This 10-week semester program offers you enriching and inspiring experiences throughout the beautiful regions of the United States’ West Coast and surrounds.

It combines service-learning conservation projects in diverse reserves; outdoor expeditions including kayaking, rock climbing, yoga, and educational adventure travel through the west’s stunning mountain, forest and coastal environments. Discover the National Parks’ efforts to mitigate deforestation and reintroduce endemic wildlife, immerse yourself in the wonderous ecosystems that cover our lands, and uncover more about your own backyard than you even knew existed.

The United States is, in many ways, a country unlike any other, and this experiential travel semester offers an amazing immersion into the mountains, deserts, and cultures of its majestic wild west. Ignite your curiosity as you roll up your sleeves to get involved in various project efforts. Embrace the adventure as you rock climb the crags of Montana, paddle off the shores of Washington, and meander through the magic of Yellowstone. Discover more about
your backyard to discover more about yourself.

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, challenge themselves, be immersed in unique environments, and learn about sustainability - not to mention, have an insane amount of fun!

Who is this Gap Year Program for?

This fall and spring semester program is suitable for high school graduates, gap year students, university students, and graduates, ideally 17 – 22 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available.

 

Check out our program comparison chart here.

 

Get a taste of what life was like on the Western USA Fall 2020 Program below: 

Filmed by Fall 2020 Student Jackie Miller @_jackiemiller_
  • Program orientation in Joshua Tree
  • Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Mountain bike in the famous Moab
  • Step into another atmosphere at Biosphere 2 in Tucson
  • Explore Orcas Islands in San Juan
  • Practice leadership and development in student-led section between Sedona and Moab
  • Get hands-on with a service project in Missoula
  • Epic kayaking trip in San Juan Islands
  • Go on day hikes through Mt Rainier NP
  • Pecan Farm Project in Arizona
  • An 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.
  • Very personalized and supportive small group experience - maximum 14 students

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

Week One. Orientation and Hiking in Joshua Tree


You can fly or drive to join this program - our private transportation will arrange to pick you up at LAX Airport. Regardless of how you arrive at the starting point, you’ll be met by your awesome Program Instructors and transferred to our group’s private 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.


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. At the end of the week we make our
way to Tucson to learn how to survive in the wilderness.

Week Two. Survival Skills and Rock Climbing in Tucson


Week two is going to start with an education into survival skills. These two days will show you how to build shelters, make fire, locate desert water sources and much more to help you stay alive in the wild! After learning about surviving in the desert we take a trip to Saguaro National Park which was founded in 1933 and home to some of the largets cacti in the United States! From the dry desert to a water filled canyon. With towering cliffs, flowing water and a rich diversity of flora and fauna, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness remains as one of Arizona's truly unique areas. Its 19,410 acres of designated wilderness beckons adventurers who yearn for solitude and scenic splendor. Aravaipa Creek flows yearround, an unusual phenomenon in the Arizona desert. Nurtured by this abundant water, large sycamore, ash, cottonwood, and willow trees flourish along the stream, flanked by other riparian vegetation. In the fall, a kaleidoscope of brilliant red and golden leaves contrasts dramatically with the surrounding Sonoran Desert
landscape. While in this area we will take part in an introduction to rock climbing for 3 days. You will learn the ropes and as a group be swinging from the top of mountains before you know it!

Week Three. In This World & Out of this World, Arizona


Next up, we 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! The next few days will be a contrast of landscapes so surreal we will be rubbing our eyes to make sure they are real! First up is Chiricahua National Monument, a landmine landscape of naturally-carved hoodoos and balancing rocks! During this time we will be staying at the Shady Dell in Bisbee. A historic mining town up in the Mule Mountains.

The Kartchner Caverns are next for us on the itinerary. 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 wellbeing. The underground formations are mind-blowing, 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. We will also have the unique opportunity to participate in some hands-on work at a farm project (we won't give you much more information now as our previous programs absolutely loved it here
and we wouldn't want to spoil the surprise!).

Week Four. Sedona Hikes, Montezuma Castle and Self Led Week Preparation


Sedona is most commonly – and appropriately – linked to its iconic red rocks. We will explore them by foot to get a real feel for their unique formations. To discover the red rocks is to get a deeper understanding of the spirituality that resides in this unique destination. Renowned for its vortexes – identified locations that hold powerful and transformational energy centers – Sedona has long been a sacred site for the region’s inhabitants. We are spending a couple of days here learning about the history of Sedona, having a tour of the famous Montezuma Castle and also taking on an epic sunrise hike in Sedona. Sunrise is one of the most magical times here with all the different colours of the desert coming to life!

Week Five. Self Led Week

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 Sedona to our next destination: Moab, as a team.

There are various routes but it’s up to the group – and the budget you’re given – to figure it all out!

Once we arrive in Moab, there is no rest as we are straight out exploring the Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.

Moab is world famous for its mountain bike trails and you will be free to explore some trails and really get a taste of true mountain biking in this desert wilderness.

Week Six. Yoga, Paddleboarding and Hiking in Park City


After the self led week, hikng and mountain biking you will be exhausted and its time to wind things down a bit with a rest day in Moab. You can choose whether you want to chill, explore the local area or get out on another hike!

Before leaving for our next destination we are going to take you to Arches National Park. Arches National Park is a geological wonderland. Set in the high desert of southeastern Utah, it is home to the largest concentration of sandstone arches in the world, some 2,000 in all. That the simple actions of erosion over tens of thousands of years could produce what appear to be purposefully sculpted formations is endlessly fascinating to behold. Delicate Arch is the most famous of the arches of the National Park, acting as an iconic image not only for the area, but for Utah in general.

Once we make it to Park City, you’ll spend the next few days exploring all the various ways one can practice the art of yoga, from introductory classes to paddle boards to connecting with yourself deep in nature. It will be a wonderfully resetting few days! The last day of the yoga retreat involves a hike up to Guardsman Peak to get the lungs burning again after your days of yoga relaxation

Week Seven. Grand Tetons & Yellowstone National Park

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. 

We could spend weeks here seeing the dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers. It's also home to hundreds of animal species, including bears, wolves, bison, elk and antelope. Yellowstone’s abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. There are nearly 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, six species of reptiles, and 67 species of mammals—including seven native ungulate species and two bear species.

Week Eight. The Rockies Museum and Service Projects in Missoula


While in the area we get a chance to visit the Museum of the Rockies. It is recognized as a world-class cultural and natural history museum and research facility. It is renowned for displaying an extensive collection of dinosaur fossils, including the fully-mounted Montana's T. rex skeleton!

Our next stop is in Montana where we stop at a ranch to carry out a conservation project. With more than 15,000 acres of conservation property in Western Montana, the ranch we are working at helps improve undeveloped landscapes for wildlife habitat. The ranch conducts research and collaborates with other local organizations and researchers that design and implement outreach and public education events.

Their researchers specialize in restoration and ecology. They seek new ways to restore lands affected by invasive weeds, herbicide use and other management practices that create disturbances while protecting the lands for future generations. At the ranch we will learn as much as help out with research and conservation tasks to help restore the land that is here.

Week Nine. Couer d'Alene and Hiking in Mt Rainier


Surrounded by mountains, forests and water our next stop sits on the edge of the great outdoors. Known for its magical lakefront and water sports, Coeur d’Alene is the perfect spot for a couple days of relaxation. You'll never want to leave this postcard town!

Next up is 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 embark on nature-based educational experiences, using the park as our playground! Oh the magic of protected parks does not get old, boring, or mundane, and Mt Rainier National Park will be one more wonderfilled region for you to check off the bucket list! We will have the opportunity to explore the trails on day hiking expeditions and allow ourselves and our inhibitions to run free as we soak up the raw rugged nature of this place.

Week Ten. Program Wrap in the San Juan islands


Before we start program wrap we make our way over to Orcas Island. The horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, which the locals call “the gem of the San Juans.” has a magical mix of arts and culture, lush forests, pristine lakes and endless outdoor possibilities. Most of Orcas Island’s 57 square miles are rural and hilly, with curving roads that wind through forests and past artists’ studios, fields with old apple barns, and the occasional turn-of-the-century prune drying barn.

We will be grabbing a few kayaks and heading to Sucia island on a day trip where you will encounter sealife and birds while kayaking through the still waters!

Sadly, the time has 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 prioritise time to experience and have
gratitude for our own beautiful and historic 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, availability, and safety precautions.

Suitability

Open to students, graduates and non-students, ideally 17-22 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.

Accommodation

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

You’ll be at home in the United States with the comfort of foods you already know but we encourage you to try new foods and be aware that when you’re shopping and cooking for a whole group on a budget, you may not be able to eat the way you do at home! Bear in mind that on this program the students will be doing most of the cooking, and often in a camping environment. if we’re out camping and hiking in the national parks, sometimes we won’t have refrigeration available so we’ll be truly eating camping food - along with some delicious campfire s’mores!

Regular food to expect:
• Breakfast: cereal, milk, oatmeal, pancake mix, bread, peanut
butter, local fruits, cinnamon rolls, granola bars, and eggs
• Lunch: self-made sandwiches or wraps (PB&J, turkey, hummus,
veggies), salad, leftovers from dinner, fruit, mac and cheese, rice
poke bowls
• Dinner: hot dogs, veggie burgers, salad, chili, corn bread, roasted
potatoes, corn and bean salad, rice, curry, poke bowls

Program Tuition Includes

  • All program-related travel and transport included
  • All accommodation
  • 3 meals a day (not including snacks)
  • All expeditions, activities, excursions, entry fees, and adventure travel as described in the itinerary
  • Environmental education and service-learning projects
  • An 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
  • Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
  • Pre-departure web-page 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
  • Online image library for your program

Spring Dates 17 Feb - 27 Apr, 2022
Duration 70 days
(plus independent extension options)

Program Tuition $13,500 USD Estimated Flight Cost $500 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 14 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 17 - 22 ideal
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Start in Los Angeles
Finish in Seattle