Outdoor Therapy

Outdoor Therapy involves the use of challenges found in nature (such as rock climbing, white water activities, and backpacking) to provide growth experiences that can help people make fundamental changes in their lives. These programs have been used for many years as a supplement to addiction treatment. The first program was Colorado Outward Bound’s Alcohol and Drug Courses in 1978.

The goal is to provide people with opportunities and skills to deal with difficult situations so that they can draw upon these experiences in the recovery process. They help people develop a deeper connection with the natural world, nurture the ability to trust one’s community through the experience of teamwork, develop a healthier approach to the issue of control, take responsibility for their actions and how those actions impact others, and increase feelings of self-esteem, joy and belief in oneself.


Outward Bound (outwardbound.org)
Outward Bound has been offering a variety of challenging wilderness programs for over forty years. While it does not provide a structured therapeutic recovery program, the emphasis on skills development and personal growth in areas such as self-reliance, responsibility, teamwork, leadership, confidence, and self-knowledge can have a positive impact on long term recovery.


This JCAHO-accredited intensive outpatient recovery program located in Prescott, AZ offers a range of psychological therapies but has a strong focus on an outdoor adventure program that includes white water rafting, backpacking and canyoneering, snowboarding, skiing and rock climbing. These outdoor excursions and nature therapy are used as a strong part of the program to challenge the mind and body and to learn to enjoy life again.

Four Circles Recovery Center (fourcirclesrecovery.com)
Four Circles Recovery Center is fully accredited by CARF as a wilderness-based treatment program for men and women, ages 18-28, with substance abuse issues. Grounded in the 12 steps, it combines outdoor expeditions with over 20 hours a week of clinical therapy including CBT, mindfulness, relapse prevention groups and more. There are separate programs for men and women.

Sober Bound (soberbound.com)
This Canadian outdoor adventure program for men combines hiking and canoeing with group counseling for the body, mind and soul. Nature tours are led by David Kaufman, a Narrative and Solution Focused Therapist and Canadian Certified Addictions Counselor and Graham Douglas, a Certified Wilderness Guide and Wilderness First Responder. The focus is on learning how to be at peace with yourself and others and celebrate life, an important part of recovery and healing.

Cost: Trips range between $1800 (5 days) and $3600 (10 days). There are a small number of subsidized spaces for those who cannot afford to attend. An installment plan is also available. Transportation from Toronto and back from the hiking destination is included in the fee.


ANASAZI Foundation (anasazi.org)
Licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services and nationally accredited by the Joint Commission as a residential outdoor behavioral healthcare provider. Offers a variety of programs including a 49 or 56-day outdoor treatment program for youths ages 12-17 ($465 a day plus $1,250 admission fee) and young adults over 18 years old ($465 a day plus $1,250 admission fee). Fixed monthly payments are an available option with help finding appropriate loans. Financial aid may be awarded to those who qualify in the form of partial scholarships.

Aspiro Adventure Wilderness Therapy (aspiroadventure.com)
A wilderness outdoor adventure therapy program where students live and do adventure therapy in the outdoors. It is licensed by the state of Utah as an Outdoor Behavioral Health Program and serves teens ages 13 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 28 years old. It focuses on healing, direction, and personal empowerment through the use of a clinical approach intertwined with daily adventure activities. Students receive weekly individual and group therapy by a licensed therapist. An academic curriculum is available to all students who need high school credits. Aspiro's average length of stay is 60 days. Cost is $525/day with a one-time $3,300 equipment and administration fee.

Pacific Quest (pacificquest.org)
This wilderness therapy program for struggling teens ages 13-17 and young adults ages 18-24 is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. In addition to traditional wilderness therapy, sustainable life skills are taught. The wilderness program model provides students an opportunity to view the working farm, organic gardening and sustainable agriculture as a mirror for life’s challenges and rewards. Owned and operated by a veteran team of professionals with years of wilderness program experience, they offer a holistic, experiential, yet clinical approach to treatment that is individualized for each student. The average length of stay is between eight and ten weeks, with length of stay customized to meet individual needs. Tuition and financing options are available through the Admissions Department at 808-937-5806.

Second Nature Wilderness Program (second-nature.com)
This licensed therapeutic outdoor program in Utah provides clinically oriented wilderness programs for teens ages 13-17. Treatment includes individual and group therapy and also utilizes a therapeutic wilderness model: primitive living, ceremony, metaphor, and affinity for the beauty and spirituality of nature. There are specialized groups and therapists with a primary focus on substance abuse that are oriented around the 12-step model. Cost is $485 a day (35-day minimum length of stay required) and $2000 for gear, clothing and equipment. A variety of loan programs are available through American Healthcare Lending.

SUWS of the Carolinas (suwscarolinas.crchealth.com)
SUWS offers an outdoor experiential treatment program for teen and adolescents ages 14-17.  Grounded in the 12-step approach to recovery, their structured treatment program consists of individualized treatment plans, a clinical focus, and flexible lengths of stay averaging 4-7 weeks. The program is accredited by CARF, an independent organization that accredits health services. Loans may be available through American Healthcare Lending.

Updated July 15, 2019