Upham Woods is a year-round, residential outdoor learning center serving organized groups including schools, 4-H camps, scout groups, youth and adult conferences and retreats, and adult education workshops.  Throughout the year we are open to the public with a diverse and fun series of public program days.  We also partner with local community organizations to provide after school and community-based programs.  Our experienced staff provide outreach through local library programs, on-site classroom programming, and participation in other local community organization events.  Grab and Go lesson plans are great resources for any person who has come, is planning a trip, or interested in coming to Upham Woods. We also support the integration of technology into our programming through the Digital Observation Technology Skills (DOTS) approach which puts professional grade field technology in the hands of your youth to explore the natural world around them. Every group that participates in educational programming at Upham Woods will experience this approach to collect data and craft scientific stories. Learn more about DOTS at Upham and scientific storytelling.

Complete the Date Reservation Request Form to schedule virtual, outreach, residential, or day programs.

Program Overview & Guide

Visitors visiting Upham Woods for day or residential programs can choose from a wide variety of environmental, outdoor education and recreation programs and activities. Each is taught by an Upham Naturalist and many can be group-led. Browse the links below or scroll down to read about the programs offered at Upham Woods.

Upham Woods reserves the right to adjust the availability of its programs or methods of program delivery to ensure our facility meets or exceeds safety protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as described by the CDC, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin Department of Health, or our licensing authority.

Residential Program Offerings

Animal Ecology
Community Partnerships
Creative Learning
Cultural History
Night Programs
Outpost Trips
Outdoor Pursuits
Sensory Awareness
Team Building
Winter Fun

Virtual Program Offerings

A number of the programs above have been adapted to operate virtually.

Virtual Program Title Type Description
Bringing it Back to Ranger Mac

Blended (asynchronous and synchronous)

3 parts

Series of inquiry activities that feed into a synchronous session reviewing content, sharing stories, and asking questions.
Great Lakes Quests


4 Quests available

Virtual field trips using ArcGIS StoryMaps to explore coastal communities and natural resources.
Earth Stories Exchange


Single activity

Write a story about your nature-hood and we’ll write one back.
10K Conservation Challenge


Single activity

Service-learning conservation projects with instructional videos and handouts. Synchronous session available to discuss project.
Afield with Upham Woods



Translate your Upham Woods field trip online with our help.

Outreach Program Offerings

Many, but not all, of our programs are portable! We can take our programming to you. Popular outreach programs include using the Digital Observation Technology Skills (DOTS) approach and follow the Research Accelerator model. This looks like multiple classroom visits culminating in a student created science experiment. Learn more about how to schedule outreach on our outreach webpage.



Wacky Water Critters

Explore the river habitat at Upham Woods and discover the amazing world of macro-invertebrates. Students will wear rain boots and use nets, stereoscopes, and a dichotomous key to collect, examine, and study aquatic insects and other water critters. A digital water monitor will support student discovery around water quality. These hands-on activities will allow students to learn about animal adaptations, aquatic ecosystems, and the role of aquatic insects in the food chain.

• Combines science and nature in an outdoor classroom.
• Optional Activity: Learn about the importance of indicator species and use a Biotic Index to determine the health of the Wisconsin River.
Length: 1 ½ – 2 hours
Grade Level: 4th – 9th
Wacky Water Critters Lesson Plan
Wacky Water Critters iPad Lesson Plan Info


Animal Signs

Become a detective, investigate animal clues and solve nature’s mysteries. Students will learn about seven categories of animal signs, how to interpret each sign, and why natural history interpretation is an important tool for understanding wildlife. A large portion of this class is spent outside looking for animal signs and tracking animals. Students will hike with a GPS to track their hike and use a camera to document sightings.

• Great outdoor program!
• Promotes inquiry and investigation.
Length: 1 – 1½ hours
Grade Level: 1st – 9th
Animal Signs Lesson Plan

Bat Ecology

Do bats really carry rabies and get stuck in your hair?  This class will answer these questions and more as students explore the fascinating world of the only true flying mammal. Students will explore myths surrounding bats, discover bat adaptations through interactive games, and discuss the importance of bats in the ecosystem.

• Challenges students to look at an animal from a new perspective.
• A great program for evenings and large groups.
Length: 1 hour
Grade Level: 3rd – 12th
Maximum Participants: 30 in Nature Center / 150 in Main Lodge
Bat Ecology Lesson Plan PD\F

Discovering Owls

Through the use of a multimedia presentation and hands-on examples, students will discover the unique adaptations of these nocturnal raptors and the importance of owls in the food web.  Students will also learn how to identify Wisconsin’s native owls and mimic owl calls.

• Optional activity: Students can dissect their own owl pellet to take home and share.
Excellent group-led program option
Length: 1 hour  (1½ hours for owl pellet dissection)
Grade Level: 2nd – 7th
Cost: $3.00/owl pellet if student dissection option used. 1-3 students can dissect one owl pellet.
Discovering Owls Lesson Plan

Habitat is a Home

Have you wondered what makes a habitat a home? Food, water, shelter, and space of course! This interactive class allows students to discover what makes a habitat a home as well as understand the dynamic nature of populations, habitat quality, and carrying capacities. This lesson includes songs, games, and allowing the students to take on the roles of wild animals.

• Can be taught indoors or outdoors

Length: 1 ½ – 2 hours
Grade Level: 2nd – 8th

Habitat is a Home Lesson Plan


Experience life on the wild side with this interactive game. Students will learn about the food web and population dynamics by becoming predators and prey. A discussion following the game will show the importance of food, water, shelter, and reproduction for species survival in a balanced ecosystem. Upham staff and 6-7 adults are required for this program.

• Combines physical activity and nature in an outdoor classroom.
• Great for large groups.
Length: 1 hour
Grade Level: 4th – 8th
Maximum Participants: None
Minimum Number of Participants: 25 youth and 5 adults
Predator Prey Lesson Plan

Radical Raptors

What better way to learn about birds and conservation than to meet live birds of prey! Students will compare raptors to other birds and learn about the incredible adaptations that make raptors excellent predators. This live raptor presentation will introduce students to human-raptor interactions and the importance of raptors in the ecosystem. Two raptors are housed at Upham Woods and have injuries that prevent them from returning to the wild. Due to the stress on the birds, this program can only be presented once a day. It should not be used as a rotational class. Upham staff is required for this program.

• A powerful program and group favorite!
• A great program for evenings and large groups.
Length: 1 hour
Grade Level: 1st- adult
Maximum Participants: 30 in Nature Center / 150 in Main Lodge
Fee:  Suggested donation to maintain raptors.
Radical Raptors Lesson Plan

Scales, Scutes & Skins

Do you know the difference between a reptile and an amphibian? Discover the science of herpetology in this interactive program. A live animal show and adaptation game will compare reptile and amphibian adaptations and teach students the important roles these animals play in the environment. Participants will use thermal tools to gain insight into how these cold-blooded critters live a little differently than us. Students will learn how to care for and protect Wisconsin’s diverse herps. Upham staff is required for this program.

• A memorable live animal show!
• A great evening program.
Length: 1½ hours
Grade Level: 1st – adult
Scales, Scutes & Skins Lesson Plan


Nature Journaling

Students will begin this program by exploring the history of nature journaling and examining the words of famous writers from the past. They will then create personalized journals using recycled materials. Students will fill their pages during a variety of hands-on activities that encourage them to explore the natural world and their own connections to it.

• Utilizes writing and artistic skills and promotes self-reflection.
• Encourages recycling.
Program Length: 1 – 1 ½ hours
Grade Level: 4th – 12th
Nature Journaling Lesson Plan
Nature Journaling iPad Lesson


Make Sense of Nature

Discover Upham Woods through all five senses and develop a sense of wonder in nature. Blindfolded students must identify natural objects and effectively communicate their experiences of heightened sensitivity. Students will explore the woods on a scavenger hunt and learn about sensory adaptations that help animals survive.

• A great program for younger students!
Excellent outreach program
Length: 1 hour
Grade Level: 1st – 5th
Make Sense of Nature Lesson Plan


Conservation Service Project

Promote environmental stewardship and empower youth to get involved at Upham Woods through implementing conservation and land management principles.  Conservation projects will help develop ecological knowledge and the skills needed to apply that knowledge to restore and preserve our land, water, air, and wildlife. These land management principles can then be easily be applied to your own communities. Youth will be given an age-appropriate conservation project to work on during an 1½-3 hour time period. Upham staff will lead these activities. Supervision must be provided by at least 2 group adults. Please contact Upham Woods to determine a project that is appropriate for your group.

  • Awesome way to promote environmental stewardship and empower youth!
  • Great way to contribute to the Conservation Challenge
  • Specific activities that meet the needs of Upham and the group can be arranged, such as, invasive species pulls, under story thinning, biodiversity monitoring, and trail building.  Contact our Facility & Operations Director for more information.
    Grade Level: 4th and higher
    Suggested Maximum Participants: 30
    No Lesson Plan at this Time


Voyageur Program

Become a voyageur and paddle a 34-foot replica of a voyageur canoe from the French Fur Trade era on the Wisconsin River.  Students will learn about the people that made the fur trade possible and the role that each culture played as trappers, traders, and travelers.  Adults and youth are required to wear PFD’s. This program requires Upham staff and will be canceled if water flow reaches 14,000 cfs. Available April – October.

• A popular Wisconsin history lesson.
• Promotes teamwork through paddling.
Minimum Length of Program: 1 – 2½ hours (1 hour if only canoeing)
Grade Level: 1st – adult
Maximum Participants: 20 (19 youth + 1 adult)
Meet at: Picnic Tables
Voyageur Canoe Lesson Plan

Life of a Logger

Travel back in time to an 1858 Wisconsin logging camp.  The camp cook will transform students from green jacks into experienced lumberjacks through pictures, stories, songs and dances. Students will learn about the dress, work and play of 19th century lumberjacks.

• A popular Wisconsin history lesson.
• A great program for evenings and large groups.
Length of Program: 1 hour
Grade Level: 5th – adult
Maximum Participants: 150
Meet at: Lodge
Life of a Logger Lesson Plan


Tree Identification

Ever wonder…what is that tree growing in your backyard? Become a dendrologist, a tree expert!  Students will discover the different uses among Wisconsin’s tree species and the importance of tree identification. Students will learn about tree structure: leaves, bark, twigs, buds, and tree shape. They will then use a dichotomous key to explore and identify the many trees at Upham Woods.

• Develops decision making skills.
• Great for Forestry Scout Badges!
Length of Program: 1 – 1½ hours
Grade Level: 4th and higher
Meet at: Nature Center
Tree Identification Lesson Plan
Tree ID iPad Lesson Plan Info

Value of a Tree (VOAT)

Is a tree more valuable left standing to provide habitat, shade and storing carbon? Or cut down to be used for paper, lumber or even jet fuel? This lesson helps youth consider all of the uses of a tree, and even brings some math skills into the mix. Participants learn about the carbon cycle, and a tree’s role in the cycle, then head outside for hands-on calculations of the tree’s height, age and biofuel potential. Incorporating digital tools such as Surface Pro tablets, digital microscopes and GPS units engage deeper understanding of the microbiology of trees and how many and what types of trees foresters would harvest to maximize potential.

  • Hands-on Program with real-world applications!
  • Applies math skills such as trigonometry and algebra

Length of Program: 1 1/2 – 3 hours
Grade Level: 6th and Higher



A large, stadium seating campfire circle provides a great atmosphere for all ages! Campfires will actively involve students in silly skits, songs, and stories. Groups may start and lead campfires or request Upham staff assistance. We now have added a second, smaller campfire circle behind the Nature Center.

• Often the most memorable part of camp experience!
Length: Maximum 1 hour if Naturalist led
Maximum Participants: 150
Campfire Lesson Plan

Circle Dances

Students will Hokey-Pokey, Chicken Dance, Limbo, and Sally Down the Alley. Karaoke is possible if you bring a Karaoke CD! Circle Dances can be group led or facilitated by a Naturalist. Also available during the day.

• A great physical way to end the day!
• Good socializing opportunities.
Length: 1 hour, if Naturalist led
Grade Level: 2nd – 8th
Maximum Participants: None
No Lesson Plan at this Time

Night Hikes

Experience a fun and exciting hike through Upham Woods at night and learn about the special adaptations of nocturnal animals. Sensory awareness activities during the hike will teach students how to better use their night vision and other senses to navigate more comfortably in the dark. Remember to wear warm clothes and closed-toed shoes and turn your flashlights off.

• A nighttime favorite!
• Instills an appreciation for the night.
Length: ½ – 1½ hours
Grade Level: 3rd – adult
Night Hike Lesson Plan



Ready, Aim, Fire!  Students will have a great time working on their bowman skills as well as learning how to safely use basic archery equipment. Groups will practice shooting aluminum shaft arrows with adjustable tension compound bows at standard archery targets. A trained adult experienced in Archery may lead this activity provided an Upham Woods staff has oriented them.

• Great class to boost student confidence.
Length: 1 hour
Grade Level: 4th – adult
Suggested Maximum Participants: 16 (1 adult req.)
Fee: None, but we accept donations for equipment upkeep
Archery Lesson Plan

Blackhawk Island Hikes

Paddle a barge to our 210 acre island, where students can crawl through sandstone caves, visit historic sites on the Wisconsin River, witness forest succession and much more. Naturalists will lead students on an interpretive journey discovering the important natural and cultural history of Blackhawk Island. Hikers will use professional grade field equipment to take a closer look at State Natural Area 77. Groups may request hikes with a special focus or specific destinations prior to arrival at camp. All participants MUST wear closed-toed shoes (no sandals). This class is subject to cancellation due to weather events.  Available April – October.

• Extremely popular program for all ages!
• Students learn teamwork, natural and cultural history, and respect for the environment.
Length: 3 hours; 2 hours suggested MINIMUM
Grade Level: K – adult
Suggested Maximum Participants: 30 per facilitator.  Barge capacity = 42
Black Hawk Island Hike Lesson Plan Current


Get up close and personal with amazing rock formations, search the shores for native wildlife, and learn natural and cultural history while traveling along the beautiful Wisconsin River. Students will receive instruction on land about paddling techniques, safely entering and exiting a canoe, and how to work as a team to steer before embarking on a wonderful journey of discovery.  Youth and adults must wear PFD’s at all times.  A ratio of 1 adult to 8 youth is required and these adults must canoe with group. An experienced adult may lead this class provided they attend an orientation given by Upham staff.  Upham staff will serve as lifeguard unless group provides their own lifeguard. This class will be canceled if water flow reaches 12,000 cfs.

• Wonderful teamwork experience!
• Memorable and exciting outdoor activity.
Length: 1.5 hour MINIMUM / 2 hours recommended
Grade Level: 4th – adult
Maximum Participants: 28 (requires 4 adults); 3 people/canoe maximum, 2 minimum.
Canoeing Lesson Plan


Through classroom and field activities, students will receive instruction on the use of a compass and hands-on experience traveling through Upham Woods’ circle compass course. Students will work in groups to take bearings and walk a straight line to the correct points on their pre-determined course. Long pants and close-toed shoes are recommended.

• Great supervised teamwork activity!
• Hands-on outdoor experience using a compass.
Length: 1 – 2 hours
Grade Level : 3rd – 8th
Meet at: Nature Center
Orienteering I Lesson Plan

Outdoor Survival

Have you ever been lost in the woods and didn’t know what to do?  Through this hands-on program, students will learn the Seven Basic Human Survival Needs and how to avoid survival situations by being prepared.  Students will then use critical thinking skills to determine how they would survive in a survival scenario.  Finally, students will learn the important aspects of shelter building and fire safety and work in small groups to build their own shelters and fires.  Participants will have the opportunity to test the fires they built using our thermal tools and find out how effective their shelter is for keeping out the weather using our handheld weather station.

This lesson will be geared toward the groups age and the current season.

• Encourages teamwork within small groups.
• Hands-on program with real-world applications!
• Great Winter Activity!
Length: 2 hours
Grade Level: 4th – 12th
Meet at: Nature Center
Outdoor Survival Lesson Plan


Youth may swim in the Wisconsin River from June to August. An Upham staff lifeguard must be present.  There must be one lifeguard present for every 25 swimmers with a maximum of 50 swimmers at a time.  The group may provide the 2nd lifeguard. Lifeguards must provide proof of certification. Each group must schedule a swim test prior to the scheduled swim time; swim tests are required before free swims or water carnivals. A ratio of 1 adult: 10 swimmers must be maintained at all times. Swimming will be canceled if river flow exceeds 12,000 cfs or water temperature is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grade Level: 1st – adult
Maximum Participants: 50
No Lesson Plan at this Time

Adaptive Kayaking and Hiking

Assist Wisconsin, a non-profit organization from Wisconsin Dells has partnered with Upham Woods to bring a new adaptive kayak with two extra pontoons and a grip assist paddle, along with a hand pedaled off road tricycle for hiking around camp.  If you have any campers with disabilities who are on the fence about coming to camp, these tools can be the difference by turning obstacles into opportunities.  If you would like to use these tools for your trip, please contact the Program Director for more information.


Group Initiatives

These fun and exciting group activities foster teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills. All group initiatives will be played on the sand playing field or volleyball court. Depending on the number of facilitators available, multiple groups can participate at the same time. Students are asked to wear closed-toed shoes for this program.

• Good alternative to Peanut Butter Mountain for younger students.
• A fun, energizing program!
Length: 1 – 2 hours
Grade Level: 1st – adult
Group Initiatives Lesson Plan

Peanut Butter Mountain: Team Building Challenge Course

Peanut Butter Mountain (PBM) is Upham Woods’ challenge course. Participants will work on communication, teamwork, trust, body language, and other group processes while participating in challenging group initiatives and low elements. Each program starts with several ground group initiatives and then progresses up to the challenge course. All participants MUST wear closed-toed shoes (no sandals). PBM programs must be facilitated by an Upham Woods staff member or a certified adult leader.

• Extremely Popular Program for all ages!
• Students enjoy learning to work together.
Length: 2 – 3 hours recommended; 1½ hours MINIMUM

Suggested Maximum Participants: 20
Grade Level: 4th – adult (Group Initiatives is recommended for youth in 1st -3rd grade).
Meet at: Flag Pole

The Amazing Upham Race

The Amazing Upham Race is a fast-paced, camp-wide interactive teamwork challenge in the style of the reality TV show The Amazing Race. Teams must solve teamwork or problem-solving challenges to get their next clue. Your group will be required to supply adults for supervision and to staff some of the challenge locations. Also, Upham naturalist preparation time is required for this class so your group will not have the use of one of your Upham naturalists for one hour prior to the scheduled start of the class. Call for more information on course choices and scheduling requirements.

• 4 courses from which to choose, progressing in difficulty, complexity and length of time.
• Exciting large group teamwork adventure.
Length: 1½ -3 hours
Grade Level: 4th – Adult
Suggested Maximum Participants: 30 – 135
The Amazing Upham Race lesson plan


Cross Country Skiing

Nordic skiing has gained popularity as a sport and is now enjoyed by millions of people across the planet for fun, recreation, winter exercise and travel! Students will be introduced to skiing equipment, techniques and have the opportunity to practice on our mainland ski trails. If time permits, students will also learn some of the history, classification and evolution of skiing equipment. An experienced adult with an equipment orientation can lead this activity. Students should come prepared with warm clothing. This activity is available only during winter months and may be cancelled due to inadequate snowfall.
Length: 1 hour MINIMUM
Grade Level: 2nd – adult
Maximum Participants: 20 sets of boots, skis & poles are available.
Cross Country Lesson Plan


Join in on the excitement! Similar to hockey, broomball is fast, fun and a great outdoor winter activity. The game is played on a “rink” with 5 players plus a goalie on each team trying to score against the other team. The players run on the rink surface while using a “broom” to control the ball and score. Substituting players throughout the game allows larger groups to enjoy this unique sport, too. Broomball develops teamwork and good sportsmanship. Participants are required to wear the provided helmets while playing.
Length: ½ hour – 1 hour
Grade Level: 3rd – adult
Suggested Maximum Participants: 12 players on the rink at one time.
Broomball Lesson Plan


An experienced adult should lead this activity. Upham staff will check equipment in and out, as well as provide a short orientation on proper snowshoe use, how to move effectively in snowshoes, and what to do after a fall. Students should come prepared with warm clothing. This activity is available only during winter months and may be cancelled due to inadequate snowfall.

• A fun experience for the novice winter adventurer!
Length: 1 hour MINIMUM
Grade Level: 2nd – adult
Maximum Participants: 22 pairs of snowshoes available.
Snowshoeing Lesson Plan

Other Winter Classes/Activities Possibilities

While these classes are popular year round, they are also a good choice for outdoor winter activities.

  • Animal Signs
  • Peanut Butter Mountain
  • The Amazing Upham Race
  • Radical Raptors



Did you know Upham Woods offers adventure education trips? For a small fee we will outfit your group with gear, food and expertise to experience the wild side of Upham Woods. We offer day trips as well as overnight adventures. Options include:

  • Devil’s Lake Outpost
  • Mirror Lake Outpost
  • Blackhawk Island Base Camp Canoeing

Group size is limited to 20-30 participants, depending on the adventure. We can transport canoes and gear but not participants. Please see our Adventure Education and Outpost page, or the Outpost forms page for more information.