Best Outdoor Adventure Summer Programs — 2024

April 29, 2024

outdoor adventure summer programs

Daydreaming of spending your summer—or at least part of it—testing your limits in the great outdoors? Is a longing for adventure baked into your identity? Alternatively, are you a self-proclaimed glamper looking to push yourself out of your comfort zone? In addition to strengthening your connection with and appreciation for our planet, outdoor adventure summer programs foster qualities like independence, leadership, teamwork, and decision-making. Moreover, all programs on our list receive high marks for risk management, communication, and reputation. Most are also device-free, meaning that you’ll have the rare opportunity to be completely off the grid while forming new friendships and connections. If hiking, biking, camping, white water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, and surfing sound right up your alley, keep scrolling to check out our list of the best summer outdoor adventure programs for high school students.

Best Summer Outdoor Adventure Programs

1) Breakwater Expeditions

  • Location: Moab, UT; Yellowstone National Park, MT; San Juan Islands, WA
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 7-14 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $2,250-$3,800, depending on program
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 13-18
  • Application Deadline: First-come, first-served

Breakwater Expeditions offers three expeditions for high schoolers, all of which build self-discovery, resilience, and unforgettable memories in an empowering, safe, and exciting environment. Moreover, Breakwater’s team is highly committed to supporting each student’s individual growth and well-being while fostering authentic community & connection within the larger group. Accordingly, students leave their programs stronger and more confident in their skills and abilities.

Current teen expeditions include River and Rocks, Boots and Paddle, and Ocean Odyssey. In River and Rocks, a canoeing and canyoneering expedition in Utah, students will canoe 53 miles of river, hike, swim, camp, canyoneer, and rock climb. Alternatively, in Boots and Paddle, students will backpack and canoe around Yellowstone National Park. In addition to hiking and fishing, students canoe and explore the Missouri River in addition to whitewater rafting the Alberton Gorge. Finally, Ocean Odyssey is a week-long sea kayaking expedition in Washington. Here, students will paddle 8-10 miles a day while exploring and camping around the San Juan Islands.

All expeditions are limited to a small group of students, led by two experienced guides.

To enroll in an expedition, students will need to submit a deposit. Moreover, they can enroll in multiple expeditions for a discounted rate.

2) Outward Bound High School Summer Expeditions

  • Location: starting points for expeditions include Maine; Oregon; California; Colorado; North Carolina; Washington; Mid-Atlantic; Minnesota; Texas; Southwest; Central America; Pacific Northwest
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 5-30 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $1,855-$10,395, depending on program
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 14-18, although age requirements vary by program
  • Application Deadline: First-come, first-served

Outward Bound’s objectives are straightforward: they aim to push students socially, emotionally, and physically by allowing them to experience the natural triumphs and consequences of making their own decisions. Dozens of outdoor adventure programs for high school students are available, of varying lengths and in multiple locations. Moreover, most teen summer travel programs are US-based.

Each program focuses on imparting both technical and interpersonal skills to its participants. For example, the 8-day Southwest Rafting expedition in Grand Junction, CO teaches technical skills like basic paddle strokes, river reading, knot tying, and sheltering strategy in addition to interpersonal skills like camaraderie, leadership, resilience, and self-awareness. Alternatively, the 22-day High Sierra Alpine Backpacking expedition, which begins in Fresno, CA and journeys into remote backcountry, stresses technical skills like campcraft, map and compass, and natural history while developing interpersonal skills like conflict resolution, positive risk-taking, and responsibility. To choose the best fit, prospective students should review the skills they’ll learn alongside the program locations & activities.

To apply to these summer adventure programs, students will need to complete a 5-10 minute application. They’ll also need to provide a $500 deposit that secures their spot.

3) Wilderness Adventures

  • Location: Vietnam & Cambodia; Wyoming; Washington, Oregon, & Idaho; Alaska; Alps & Pyrenees; Costa Rica; Galapagos; Grand Tetons; Hawaii; Montana; Utah
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 10-35 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $3,995-$7,995, depending on program
  • Eligibility: High school students in grades 9-12 for most programs, although some require students to be tenth grade or older.
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

Wilderness Adventures has served more than 30,000 students over the past fifty years, and holds more outdoor adventure permits than any other provider. These include permits for eighteen national forests, fifteen national parks, and eight additional national monuments, state parks, and conservation areas.  Accordingly, they offer a number of unique overnight expeditions, or High Trails Adventures, for high school students.

Wilderness Adventures’ mission is to encourage students to “Do Something Wild,” or push themselves outside of their comfort zone. As such, students will receive plenty of leadership opportunities and hands-on activities. They’ll also be pushed mentally and physically. For example, in the month-long Alaska Southcentral trip, students will spend ten days backpacking in remote backcountry, two days whitewater rafting, two days ice climbing the Matanuska Glacier, and eight days kayaking Prince William Sound. Alternatively, the three-week Vietnam and Cambodia adventure involves a four-day community service project and a four-day trek through Hmong villages alongside kayaking, cooking, hiking, and rock climbing expeditions.

Finally, each of these outdoor adventure programs is typically composed of 6-13 students and two trip leaders. They are also completely electronics-free, although photo updates will be provided to families throughout the experience.

Outdoor Adventure Summer Programs — Continued

4) Adventure Treks

  • Location: Alaska; California; British Columbia; Washington; Oregon; Colorado; North Carolina; Wyoming; Peru
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 12-31 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $4,295-$7,095, depending on program
  • Eligibility: Students aged 13-18; specific eligibility depends on program
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

With nearly twenty programs across North and South America, Adventure Treks has served over 20,000 teens since 1993. In addition to exploring locations overflowing with natural beauty and gaining practice outdoor skills in areas like rafting, climbing, hiking, and camping, participants also build skills in teamwork, leadership, risk-taking, and self-awareness, among others. All students are expected to take on leadership responsibilities and contribute to the success of the trip.

For example, in the California Challenge, students backpack the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Lost Coast, mountain bike at Lake Siskiyou, rock climb at Cantara Rocks, whitewater raft the Rogue and Trinity Rivers, and summit Mt. Shastina. Alternatively, students who attend the Peru trip will hike and backpack in Peru’s mountains and cloud forests, hike to Macchu Picchu, whitewater raft, and engage in cultural activities like making chocolate.

As with many other providers on our list, Adventure Treks’ outdoor adventure summer programs are all completely device-free. Moreover, you can expect to be in a group with 20-24 students and 5-6 instructors, and engage in a variety of large-group and small-group activities. To have the best possible experience and be able to contribute at the highest level, you should come prepared in good physical shape.

Finally, to ensure a good fit, all prospective students and families must complete questionnaires and provide a health history during the application process. Students also need to submit a character reference from school and may be asked to interview.

5) Apogee Adventures

  • Location: Alaska; the Alps; Cape Cod & the Islands; Puerto Rico; Virgin Islands; Colorado; Costa Rica; Europe; California; Iceland; Maine; New Hampshire; Pacific Northwest; Pyrenees; Vermont to Montréal
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 7-29 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $1,799-$7,399, depending on program
  • Eligibility: Students aged 11-18; specific eligibility depends on program
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

Adventurous spirits come in all shapes and sizes, and Apogee seeks to appeal to different interests by offering a range of hiking, biking, and community service programs. Seventeen trips are currently available, organized by challenge level. Most hiking and biking trips require students to be at a fairly high level of physical fitness, and it’s recommended that students train ahead of time for the best risk management. Moreover, some trips include camping and/or backcountry hiking.

For example, in the Costa Rica Mountains & Coast hiking trip, designated at a Challenge Level of 4/10, students spend twelve days exploring Manuel Antonio National Park and Chirripó National Park before heading to the coastal town of Uvita, where they’ll learn to surf. Hoping to get around on wheels instead? In Europe Coast to Coast (Challenge Level: 9/10), students bike from the North Sea (near Amsterdam) to the Adriatic Sea (Venice). Along the way, they’ll traverse seven countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.

Most trips are capped at 10-12 students and 2 leaders each. Phones and other technological devices are not allowed, but some trips allow students to call home halfway through. Most trips include at least one mail stop, though, so get those pencils and stamps ready!

To apply to these outdoor adventure programs, students will need to fill out a short application form and submit two references. Trips often fill quickly; applications typically open a year in advance and are full by February.

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6) Bold Earth Adventures

  • Location: Arizona; California; Colorado; Costa Rica; Croatia; Fiji; France; Hawaii; Iceland; Italy; Montenegro; Nevada; Oregon; South Africa; Switzerland; Tanzania; Thailand; Utah; Washington
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 12-21 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $4,188-$8,988, depending on program
  • Eligibility: Students in grades 7-12; specific eligibility depends on program
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

Whether you want to stay domestic or travel internationally, Bold Earth offers an incredible array of programs in the US as well as Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As one of the oldest outdoor adventure providers on this list (founded in 1976), Bold Earth is highly experienced at crafting program itineraries that are rewarding, immersive, and safe. Moreover, their goal is to create strong communities within every trip, marked by friendship, inclusivity, and kindness.

What can you expect on a Bold Earth trip? On the Grand Canyon Bold trip, you’ll embark on a fifteen-day camping expedition through Arizona and Utah, including rock climbing in St. George, hiking in Zion National Park, swimming in Lake Powell, camping on the rim of the Grand Canyon (and ziplining there, too!), and canoeing the Black Canyon. Itching to leave the country? Thailand’s Best offers eighteen days of international adventure, including cooking classes, rock climbing, waterfall climbing, animal sanctuaries, and snorkeling, among other activities. On this trip, you’ll stay in a combination of eco-resorts, homestays, and hostels.

All programs are capped at 13 students, led by two trip leaders. Moreover, most programs contain some type of community service activity, from environmental projects to repainting local schools. All programs are completely device-free. However, students can call their families once a week, and families have access to daily trip blogs and photos.

Admissions to these outdoor adventure programs are selective. Accordingly, prospective students will need to submit an application, questionnaires, health history, and school reference.

Final Thoughts — Outdoor Adventure Summer Programs

Regardless of whether your goal is to explore domestically or internationally, the best outdoor adventure summer programs offer you a safe space in which to engage with the world around you. Moreover, they test your mental and physical limits while honing lifelong skill sets like leadership, problem-solving, adaptability, and communication. At the culmination of your trip, you can expect to emerge as a more independent, compassionate, and confident person ready to take on whatever challenges lie ahead.

Looking for additional summer program resources? You might consider checking out the following: