It's time to explore your own backyard, because there's a lot of it! This inspiring gap year program takes you rock climbing in Whitefish, kayaking in the San Juan Islands and hiking through Yellow Stone National Park!

The United States is, in many ways, a country unlike any other, and this experiential summer program offers an amazing immersion into the mountains and deserts of its majestic wild west. It combines wilderness projects in diverse reserves; outdoor expeditions including backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, yoga and mountain biking; and educational adventure travel through the west's stunning mountain, forest and desert environments.

The Best of the West Summer 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. 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 18 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.

  • Start off your journey and get to know your group with a program orientation in Palm Springs
  • Multi day rock climbing expedition in Whitefish, MT
  • Epic kayaking trip in San Juan Islands, WA
  • Hike amongst the massive boulders in Joshua Tree National Park, CA
  • Step into the wilderness and learn survival skills in Tucson, AZ
  • Practice leadership in a student led section between Sedona, Arizona and Park City, Utah
  • Test your balance and strength on the mat on the water during a yoga retreat in Park City, UT
  • Discover the magic of the Grand Tetons during a partnership with the Teton Science School
  • Hike to see Old Faithful up close in Yellowstone NP
  • Program wrap in Orcas, WA
  • Small group experience with qualified and knowledgeable instructors

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

Week 1. Palm Springs & Hiking in Joshua Tree NP

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.

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 2. Survival Skills, Sedona Red Rocks & Self-Led Days

What would you do if you found yourself lost in the desert, the mountains, or any number of beautiful, yet potentially dangerous environments? Would you know how to make the things that you need directly from the natural environment? Well over the next few days we’re going to learn! We’re set spend 2 days learning the basic wilderness survival skills, and test ourselves out in the open. These days will be spend challenging yourself and each other, and ultimately creating strong bonds with your teammates that will last a lifetime.

On to Sedona, which is most commonly – and appropriately – linked to its iconic red rocks. 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.

Next up is the Pacific Discovery’s self-led days, which have long been ingrained in our company’s DNA. We truly believe in the amount of learning and growth our students experience throughout our gap year 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, Arizona to our next destination: Park City, Utah.

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

Week 3. Yoga Retreat, Grand Tetons & Yellowstone NP

Once we make it to Park City, you’ll get straight on your bike and start getting adventurous! We’ll spend our first day exploring our new habitat by bike, guided by fully qualified instructors who will share their local knowledge and give you a first-hand experience of the area. Once we’ve got the blood pumping a little bit and are feeling comfortable in our new surroundings, we’ll start 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 experience!

The next few days are going to feel like you’ve been transported from our wondrous 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 learn about all the different ongoing environmental initiatives with the Teton Science School. Next, we’ll continue onto Yellowstone National Park where we will spend a couple of days exploring the trails and getting up close and personal with Old Faithful.

Week 4. Rock Climbing, Hiking & Kayaking

You are in for an absolute treat as we gear up in some pretty tight shoes and a sweet harness to spend two days learning how to climb, rappel and belay, and spending the exhausted nights sleeping under the stars.

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, you will explore the amazing islands off the coast of Washington. Spend your days hiking, wandering, and kayaking, keeping your eyes peeled for the various marine life around you. You will set up camp on rugged and quiet shores, enjoying the calm and clear skies that provide amazing stargazing opportunities!

Sadly, the time has also come to begin processing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the last 29 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


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.


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 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, granola, toast, smoothies
  • Lunch: sandwiches, wraps, picnic lunches (hummus, rice cakes, spinach, deli meats), fruit
  • Dinner: tacos, pasta, salads, burgers, sausages and vegetables, pizza, stir fries

Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand

Included in the tuition

  • All in-program travel and transport
  • 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

Summer Dates 27 Jun - 26 Jul, 2024
Duration 30 days
Program Tuition $7,950 USD Estimated Flight Cost $500 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 13 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 17 - 22 ideal Covid-19 Vaccination Requirement Vaccination Strongly Recommended
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Program Start: Palm Springs, California
Program Finish: Seattle, Washington