Wilderness Leadership

This expedition includes:

  • Canyon backpacking
  • Canyoneering
  • Cross-Cultural service project*
  • Mountain backpacking
  • Peak ascents
  • Expedition leadership training

While all of Deer Hill’s summer expeditions blend fun, challenge, and beauty, Wilderness Leadership gives participants the opportunity to learn the hard skills to guide others through the backcountry. For those interested in learning orienteering in the rugged canyons and mountains of the southwest, this expedition is designed to give each participant the opportunity to develop his or her own style of leadership in wilderness conditions.

“I never expected to learn so much in a summer. I’ve grown so much as a person.” – Macala, participant


Arrive at Basecamp

Days 1-3
Participants arrive at Basecamp throughout the first afternoon. Their expedition leaders help them become acquainted with Deer Hill as participants meet each other and the group begins to form. In addition to playing games and eating home-cooked meals, the group will begin to pack group and personal gear for the first part of their trip.

Canyoneering in Utah

Days 3-9
All prepped and packed, the group departs Deer Hill Basecamp on Day 3 for the Gravel Canyon trailhead in Southeast Utah. The group will rappel into the canyon, 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.

Mountain Backpacking

Days 9-16
After transitioning from canyoneering, the group will head up for an extended backpacking and mountaineering expedition in the San Juan Mountains. 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.

Rejuvenate at Basecamp

Days 16-18

The group will spend a full day at basecamp, where they will shower and prepare for the service section of their expedition. They will have the chance to relax, eat home-cooked meals, and enjoy some of the luxuries of the front country before heading to the Zuni Pueblo.

Service in Zuni Pueblo

Days 18-23
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.

Return to Basecamp

Days 23-25
Participants return to Basecamp for program closure. The group cleans equipment and returns it to its storage locations at Basecamp, and returns any rental items to the Deer Hill Store. The group holds a closing ceremony to conclude their experience, and enjoys a cookout and slideshow on the final evening. On the last day of the program, expedition leaders drive participants to the Durango airport to return home.

Ages 16-18*

June 29 – July 23, 2024

25 Days

36 Service Hours


Scholarship Information

*For questions about age or grade level, call us at 970.533.7492.

Start and End at Basecamp

The expedition is bookended with time at Deer Hill’s Basecamp in Mancos, CO. From Days 1 to 3, participants get to know each other as they pack group and personal gear for their river expedition. At the end of their expedition, the group returns to Basecamp (Days 23-25) for hot showers and home-cooked meals. The final full day will include a closing ceremony and celebration with a cookout and slideshow.

The group is at Basecamp only at the beginning and end of the expedition.

Arrival and Departure:

Durango Airport (DRO) or

Deer Hill Basecamp, Mancos, Colorado.

Arrive June 29, 12-6pm; Depart July 23, 8:30am-2pm

Travel Information



This trip has given me a sense of growth (physically and mentally), belonging, and purpose in life. It opened my mind to the endless possibilities of things I could do and the things I have never dreamt of doing.”

Hannah—Participant 2018 Wilderness Leadership

Deer Hill has taught me how to believe in myself….this trip made me feel powerful. My fears are now afraid of me.

Jakhia—Participant 2018 Wilderness Leadership

I feel as if I discover something new about myself every time I come to Deer Hill. I always have fun and return home a better person.

Alex—Participant 2018 Wilderness Leadership & 2017 Southwest Journey

The canyons, the service and the mountains brought new experiences and meaning, yet the mountains provided an environment in which all my lessons and experiences came together. The hikes in the mountains opened my eyes to my own strengths both physically and as a leader, and provided a new appreciation for these activities, journeys and the wilderness. The times in which the instructors recognized my strengths were reassuring and motivating. But also, when the instructors forced you to learn without assistance were more memorable because it pushed me out of my comfort zone into a place where they knew I would succeed despite the obstacles and danger. This is why a leadership course is the most meaningful of all the courses.

Isabelle, participant

I found greatness in learning that adventure includes the known, the unknown, nowhere and the now here.

Erica—Participant 2018 Wilderness Leadership