Forest Processes Field Trip

Ranger pointing at large rock is encircled by students wearing backpacks
Join a ranger on a hike through the forest

NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Glacier National Park preserves and protects forests in their “natural” state for the biodiverse communities they support.

Grades: 3–4
Locations: Trail of the Cedars, St. Mary, and Two Medicine
Duration: 4.5 hours, view our Forest Processes Field Trip Schedule to see a basic outline for the day
Group Size: 60 students total, 2 groups of 30 students
Skills: Communicate, Observe, Identify, Model
Vocabulary: Old growth forest, soil, nutrients, cedar, hemlock, Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai, Pend d’Oreille, succession, snag, decomposition, photosynthesis, interrelationships
Essential Questions:

  • What makes forests in Glacier National Park special?
  • Why does Glacier National Park protect forests?
  • What is the value of a “natural” forest?
  • How are forests important?
  • What living communities are supported by a “natural” forest?
  • Are all forests the same?

National and State Standards:
Montana State Standards

  • MT.SCI.K-12.1 Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate the ability to design, conduct, evaluate, and communicate results and reasonable conclusions of scientific investigations.
  • MT.SCI.K-12.3 Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate knowledge of characteristics, structures and function of living things, the process and diversity of life, and how living organisms interact with each other and their environment.
  • MT.SCI.K-12.5 Students, through the inquiry process, understand how scientific knowledge and technological developments impact communities, cultures and societies.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • 3-LS4-4 Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.
  • 5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers and the environment.
  • LS4.D Populations live in a variety of habitats, and change in those habitats affects the organisms living there.


Students will be able to:

  • Tell what national parks protect and one reason Glacier National Park was established.
  • Identify coniferous trees with a dichotomous key.
  • Give 3 examples of interrelationships in the forest.
  • Point to a place in the forest that would have a different micro-climate than on the trail.
  • Define producers, consumers, decomposers and point to an example of each in the forest.
  • Model how trees transfer food and water through their xylem and phloem, and how they are adapted for protection from insects, cold weather, and drought.
  • Use a pneumonic (OWLS) to describe the characteristics of an old growth (climax) forest.
  • Name one symbiotic relationship in the forest.
  • Write a recipe for soil.
  • List the raw materials needed for photosynthesis as well as the products.
  • Explain how trees play a role in the carbon cycle.
  • Describe the process of forest succession.
  • Find an example along the trail of a living organism depending on something non-living.
  • Give one way that non-native plants can cause problems for native plants and wildlife.
  • List 2 ways that humans impact native plants in the forest.
  • Describe one benefit of planting native plants over non-native plants.
  • Identify at least one plant and tell a traditional use of it by the Blackfeet, Salish or Kootenai.

Field Trip Logistics

Teachers wishing to have their students participate in the forest processes field trip should plan to arrive in the park by 9:30 - 10 am and stay until 1:30 - 2 pm. Everyone must be prepared to be outside all day and ready to hike 2 miles on fairly level terrain.


Reserve Your Trip

Visit the Scheduling & Guidelines page to find the reservation form as well as tips for a successful day in the park.

If you have questions, email or call the Education Specialist at 406-888-5837.


Preparing for Your Trip

Students that spend time preparing for their visit get more out of a field trip to the park. Activities post-visit also help to reinforce information learned during the trip.

MUST READ! Follow this specially designed Forest Processes Field Trip Lesson Plan (391 KB pdf)

Suggested activities and supplementary materials:

Last updated: November 10, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936


(406) 888-7800

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