Discover the amazing ecosystems of the Adirondacks, the dark sky constellations in West Virginia, and the diverse ecosystems off the coast of Georgia. Explore the vibrant culture in the cities of Asheville, Nashville, Atlanta, and Charleston. Uncover more about your own backyard – and yourself – than you even knew existed.
Facilitated by our supportive and experienced Program Instructors, this is an excellent opportunity for students wanting to develop personal and leadership skills, have new experiences and challenge themselves, be immersed in unique environments and learn about sustainability - not to mention, have an insane amount of fun!
The program is open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
You can choose to fly into Newark or New York or drive and meet at an agreed upon location - our private transportation will arrange to pick you up at your most convenient destination. Regardless of how you arrive to the starting point of New York, you’ll be met by your awesome Program Instructors and transferred to our group's private Hudson accommodation for an in-depth 3-day program orientation to focus on getting to know each other and create a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals. Then we will dive right in to our first service-learning project on a sustainable farm. This is an amazing opportunity to connect to and get involved in the growing, harvest, and preparing of fresh foods. This experience is as much about education as it is about participation. Many topics will be explored, including the various challenges confronting the food industry, how COVID-19 has affected the country’s food supply chain, and what it really means to eat healthy.
Our journey continues northeast, where forest slowly dissipates as we make our way to the vast coastline enroute to our destination: the laidback and lovable city of Portland! We will have an afternoon to explore at leisure before hitting the water for some sunset stand-up paddle boarding. After all, we need to get used to the water – we’re tackling an epic surf camp in the next few days!
Acadia National Park is a gem that sits on 47,000 acres of the Atlantic Coast. Defined by woodland, rocky beaches, and granite peaks, it is home to the highest point on the East Coast – Cadillac Mountain – as well as moose, bears, whales, and many a species of birds. We will get to explore it from so many different ways during the three days we spend there: bike tour, rock climbing, and good ol’ classic hiking! We will also have a full day to check out the entry gate to the park – the adorable town of Bar Harbor as well as get to experience camping out on one of the most remote – and uninhabited – islands right off its coast!
We are sure to get our heart rates going as we embark on an overnight white-water rafting expedition, bringing us to the most remote of corners to set up camp and feel what it’s like to work for the view. We’ll have a proper camping experience, complete with stargazing and breakfast over the fire. We’ll also get the opportunity to have a professional guide take us on a wildlife life tour to get up close and personal – though not too personal – with the local citizens: moose!
Volunteering time and energy to the organizations that manage public parks and forests is tantamount to those areas’ health – and the public’s ability to enjoy them. We will dedicate two full days to tackling some of the threats to Lily Bay State Park – including the health of its rivers and the maintenance of its trails.
These next days are going to be a whirlwind as we traipse of adventure to adventure! We spend a full day exploring the ice caves in Shirley, Maine – yes, year-round ice caves! During planet earth’s most recent ice age, heavy boulders were shoved together by glaciers, creating these magical caves in Maine’s north woods. We descend down handy metal rungs into the natural freezer! The next day we’ll be trying our hand in the fun-natured sport of disc golf, before mounting our bikes and zipping through the forested trails in Errol, New Hampshire.
From New Hampshire we continue our journey west, arriving in the cozy vibes of Burlington. Much loved by locals and college students alike, Burlington has never tried to be anything it’s not. Things that it is: beautiful, chill, welcoming, the home of Ben & Jerry’s (and Nectar’s!). Things that it isn’t: boring, overcrowded, unwelcoming, the home of anything it isn’t. We’ll get a few much needed and much deserved days of downtime, with plenty of optional activities ranging from the physical – hiking, biking, rock climbing – to the spiritual – yoga, meditation, eating loads of Ben & Jerry’s.
It’s hard for us to resist the call of the mountains, the rush of the rivers, the sparkle of the stars – and since you’re along for the ride, we’re all headed into the magic of the Adirondacks! Covering over 6 million acres – yep, 6 MILLION ACRES – the Adirondack Mountains are the largest protected natural area in mainland USA. And for three days, we get to call it home as we explore its endless beauty via canoes, kayaks, and human legs. We’ll splash around its lakes, play volleyball on its shores, and maybe come a few inches closer to appreciating what our biggest playground has to offer.
Continuing our southward trajectory, we get to explore the creative artists hub that is Beacon, New York. From an immersive afternoon at the Dia Museum to a full day exploring the massive grounds of Storm King, littered with larger-than-life sculptures and the abstract work of geniuses, we’ll get to walk the line of where humanity and mother nature blend. In proper chronology, we’ll follow that up with an exploration of one of nature’s coolest remnants – the underground cave! We’ll hop on a boat and navigate through the networks and streams that flow throughout this complex cavern as we absorb the history that caused its creation.
Over the next few days, we are going to learn an immense amount about each other – and ourselves. Our customized wilderness program will ask a lot of us, from blind trust and reliance to navigation and survival skills. We will develop our communication skills and relationships through different exercises specifically targeting the growth of grit, determination, and confidence. This is bound to be the most fun you’ve had in the woods – trust us, we’ve spent a lot of time in the woods. After we’ve completed our 4-day course, we’ll head over to the nearby peak of Green Bank, where we will get to spend a night learning about the constellations from the gals and guys who study this stuff for fun. We’ll camp out under the stars we spent the evening identifying – all in an official dark sky destination!
If you hear Asheville and think of country music and Elvis Presley, you’ve jumped too far ahead. That’s Nashville, and we don’t head there for another week. This stop – ASHville, is a super laidback city with town vibes is known for its art and spirituality, often attributed to its picturesque destination among the surrounding mountains. We’ll have a few days to relax and explore its downtown, hopping on a trolley tour to discover its hidden gems before partaking in a unique singing bowl meditation session underground in a natural salt cave!
Ahh the allure of the Great Smokies, what a treat! This is the US’ most visited national park – and if you don’t get the hype, google it. No seriously, we’ll wait. Yeah – there it is. But don’t worry, we’ve got three full days of tramping carved out, we’ll get far away from the crowds of day tourists and ill-prepared influencers and into the true magic that its ancient mountains hold. From the diversity of its flora and fauna to the endless panoramic viewpoints, this is a weekend you’ll be telling your best friend’s uncle about.
All right folks, we did it – made it to the hotbed of music and history, history and music. Whether you play seven instruments, want to follow Phish on tour, or techno’s your idea of a good time, it’s hard to not be swept up in the downright pride Nashville has for its music history. We’ll get to learn all about the GOAT’s who called it home and even run wild throughout the city as we pair up and complete the Amazing Race – Nashville style!
Even though Cloudland Canyon conjures up images of, well, clouds, this awesome state park is just as much about the waterfalls, canyons, caves and wildlife as it is about its cloud views. We’ll set up basecamp and spend the days bopping around its various trails as modern-day explorers! As a group we’ll have the chance to decide in what direction we want our feet to take us, and which various natural features we feel like traipsing towards that day. And the ability to return to our already-built-up campsites at the end of each day means we can use all our daily energy reserves on the simplicity of exploration!
Atlanta is a city well-regarded as the pinnacle of Southern Hospitality, but it’s had a long and treacherous journey to where it is today. It played a crucial role in the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, long fighting for its peoples’ freedom and equality. But much like a lot of our country, having a rich history does not equate to having rich citizens. Atlanta has an incredibly poor population, with one out of every 4.5 residents living in poverty. There are many organizations that work towards mitigating that reality, and we are going to team up for these two days with Atlanta Habitat, assisting in their efforts to build affordable housing throughout Atlanta neighborhoods.
From Atlanta we head east to the charismatic coastal town of Savanna for some much needed R&R. This city is full of character, from its architecture to its inhabitants. We will get to wander around it on bike and foot, absorbing in its relaxed seaside atmosphere and friendly locals.
Our 3-day yoga & kayak excursion will combine the wonders of the body with the wonders of the waters. We will learn all about our breath and internal strength throughout morning and evening yoga courses, and in between we’ll take to the waters to explore the incredible estuaries surrounding this unique island off the coast of Georgia. Our evenings will find us camping on the shores, truly embracing what it means to be wild and free.
Our road trip throughout some of the best coastal regions of the US continues as we head north to charming Charleston, a place rooted in history, as is evident by its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and stylish French Quarter. It’s hard not to fall for its quaint nooks and crannies hiding in its alleyways. We’ll get to walk through its history – from its founding in 1670 through today – on an interactive night tour as well as check out its lively Historic City Market. We’ll also head off its shores on an awesome Eco Tour to go see its local citizens – its playful and outgoing dolphins!
Never in human history have conservation efforts been so important as now. Across the planet, there are thousands of organizations whose sole missions lie in the attempt to mitigate unnatural changes to the environment. For the next two days, we will team up with the Bald Head Island Conservancy in its various efforts addressing its home. Depending on time of year and immediate needs, we will be hands-on in a myriad of programs, including its Sea Turtle Protection Program, its environmental monitoring of ecosystems, and its educational efforts.
As we continue our trail north via super cool coastal cities, we would be remiss to not check out the sparkling waters and salty seafood in Chesapeake Bay! Not only will we get the chance to feast on fresh fish, we will actually hop on a boat with a local legend, who has spent longer than his lifetime sailing these waters in search of the best seafood on offer.
As our road trip is winding down, the time has come for us to focus on something incredibly important: appreciation. As we team up in tandem canoes, we will guide ourselves to a secluded group campsite, providing ample time for discussion, laughter, and, yes, appreciation. Working as the amazing team we have formed over the past few months, we will build up our campsites, cook our meals, search for constellations, share stories around the fire pit, and simply be. There is no agenda other than enjoyment!
Note: Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, relax and have your own independent experiences with others in the group.
Open to students, graduates and non-students, ideally 18-24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of average fitness with an enthusiasm for the outdoors, conservation and new experiences. You need to be committed to, and prepared for, some physical work whilst on the volunteer components of the program i.e. trail building or the removal of invasive plants and while on the outdoor activities, be prepared to give-it-a-go. As a guideline, you should aim to be comfortable hiking 4-6 hours with a backpack. You don’t need to have had previous experience with any of the activities offered.
The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the 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.
Our accommodation will be a mixture of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable and clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and WiFi 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 are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. All meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all students, is fun, social and often a highlight.
The Pacific Discovery United States West Gap Year semester combines conservation volunteering, adventure travel and experiential learning through different nine states.