Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy: Proven Results, Compassionate Methods
In 2008, Trails Carolina was founded on three fundamental beliefs:
- The belief that a wilderness setting enhances the benefits of therapy.
- The belief that practicing and applying the lessons learned in the wilderness to everyday situations promotes lasting change.
- The belief that the child and family benefit when the family is part of the child’s therapeutic process.
Guided by these beliefs, we’ve developed a multi-dimensional adventure therapy program that combines the therapeutic qualities of a residential treatment center with the natural healing benefits of outdoor behavioral healthcare.
Trails Carolina's wilderness programs for youth stand out among other wilderness treatment programs, therapeutic summer camps, and residential treatment programs for troubled youth.
About Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Programs
Trails Carolina offers nationally-recognized, trauma-informed, youth wilderness therapy programs based in Western North Carolina. At Trails, our mission is to help children and teens who struggle with various mental health issues and behavioral concerns:
- Increase their self-confidence
- Practice healthy habits and coping mechanisms
- Apply relationship skills to develop healthy relationships, and
- Learn effective interpersonal communication skills in order to live a healthy life.
Our wilderness therapy program integrates a family systems approach to treatment with wilderness adventure therapy that combines strategic shifts of interventions with well-timed elements of wilderness expedition, a natural horsemanship curriculum, group work, and academics.
With these features, Trails Carolina amplifies the benefits of traditional wilderness therapy for troubled youth and creates a holistic approach to individual and family treatment resulting in a unique opportunity to gain multiple professional perspectives of the same student.
Through individual therapy sessions and wilderness adventure activities, our treatment program helps prepare troubled teens to grow into balanced, happy, and healthy young adults.
Applying A Personalized, Strengths-Based Approach
Unlike some residential treatment centers or military style boot camps, Trails Carolina does not support using a shock approach. Instead, we support each student through a trauma-informed process of slowly and safely expanding their emotional tolerance.
We empower students to make better decisions and develop safe and healthy peer and family relationships. Our wilderness therapy programs teach students to recognize and be aware of their strengths, as well as how to use them to make lasting, positive changes.
At Trails Carolina, we provide a safe, healthy environment for a variety of age groups to receive treatment. We offer wilderness therapy programs for preteen boys (10-13), preteen girls (10-13), teen girls (14-17), and teen boys (14-17).
We believe that segmenting groups by age and gender allows our team of mental health professionals, wilderness and adventure camp field instructors, and accredited education consultants to provide more focused and effective personalized care to each student. Additionally, evidence shows that using segmented peer groups helps students learn to build positive relationships among their own peers. This makes the transition back to traditional school settings easier for young people. And it helps our students learn how to interact and build healthy connections for life.
Our clinically proven methods work exceptionally well with students with diverse needs
At Trails Carolina, we understand the unique mental health and behavioral challenges that students in our wilderness-based at-risk youth programs face.
With a personalized and evidence-based approach, our experienced clinicians employ a comprehensive range of therapeutic techniques to address these challenges head-on. We are committed to supporting each student's growth, well-being, and long-term success, providing them with the tools and skills they need to thrive not only during their time at Trails, but also beyond.
Mental Health Disorders
Trails provides therapeutic interventions and a supportive environment to address mental health disorders, assisting individuals in developing coping skills, managing symptoms, and improving overall well-being.
- Mood dysregulation
Through individual and group therapy, Trails Carolina assists individuals with interpersonal behavior concerns by promoting self-awareness, communication skills, and healthy relationship dynamics, fostering positive interactions and personal growth.
- Manipulative behavior
- Aggression or anger management
- Defiant Behavior/Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Self-Image & Social Challenges
Our experienced team helps individuals struggling with self-image and social challenges by fostering self-confidence, building social skills, and promoting positive interactions within a supportive community.
- Low self-esteem
- Social isolation
- Peer pressure
Family & Attachment Issues
Trails Carolina focuses on healing and strengthening family relationships by providing family programming, communication skills training, and attachment-focused interventions, helping individuals and families develop healthier and more secure bonds.
- Family conflict
- Adoption challenges
- Attachment issues
We specialize in supporting individuals with developmental conditions, providing individualized care, skill-building activities, and therapeutic interventions to promote growth, and independence, and improve overall quality of life.
Academic & Learning Difficulties
Our program offers personalized support and tailored interventions to address academic and learning difficulties, helping students overcome challenges, improve study skills, and enhance their overall academic performance.
- Poor academic achievement
- Learning differences
- School refusal
Trauma & Crisis
Our program includes a comprehensive approach to address behavioral addictions, combining therapy, experiential activities, and skill-building to help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms, regain control, and establish a balanced lifestyle.
Our Clinical Foundation
Self - Awareness
Providing the ideal environment and prompting for students and families to better understand themselves and the way in which they interact with others.
Teaching skills for managing emotions, maintaining energy, and soothing stress without lashing out.
Developing relational intelligence, social skills, and a concrete understanding that we are all members of interdependent communities.
Guiding students through transitions while they are enrolled, so they can maintain positive behavior and sustain success when they return home.
Our multidisciplinary team of caring, expert staff and trauma-informed mental health professionals will be there to guide your child along their unique path to psychological and emotional wellness.
Our admissions team understands that the decision to send your child to a wilderness therapy program is a difficult one. We’re here to help you to understand the value of our program and if it is the right fit for your child. You will be met with professionalism and compassion as our team works to meet your family’s individual needs.
Our highly skilled clinical team creates individualized treatment plans for each child and family. As a parent, you can expect to be working with therapists who will help your child gain personal insight, provide treatment, and produce a thorough assessment of your child. Combined, our clinical team has many decades of experience working with teens and their families.
The therapeutic relationship that your child will form with the clinical team at Trails will help improve their well being and live a healthy life. This journey can lead to a renewed sense of self and a happier, healthier future brimming with opportunity.
Expert wilderness and adventure camp staff for student success and safety Above all else, our wilderness team is there to ensure your child’s safety. Dedicated field instructors provide direct, individual care to students as they explore the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as Field Staff work alongside our Clinical Team and Medical Coordinator to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of your child are tended to.
The Residential Team provides quality programming in the classroom and beyond. Our dedicated teachers work hard to design an engaging curriculum, and accreditations ensure that credits earned by your child at our wilderness school will transfer to most other schools. Beyond the classroom, our equine specialist facilitates students’ connection with our herd of horses, helping them connect with their emotions and better understand non-verbal communication.
Our Treatment Practices
Our therapists devise individualized treatment plans with a trauma-informed, holistic approach. The therapeutic wilderness programs at Trails Carolina involve an initial assessment for better understanding of your child’s mindset upon arrival, weekly individual therapy with your child’s primary therapist to provide a personalized treatment plan, and the development and review of your child’s personal therapeutic plan with input from the entire Trails team of experts.
All of our wilderness therapy participants also engage in weekly group therapy sessions to help instill healthy behaviors and develop healthy relationships with the help and support of peers.
Your child’s long-term success is predicated on the support, participation, and growth of the most important people in their life – family. A child that returns home to an unchanged family who hasn’t developed the skills to support their progress is far more likely to slip into well-worn, negative patterns of behavior.
At Trails, we strive to restore and rebuild the relationship between your child and your entire family. To achieve this, we use a whole-family approach that includes: family therapy, weekly calls with a family coach, parent skills workshops, weekly calls with your child’s therapist, and more.
Trails has a Cognia (formerly known as AdvancEd (SACS)) accredited academic program, enabling students to transfer credits back home. Plus, there are proven benefits to bringing students into a more traditional classroom setting while in a therapeutic environment. Adding a personalized classroom environment helps our students achieve success and practice their new skills in a school setting.
Through our Natural Horsemanship program, students gain relational insight and awareness. Horses mirror students' emotions and relational strengths and weaknesses. If a student is going to be successful working with their horse, they will first need to be successful in their own self-regulation. Working with horses gives our students the opportunity to practice intelligent and authentic expression and gain increased self confidence.
At Trails Carolina, students get a comprehensive adventure experience in a distraction free environment. Our adventure program integrates experiential education with our therapeutic wilderness program. Through adventure programming, students overcome challenges and gain healthy coping skills that they can apply to their daily lives.
Adventure programming also provides the opportunity to address some of the underlying causes of behavioral problems outside of traditional talk therapy sessions.
Through activities like rock climbing and canoeing, students learn how to work through challenges with the support of our staff. Any difficult emotions that arise during these activities can be explored by the student and adventure staff in the moment, providing the opportunity to identify how the stressor is affecting them and grow from the experience.
Yoga provides both physical and mental benefits to students. Research on trauma has shown that the impact of traumatic experiences is stored throughout one’s entire body (not just the mind). Yoga invites students to release this buried tension through flowing movements and focused breathing.
Therapeutic yoga sessions serve as a vehicle for students to stand up taller, feel comfortable in their bodies, and empower them to access tools that they have had within themselves all along. This mind-body connection provides integral support to the traditional clinical modalities used at Trails.
Mindfulness and Yoga are embedded into the daily routine of all Trails Carolina students. Mornings begin with a guided breathing exercise, and the day closes with a yoga flow and meditation preparing them for a night of restful sleep. This routine encourages students to develop a true practice that they can take home after their time at Trails.
Students at Trails Carolina take part in a mindfulness curriculum designed to expand their capacity to manage stress in a healthy way.
Your child will learn grounding techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, mindful movement, and meditation techniques to help students develop a deeper sense of their body. Trails students learn to observe their emotions rather than having a strong reaction and gain a deeper sense of themselves by learning to live in the moment.
Throughout their time at Trails, students are regularly encouraged to tune into their senses, pause, and strengthen their mental capacity to be still without the need for constant distractions. These mindfulness techniques are shared with both our students and parents, who can use them as valuable parenting and coping strategies.
Why Choose Our Wilderness Therapy Program
You may be wondering, What is wilderness therapy?
Wilderness therapy is a form of experiential therapy that combines individual, family, and group therapy driven by accredited mental health professionals with experiential education in a wilderness environment, oftentimes at a wilderness treatment center.
We believe that by connecting with nature in a wilderness therapy setting, your child can learn to address their unhealthy behaviors, gain valuable personal insights, and learn important lessons. Free from the distractions and negative influences of everyday life, they can focus on their own personal growth and healing process.
In the wilderness, there are unwritten rules that cannot be broken and offer natural consequences when not followed. For example, if a student refuses to put on a rain jacket when it starts to rain, they will end up drenched and uncomfortable. These rules leave no room to blame authority figures, and foster improved accountability and self-reflection. This is the power of wilderness therapy programs.
Removing a troubled child from the temptations of our fast-paced, plugged-in culture and placing them in a wilderness setting disrupts the cycle of negative behavior. Wilderness therapy programs provide an excellent therapeutic environment and educational setting that encourages growth and change.
Though much of our day-to-day lives are removed from nature, humans crave a connection with nature. For many in this generation, quality time outdoors has been replaced by technology time indoors, but there are numerous therapeutic and healing qualities afforded by a natural setting, which is why wilderness therapy programs are so effective.
Being in nature presents a sense of connectedness, purpose, and belonging. In the natural environment of our North Carolina wilderness therapy campus, students spend time reflecting on past choices, exploring future possibilities and discovering the lessons only nature can teach.
While the wilderness provides many unexpected opportunities for learning and growth, the natural consequences of negative and positive behavior are very predictable. Rather than trying to reward or punish individuals for their behaviors, nature teaches powerful and life-changing lessons absent any judgment.
Over time, students in our wilderness therapy programs begin to understand that this natural chain of events and take ownership of their actions, leading to greater autonomy and long-term success.
Learning is far more effective in the wilderness. As struggles are encountered, Trails’ trained staff are there to help direct the process and offer insights to students that may not think of on their own.
Furthermore, learning alongside peers creates a shared challenge, offering additional learning benefits, support, and the opportunity to practice positive social skills. These same skills seamlessly translate into other group settings, such as the classroom or family unit.
Physical exercise is not only good for the body — it’s also great for the brain!
The psychological benefits of physical exercise are well documented. Regular exercise can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, dramatically improve self-esteem, and encourage an overall positive outlook.
For this reason, outdoor exercise is a daily part of Trails Carolina wilderness therapy programs. While at Trails, students enjoy hikes, equine activities, yoga, and a variety of experiential activities. Trails students push their physical limits while they learn about themselves and gain increased confidence.
Get started today
Contact us today to learn how Trails Carolina can help your family
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
More About Our Wilderness Programs: FAQs
The cost of wilderness therapy programs at Trails Carolina is based on a daily rate of $715 per day for our Youth Groups (10-13) and $675 for our Adolescent Groups (14-17). We request that the initial deposit covers the first 42 days plus the Enrollment Fee of $4,900.
The typical length of stay in the Trails Carolina program is 85 days. Each student's length of stay is based upon their progress, which is evaluated periodically with input from their parents, their primary therapist, and themselves.
The child's parents speak with the student's primary therapist on the phone each week to review their progress that week and as a whole. During this call, the therapist and parents will also discuss what the goals are for the upcoming week. The family is a part of the progress evaluation each step of the way.
A student's length of stay (typically 85 days) is based upon their progress. The family is on the phone with the student's primary therapist each week to review their week as a whole and what the goals are for the upcoming week. The family is a part of the progress evaluation each step of the way.
Trails Carolina is a private pay program. Most insurance companies won’t cover the cost outright. When the child’s stay is complete, we’ll issue an insurance breakdown that can be submitted to your insurance company for reimbursement. This typically totals 20% of total costs.
We work with Sky's the Limit Fund, a grant organization that helps offset the cost of wilderness therapy programs. They are often able to award families $8,000-$10,000 to help with tuition costs.
The cost of wilderness therapy programs can vary depending on several factors, such as the length of the program, the location, and the type of services provided. Typically, the enrollment fee covers food, lodging, transportation, and equipment.
At Trails Carolina, tuition covers individual therapy, family coaching, alumni services programming, transition planning, clothing and gear, room and board at our base camp, nutritious meals, wellness programming and medication management, and more.
Being immersed in nature and away from all distractions allows teens to have the opportunity to disconnect from the world and reconnect with themselves.
They can grow, learn, and not just survive, but thrive in the real world.
The benefits of wilderness therapy at Trails Carolina include:
Personal growth and self-reflection: While at Trail Carolina, teens have the opportunity to get to know themselves better.
This transformation, which takes place in the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains can help them to be better about knowing themselves, understanding others and how their actions, words, and lives can impact others.
In the wilderness, these teens are allowed to take a step back, reflect and see the world from another’s point of view without any distractions.
Transferable life skills: Not only do teens learn hard such as how to pitch a tent, how to build and keep a fire going, as well as how to navigate through the wilderness, they also learn valuable life lessons which are transferable to the real world. Some of these include leadership, teamwork, respect, responsibility, and self-awareness.
Individualized therapeutic and academic programming: Individualized therapeutic programming is the crux of why Trails Carolina works so well. When academics and therapy are specific to an individual, it creates a personalized environment that enhances learning.
Teens struggling with defiance may have different therapeutic methods for dealing with this than other teens who may be struggling with different problems such as anxiety.
Family-focused programming: One of the ultimate goals of Trails Carolina is helping to repair the family unit. While their son or daughter is away in the wilderness, some programs offer family therapy sessions that help both the parents and the siblings work through problems that the family has been struggling with.
When the focus is brought back to the family, it can ensure lasting change when the child transitions home from a therapeutic program.
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Wilderness therapy programs, which are inpatient mental health treatment programs, can help children or teens explore what is troubling them, why they are acting out, and how they can better relate to their family and friends.
Removing teens from their hectic lives, technology, peers, bad habits, distractions, and influences is one of the many reasons why wilderness therapy programs work.
The best wilderness therapy programs offer a holistic array of therapeutic techniques including, but not limited to equine relational programming, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, and mindfulness techniques.
Our outcomes studies are done in coordination with the Center for Research, Assessment, and Treatment Efficacy (CReATE; Asheville, NC) and the University of Arkansas. The results are collected independently from Trails Carolina’s involvement.
We pay close attention to outcome data from our students and their parents to allow us to better understand the efficacy of our program and make necessary changes to the program for the greater benefit of the families we work with. Does wilderness therapy work?
Wilderness therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment modality for a variety of issues.
The immediate benefits of enrolling your child in our program are often seen in improved mental and emotional well-being, reduced risk of substance abuse, and improved behavior. The long-term benefits are just as significant.
Trails Carolina has developed a multi-year outcome study to allow us to better understand the efficacy of our program.
Many of our alumni report increased self-confidence, autonomy, and motivation in their lives after completing our program. In addition, they often form lasting friendships and develop a greater appreciation for nature and the outdoors, which can help strengthen healthy relationships within families.
We are results-driven at Trails Carolina, and our outcome data speaks for itself.
One year after graduation:
- 86% of students showed improvement in anxiety symptoms
- 93% of students showed improvement in depression symptoms
- 96% of students reported experiencing a decrease in substance use
- 98% of students reported experiencing a decrease in suicidal thoughts
- 98% of students reported experiencing a decrease in aggressive behaviors
- 87% of students felt excited about school.
Read wilderness therapy reviews from student alumni.
We offer therapeutic wilderness programs for Youth Groups (ages 10-13) and Adolescent Groups (ages 14-17) who struggle with mental health issues, behavioral and emotional concerns, learning differences, school refusal, family and peer relationship challenges, and technology/video game obsession.
Our admissions team will work with you to determine whether our program is a good fit for your child.
Your family is an important part of the wilderness therapy process, and we offer a number of resources to support you throughout your child’s treatment. These resources include:
- Bi-Weekly Calls with a Family Coach
- Parent Education, Yoga, and Mindfulness Workshops
- Weekly Check-in Calls with Child's Primary Therapist
- Sibling Support
- Family Reunification Programs and Graduation Celebration
- Family Transition Planning
- Alumni Family Support Calls
We partner with a number of schools to provide integrated academic programming for our students. Our residential staff includes certified educators to help keep your child on track academically. Students can maintain or even improve their grades while enrolled in our program.
The staff at Trails Carolina are highly skilled and experienced professionals who are dedicated to helping our students reach their full potential. Our team includes Licensed Mental Health Professionals, Certified Teachers, Certified Wilderness First Responders, and more.