It combines service-learning conservation projects in diverse reserves; outdoor expeditions including backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, yoga and white-water rafting; and educational adventure travel through the west's stunning mountain, forest and desert environments.
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.
While travelling domestically may look a little different to Pacific Discovery's other programs, our program design remains unchanged.
The Western United States semester program is a journey of discovery, where students are immersed in a facilitated learning environment, designed to maximize the educational and life-skills potential. Students are regularly encouraged to reflect and think about their values, goals, and what they wish to gain from the program experience and from their lives in general. It’s time to explore our own backyard, and there’s a lot of it!
• Program orientation in Boulder, CO
• Test your athletic abilities on an official Olympic Park in Salt Lake City, UT
• 3-day yoga retreat in Park City, UT
• Discover the magic of the Grand Tetons, the Canyonlands, the Arches National Park, and a few more surprises up our sleeves
• Mountain bike in Ketchum, ID
• Learn about the rewilding efforts in Bozeman, MT
• Multi-night rock climbing in Whitefish, MT
• Get hands on with a service project in Missoula, MT
• Hike to see Old Faithful up close in Yellowstone NP
• Explore the Craters of the Moon in Idaho
• Sustainability Farming Project in Olympia, WA
• Epic kayaking trip in San Juan Islands, WA
• Educational service learning in Mount Rainier, WA
• Practice leadership and development in student led section between Olympia, WA and Bend, OR
• Canoe the crystal lake of Rocky Point, OR
• Explore the awesomeness of Crater Lake, OR
• Tramping (backpacking) expedition in Lassen National Park, CA
• Program wrap in Lake Tahoe, CA
• Small group experience with qualified and knowledgeable instructors
• 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.
You can fly or drive to join this program - our private transportation will arrange to pick you up at the Denver airport or a nearby destination. Regardless of how you arrive to the starting point, you’ll be met by your awesome Program Instructors and transferred to our group’s private Boulder 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.
Open your world up to the beauty of what our hands can create! We’re going to spend two days exploring two different farms, one dairy and one produce. We will be participating in fun team building exercises and taste tasting the delicious edibles created as a result of the hard work of humans. On our last day in Boulder,we will head over to the Flatirons and get up close and personal to Boulder’s most iconic landmark.
Heading west we get to enjoy the ever-changing scenery from the green forests of Colorado to the dry, red region of Moab, Utah. We will have plenty of time to traipse through the jaw-dropping distinct landscapes of the Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.
Changing trajectory from Moab, we head north to the legendary destination of Park City, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics (as well as endless non-winter-based experiences!). We’ll have a full day of fun in the official Utah Olympic Park, where we get to up our adrenaline on various zip lines, tubing lanes, and ropes courses! We’ll then spend the next few days exploring all the various ways one can practice the art of yoga, from hanging silks to paddle boards to connecting with yourself deep in nature. It will be a wonderfully resetting few days!
We’ll continue our northwards trajectory to the mindblowing landscape of sprawling dormant lava fields and monuments scattered throughout the Craters of the Moon Preserve! We’ll stretch our legs after the long drive by wandering throughout the national monument before heading to the tiny and charming town of Ketchum, Idaho,
where we will spend the following day mountain biking through its well-maintained trails before earning a much-deserved down day to reset
These few days are going to feel like you’ve been transported from our wonderous planet earth to a galaxy far far away. We’ll spend a full day exploring the majesty of the Grand Tetons, where we’ll get to experience an official dark sky territory; check out the trails in Yellowstone National Park and get up close and personal with Old Faithful; and even get to watch some of the locals in their natural element at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming!
You are in for an absolute treat of an overnight in the beautiful landscape of northern Montana! We’ll spend an afternoon learning about some of the awesome ongoing initiatives that private and public organizations are working on to rewild our nation and build sustainable and impactful corridors that enable animals to maintain their natural migration patterns. Then we’ll get a good night’s sleep before donning some pretty tight shoes and a sweet harness to spend three days learning how to climb, rappel and belay, and spending the exhausted nights sleeping under the stars.
For the next week we will be stationed in the adorable and natural land of Missoula, Montana! We will be participating in projects with partner organizations to survey animals in the region, do some hands on land conservation, tackle some team challenges and outdoor skills lessons and hit the river on a rafting trip!
Ahh the beauty of Idaho speaks for itself, and we are going to spend one very relaxed day soaking it in, and one more adventurous day chasing after it on some cruisy bicycles!
From Idaho we travel by road further west to Mount Rainier National Park, eponymously named after the iconic 14,410-foot active volcano, Mount Rainier. It is the most glaciated peak in mainland USA, and its ancient forest’s diverse ecosystem is home to an immense amount of wildlife, making it a fascinating setting for researchers, scientists, and Pacific Discovery semester students to explore! We will spend some time focusing on nature-based educational experiences, using the park as our playground to discover and learn.
Spend a few epic days on the water exploring the channels and keeping your eyes peeled for the various marine life that calls this special place home. At night you will set up camp on rugged and quiet shores, enjoying the calm and clear skies that provide amazing stargazing opportunities. In the morning you will wake up to a warm and hearty breakfast, break down camp, and hit the waters for another day of kayaking fun! Upon return to San Juan, you’ll have the chance to explore it independently, either by foot or by boat.
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.
Oh the magic of protected parks does not get old, boring, or mundane, and Olympic National Park will be one more wonder filled region for you to check off the bucket list! We will have the opportunity to identify which trails we want to explore and allow ourselves and our inhibitions to run free as we soak up the raw rugged nature of this place.
Pacific Discovery’s self-led weeks have long been ingrained in our company’s DNA. We truly believe in the amount of learning and growth our students experience throughout our semester programs, and this week puts that to the test. You will be handed over the reins to work collaboratively as a group and determine how you want to get from Olympia, Washington to our next destination: Bend, Oregon. There are various routes: Will you choose to head west, stopping off at the various coves and bays the scatter the western coast? Will you prefer to hit the mountains of Oregon, maybe with a meander in Mount Hood or a stop off in Deschutes National Forest? It’s up to you – and the budget you’re given – to figure it all out!
The rumours about northern Oregon are true - it’s dense, beautiful, mystical. But the rumours about southern Oregon are rarely whispered, making it all the more special: “...come find out for yourself...” And we will! After chilling out in Bend for a day to reset ourselves for the upcoming adventures, we will make our way
through Crater Lake National Park, a name that often needs an introduction but never a reminder. After some independent hiking in all its glory, we will settle on the banks of Rocky Point to do some canoeing atop its crystal clear cold waters.
Well well well, after sixty days on the road, we come to our final national park on this epic once-in-a-lifetime, you-will-talk-about-this-experience-so-often-your-family-and-friends-will-really-start-to-resent-you road trip: Lassen Volcanic National Park. If you’re not familiar, google it, we’ll wait...just read the google description:
“Lassen Volcanic National Park is...rich in hydrothermal sites like Bumpass Hell, with its acres of bubbling mud pots...the Devastated Area is littered with lava rocks from its last eruption.” Bumpass Hell? Bubbling mud pots? Littered with lava rocks? Last eruption? Yes, that is where we will be tramping through for our culminating backpacking expedition that you will all be more than ready to tackle. Thank us later.
Sadly, the time has come to begin our process of digesting 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 prioritise time to
experience and have gratitude for our own stunning and important national culture and environment.
*Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and 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 and availability.
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 are accomodated. All meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all students, is fun, social and often a highlight.
The Pacific Discovery Western United States Gap Year semester combines conservation volunteering, adventure travel and experiential learning through different nine states.