Photograph (above) taken by Mikaela Hamilton
Sample Itinerary
Meet group, pack, start backpacking introduction trip*
Whitewater canoeing on the Rio Grande
Rock climbing
Backpacking expedition in Big Bend
Final expedition
Community service project
Family phone conference
Personal Challenge Event, cleanup, course-end ceremonies
Travel home
*Prior to course start, students will travel to El Paso and spend the night at a hotel

Sometimes the noise of daily life makes it difficult to know what we really want, to set clear goals for ourselves, and to forge a path forward. Here’s your reset button. Our Pathfinder expeditions are designed to support students in increasing self-knowledge and awareness, improving goal-setting and decision-making processes, and developing perseverance and self-efficacy. As in the field, so in life: challenge yourself to dream big, then identify your steps to get there and start moving. We’ll put the map in your hands. You chart your path. 

  • Build skills, form connections: Learn and practice wilderness, teamwork, adaptability and leadership skills. Participants will have the opportunity to chart a path and pursue it with their own motivation as extra fuel.
  • Value strengths and strengthen values: Resiliency to recover from set-backs is a treasured and useful skill that will play a part in any Pathfinder expedition. Participants will explore answers to their most pressing questions about what they value, where their strengths lie and what direction their lives will take next.
  • Demonstrate mastery: As students gain confidence in new skills, they will take on more leadership and decision-making responsibilities and gain a deeper understanding of who they are as individuals. The entire crew will work together and individually to achieve goals, solve problems and succeed.
  • What you’ll learn: After spending 30 days in the wilderness, you’ll have mastered multiple outdoor skills and you’ll know what it takes to traverse mountain passes, climb the steepest cliffs and successfully navigate the challenges of the natural world around you. You’ll discover more about your true self and what you want to achieve, how you overcome setbacks and, most importantly, how to move forward to reach important milestones.

Return home after broadening your horizons, learning how to adapt to new environments and trying untested possibilities, with an action plan for the future. With newfound leadership potential, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills, you’ll be ready for your next big step.

gap year canoeing program
Photo courtesy of Dan Blessing
gap year outdoor program in texas
Photo courtesy of Dan Blessing
texas big bend canoeing adventure trip
Photo courtesy of Mikaela Hamilton
canoeing adventure trip for young adults in big bend
Photo courtesy of Mikaela Hamilton

After first learning basic whitewater strokes in calm currents, students are ready to begin the expedition. Paddling together, the group travels down-river through sections of calm currents and swift-moving whitewater rapids. The waters of the Rio Grande offer beginning and more advanced paddlers a progressive challenge and a perfect place to learn and hone skills.

Instructors assist students in mastering skills of paddling, scouting and running rapids. Students learn all the skills they need to move efficiently down-river, including an introduction to whitewater rescue techniques. As there are only two students in a whitewater canoe, everyone has the opportunity to "captain their watercraft." Students learn to adapt to the river and desert environments and reset their internal clock to rise with the sun and sleep with the moon.

gap year backpacking trip in big bend texas
Photo courtesy of Emma Rapp
texas big bend backpacking adventure for young adults
Photo courtesy of Erin McCleary
a group of gap year students carrying backpacks hike through the desert with a mountain in the background
Photo courtesy of Mac Gaither

At altitudes of 2,000-8,000 feet, backpack the vast Chisos Mountains and explore the Chihuahuan Desert, crossing mountainous terrain and traveling through water-polished canyons. The small group will hike both on and off trail, crossing mountain passes, exploring immense canyons and traversing a rugged desert where atmospheric clarity and wide-open spaces make distances deceiving and navigation challenging. While hiking, students will learn desert travel skills such as strategies for water management and environmental preservation and the finer points of balance and foot placement on rough terrain.

rock climbing course in texas
Photo courtesy of Holly Noble
a gap year student rock climbs above a desert landscape in texas
Photo courtesy of Holly Noble
a gap year student who is rock climbing above a desert landscape looks up and smiles
Photo courtesy of Mac Gaither

On the scenic cliffs of the Rio Grande overlooking the mountains of Mexico is Black Rocks – a beautiful climbing site in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Known mostly to locals, this seldom-visited spot gives students a unique opportunity for back-country rock climbing. These 30 to 80 foot cliffs offer a variety of beginner and intermediate climbs that provide an ideal introduction to rock climbing. Regardless of a student’s rock climbing and rappelling background, everyone is sure to find challenge and success at Black Rocks.

All Outward Bound rock climbing and rappelling experiences are carefully supervised and employ safety systems aligned with national standards. During climbing days, students learn about rock climbing equipment, safety and etiquette, belaying techniques and climbing rescue techniques. Encouraged and supported by their group, students push their perceived limits and expand their comfort zones in a safe, fun and non-competitive environment.

gap year canyoneering program
Photo courtesy of Annie Cohen

Weather and group dynamics permitting, there may be an opportunity to go canyoneering on this course. During this activity, the group will descend down steep canyons using rappel techniques learned during their rock climbing experience. These canyons often provide a group problem-solving aspect as students descend the canyon, cross pools of water and navigate maze-like boulder constrictions. During canyoneering, teamwork is essential to getting everyone and their equipment safely and efficiently through the canyon. 

Service is a cornerstone of every Outward Bound experience. From the seemingly small daily acts of service for the environment to the regular tasks of being part of an expeditionary team, students have ample opportunities to experience the value of giving back to the larger community. On the expedition, students are encouraged to practice environmental stewardship in the form of Recreate Responsibly ethics. Service projects are designed to offer as much interaction with local communities as possible, as a way of exchanging cultural awareness and fostering a sense of connection to the larger world. The specific type of service project depends upon the structure of the course as well as local needs and opportunities. Many times, the service project in Texas includes work with the state park.

At one point during the expedition students are provided a secluded spot to reflect alone, with all the food, skills and supplies they need, and are monitored by staff throughout the experience to maintain safety. We call this part of course, Solo. The Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. Many students use this reflection time to make decisions about their future, journal and enjoy the beauty of their surroundings unencumbered by the constant external stimulation of modern life. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type, as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. Students find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound course.

A 30-day Pathfinder course provides the opportunity to chart a path, the motivation to begin the journey and the skills required to achieve personal and professional goals. While adventuring in the backcountry and tackling physical, mental and emotional challenges, students will:

  • Develop more confidence and tenacity
  • Gain a deeper understanding of themselves, their strengths and values, and how to move forward in alignment with those values
  • Increase self-knowledge and awareness, as evidenced by a clearer sense of identity and an increase in sense of potential
  • Develop grit and self-efficacy, as evidenced by increased perseverance and confidence to complete tasks and reach for goals
  • Improve decision-making skills through the day-to-day running of an expedition

Depart with written goals for the future along with increased resiliency to handle what challenges may come as they pursue their newly defined direction.

gap year wilderness program in texas
Photo courtesy of Mikaela Hamilton
gap year backpacking program
Photo courtesy of Erika Jabas
outdoor school in texas
Photo courtesy of Rachael Pace
the sun sets behind a desert landscape in texas
Photo courtesy of Mac Gaither
a river winds through a desert landscape with high canyon walls and mountains in the distance
Photo courtesy of Mikaela Hamilton

Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, Texas

Along the US-Mexico border in southwestern Texas, a powerful river and a mountainous desert unite in Texas’ Big Bend park system. The Texas course area is one of the most remote and geologically interesting in the nation. The Rio Grande River carves a huge, sweeping bend where Big Bend National Park earns its name. This 750,000-square mile wilderness is the eighth largest national park in the lower 48 states and a desert backpacking and rock-climbing paradise. In this region, delicate desert flowers exist alongside fossilized trees millions of years old. Mountain passes give way to steep-walled canyons and cliffs. The land itself is awe-inspiring, with canyons towering 300 to 1,200 feet over the river. It is one of the last true desert regions in North America. Much of this rugged land has remained unchanged for centuries. Hundreds of species of birds and a healthy diversity of other animal and plant communities thrive within the splendid isolation of ancient limestone canyons, juniper and mesquite-covered mesas and coal-black night skies. These regions are the ancestral lands of the Jumanos, Yoli (Concho), Pescado, Mescalero Apache and Chiso nations.


Getting Started

If you are ready to enroll on a course click the enroll button next to the course you wish to select or you can enroll over the phone by speaking with one of our Admissions Advisors (toll-free) at 866-467-7651.

To secure your spot on a course you must submit an enrollment form and $500 deposit that is applied toward the total cost of the course and includes a $150 non-refundable enrollment processing fee.