Outdoor Programs for Teens: 7 Reasons For High Schoolers to Get Outside this Summer


Our domestic service programs are exciting outdoor programs for teens where, in addition to volunteering and earning hours of community service, we explore places like Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and The Napali Coast while learning to surf and going whitewater rafting. Every year when talking about our Domestic volunteer programs for teens, we are faced with the same question:

Where does the group stay?
This is usually followed by some guesses, are they in hotels or hostels, some kind of guesthouse? When I tell families that the students on the outdoor programs are camping the whole time, the first reaction I receive is typically one of slight shock. “I know this is an outdoor program, but how can my teen possibly survive two whole weeks of camping!?”

Our minds shoot right past the benefits of outdoor programs for teens and straight into the negatives. Sometimes we just need to pause and consider that in the long run, our kids can be a lot better off stepping outside their comfort zone and trying something completely new. What’s even better, is that they don’t even require any previous experience to get outside and do it!

Most of our students come from urban areas. Often these kids have little to no experience pitching a tent or sleeping out under the stars, which allows for incredible benefits that enhance the group experience on a program. Whereas spending two weeks in a hotel only serves to reinforce the creature comforts we have at home and give us little in the way of challenging ourselves.

Benefits of Outdoor Programs for Teens:

Here are several benefits to taking a leap into the unknown, and trying something that might seem so crazy at first that you will love it!

1. Camping Breaks Down Barriers

In the age of social media, we can often be extremely quick to pass judgment and form ideas about someone without ever really getting to know them. A random post or status change can influence our opinions more than a conversation, even if we are completely wrong. The outdoors acts as a crucial leveling field on our summer community service trips. When everyone is outside in a new environment, it serves to create thousands of new experiences collectively. When everyone is a part of something completely new, it establishes commonality among peers. This, in turn, leads to inside jokes, silly stories, and groups that bond so closely they remain friends for life!

1-New Best Friends

2. Outdoor Programs for Teens have Proven Health Benefits

There are numerous studies that have proven how being outside for an extended time can lower stress, reduce fatigue, inflammation, boost vitamin D levels and improve concentration in teenagers with ADHD.1 By being outside we get more exercise, become immersed in the world around us, and are able to find joy in unexpected places. According to over 140 studies analyzing 290 million people, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas also has benefits for the immune system and can It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and even make for a better night sleep.2

2-Feeling Calm Oceanside in San Francisco

3. Teens on Outdoor Travel Programs Expand their Comfort Zones

One of the biggest reasons we operate adventure travel programs for teens here are ARCC is because it challenges our students’ world view. When we step outside of our comfort zones we expand them, and in doing so, we learn that we are more capable than we previously thought. This builds confidence and helps us understand ourselves and our boundaries even better.

4. Being Outside Encourages Creativity

When you take away the TV, Snapchat, Xbox and Instagram, our kids are forced to become more resourceful. They have to look to their surroundings to create fun, invent games and often find that there are numerous ways to entertain themselves, apart from staring at screens for hours. On our community service programs for teens we encourage games and silliness that keep the fun going and the laughs rolling.

5. Outdoor Programs Teach Teens Autonomy

When we stay in hotels people clean up after us, we have access to distracting technology and we can fall back into the same old habits we already possess. As we travel on our domestic programs across Northern California or Hawaii, we are responsible for setting up and packing our tents, preparing meals, shopping for groceries, and planning certain events for our day. This not only gives us ownership over our trip, but it also teaches us valuable life skills in self-care and advocating for our needs.

5-Cooking Dinner above Half Dome

6. Getting Teens Outside Encourages them to Slow Down

Today’s society is so fast-paced. Bright lights, flashing screens, car chases and explosions in movies, and we feel like we need to constantly keep in touch with the thumping digital pulse of social media. We rarely allow ourselves to be bored anymore, which actually has proven benefits that reduce stress and anxiety. When we’re outside, we tune into the natural rhythm of things around us and even notice how much is actually going on right under our feet!

6-Checking Out a Mantis

7. Teen Service Programs Teach the Benefits of Hard Work

Sure picking up a shovel or a pair of loppers might not seem that glamorous, but once we dig in and get the endorphins flowing, we find that hard work can be a lot of fun too! Our leaders are gifted at turning community service projects into fun games while still benefiting the communities we visit. There are few things as rewarding as looking back on the work you completed with pride, knowing you left a lasting impact on the place you visited!

As you can now tell, there is a long list of benefits to outdoor programs for teens! Whether you are looking to expand your comfort zone, do some honest hard work, or just breathe in the fresh mountain air we have some great service programs for you! Check out how you can give back to the homeless in San Francisco, surf the coast and experience the beauty of Yosemite on the California: Urban & Wilderness Service program. See how you can take action for the ocean, snorkel with manta rays, and climb volcanoes on the Hawaii: Preserving Paradise program. This summer get outside, and be a part of a travel and service adventure unlike anything you have experienced before!


ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 35 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.