Photo by Claudia Scognamillo


Patagonia is a dramatic landscape of ice fields, fjords, windswept grasslands, and glacial peaks rising from deep river valleys. Contribute to local conservation efforts by assisting our partners at Conservacion Patagonica and CONAF, a division of Chile’s Ministry of Forests. Students spend the semester working in a variety of field sites: the grasslands of the Chacabuco Valley within Patagonia National Park, the misty, remote fjords of Bernardo O’Higgins National Park at the edge of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, and the glaciers, lakes, and forests of the Los Glaciares region near Villa O’Higgins.

Students operate out of three field bases near the remote villages of Cochrane, Tortel, and Puerto Eden. You will become familiar with wildlife monitoring techniques, focusing on iconic Chilean mammals such as guanaco and endangered huemul deer, and an array of bird species including the lesser rhea. You will also participate in Southern Ice Field community-based conservation and environmental education, an ongoing sustainable sphagnum moss harvest study, compilation of the first-ever plant field guide for Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, and biodiversity assessments in remote regions of Aysén. 

You will experience the local Patagonian culture and enjoy ample opportunities to interact with guardaparques and gauchos. Weeklong homestays provide unique and special cultural experiences.

Chilean Patagonia is a wild treasure, an Eden of the far south where nature reigns in perpetuity, renewing itself through glacially-fed rivers and the indomitable spirit of its people.

Round River arrived in Patagonia at the invitation of Conservación Patagónica (CP) in 2012 to support its efforts to protect and restore biodiversity in Patagonia through the formation of National Parks. In 2004, the Patagonia National Park project was initiated with the purchase of the 173,000-acre Estancia Valle Chacabuco (Chacabuco Valley Ranch), with the goal of connecting the valley and two adjacent existing national reserves (Jeinimeni and Tamango) into Patagonia National Park. On January 19, 2018, the vision was completed and the Chacabuco Valley was officially turned over to CONAF to administer as part of Patagonia National Park.

Since 2012 our Patagonia program has proved exceedingly popular and in 2016 we began a new model of running two concurrent Patagonia programs. With this new capacity we have expanded to work in new locations and with new partners including Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF), the agency responsible for administering all Chilean National Parks and Reserves, the Chilean Military, and local municipalities in the villages of Villa O’ Higgins, Tortel, and Puerto Edén.

Our field efforts have expanded south from Patagonia National Park to include extensive surveys and field campaigns in the fjords and mountains surrounding the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Partnering with CONAF we have worked in the remote and rugged Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, the majestic Cerro Castillo National Park, and had the opportunity to visit the Torres del Paine National Park in the neighboring province of Magallanes. Collaborating with local community members and local leaders, we have conducted surveys across a variety of private, municipal, and undesignated public lands that make up the matrix of habitat around Chile’s protected areas.

Program Dates

Fall Semester – 12 weeks mid-September to mid-December

Spring Semester – 12 weeks late January to late April

Program Costs

Semester programs:

  • $22,150 (pricing includes tuition, room and board, project research fees and equipment, ground transportation, and evacuation insurance)
  • $750 Westminster University registration fee

Our semester programs are just under three months long (84 days to be exact). For that duration and the 15 hours of semester credit, Round River is affordable compared to other options of shorter length and fewer credits. And every day is packed!

Students are in remote places where there aren’t a lot of options to spend money, which is a savings that can add up over the three months. Except for personal expenses, once on site, Round River takes care of most expenses including food, board, and in-country travel for the duration of the program. Federal financial aid can be used for our programs, and we offer our Edward Abbey Scholarship as well. If finances are a concern, please contact us. We’ll work with every student to explore opportunities that will allow them to get out in the field and make a difference with us.

Courses Offered (15 Semester Credits):

  • Natural History
  • Introduction to Biological Field Methods
  • Applied Conservation Biology
  • Humans and the Environment
  • Applied Restoration Ecology

Our blog provides an ongoing log and history of students’ experiences over the years.

There is no better resource to understand what a Round River Student Program is like and what to expect.

The last three months have challenged my body, mind and soul in ways that no amount of studying, planning and researching could have prepared me for. My semester with Round River has altered my views and changed the course of my life in ways will likely continue to reveal themselves for years to come.

– Katie Adase, 2019 (West Virginia University)

What to Expect

This program provides an amazing opportunity to experience the vast landscapes and biodiversity of Patagonia first hand. Operating out of base camps in Cochrane, Villa O’Higgins, and elsewhere, students will spend their time assisting CONAF, CP, and others with long-term ecological monitoring and habitat restoration efforts throughout Patagonia. Students will have the opportunity to visit remote reaches accessible only by boat, including spectacular glaciers, fjords, evergreen forests, and rugged terrain.

Students should be physically and mentally prepared for backpacking and camping in wet and windy conditions, and difficult terrain.

Our academics complement the field research and are designed to be interactive and hands-on. Students can expect to spend a few hours a day working on their field journals, reading and discussing relevant articles with the group, having lectures from program instructors, and working on assignments and essays. Guest lectures, when possible, will also add to students’ understanding of conservation and land-use planning in the area. Each program culminates with a final written research paper, focusing on one aspect of the project, as well as a presentation in the community.

All lectures and field activities will be conducted in English. Spanish language skills are not required but are strongly encouraged. Having even a basic understanding of Spanish will allow students to interact more deeply with locals.

Students can expect to spend most days on foot conducting research in the field. Academics may be delivered in the morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on the research schedule. Evenings are spent at camp. Around camp, students should expect to help with tasks such as cooking, cleaning, entering data, and maintaining equipment.

Our base camps provide students with a comfortable place to sleep (riverside camping areas), cook (kitchen shelter), gather for lectures and meals, and store gear. They often offer such amenities as running water, hot showers, latrines, gas cooking stoves, and solar electricity. Students sleep primarily in tents, though they may stay in bunkhouses at some field locations.

Round River student programs are unique, with no two programs being the same. As our research in Patagonia is very closely tied to the dynamic needs of local partners, students are likely to participate in a wide range of projects. This allows students to learn a diversity of field methods, become familiar with a vast number of species, hone field journaling techniques, and develop a deep and balanced understanding of conservation in Patagonia.

In addition to biological fieldwork and academics, students will experience the ecological and cultural history of Chilean Patagonia first hand, guided by local gauchos, residents, and researchers. As Round River works with local partners on each conservation and research project and organizes environmental education events with local schools, opportunities for students to immerse in local Patagón culture abound. Round River is proud to host a homestay program, in which students will live with a local campesino family for one week, learning about local culture and lifestyle, assisting with work on the farm, practicing Spanish, and experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime connection with a Patagón family.

Because of the nature of our programs, schedules may change frequently, so we ask that students be flexible and adaptable. This is the reality of conservation. Students should arrive with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn and make the most of the experience. This program challenges students in multiple ways, yet rewards them with an incredible opportunity to explore the incredible depths of Patagonia’s culture and natural landscape.

Research Objectives

Over the past eight years, Round River has assisted CP and CONAF with biodiversity studies within what is now Patagonia National Park, including a grassland inventory, bird surveys, vizcacha surveys, guanaco monitoring, and lesser rhea habitat surveys.

In Spring 2014, Round River partnered with Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF), the agency responsible for administering all Chilean National Parks and Reserves. This led to our first involvement in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park where students have collected data on the endangered huemul deer, birds, and plants, traversing valleys and passes rarely if ever visited by humans, in support of a new management plan for the Park.

In 2015, we expanded our research expeditions in the Southern Patagonia Community Conservation Area (SPCCA), which encompasses the Park and large buffer areas to its north and east. On the shores of Lake O’Higgins, Round River has been collaborating with local people interested in micro-tourism development, completing a trail survey of the Los Glaciares Patrimony Route to assess its potential for eco-tourism. In the remote upper Pascua watershed area on the Lake’s northwest corner, Round River has successfully executed multiple research expeditions in collaboration with the Chilean Military, CONAF, and local guides, which for the first time has documented important Huemul populations there. Round River aims to protect this wild and threatened Pascua River watershed.

In Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, Round River expanded our work into new areas, including Cerro Castillo National Reserve, where Round River searched alongside CONAF guardaparques for long-undocumented Huemul populations and, at the invitation of their Fisheries Syndicate, the isolated seaport of Puerto Edén. In Puerto Edén we have conducted field surveys to map stands of endangered Guaitecas Cypress and pioneered an overland route from Seno Reindeer to the colossal Pio XI Glacier, a route once envisioned as the centerpiece of eco-tourism for Puerto Edén.

In October of 2016, Round River also started a partnership with Aysén’s Seremi de Agricultura (Department of Agriculture), who requested support with scientific monitoring of water table depth and biodiversity inventories on areas affected by commercial Sphagnum moss harvest. Sphagnum and peat harvest has occurred for more than a decade in the Chiloé and Magallanes regions of Chile and has now come to the Capitán Prat province of Aysén. In February 2017, Round River conducted its first round of sphagnum field surveys and these surveys continue to this day, serving as the only long-term study of sphagnum growth rates in the region.

In your semester in Patagonia, you will explore mainly by foot, utilizing trails (whenever possible) to access forests, bogs, and alpine areas. Students will participate in some or all of the following activities:

  • Guanaco and lesser rhea population monitoring in the Chacabuco Valley
  • Huemul deer surveys in Bernardo O’Higgins National Park and the Southern Ice Field Community Conservation Area
  • Baseline bird and plant surveys in national parks and adjacent areas
  • Sphagnum moss harvest and regeneration research
  • Magellanic Woodpecker nesting surveys
  • Activities related to sustainable micro-tourism development, including carrying capacity analysis, green infrastructure, and marketing
  • Visits to the villages of Cochrane, Tortel, Villa O’Higgins, and Puerto Edén
  • Environmental education workshops with local schools
  • Backpacking trips in Patagonia National Park and Cerro Castillo National Reserve

Student Projects

Spring 2023

Ecosystem Engineers: bryophyte and lichen succession relative to the retreat of the Jorge Montt Glacier in the Southern Chilean Ice Field, Patagonia, by Robyn E. Walker-Spencer and Madeline M. Love

A Flora Database for the Patagonia National Park, by Ella Doyle and Sam Cahaly

Guanaco and Livestock Populations in Chacabuco Valley, by Gemma Diforio

Integrating Science and Local Knowledge: Determining the Presence of Puma and Huemul on a Private Campo in the Aysen Region of Chile, by Kate Gowdy and Eve Lalumia

Spatial and temporal distribution trends of Lesser Rhea in the Chacabuco Valley of Chilean Patagonia, by Deniz Kelemet

Sustainable Tourism in Parque Nacional Patagonia, Tamango Sector: Limits of Acceptable Change for Trail Conditions, by Kendall Muzzy and Emily Taylor

Sustainable Tourism in Patagonia National Park: Assessing Limits of Acceptable Change for Trail Conditions in the Jeinimeni-Chacabuco Crossing, by Emily Rothe and Peter Hyams

Vegetation Types and Disturbance Impacts on Private Land in Aysén Region, Chile, by Garret Weichel and Ruby Bryant

Fall 2022

Empowering environmental education: A Toolkit, by Sophie Jensen and Isable Masi

Impacts of Elevation and Cattle Presence on Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) in the Furioso Sector of Patagonia National Park, by Bailey Fuhrmann and Travis Goodin

Population Census of Guanaco and Livestock in Chacabuco Valley, by Quincy Buickerood & Cisco DelliQuadri

Spatial Distribution and Cavity Preferences of Magellanic Woodpeckers (Campephilus magellanicus) within the Jeinimeni Sector of Patagonia National Park, by James Lane and Marianna Buckel

Sustainable Tourism in Tamango Sector of Patagonia National Park: An Application of Limits of Acceptable Change, by Teddy Charlton, Oskar Robinson, and Kira Corasanti

Spring 2022

The Impact of Cattle on Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) Presence in the Furioso Valley. By Sophia Merriweather, Lily Simko, and Allie Shiers

La Ruta de Los Pioneros: A baseline study on habitats, biodiversity, and disturbance. By Jack Grabinski and McQuillen Martinez

Ñandú (Rhea pennata pennata) population dynamics and relation to guanaco (Lama guanicoe) in Chacabuco Valley, Patagonia National Park, Chile. By Caroline Killian and Hailey Kellison

Spring 2020

Biodiversity Assessment of Predio Militar, Entrada Baker, Aysén Region, Chile. By Robert McManus and Lucca Sterrer

Expanding Ñandú Population Data Collection to Additional Sections of Chile and Argentina for Further Analysis. By Isabel Ellenthal, Nicole Prom and Michaela Francesconi

February 2020 Chacabuco Valley Guanaco Census. By Lena Hanschka, Jesse Isenhart and Anna Messinger

Monitoring and quantifying biodiversity, anthropogenic disturbance, and ecosystem connectivity between BNP El Mosco and BNP Rio Azul influence area. By Carrie Finkelstein, Megan Hall and Ayana Harscoet

Ongoing huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) census in Fiordo Bernardo, Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, Patagonia, Chile. By Anna Bosco, Maxwell King, Seth Price and Laura Schelling

Rapid Biodiversity Inventory of the Bajo Pascua and Lago Bergues Area. By Catherine Brockner, Jack Burnett, Grady Jakobsberg and William Seligmann

Fall 2019

Chacabuco Valley Guanaco Census of Austral Spring 2019. By Chloe Kirk, Mikkel Sawyer and Sophia Gillies

Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) population census in Fiordo Bernardo region of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins, Patagonia, Chile. By Bethany Llewellyn, Makenzie Hines and Rowan Henke

Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) nesting in Jeinimeni Sector of Patagonia National Park. By Jessalyn Ayars, Zachary Boone and Adam Gellman

Rapid Biodiversity Inventory of the Pascua River Watershed. By Andrew Whitney, Anna Robert and Gracie Little

Recommendations for conservation management at Predio Militar-Baker Sector in regard to Ñandu habitat and population dynamics. By Eliana Durnbaugh, Grace Leslie and Christof Zweifel

Tamango Huemul Population Survey of Austral Spring 2019. By Claire Waichler


Full listing of student papers


Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply early for the best chance of being accepted into the program of your choice.