Deer Hill Gap Year

August 30 – November 7, 2021

Sample Itinerary

The planned itinerary below is subject to change and evolve as staff’s strengths, wilderness conditions, and student interests are considered.


Day 1-4
Students arrive at Basecamp throughout the first afternoon. The staff will help everyone become acquainted with the Deer Hill Basecamp and their new classroom, as participants meet each other and the group begins to form. Students, lead by their staff, will spend the days working through lessons and classwork for basic expeditionary skills, history and geography. Days will be broken up between classwork, homework, and field trips that align with the Gap Year’s syllabus.

Wilderness First Aid

Days 5-6
Gap Year student’s will prepare for the unexpected with this fun, hands-on introduction to wilderness medicine, taught over two days at Deer Hill’s Basecamp in Mancos, Colorado prior to departing for the Wilderness. Students will learn the Patient Assessment System, how to provide effective first aid treatments for injuries and illnesses common in the outdoors, and how to make appropriate evacuation decisions. Upon completion of the class, participants will receive a Wilderness First Aid certification.


Days 7-16
After preparing for the mountains, the group heads up for an extended backpacking and mountaineering expedition in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. The group will traverse snowfields, rope up for alpine climbing, attempt to summit 13- and 14,000-foot peaks, and learn orienteering skills, along with Leave No Trace practices for mountain wilderness travel. The final two nights will be spent at the spectacular High Camp Hut.

Return to Basecamp

Days 17-18
After completing the mountain backpacking section of the Gap Year, students return to Basecamp to shower and eat home cooked meals. Students will work with their leaders to pack gear and food for their river trip and canyon backpacking section.

Colorado River Rafting Expedition

Day 19
The Gap Year students will travel from Basecamp to the river launch at Hittle Bottom on the Colorado River for their 1st of 3 river rafting sections. The Moab Daily has moderate rapids and excellent views that will serve as the ideal start for students learning how to read and run rivers.

Upper and Lower San Juan River Rafting Expedition

Days 20-30
The Gap Year students will travel from Basecamp to the river launch at Sand Island, Utah. Students will spend their days on the river, rafting class I and II+ rapids through the deep and sinuous sandstone canyons, exploring side channels, and discussing water in the west, wildlife trends, drought history, and climate change. Participants learn to read the river, paddle a raft and inflatable kayaks, and even have the opportunity to try the oar rig. After each day of boating, the group makes camp on a sandy beach where they will prepare dinner, enjoy the scenery, and work through lessons.

Camping at Natural Bridges

Days 31-32
The Gap Year students will spend two days at Natural Bridges National Monument after they take off of the river. Natural Bridges is formed at the junction of White Canyon and Armstrong Canyon, part of the Colorado River drainage and features the second largest natural bridge in the world. Here students will exchange river gear for canyon backpacking gear in preparation for time spent deep in Southeastern Utah’s canyon country.

Canyoneering and Backpacking

Days 33-46
Participants will backpack through 4 different canyons in the Bears Ears National Monument within Cedar Mesa: Owl to Fish Canyon and Kane to Collins Canyon. The Gap Year group will spend time deep in the canyons, and backpack through the sinuously patterned sandstone, wade through hips-deep water in narrow slot canyons, roping up as needed to drop down pour-offs and into cavelike vaults carved by thousands of years of water and wind. This is a part of Utah that most people only imagine.

Service in Hopi

Days 47-50
Participants travel to Hopi near the oldest continually inhabited town in North America. The Plaza is the center of community life on the Hopi reservation, and has been for many hundreds of years. Participants often help community members plaster and whitewash the Plaza buildings in preparation for community ceremonies, and sometimes have the opportunity to watch these events. Several Hopi hosts that work with Deer Hill are artists who are willing to share their craft with the Gap Year students in addition to other aspects of their cultural traditions.

Service in Zuni

Days 51-54
Participants live and work with their Zuni hosts on a number of projects that serve the community. This often includes building and repairing traditional Zuni bread ovens–outdoor ovens made from brick and mud–and then baking bread in them to prepare for community ceremonies. Additionally, community members teach participants about traditional agriculture in the Zuni garden, and often take the group to a lookout point on the mesa, Dowa Yalanne, a site of historical and mythological significance.

Canyon De Chelly

Day 55
Students will spend the day in Canyon de Chelly National Monument and, weather permitting, take the spectacular hike down into Canyon del Muerto with Navajo guides. For nearly 5,000 years, people have lived within the canyons of the Monument- longer than anyone has lived uninterrupted anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. The park is unique as it is managed in collaboration between the Park Service and Navajo Nation. This will give students the opportunity to dive deeper, with their staff and Navajo guides, to learn about the robust history of this special place and hows its adapted over time.

Service in Navajo

Days 55-59
Participants live and work with their Navajo hosts while building on the curriculum and lessons presented during the Gap Year. The group will learn about Navajo traditions and lifestyles, and what an ancient culture can look like in a modern world. The students will also dive deeper into History and Geography by studying: evolutionary history, westward expansion, conflicts with indigenous communities, environmental history, human migration, occupational history and more. With support and perspective from their Navajo hosts who will work to combine service work with classroom and historical lessons.

Ute Tribal Park

Day 60
In the morning, students will go on a tour of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park. The Tribal Park is preserved with many original pictographs and petroglyphs that tell stories of Ancient Times of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. Historical and pre-historical sites are preserved in their original state and a vast amount of pottery shards can be spotted throughout the canyon. This is a very special place that visitors can only access with a Ute guide.

Service at Local Farm

Days 61-64
We may not all be farmers, but we’re all eaters. Gap Year students will head to a local Montezuma County farm to end the Service Learning portion of the semester. The local farm stay provides students with a means to learn the skills necessary to make better food and lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to growing or incorporating more fresh fruits, veggies, herbs, and other local foods into an everyday diet. This is a unique hands-on experience learning about growing food, cooking, and the natural world on a working farm. Students may participate in lessons and activities related to agriculture, healthy eating, the environment, or natural science while utilizing the fields and pastures as a living classroom.

Return to Basecamp

Days 65-70
Students return to Basecamp for the final days of the program. The students will work through additional curriculum and lessons that help tie their experience together. There will be time to reflect on leadership, place-based education, and giving back through community service. Deer Hill Gap Year students will gain a stronger sense of self and begin to understand their place in the world. Through the program students will have gained a deeper understanding of Native American cultures and their history, learned about the ecology and geology of the Southwest and the impacts humans have on it. The group will participate in closing ceremonies and present their final project on the last day.

At Deer Hill, I didn’t make friends—I made life-long members of my amazing, fun Deer Hill family.

Shea, Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

Deer Hill made me change my whole view of nature.

Kyler—Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

Deer Hill is an amazing place to learn, to be in the wild, to have fun and to make friends. I love Deer Hill!!!

Jasper— Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

Receiving an experience this insanely incredible makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Teddy—Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

Deer Hill held within it a one-of-a-kind experience which will stick with me forever

Lila—Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

The experience was so different than anything that I am used to, and I loved it!

Bella—Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

Deer Hill gave me lots of new experiences and lessons. Most were breathtaking; some were funny; all were amazing.

Charles—Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure

Deer Hill is an amazing and unique experience that you can't find anywhere else.

Alden—Participant 2018 River and Mountain Adventure