hear from our team within ten (10) days of submitting your request. 

What can I do to prepare before a field trip?

Learn a little about NSF NCAR by exploring the UCAR and NSF NCAR websites. A good place to start is the Air • Planet • People video, which gives some basic information about the organization. Take a look at our Field Trip Information and Expectations document ahead of time. Please be aware that we are 6,100 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and visitors should dress appropriately for the current weather, especially if your Learning Lab includes an outdoor activity. Lastly, you can incorporate some learning activities in your classroom that expand on the lessons from the field trip.

My group has special needs. Can you accommodate us?

Our School and Public Programs staff are committed to ensuring an inclusive environment that promotes learning and enjoyment for visitors with diverse interests, abilities, and needs. When you schedule your visit, please let us know what accommodations your students will need in the comment box on the program request form. You can also email us ahead of requesting a reservation if you have any specific questions for your group. Our Accessibility page offers some information about our Mesa Lab Visitor Center. We also provide a sensory guide, social narratives, and visual schedules for our field trips. 

Are all Learning Lab field trips wheelchair accessible?

The Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail is not wheelchair accessible, we do not recommend booking “Weather Trail Discovery” Learning Lab if your group includes wheelchair users. All our other Learning Labs that include an outdoor activity can be made wheelchair accessible. You can email us with any questions and let us know in the comment box on your program request form if anyone in your group will be using a wheelchair. For details on accessible drop-off, parking, and bathrooms, please visit our Accessibility page.

How many chaperones should I bring?

We recommend a student-to-chaperone ratio of 8:1. We do not have a cap on the number of chaperones you can bring, but our small classroom may not be able to fit all chaperones if you have a large number of students, due to fire code room capacity. If this is the case for your group, some chaperones may be asked to wait in the exhibits or Café during the classroom activity. All chaperones are welcome in the exhibits and outdoor portions of the field trip.

What is a Learning Lab?

A Learning Lab is a 2-hour experience which includes a 45-minute lesson that incorporates hands-on activities and has been specifically designed for specific grade bands. During the field trip, students will also go on a 45-minute exploration-focused tour of the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab that aligns with the subjects from the selected Learning Lab. This provides an opportunity for more in-depth learning about your topic. Our programs are designed for PreK-12 grades and are aligned to Colorado science standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Check out our list of available Learning Labs and their descriptions.


During the field trip

What do we do when we arrive at NSF NCAR?

Before departing for NSF NCAR, ensure your drivers know how to get to the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab and where they should park. It can take up to five minutes to walk from the parking lot to the entrance, so remember to arrive early! Buses can drop students off in the designated drop-off area in the parking lot. Students and adults with accessibility needs can be dropped off and park at the turnaround by the entrance. Our Field Trip Information document is a handy guide so please share this with your chaperones!

What are our options for lunch?

Students should plan to bring a packed meal to the field trip, or you can travel back to your school for lunch. Lunch happens after the Learning Lab ends around noon. Groups are encouraged to enjoy a picnic lunch on NSF NCAR's Tree Plaza when the weather allows. (If your group has anyone in a wheelchair, please let your educator know and we can guide that person through the accessible pathway to the Tree Plaza.) Lunch can also be eaten indoors in the NSF NCAR Café and a section of the café will be reserved for your group. Student groups are only permitted to purchase their lunch if arrangements have been made in advance. Teachers, group planners, counselors, and parent chaperones are welcome to buy their own lunch in the café. 

What if I scheduled a Learning Lab with an outdoor activity, but there is bad weather or poor air quality?

Our team will assess conditions at the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab on the morning of the field trip to determine if any program changes need to be made. We follow Boulder Valley School District air quality and extreme heat and cold weather guidelines, and will notify you and change your learning lab to another grade-appropriate indoor option if; the wind chill is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat index is greater than 100° Fahrenheit, or Air Quality Index is Very Unhealthy. The outdoor portion of your field trip may also be shortened or adjusted in the case of rain, thunderstorms, icy trails, and unhealthy air quality conditions. If you have any questions or would like to make adjustments to your program selection prior to arrival, you can email us.

Are there any policies in place that our group should be aware of?

In an effort to best protect our staff and other visitors, all Chaperones/Educators to the NSF NCAR Mesa Laboratory should observe their students' general health. If a student or adult feels or appears ill or has COVID-19 symptoms, that person may not enter the facility for the visit. 


After your visit

What follow-up activities do you recommend after my field trip?

For activities that specifically relate to the Learning Lab you took part in, visit our After Your Field Trip page. You can also check out our Teacher Resources page, which includes the Learning Zone and our full list of Classroom Activities, to see the full range of free materials we offer. 

How do I provide feedback after visiting the Mesa Lab?

We want to hear how your visit went! We strive to ensure each experience at the Visitor Center is valuable and want to improve our offerings. If you have brought your students to the NSF NCAR Mesa Lab visitor center for a field trip, please fill out our survey. You will also get a follow-up email after your visit with a link to the survey. You should only complete our survey once per teacher, but multiple teachers can submit their own survey to provide feedback.

How can I stay connected with the resources and opportunities SciEd offers? 

Consider signing up for our K-12 newsletter. You will receive seven subject matter newsletters during the school year highlighting different Earth Science topics. You will get direct links to classroom activities, professional development workshops, upcoming virtual opportunities, notice to book an in-person program for the next school year, and other resources! 


Have a question that you don't see here? Contact our School and Public Programs Office by email with any other questions you might have. We want to make your visit educational and fun!


NEXT STEP: Reserve Your Field Trip