The lights go on at Sutter's Fort as the sun sets, turning the sky a light purple.

nviron­mental Living Program

Giving Students the Experience of a Lifetime

Over the last 45+ years, the Environmental Living Program (ELP) at Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park has influenced the lives of tens of thousands of students. Through first-hand interaction and hands-on experiences, what they read in their history books comes to life.

During ELP, students spend a full 24-hour day at Sutter’s Fort SHP. Students arrive in the morning and stay overnight, cooking and eating all of their meals on site.

ELP is highly flexible, giving teachers the ability to create their own unique experience by customizing the various activities through the 24-hour stay to meet the needs of their students.

On an ELP day, the children arrive in the morning at around 9:30am after the parent volunteers help set up the Fort for the program.

The students spend the day in small groups rotating every half hour or so between various parent/chaperone led stations. At the stations they learn about and participate in many of the jobs that would have been performed at the Fort between 1839 and 1850. The stations are supplemented by staff-led interpretive presentations on the complex history of Sutter’s Fort. 

Students spend the night at Sutter’s Fort and cook all of their own meals. 

2023 Program Schedule 

Program Dates Begin: January 3, 2023

Program Dates End: June 8, 2023

ELP is managed by California State Parks. Although the sign up deadline has passed, there are still dates open for the 2023 ELP season. For more information, please contact State Park Program Coordinator Jared Jones at

ELP Fees

A $650 program fee is collected by California State Parks. The program fee covers up to 65 students. There is no charge for adult chaperones and teachers. 

Each additional student is $5 (maximum of 100 students)  

Full payment is due by your school’s program day.  

You will incur other costs (food, transportation, project supplies, etc.). The full amount of these additional costs depends on size of the group.  

Recent Program Updates

ELP was modified in 2022 to incorporate the interpretive changes underway at Sutter’s Fort SHP. Wearing 1840s period attire, portraying historical characters, and black powder demonstrations (firing the cannon) are not including in the current program. California State Park staff provide interpretive presentations to participating throughout the day. The students still participate in hands-on activities at the stations such as dipping candles, making rope, weaving on a loom, and baking bread in our outdoor bake oven. 

California State Parks has also made the program more accessible to school groups by having training videos available on YouTube. and more staff led interpretive presentations throughout the day. 

ELP is managed by California State Parks. For more information about ELP, please contact State Park Program Coordinator Jared Jones at

Not interested or able to participate in the overnight program? Please refer to the Environmental Studies Program.

As the nonprofit cooperating association for Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, Friends of Sutter’s Fort is proud of our long-standing support for this program. In prior years we have helped with administration and have funded staff, supplies and volunteer efforts that have made this program possible.

ELP Grant Scholarship Program

Friends of Sutter’s Fort provides an annual grant program for schools participating in the Environmental Living Program to help break down the financial barriers that may prevent students from being able to participate in these outstanding educational experiences. We encourage all teachers interested in bringing classrooms to Sutter’s Fort for ELP or ESP to apply. 

Our grant program is 100% funded through donations. If you would like to support our ELP Grant Scholarship Program, please make an online donation.

A special thanks to California State Parks Foundation for helping us to expand our grant program in the upcoming school year. 

California Social-Science Standards

The Environmental Living Program covers many components of 3rd-5th grade Social Science curriculum. Below are just some of the standards ELP covers:

  • 3.2 Students describe the American Indian nations in their local region long ago and in the recent past.
  • 3.3 Students draw from historical and community resources to organize the sequence of local historical events and describe how each period of settlement left its mark on the land.
  • 4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.
  • 4.3 Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood.
  • 5.8 Students trace the colonization, immigration, and settlement patterns of the American people from 1789 to the mid-1800s, with emphasis on the role of economic incentives, effects of the physical and political geography, and transportation systems.