Choosing The Right Wilderness Camp for Your Troubled Teen

Key Takeaways

  • Wilderness camps have become popular because they detach teens from detrimental environments that might worsen their behavior or mental health.
  • Wilderness camps utilize 3 main models, i.e., nomadic, basecamp, and integrated models. 
  • The main considerations you need to make when choosing a wilderness program include your teen’s needs, program length, staff qualifications, cost and insurance, and academic aspects.

Different Wilderness camps have different therapeutic models. It’s important to choose a camp that aligns with your teen’s specific needs and challenges. Some camps focus on adolescent behavior issues, others on emotional or substance abuse problems. The wild program’s effectiveness largely depends on its relevance to your teen’s issues. Moreover, teens’ safety is also a paramount concern when choosing a wilderness camp, especially in light of recent allegations and incidents involving such camps. These concerns highlight the need for thorough research and consideration in selecting the right wilderness camp for your troubled teen.

Choosing the right wilderness camp involves a balance of factors including safety, specialized care, therapeutic approach, staff qualifications, peer environment, family involvement, aftercare, reputation, and practical considerations like cost and location. Each factor plays a role in ensuring that the teen receives the most beneficial and appropriate support for their needs.

Types of Wilderness Camps

A wilderness camp is a form of troubled teen intervention that involves clinical assessment, the creation of a conducive environment for treatment, and educating teens on safety structures. Adolescent treatment facilities come in various shapes and sizes and are based on different ideas and models. These types of wilderness camps include the following:

  • Nomadic model: Typically, it involves teaching teens self-sufficiency and survival as they work on accomplishing what is best for the group.
  • Basecamp model: Here, teens break into smaller guided groups and camp out or backpack for a week. At the week’s end, the group returns to the base camp for replenishment and socialization.
  • Integrated model: An integrated model is usually done for teens who cannot adjust properly to wilderness living. It can also be used as an adolescent iop program for those who cannot fully commit to wilderness living.

Key Considerations For Choosing the Wilderness Camp for Troubled Teens

Assess Your Teen’s Needs

  • The first step to any successful intervention is a comprehensive assessment of the teen’s needs.
  • As a parent, you are aware of your teen’s needs and should ensure you convey that information to the evaluating team.
  • Therapists or psychologists may do assessments and evaluations to ensure they have the correct diagnosis.
  • A comprehensive teen psychiatric evaluations and assessment will help the therapists understand how to structure their therapeutic approach. 
  • As a parent, consult professionals or enroll your teen in a reputable teen treatment center.
  • If your teen is diagnosed and a line of treatment is recommended, make sure it is suitable and compatible with your teen’s emotional and physical needs.
  • Teens who have trouble adjusting may not be suited for the nomadic model of wilderness treatment and should, therefore, not get enrolled in such programs. 

Research Potential Programs

  • A key consideration you need to make when choosing a wilderness camp is research. Numerous centers offer wilderness camps, but not all approach therapy correctly.
  • To ensure your teen is in good hands, research different programs compatible with your teen’s needs. Ensure your State has accredited the centers since treatment centers need to meet certain standards. 
  • Specifically, look for programs that are accredited by reputable organizations such as the Association for Experimental Education (AEE) and the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC) to ensure the center conforms to the standards set. 
  • While conducting your research, evaluate the safety record of the center. Many outdoor or wilderness camps fall short of the required safety standards and should be avoided at all costs.
  • You do not want your teen to be in an unsafe environment as they seek treatment for drug addiction or mental health conditions. 

Program length

  • Another key consideration you need to make is how long the program takes.
  • Depending on the severity of your teen’s issues, program length affects the efficacy of treatment.
  • Teens with severe mental health conditions or drug and substance abuse issues require an extended period in wilderness camps.
  • It is important to consider program length when choosing a treatment facility. 

Visit the Camp

  • Even with thorough online research, some things may fall through the cracks.
  • It is prudent for you as a parent or guardian to visit the camp and evaluate if the environment is right for your teen.
  • During a site visit, you can learn more about the program while evaluating safety protocols and staff accreditation.
  • You will get to look at the facility and rate the experience you have with staff to help you make your decision. 

Evaluate the Staff

  • Staff evaluation is a key component in helping you choose a treatment facility.
  • You need to make sure that your teen is in the right hands as they undergo treatment for their mental health and drug abuse issues.
  • Evaluate the staff by looking at their credentials to ascertain their qualifications to provide treatment for teens.
  • Teens require a different level of care compared to adults.
  • Therapists and staff working in a treatment facility should be experienced in handling teens, as they are at a vulnerable point in their lives.
  • You should also consider the staff-to-teen ratio.
  • A wilderness camp that has a disproportionate amount of teenagers will not be effective since staff are not able to pay close attention to all teens.
  • Wilderness camps require close supervision since they require skill transfer from the staff to the students. 
  • Interacting with staff will also give you an idea of how the wilderness camp is run and how your teen will be treated as they are treated.
  • It will also help you understand whether the staff are trained in basic survival skills such as first aid and safety protocols. 

Understand the Therapeutic Modalities

  • How your teen receives treatment should align with your family values. Some wilderness camps are strict, while others are more lenient in their approach.
  • Choose a facility that aligns with your parenting styles, ideology, and beliefs. 

Look at the Daily Routine

  • Your teen’s daily routine can also help you make an informed decision on whether the wilderness program works for your teen.
  • Consult your teen in decision-making to ensure they feel involved in decisions affecting their life.
  • What the program offers in a day can help you gauge the effectiveness of the treatment regimen.  

Consider Educational Aspects

  • As your teen is treated, they should also make education a priority. Many treatment facilities offer academic support for teens during residential treatment. Key Healthcare offers academic support in the form of tutors to help them stay on top of their academics.
  • Through its Mission Academy School, your teen can recover academic credit when they go back to their school. 
  • Prioritizing education can help your teen recover faster.
  • They can keep their minds busy by focusing on education and activities offered. 

Read Reviews and Testimonials

  • Reviews and testimonials are also a key component in choosing a wilderness camp.
  • Some wilderness camps have poor safety protocols and untrained staff.
  • It is important to always look for reviews of the wilderness camp before deciding to enroll your teen in their program. 
  • A wilderness camp with a good rating from many people is always better than one with an excellent rating from a few people.
  • Take the reviews seriously because those are the people who will be taking care of your teen’s mental health and overall well-being. 


  • The cost of a wilderness camp is one of the biggest factors you need to consider.
  • Do not put yourself in an awkward financial position due to the costs associated with wilderness camps.
  • Ask for a breakdown of the cost to see how much they charge for each activity, food, and other necessities.
  • If the costs are too high, explore other options available. 

Post-Camp Transition

  • When enrolling your teen in a wilderness camp, you have to consider how they will transition after they are done.
  • They should offer transition procedures and aftercare for teens to help with continued support and development. 
  • Post-camp support helps teens overcome their fear of getting back to their environment.
  • It also helps with a smoother transition after an intense wilderness camp. 

Legal and Ethical Standards

  • When choosing a wilderness camp, ensure it adheres to the laws and guidelines laid down by your State.
  • Different states have different accreditation and licensing guidelines, and therefore, license requirements will vary from State to State.
  • If the camp is compliant, it should have all the requisite licenses and accreditations. 
  • The camp you choose should also have clear ethical standards and guidelines.
  • Their practices should prioritize your teen’s well-being.

Personalized Attention

  • Your teen’s experience should be a priority before you enroll them in a wilderness camp.
  • Ensure the camp has a proportional ratio between staff and students so that your teen receives personalized care.
  • This can also be ascertained from the initial assessment and evaluation since a treatment plan, personalized for your teen, should be developed before treatment starts. 
  • Choosing a wilderness camp should be guided by intense research, evaluation, and assessment of the facilities.
  • It can be a daunting task, but if you make these considerations, your teen will get a great experience from the camp.
  • As you make a decision, remember to involve your teen since their experience will determine whether they will recover successfully or not.

Preparing Your Teen for a Wilderness Camp

How will you prepare your teen for a wilderness camp? There are several considerations you need to make in preparation. First, you need to determine whether they want to attend the camp or not. Acceptance is the first step in any recovery journey. If they want to go for the wilderness program, then involve them in choosing the best camp. Always involve your teen in the decision-making process so that they feel content with the final decision. After choosing an appropriate camp, conduct thorough research on the camp to ensure you get your money’s worth. After choosing the camp, prepare your teen mentally and pack all the necessities as they go to camp.


In conclusion, making an informed decision when choosing a wilderness camp. There are various considerations you need to make to make the right decision. These considerations include costs, aftercare services, staff-to-student ratio, assessment and evaluation, ethical standards, therapeutic approaches, and staff qualifications. You should also prepare your teen adequately by involving them in decision-making and preparing them mentally for the journey ahead. 

Key Healthcare does not have a wilderness program at the moment. However, our teen residential treatment center is located in prime natural surroundings, allowing teenagers to recover completely. This means that you get to experience top-notch residential treatment services with a touch of ‘wilderness,’ and it comes at a relatively affordable cost. Contact us now to start your teen’s journey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Yes, some programs offer financial options for enrolled teens. Check the institution’s website to see the various financial aid and scholarships available.

After a teen completes wilderness therapy, they may enter a transition living arrangement to give them the required skills to transition back to their old lives. Wilderness therapy can be intense and requires a transition period.

Verifying licenses involves calling or emailing the licensing or accreditation body and inquiring about the validity of the license or accreditation.

When looking at reviews, ensure the wilderness camp is reviewed by many participants. Those participants should also leave positive reviews and ratings. A facility with a 4-star rating reviewed by 10000 people is better than a 4.9-star rating left by 10 people.

Yes, wilderness therapy involves hiking, games, camping, and other fun outdoor activities.