See the United States in a new light! This gap year program offers you enriching and inspiring experiences through the west frontier of the US and the chance to see the on and offshore beauty of Hawaii's Big Island!

This 10-week gap year semester program combines conservation volunteer projects in diverse reserves; outdoor expeditions including backpacking, rock climbing, yoga and surfing; and educational adventure travel through the west’s stunning mountain, rainforest and desert environments.

Mountain bike through the famous red rocks of Sedona, stargaze on the summit of a dormant volcano in Hawaii, sled down the sand dunes of White Sands National Park and test your balance during a yoga retreat! You will also learn more about the weaving and cooking traditions of the Native Americans, the navigating skills of the indigenous Polynesians, and the National Parks’ efforts to mitigate deforestation and reintroduce endemic wildlife. Uncover more about your own backyard than you even knew existed.

Who is this gap semester for?

This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.

Our latest Covid-19 update can be found here.

  • Joshua Tree National Park Rock Climbing & Hiking
  • Mountain bike in Moab, Utah
  • Step into another atmosphere at Biosphere 2 in Tucson, AZ
  • Practice leadership and development in our student led section between Moab, Utah and Sedona, Arizona
  • Test your balance and strength on the mat on the water during a yoga retreat in Park City, UT
  • Explore Hawaii’s only National Park: Volcano National Park
  • 3-day surf camp on Hawaii’s Big Island
  • Conservation project on Hawaii’s Big Island
  • Cultural immersion experience on Hawaii’s Big Island
  • Sustainable farming project on Hawaii’s Big Island
  • Stargaze from the base of the Big Island’s most sacred peak - Mauna Kea

 

**This is a guide to what you can expect to do on Program. The order in which the activities occur might vary**

Week 1. Orientation in Yellowstone National Park and Science School

After arrival, we will set up camp in Yellowstone National Park. On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park for all to enjoy the unique hydrothermal and geologic wonders. People from around the world have been drawn to Yellowstone to witness these wonders for themselves. Getting to know your Gap Year program mates will be a highlight over the first couple of days. This will include games, learning and group cooking! 

A few days in Grand Tetons are going to feel like you’ve been transported from our wondrous planet earth to a galaxy far far away. We’ll spend our time here exploring the majesty of the this spectacular place as well as volunteering our time to help and maintain Grand Teton National Park. We will work on activities like seed collection, seed cleaning and restoration planting.

Week 2. Yoga, Mountain Biking and Hiking

Before a week of activities and adventures what better way is there to prepare than 2 yoga lessons. Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuji,” meaning yoke or union, yoga is an ancient practice that brings together mind and body. It incorporates breathing exercises, meditation, and poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress.

Just as you are finding your inner self we will give you the chance to go paddleboarding in Park City, Utah, and also let you explore this amazing city nestled in the hills. 

Mountain biking, hiking, and exploring will stretch the legs as we find out what Moab, Utah has to offer. 

Week 3. Self Led week and Sedona, Arizona

This week is all about you! You will get the chance to plan, organize and budget for your travel from Moab to Sedona. The world is your oyster as you work as a team to list the sights you want to take in, the modes of transport, and also the food you eat! This is one of our most popular sections of the program. We finish the week off with hiking at Red Rocks National Park.

Week 4. Survival skills and something that is out of this World

In Sedona, we spend the night camping and learning about overnight survival skills. This could include making fire, setting up camp, and also cooking under the stars.

Have you ever wondered if life on Mars was actually possible? Now’s your chance to find out! We’ll team up with scientists from Biosphere 2: a three-acre laboratory that is recreating life on earth in an atmosphere similar to space. Built-in the late 80's after the Apollo space mission, researchers wanted to develop technologies that would allow humans to sustain life on other planets. The dome-shaped structures contain a variety of ecosystems from tropical saltwater oceans, rainforests, savanna, and deserts, all here in Arizona! Prepare to nerd out on the biggest science experiment you've ever seen!

It wasn’t until 1978 that two young cavers shared their discovery of the awesome Kartchner Caverns with anybody else. Recognizing its importance and fragility, they took the finding to the Arizona State Parks organization, with the hope and belief that they would manage and care for its well-being. The underground formations are mindblowing, with stalactites growing over 20 feet and the tallest column in the state – 58 feet – in the appropriately named Throne Room. It feels like a fairy tale to walk along these formations, the majority of which have been growing and developing for over tens of thousands of years. We will spend the day exploring their magic, and the night
exploring the magic of the stars in the officially designated Dark Sky destination.

Week 5. Tucson Tour and Rock Climbing

In Tucson, we take a tour around and fit in a couple of rest days after your jam-packed itinerary. You will need all the energy that you can muster for a day of Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree. If you don’t know, now you know. The Dali-like imagery of Joshua Tree makes our very own planet feel somehow warped and disoriented. From the massive boulders to the trees – each with branch shapes as unique as a thumbprint – we will have the opportunity to meditate among the madness as we spend our time hiking throughout its many trails and our evenings camping under the night's sky, accompanied by the Joshua Trees that surround us.

Week 6. Aloha Hawaii!

Aloha! On arrival to the Big Island, we’ll immerse ourselves in the epic nature surrounding our new home base. Our days will be spent hiking the local tracks for panoramic views, exploring the town and its exotic fruits and veggies.

We’ve been given an incredible opportunity to get out into the water with a locally run community organization that focuses’ on fishpond restoration and ocean conservation. We’ll be working alongside experts learning about the marine ecosystem and how to protect and encourage sea life in these beautiful pockets of the ocean that surround Hilo. We’ll get to learn about sustainable fishing techniques as well as testing our own skills and trying our hand at throwing fishing nets. Prepare to get stuck in and a little wet over these days!

The fun in the water isn't over yet. We have two waterfalls that are monsters of waterfalls and will blow you away (literally).

Week 7. Mauna Kea, Green Sand Beach, and Imu Feast

There are so many unique landscapes on this environmentally rich island and these few days have you exploring two of the coolest! Black sand beaches are quite rare, and this one, in particular, is especially so as it is made of tiny fragments of broken-up lava! Spend the day admiring the natural phenomenon, splashing in the sea, and trying to spot the endangered Hawksbill turtles that tan on its shores. The following two days are going to be an adventure of otherworldly perceptions, with self-exploration and hiking throughout Volcanoes National Park, one of the most unique landscapes in the world.

Week 8. A Permaculture Project

This week, we spend some time on the postcard image of a raw and wild permaculture farm in the northern tropical region of the island. The diversity of fruits and vegetables that are systematically and strategically planted encourage edible growth that enables farm-to-table meals. We will have the chance to participate in seeding, planting, and maintaining this beautiful space while learning about the various initiatives the farm is undertaking to promote sustainability.

It will be a whirlwind of experiences, all explored from our home base at the permaculture farm. We will hike to the sacred Waipio Valley; camp out in the serene Pololu Valley; meet the local coconut master who will teach us how to smash open coconuts and use up every single element from the skin to the shell; experience
the tasty truth of farm-to-table meals; and even participate in a beekeeping workshop!

Week 9. Time for life on a Ranch

We will also spend some time at a ranch, which is famous for its home-grown, handpicked Mamaki tea. While we’re here we’ll be getting our hands a little dirty picking and harvesting the farm's vegetables and tea leaves, and learning all about the process that creates the popular herbal beverage sold around the world and on the local shelves. The owner is an ex-professional chef too, so we’ll be well fed! And camping under the endless starry skies of Hawaii never gets old. In our downtime, there’s plenty of local parks and black sand beaches we can visit and remember to keep your eyes peeled for those turtles!

Week 10. Surf Lessons and Program Wrap

Well, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Can you consider yourself to truly understand the culture of Hawaii if you don’t get on a board and walk the walk? Or more aptly, surf the surf? For three days we will have lessons from a local legend, who is sure to get even the clumsiest and most unathletic of us at least skillfully wobbling on the waves. We’ll learn to laugh at ourselves as we no doubt tumble into the turquoise waters and we’ll learn to trust ourselves as we slowly develop the skills and strengths needed to master this graceful art. These days are physically exhausting, so the afternoons will be quite a bit of rest and relaxation, so we’ve got plenty of time to recharge
our batteries.

Sadly, the time has also come to begin processing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the last 70 days have taken us on. Our lives are all somewhat chaotic right now, so we are sure that you will reflect on how amazing it was to have a chance to take a break from everything, learn about ourselves, but also prioritize time to experience and have gratitude for our own beautiful and historic culture and environment.

 

*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.

 

For full program details, please request the information booklet

Suitability

This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants. As a guideline, you should aim to be comfortable hiking 4-6 hours with a backpack, but you don’t need to have had previous experience with any of the activities offered.

The program is a shared group experience. Join this program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.

Accommodation

Our accommodation will be a mix of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available most days, except during the weeks in the field on the volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.

Meals

Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $15 per day for.

Food preparation responsibilities are shared by all students. It’s fun, social and often a highlight. An average day on program would consist of the following:

  • Breakfast: cereal, milk, oatmeal, pancake mix, bread, peanut butter, local fruits, cinnamon rolls, granola bars, eggs
  • Lunch: most of the lunches are on the go, so you’ll make your own sandwiches or wraps, pb&j, turkey, hummus, veggies,  deli meats, mac and cheese, rice, salads
  • Dinner: hot dogs, burgers, veggie burgers, salad, chili cornbread, roasted potatoes, salads, corn and beans, burritos, pasta

Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand

Included in the tuition

  • All in-program travel and transport (not flights)
  • All accommodation
  • All meals
  • All expeditions, activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary
  • Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
  • Environmental education and volunteering projects
  • Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves - working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose
  • Individual mentorship from program instructors, supporting you in your personal goals for the program
  • Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
  • 1- to 3-week optional extensions if you wish to continue traveling independently after the program
  • Pre-departure booklet with all information you need in one place to prepare for the program
  • 24/7 emergency contact number for students and parents
  • Global medical rescue and political evacuation insurance
  • Instructors have 24/7 access to a physician and a psychologist for advice and support
  • Pacific Discovery T-shirt

Fall Dates 10 Sep - 18 Nov, 2021
17 Sep - 25 Nov, 2021
Duration 70 days
(plus independent extension options)

Program Tuition $13,500 USD Estimated Flight Cost $500 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 12 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 17 - 22 ideal
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Start in Yellowstone, WY
Finish in the Kona, HI