Harnessing the Wilderness: Nature Therapy as ADHD Treatment for Teens

The great outdoors offers more than just picturesque landscapes and opportunities for physical activity; it can also be a powerful and transformative tool for youth and adolescents struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

At Trails Carolina, our nature-based therapy programs for ADHD in kids and teens tap into the calming and restorative effects of the wilderness to empower adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to develop coping strategies and improve focus and self-awareness. Such therapies have gained increasing attention as the benefits are felt not just by the individuals participating but also by their families.

Wilderness therapy, for example, immerses participants in outdoor environments where they engage in various activities like hiking, camping, and teamwork challenges. These experiences not only foster personal development and strengthen self-esteem but also can lead to improved concentration, problem-solving skills, and enhanced emotion regulation. Furthermore, research suggests that spending time in nature is particularly beneficial for individuals with ADHD, amplifying the positive impact compared to neurotypical peers.

Incorporating nature-based therapies as a complementary approach to traditional ADHD treatment methods can provide a holistic healing experience for young people. This innovative and engaging form of behavior therapy offers the opportunity to connect with nature, build resilience, and enhance the mental wellbeing of these children and adolescents as they navigate the challenges of ADHD.

ADHD in Teens and its Challenges

ADHD treatment for teens - boy sits in the back of a classroom struggling to focus.

Adolescence is a crucial period of growth and development, and for teens with ADHD, it can present a unique set of challenges. The transition from childhood to adulthood involves developing executive functions, gaining independence, and navigating peer relationships. For those with ADHD, their symptoms may be exacerbated during this time.

Teens with ADHD often experience increased anxiety and depression due to their struggles with executive dysfunction. They may have difficulty organizing their thoughts, planning, and focusing on tasks. These challenges can lead to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem, further impacting their mental health.

Hyperactivity and impulsivity, common symptoms of ADHD, can also manifest differently in adolescents compared to younger children. Teens with ADHD might engage in high-risk behaviors and have a higher likelihood of serious substance abuse and misuse or involvement in automobile accidents. This can contribute to a negative cycle of consequences and further emotional dysregulation.

In addition to these challenges, some teens with ADHD may also struggle with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). This can result in persistent defiance, arguing with family members and authority figures, and frequent outbursts of anger. The combination of ADHD and ODD can make it even more difficult for these individuals to navigate their neurotypical peers and their environment.

By addressing these challenges through appropriate interventions, such as nature-based therapy, Trails Carolina helps adolescents with ADHD develop confidence, self-awareness, and healthy coping skills. This approach helps our students overcome obstacles, build resilience, and ultimately thrive as they transition to adulthood.

Nature-Based Therapy Benefits for ADHD Symptoms in Teens

wilderness programs for troubled youth

Nature-based therapy offers numerous benefits, particularly for children and teens with ADHD. One of the key advantages of these therapies lies in their ability to harness the natural environment, combining the power of nature and therapeutic techniques. In fact, studies have shown that nature-based interventions can be highly beneficial for vulnerable youth, improving mental health and well-being1.

Distraction-Free Environment for Better Focus

At Trails Carolina, our unique wilderness therapy approach helps children and teens with ADHD hone their focus and attention. By immersing individuals into the wilderness away from distractions, our program allows them to concentrate on tasks that require attentive craftsmanship or problem-solving skills. 

Spending time in nature has a positive impact on kids with ADHD. Research shows that exposure to natural environments can improve attention, decrease impulsivity, and provide an overall sense of well-being. By engaging in activities such as hiking or forest bathing, kids and teens with ADHD can benefit from the soothing effects of nature.

One major aspect of nature’s impact on ADHD symptoms is the restorative effect it has on attention. Interaction with natural environments requires less attentional effort compared to urban settings. This can help alleviate attention fatigue and reduce the symptoms of ADHD in teens.

Soothing Challenging Emotions in Children and Teens with ADHD

The wilderness environment has also been proven to promote a sense of calm and mindfulness, which can help counteract the symptoms of ADHD2.

Moreover, nature-based therapy is known for its positive effects on anger management and mood regulation. As children and teens with ADHD often struggle with challenging emotions, being in nature can help alleviate feelings of anger and frustration3. Exposure to natural settings has shown to naturally boost mood and energy levels, fostering a more positive mindset4.

Forest bathing, a practice that involves immersing oneself in nature by mindfully observing one’s surroundings, can also serve as a beneficial strategy for managing ADHD symptoms. This method has been linked to reduced stress levels, improved focus, and increased overall emotional well-being.

Nature-Based Movement for ADHD

A boy in shorts, cap, and tee-shirt climbs rough wooden stairs up an embankment in a forest.

Incorporating regular “green time” into daily routines can provide multiple benefits for kids with ADHD. Studies have confirmed that exposure to green spaces can improve concentration, impulse control, and well-being. Engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, or simply taking a walk in the park can effectively integrate green time into daily schedules.

Exercise, which is inherently associated with many outdoor activities, has also been proven to be an effective natural treatment for ADHD. Physical activity has both immediate and long-term benefits, such as releasing endorphins and promoting better sleep. Engaging in regular exercise outdoors adds the advantage of exposure to natural environments.

Overall Mental Health Benefits 

Another great aspect of these therapies is their positive impact on overall mental health in the teen years and into young adulthood. Nature-based therapy has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, making it widely recognized as an effective intervention for mental health5. This could be particularly helpful for teens with ADHD in managing their mental well-being and reducing the likelihood of co-occurring disorders.

In locations where access to a wide range of natural environments is readily available, such as Western North Carolina, wilderness therapy programs like Trails Carolina can thrive. Our program capitalizes on the state’s diverse natural landscapes, providing a variety of nature-based therapy experiences tailored to the specific needs and interests of the children and teens.

Wilderness Therapy Interventions as ADHD Treatment for Teens at Trails Carolina

Wilderness therapy has emerged as a promising approach for empowering children and teens with ADHD by immersing them in nature-based settings. Our wilderness programs for children and teens with ADHD at Trails Carolina employ a combination of therapeutic techniques designed to engage adolescents in an immersive and supportive environment.

At Trails Carolina, our team of compassionate and experienced clinicians believe in the evidence-supported technique of harnessing the wilderness through nature-based therapy in order to offer a variety of benefits to teens with ADHD.

Incorporating Therapeutic Outdoor Activities

The strategy behind our wilderness therapy programs involves using green spaces and outdoor activities to foster intrinsic motivation and facilitate behavioral change. By participating in activities such as hiking, camping, our students can experience the benefits of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which has been shown to improve mental and emotional well-being, especially for our teens with ADHD.

Physical activities such as hiking, backpacking, or even simple walks through the wilderness can help increase serotonin levels in the brain, contributing to a more balanced mood and improved attention-span. Outdoor activities can be particularly successful for both boys and girls with ADHD, as they encourage physical movement, which has been shown to help improve focus and reduce impulsiveness. These outdoor experiences can also aid in alleviating some of the behavior problems often associated with ADHD.

Integrating nature-based therapy with adventure activities can further enhance the benefits for teens with ADHD. Programs like Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy utilize outdoor pursuits to challenge adolescents and help them develop essential life skills, such as problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. This blend of therapy, organizational skills training and experiential education can help teens foster resilience and self-confidence.

Building Social Skills with Peer Groups

Family Education & Growth

Nature-based therapy can be particularly beneficial for children and teens with ADHD, who often struggle with behavioral problems and have difficulties developing strong social skills. One of the advantages of nature-based therapy at Trails Carolina is its ability to provide a non-threatening environment where children and teens can develop their social skills with peers going through similar challenges.

A key aspect of Trails Carolina’s therapeutic wilderness programs  involves the use of segmented peer group bonding activities to develop social skills and a sense of belonging among our students with ADHD. 

Children and adolescents engage in collaborative problem-solving tasks that challenge them to work together, leading to mutual support and encouragement for personal growth. These outdoor group activities encourage cooperation, communication, and trust, leading to improved social interactions among our students with ADHD who might typically have a harder time navigating social situations. 

Additionally, Trails Carolina offers parallel family programming which includes family therapy sessions, parent education and parent training workshops, and other methods to include the family in the therapeutic process resulting in greater benefits in the child’s behavior.

Building Self-Regulation and Resilience

In addition to providing a supportive environment and opportunities for growth, Trails Carolina’s nature-based therapy also fosters the development of self-regulation skills, which are critical in managing ADHD symptoms. 

By learning to cope with challenges and setbacks, children and teens with ADHD can cultivate emotional resilience, enabling them to better handle intense feelings and emotions associated with their condition. As they develop greater resilience, they are better equipped to navigate everyday situations and overcome obstacles, thus improving their overall quality of life.

Experiential Education for a Renewed Love of Learning for Children and Teens with ADHD

help for troubled youth

For many children and teens with ADHD, school and, by extension, learning in general becomes a source of stress and dread, and grades or interest in academics can often fall as a result of this. Nature-based therapy has proven to be an effective intervention for teens with ADHD, providing alternative educational approaches that foster learning and growth. 

Our programs at Trails Carolina include experiential education and accredited academics that help motivate children and teens with ADHD by reconnecting them with their innate curiosity and enthusiasm for exploration. At the same time, the natural setting removes distractions often found in traditional classroom settings, allowing these students to better engage in the learning process.

Combining Nature with Traditional Behavioral Therapy to Treat ADHD in Teens

At Trails Carolina, we combine therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and SMART goal setting, with outdoor experiences for treating children and teens with ADHD and supporting them in overcoming challenges and in reaching their full potential.

Incorporating elements of behavioral therapy, Trails Carolina’s wilderness therapy programs aim to address both the symptoms and underlying causes of ADHD. This approach promotes self-awareness, self-regulation, and emotional resilience by teaching children and teens how to recognize negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier alternatives.

Through the combination of the natural environment, personalized treatment plans, and intentional therapeutic peer group activities, Trails Carolina’s interventions for children and teens with ADHD provide a unique and powerful way to address behavioral and emotional challenges by leveraging nature’s innate healing power. By fostering intrinsic motivation, building social connections, and teaching valuable skills for self-regulation, our approach to wilderness therapy offers a comprehensive, experience-based healing process for children and adolescents in need of support and guidance.

A Holistic Approach to Treating ADHD and Co-Occurring Conditions

Trails Carolina’s nature-based therapy programs offer promising approaches to addressing multiple co-occurring conditions that often accompany ADHD in teenagers. 

By engaging in therapeutic activities outdoors, these interventions provide an opportunity to target not only ADHD symptoms like inattention and distraction but also to address other conditions like anxiety, depression, and autism spectrum disorders.

Wilderness therapy, for example, integrates outdoor activities with therapeutic techniques to help children and teens develop emotional regulation skills and improve behaviors. 

This immersive experience exposes teenagers to natural environments, which can significantly lower anxiety and depression levels while offering them a way to work through the challenges presented by various mental health disorders. 

In a review of nature-based interventions, wilderness therapy was found to have potential benefits for vulnerable youth, including those experiencing various behavioral issues.

Our Students Show Significant Improvement in ADHD Symptoms

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Our wilderness therapy programs at Trails Carolina have shown a remarkable decrease in ADHD symptoms among our students. In fact, 83% of students reported an improvement in managing their ADHD symptoms even a year after graduation

By immersing children and teens in nature-based settings and combining therapeutic techniques, we create an environment that promotes healing and growth.

The decrease in ADHD symptoms can be attributed to the physical activities and immersive experiences we provide. Outdoor activities like hiking and camping increase serotonin levels in the brain, leading to improved mood and attention span. 

Additionally, our programs integrate adventure activities and experiential education, helping students develop essential life skills and better navigate the challenges associated with ADHD. Our holistic approach, combining nature-based therapy with evidence-supported techniques, has proven to be highly effective in empowering children and teens with ADHD.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does nature-based therapy benefit children and teens with ADHD?

Nature-based therapy can significantly benefit children and teens with ADHD by providing a calming and engaging environment. Spending time outdoors can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, which often co-occur with ADHD. Additionally, participating in nature-based therapies, such as the wilderness therapy program at Trails Carolina, can improve focus, foster a sense of accomplishment, and promote the development of essential life skills.

What are common techniques used in nature-based therapy for ADHD?

Common techniques used in nature-based therapy for ADHD include wilderness therapy, adventure therapy, and horticultural therapy. Wilderness therapy involves immersing participants in outdoor settings, often requiring them to engage in physically challenging activities like camping or hiking. Adventure therapy incorporates outdoor challenges and team-building exercises to support personal growth and build resilience. Horticultural therapy uses gardening and plant-based activities to soothe the mind and improve concentration.

Are wilderness therapy programs effective for young adults with mental health disorders?

Yes, wilderness therapy programs have been shown to be effective in addressing mental health concerns for young adults. These programs allow participants to face challenges and develop effective coping strategies in a supportive environment. They also strengthen positive behaviors and help foster a positive sense of self and hope for the future.

How does nature exposure aid ADHD management?

Exposure to nature has been found to help reduce levels of stress, depression, and anxiety, which can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Additionally, the calming effect of nature can promote relaxation and focus, which is essential for those with ADHD in managing their symptoms.

What are the differences between wilderness therapy and traditional therapy for ADHD?

Wilderness therapy is a time-tested and proven experiential approach that involves engaging in outdoor activities and challenges, whereas traditional therapy typically takes place indoors and involves talk-based sessions. The therapeutic benefits of wilderness therapy primarily stem from the outdoor environment and the group activities, while traditional therapy relies more on individual sessions and cognitive-behavioral techniques. Both therapy methods can be effective for treating ADHD, but wilderness therapy can offer unique benefits like increased self-confidence, self-awareness, and a sense of accomplishment.


  1. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09603123.2021.1998390)  ↩
  2. (https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJOT-06-2021-0015/full/html)  ↩
  3. (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature)   ↩
  4. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8150931/) ↩
  5. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7036903/) ↩
Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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