Wilderness Challenge Program

Strengthening Youth Through the Challenges of Nature

The Wilderness Challenge Program is an annual, week-long therapeutic canoeing and camping experience for teens who could benefit from a strong character-building experience that will aid in their transition to high school and young-adult life. Follow-up events strengthen lessons that are learned on the trail and further develop leadership potential.

The Wilderness Challenge Program takes place over eight days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota. With the guidance of trained staff, and through a multitude of natural challenges, the trip enables teens to develop peer relationships, team-building experience, and problem-solving skills.

No prior camping or wilderness experience is required. Program initiatives are designed to match each teen’s physical and emotional readiness. The experience is designed, first and foremost, for teens who feel ready to challenge themselves physically, mentally and spiritually via the challenges of nature. The program has proven effective for teens who have struggled in some fashion, either academically, socially, or behaviorally, or who have been through a family crisis, such as divorce or loss.

Requirements for Participation

  • Must be a graduating 8th, 9th or 10th grader
  • Must live within the nonprofit service area of the agency (Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles, Campton Township, Aurora Township, Virgil Township, Blackberry Township, Kaneville Township)
  • Must be able to swim or keep afloat in water
  • Must be willing to engage in team-building and group interaction
  • Must attend the group interview and group team screening (see dates below)


Program Background

In the early years of its existence, TriCity Family Services’ work with youth groups was a cornerstone of the agency’s service profile. One of the most successful group approaches then used was a wilderness camping and canoe trip. Popularized during the past decade by Outward Bound, Inc., wilderness challenge programs have proven to be a highly effective mechanism for helping youth develop the ego strengths and social skills they need to successfully confront the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives.

Program Details

With financial support from Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles, the Wilderness Challenge Program (WCP) is made available, on a full or partial scholarship basis, for up to 30 graduating eighth or ninth graders from the middle schools within those communities. Both males and females are invited to apply.

Modeled after the Outward Bound Program, the Wilderness Challenge Program is designed to build participants’ character, self-confidence, self-awareness and personal fulfillment through the physical, mental and emotional challenges of a remote wilderness experience.

Wilderness Challenge Program participants will become more equipped to face the complex challenges of everyday life by:

  • developing problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • developing team-building and social relationship-building skills
  • developing new leadership skills
  • learning the value of contributing to a group
  • learning what it means to accept and receive help from others
  • discovering their own inner strength

Candidates are referred prior to the end of the school year and invited to participate in a screening interview conducted by program staff. Once selected, participants would begin the team-building process through involvement in planning, orientation and training sessions prior to the trip.

Our agency staff and dedicated volunteers who have extensive experience in planning and guiding trips of this nature lead this eight-day wilderness experience, which usually occurs in mid-June.

All aspects of this trip, from the planning to the canoeing, portaging, and orienteering will be designed to develop what Robert Godfrey of Outward Bound, Inc., has referred to as a high degree of “intimacy and unavoidable interdependency,” a unique social context within which these young people will have the opportunity to develop self-confidence and the skills necessary to manage the all-important balance between meeting their own needs and those of their peer groups.

By the time participants and their family members meet with staff for a post-trip evaluation session, they will have spent a minimum of 175 hours together in planning, preparing and successfully meeting the challenges of the trip.

CLICK HERE to view 2023 Wilderness Challenge photos.

The Wilderness Challenge Program is free to attend, but a $75 refundable deposit is required after acceptance into the program.

CLICK HERE to access the 2023 Application!

Greg Watson presents the TriCity Family Services’ Wilderness Challenge Program.

Click here to view the video on the TriCity Family Services’ YouTube Channel.

Participants of the Wilderness Challenge Program are invited to attend the Wilderness Challenge Group for social and leadership development meetings throughout their high school years. The group helps sustain and build upon the lessons learned from the trip.

For more information, call us at 630.232.1070.

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