On-Site Student Field Experiences (Field Trips)

Currently we are renovating Student Field Experiences at McDonald Observatory. Requests for programs for the 2019-2020 school year will be accepted beginning August 19, 2019.


A class field trip to McDonald Observatory is inspiring, educational, and fun! Accompanied by an expert guide, students learn about huge telescopes, science and engineering, and the amazing universe.

General Program - 40 Students Max

Our General Program includes three basic elements:

  • Explore McDonald Observatory and see the 2.7m (107-inch) Harlan Smith Telescope
  • Decode Starlight in the Exhibit Hall
  • Investigate Our Star, the Sun

Enriched Program - 30 Students Max

An optional Enriched Program adds a fourth element:

  • A Guided, Hands-On Group Activity in our Multimedia Classroom

See a menu of available classroom activities.

Educational Goals

Both our General and Enriched Student Field Experiences:

  • Engage students in inquiry and hands-on activities
  • Reinforce and complement learning standards and tests (TEKS, NSES)
  • Encourage teacher involvement

A Daytime Visit

McDonald Observatory is in West Texas. Your visit begins at our Visitors Center. Later, you will drive up to the mountain summit in the vehicle (typically a bus) that brought you to the observatory.

We will provide a custom itinerary when you register to visit. Use our pre-visit and post-visit activities to engage students before and after your trip.

Stay for the Evening!

Consider joining a public Twilight Program and/or Star Party (offered Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays).

The Fine Print

Capacity – 40 students max for General Program, 30 students Max for Enriched Program. We can present two programs in a day, starting at different times.

Adult Teachers & Chaperones – One adult must accompany every ten students. One adult receives free Student Field Experience admission for every five students. Adults pay admission to optional evening programs.

Transportation – You are responsible for your group’s transportation to, from, and while at McDonald Observatory.

Lunch and/or Dinner Meals - There is much to explore and discover at the UT McDonald Observatory so please promote healthy food and hydration choices for your students' learning.  For all morning start times, a 45-minute lunch period is included in your Student Field Experience (SFE) schedule.  For all afternoon start times, a lunch period is not included in your SFE schedule, so make sure to have lunch before all afternoon programs.  The StarDate Cafe, located in the Visitors Center, can provide a school group lunch with advance arrangements.  The nearest restaurants are 17 miles away, and there is no fast food within 50 miles.  For this reason, we require school groups with schedules that bridge the lunch hour to dine on site.  These groups may bring a sack lunch or dine at the Star Date Cafe.  When submitting a request for an SFE, you will have the opportunity to indicate your lunch plans.  For school groups staying for evening public programs, such as the Twilight Program and Star Party, the StarDate Cafe can provide a dinner meal by advance arrangements.  Please consider your meal arrangement carefully.  Please consider your meal plans carefully.  The StarDate Café is very small and has limited staffing and space, so if your group has not pre-ordered a meal, we will only be able to sell ready-to-eat snacks (that is, no cooked food) to your students.

Fees – See the blue box to the right. Scholarships covering fees are available for schools in Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster counties, as well as schools in the Permian Basin region. We gratefully acknowledge the Permian Basin Area Foundation, the Trull Foundation, and the Fash Foundation for making these and other scholarships available.

Student Behavior – Our behavior expectations of your students while at McDonald Observatory are the same as your expectations for your classroom.  We require at least one adult chaperone per ten students, and we expect those adult chaperones to directly supervise your students’ behavior.  We strongly encourage you to invite only those parents who are willing to assist in supervising student behavior.  Guidelines for student behavior are detailed in the Behavior Expectations form located in the Pre and Post Visit page.

Request a Reservation!

Please plan your visit at least six weeks in advance. Click the box to begin.

Currently we are renovating Student Field Experiences at McDonald Observatory. Requests for programs for the 2019-2020 school year will be accepted beginning August 19, 2019.


Request a Student Field Experience


Pricing for Student Programs

  General Enriched
Per student K-5 $7 $10
Per student 6-12 $8 $11
Per additional adult (one free adult admission for every five students) $7 $7

Minimums - We charge for a minimum of 12 students (although you may bring fewer).

Evening Programs - Your entire group may purchase tickets for a public Star Party on Tuesday, Fridays, and Saturdays evenings for an additional $7 per student, and $12 per adult. This ticket price is additional to Student Field Experience program fees.

Your entire group may also join our Twilight Program for an additional fee of $5 per student and adult. The public Twilight Program is an engaging 50-60 minute learning experience that takes place in the theater inside the Visitors Center before the public Star Party.