Master Naturalists

University of Illinois Extension's Illinois Master Naturalist Program is designed for adults of any age that want to learn about and positively impact their local environment. The goal of the program is to engage participants with the natural world and encourage them to seek lifelong learning opportunities to further their development as a naturalist.

Master Naturalist Program participants have the opportunity to:

  • Learn about Illinois' natural history, ecosystems, plant and animal communities, and environmental issues
  • Enhance your love of nature through hands-on training and community-based service,
  • Practice lifelong learning and sharing
  • Interact and build relationships with new acquaintances with similar interests
  • Give something back to nature and your local community
  • Learn from and work side-by-side with experts

To become a Certified Master Naturalist, you must complete 60 hours of field and classroom learning which is offered each spring. During and after training, you may begin working on the 60 hours of volunteer service required to complete your Master Naturalist internship. You have 24 months to complete your internship and become a certified Master Naturalist. To remain certified, an additional 30 hours of volunteer service and 10 hours of continuing education should be performed and reported annually.

The Illinois Master Naturalist program is coordinated by University of Illinois Extension, with consultation from local program partners.

When is the next training?

The next Master Naturalist training will be held April-June 2025. The training will be hybrid with self-paced assignments paired with in-person activities and discussions. A reliable internet connection is required to complete the self-paced assignments, which include watching pre-recorded lessons. In-person classes will include indoor activities and outdoor tours. 

What does the training involve?

Training sessions are typically offered one day a week over a three-month period and are led by expert educators in the region. Approximately 60 hours of classroom instruction and field study is offered through the training program.  

Topics covered include ecology, geology, soils, weather, botany, mammals, entomology, herpetology, ornithology, forests, prairies, wetlands, and more.

What is the program fee?

The Illinois Master Naturalist course fee is $250, which covers:

  • 8-12 week training, including over 60 hours of classroom instruction and field learning.
  • Assistance in finding a volunteer position that fits your personal interests, abilities, and time restraints for as long as you remain a Certified Master Naturalist.
  • Continuing-education events and opportunities.

Steps for joining?

1. Complete the Master Naturalist volunteer application and submit it to your local U of I Extension office. The application includes a background screening process.

2. Attend an informal interview.

3. Pay $250 program fee, covering 8-12 weeks of instruction and Master Naturalist manual.

4. Complete the 8-12 weeks of training.

5. Complete the 60-hour volunteer internship within 2 years.

6. Continue to volunteer 30 hours each year and attend 10 hours of continuing education programs.

How to become certified?

After completing the training, participants will be Master Naturalist interns. To become fully certified, you must volunteer 60 hours through pre-approved volunteer projects. Volunteer projects can include invasive species pulls, herbarium specimen preparation, leading a nature hike, serving as a docent at a state park, stewardship work like trail maintenance and pollinator garden maintenance, assisting with educational programs for youth or adults, and much more.

How to remain active in the program

Following the completion of an internship, participants are certified Master Naturalists. To remain active, volunteers must complete and log 30 hours of volunteer time and 10 hours of continuing education each year, as well as sign an annual agreement. Continuing education is continued learning from research-based sources on topics related to the natural world. Examples include webinars offered by University of Illinois Extension, talks from local nature groups, and more.