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Teens have a bad rap. Sure, they might have the inclination to break a rule or two, but to balance that, we parents must provide opportunities for teenagers to develop essential life skills such as leadership, critical thinking, and independence (Yes, from us too. I know…it sucks.).
There is no better classroom than the one in nature. Backpacking trips for teens are the perfect arena for young people to develop these new skills outside of their high school. These are the things a person can’t buy that’ll serve them as they build a healthy life.
The problem is that many of us parents work and can’t take time off to take our teens on outdoor backpacking adventures. And even if we could, they probably wouldn’t want to spend so much time with us anyway! At these sensitive ages, it’s best for our teens to hang in the natural world with a small group of kids their own age, guided by seasoned professionals.
California, being the year-round playground that it is, has a wide variety of beautiful national and state parks for unique experiences backpacking, including Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and Joshua Tree. Here are some of our favorite companies that lead outdoor expeditions in California. Each trip pairs teens, who aren’t required to have any prior outdoor campingexperience, with wildlife experts to give them the backpacking trip of a lifetime. And maybe make them less surly.
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Bold Earth Adventures
Although Bold Earth Adventures is an outdoor adventure company based in North Carolina, they lead exhilarating outdoor experiences for teens throughout the United States, North America, and longer trips around the world. A few unique experiences include backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, hiking Kilimanjaro, whitewater rafting in California, and surfing in Costa Rica.
There are three California trips available that are divided by age. Teen voyagers can participate in adventurous activities like kayaking in Monterey, hiking in Big Sur, and exploring Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. To heighten the developmental experience, some Bold Earth Adventure trips engage teens in community service projects during their adventures. Kids may embark on beach clean-ups, community garden work, or helping out in schools.
- Price: -$3,988-$8,588
- Length: 12-21 days
Lasting Adventures brings teens guided backpacking trips in Yosemite National Park, Olympic National Park, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Hidden Northern Yosemite trip is a 42-mile, 6-day trip in Yosemite National Park. The guided tour takes teens through deep canyons, dense forests, alpine peaks, and ridges. Teens will camp alongside rivers, lakes and Slide Canyon with expansive views of the Sierra Nevadas.
- Price: – $600 – $7,880
- Length: 1 – 27 days
Tahoe Rim Trail Association
The Tahoe Rim Trail Association founders created the program to inspire teens to take care of our planet by first preserving the hiking trails around Lake Tahoe. Different age groups, including adults and young adults, backpack the Lake Tahoe region, work on projects designed to maintain the fragile ecosystem and fall in love with the outdoors. There are day programs, too for those who want to try it out without committing.
In the youth program, trail experts lead groups of kids ages 12-14 and 14-17 backpacking around Lake Tahoe’s rim for 3-6 miles each day. For many, it will be their first time participating in such an intensive experience. As they take ownership of their areas, they’ll learn leadership skills and get a chance to support one another in the wild. After their day’s hikes, campers gather around the campfire and do some backcountry cooking over a camping stove. They’re sure to drift off under the stars.
Payment is on a sliding scale with tiers of $225, $445, or $665. Families are encouraged to pay what they can to support the program. This payment includes food, camping and group gear, permits, and transportation.
- Price $225 – $665 (scholarships available)
- Length: 4 days
Adventure Treks brings kids in grades 8 and 9 on 3-week-long backpacking trips located all across the US. Their goal is to create a sense of community, giving adventurers a place to make friends and create new memories.
Outdoor activities include mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, and white water rafting. Trips in California will allow campers to backpack along the Lost Coast in Northern California, including wilderness areas such as Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Rogue and American Rivers, Mt. Shasta, and Mt. Shastina.
The price includes all meals, camping gear, and access to activities.
- Price: $5,295
- Length: 20 days
Sierra Club Outings
Sierra Club Outings is a budget-friendly experience that takes teens ages 13-17 on one 8-day trip during the summer near Kennedy Meadows Resort in Northern California.
This is a moderately paced trip for teens who enjoy new adventures and being outdoors. Backpackers will spend most days hiking through the High Sierra. This is an adventure in roughing it, meaning none of the comforts most teens have grown up with, like piped water, cell service, and electricity, will be available as they camp in the wilderness. Teens will have a completely unplugged experience using their own gear and a sleeping bag.
This trip includes guided tours, meals, permits, and gear.
- Price: $535
- Length : 8 days
Apogee Adventures provides tween and teen adventures in the Caribbean, Canada, the United States, and Europe. The program aspires to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by bringing a variety of perspectives and experiences to each group that takes a trip with them. They do this by extending scholarships to communities not historically connected to outdoor experiences and making an effort to employ a diverse staff.
The California trip is open to teens 13-15 years old and is concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area. Teens will kayak the calm waters of Point Reyes’ Tomales Bay, backpack along Point Reyes National Seashore, hike Big Sur State Park, surf, and volunteer with park rangers to clean beaches in Half Moon Bay.
Make sure to check out 15 Best Travel Backpacks in order to make the most of your adventure!
This California trip includes meals, permits, and gear.
- Length: 13 days
- Price: $4199
Teens have a bad rap. But these 7 backpacking trips help them develop life skills like leadership, critical thinking, and independence to set them on a good path.
Weaving Earth is a Native American-based organization that educates from a holistic perspective. Since they believe that everything is connected, their nature-based educational approach promotes ecological and social change through the examination of relationships. Weaving Earth teaches that the territories upon which their camp sits and explores are the ancestral lands of the Pomo, Coast Miwok, Onatsatis, and other Native American nations. Staff members also use this information to educate teens to recognize the barriers marginalized groups face.
This agency hosts week-long backpacking trips for teens in groups of 12. This is a great way for high schoolers to experience hikes, overnight camps, swimming, and horseback riding while going on a backcountry trip along the Marble Mountains.
Payment for these expeditions is on a slider scale. Families are encouraged to pay what they can in order to make the experience accessible to all. For more information, including trip dates, click here.
- Price: $600 – $1200
- Length: 7 days
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The invention of social media has made it easy for teens to see other places in the world. However, technology can’t replicate the feeling of waking up in the sunshine to the scent of pine needles and the sound of birds chirping in the trees directly above. It also can’t replace the sense of accomplishment from overcoming fears and boundaries or those lifelong friendships created from walking through those experiences with others.
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