Trails Carolina: A Wilderness Therapy Camp For Troubled Teens

Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy camp located in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. It provides treatment and support for teenagers aged 12-17 who are struggling with issues like addiction, depression, ADHD, trauma, and more. With its nature-based approach and focus on personal growth, Trails Carolina aims to help teens get back on track and return home equipped with new life skills.

An Overview of Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Camp

Trails Carolina
Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program accredited by the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and affiliated with the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). The camp sits on over 500 acres in the Pisgah National Forest area of North Carolina.

Teens live together in small groups called “circles” with trained counselors. The program utilizes a strengths-based treatment model to help teens identify their innate abilities and build self-confidence. Daily wilderness activities like hiking, swimming, climbing, and camping provide opportunities to develop teamwork and perseverance. Meanwhile, regular individual and group therapy sessions address underlying issues and teach new coping mechanisms.

The average stay at Trails Carolina is 8-10 weeks, though it can be extended up to 12 weeks if necessary. The goal is to equip teens with life skills and a sense of empowerment so they can return home ready to thrive.

The Key Features That Set Trails Carolina Apart

There are a few key features that set Trails Carolina apart from other wilderness therapy programs:

1. Clinical Approach

Trails Carolina employs licensed therapists and wilderness guides to create individualized treatment plans for each teen. This clinical approach ensures teens get professional support for any mental health issues or addictions.

2. Small Group Model

Teens are organized into circles of 8-10 participants. This small group model promotes bonding and enables staff to provide individualized attention.

3. Nature-Based Setting

The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains provide a peaceful backdrop far removed from the distractions and pressures of everyday life. Teens can truly unplug and focus on themselves.

4. Adventure-Based Activities

In addition to counseling, teens spend their days engaging in a mix of adventure-based activities like hiking, camping, rafting, climbing, and zip lining. These activities build trust and confidence.

5. Family Involvement

Families participate in weekly therapy sessions by phone or video chat. This ensures the progress continues when teens return home.

Why Parents Choose Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy

Why Parents Choose Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy
Why Parents Choose Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy

There are many reasons why parents might choose to send their teenager to Trails Carolina for wilderness therapy:

Safe Haven

The natural setting and nurturing staff provide a haven away from negative influences. Teens can open up and be vulnerable without judgment.


Time spent in nature, paired with counseling, allows teens to better understand their identity, values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Develop Life Skills

Teens learn important life skills like conflict resolution, time management, goal setting, and personal responsibility.

Build Self-Esteem

Accomplishing new physical challenges and making progress in therapy helps teens gain confidence and self-worth.

Improve Mental Health

Individual and group counseling provides coping strategies for issues like addiction, depression, trauma, and behavioral disorders.

Strengthen Family Bonds

Family therapy repairs damaged relationships and sets up a supportive environment for teens to return to.

Prevent Further Troubles

Wilderness therapy gets teens on a positive path and averts any further destructive behaviors or troubles.

Integration Back Into Daily Life

Teens receive reintegration support to transition smoothly back into school, home, and community life.

Inside A Typical Day at Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Camp

No two days are exactly alike at Trails Carolina wilderness therapy camp. Activities vary based on the weather and the custom treatment plans designed for each teen. However, a typical day may look something like this:

7 AM – Wake Up

Teens wake up in their platform tents or tarps and have breakfast prepared as a group over a campfire. They learn responsibility by taking turns with camp chores.

8 AM – Morning Circle

The small group, called a circle, meets for a morning session. They discuss goals for the day and do a check-in to share thoughts and feelings.

9 AM – Adventure Activity

The circle embarks on an adventure activity led by their wilderness guide. This may be hiking, swimming, kayaking, rock climbing, ropes course, and more.

12 PM – Lunch

The group stops to make lunch over the campfire. They continue bonding during this mealtime.

1 PM – Individual Therapy

Teens break off into individual therapy sessions with their licensed counselor. The counselor checks the progress on treatment goals and provides professional support.

2 PM – Group Therapy

Circles come together for a group therapy session focused on a particular topic like anger management, addiction, or leadership. Teens provide feedback and support for one another.

4 PM – Exploration Activity

This may be hiking to a scenic overlook, combing the beach for shells, or visiting a local art studio. It provides a break from routine and structured therapy.

6 PM – Dinner

The circle prepares dinner together over the campfire. They practice teamwork and responsibility.

8 PM – Night Circle

Before bed, the circle gathers for a night session to reflect on the day. Teens express appreciation for one another and discuss insights gained.

Lights out follows shortly after, allowing time for journaling, reading or gazing at the stars before drifting off to sleep. Though the days are full, the natural setting provides a restorative environment for teens to relax, reflect, and grow.

Examples of Personal Growth Teens’ Experience at Trails Carolina

Every teen comes to Trails Carolina wilderness therapy camp with unique circumstances and struggles. With individualized treatment plans tailored to their needs, teens work through issues at their own pace and find their path to healing and growth. Some examples of growth teens experience at Trails Carolina include:

Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Teens struggling with addiction, depression, or anger issues learn positive alternatives to self-destructive behaviors. This helps them better manage emotions and impulses when they return home.

Improve Decision-Making

Away from distractions and peer pressure, teens gain clarity and practice making choices aligned with their values. This boosts self-confidence.

Discover Interests and Passions

Time spent reflecting on nature, trying new activities, and focusing inward can spark new interests and passions teens wish to further pursue back home.

Gain Leadership Skills

As teens support each other through challenges, they recognize their abilities to guide and motivate others. They build leadership skills that transfer to school, sports, jobs, and relationships.

Boost Self-Worth

Accomplishing difficult wilderness activities and reaching therapy milestones teaches teens their inherent value. They internalize feelings of self-worth not tied to external measures.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

Teens shift thinking from a fixed mindset to one focused on growth and improvement. They become more resilient and optimistic about overcoming future challenges.

Improve Communication Skills

Regular sharing circles provide practice in expressing oneself honestly and listening without judgment. Teens bring enhanced communication skills back to family life.

Establish Healthy Relationships

Away from toxic social circles, teens learn what constitutes healthy friendships and relationships. They gain relationship skills like setting boundaries, managing conflict, and building trust.

What Does the Research Say About Wilderness Therapy?

Decades of research support the benefits of wilderness therapy programs like Trails Carolina. Studies show wilderness therapy is effective at treating issues ranging from addiction to mood disorders in at-risk youth.

Some research findings on the efficacy of wilderness therapy include:

  • A 2016 evidence review published in the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs found wilderness therapy programs have a “significant positive impact on adolescents’ coping skills, clinical outcomes, and family functioning.”
  • A 2012 study found teens exhibited significant reductions in drug cravings after wilderness therapy. They also had less depression and increased self-esteem.
  • Wilderness therapy participants demonstrate improved mood, self-efficacy, social skills, and reductions in problematic behaviors according to a 2017 study published in Child and Youth Care Forum.
  • 81% of wilderness therapy participants surveyed as part of a 2010 study said the experience enabled them to make changes that have led to a better life.
  • Teens who attend wilderness therapy are less likely to re-engage in risky behaviors that led to treatment according to a 2006 study by Georgia College’s Department of Psychology.

This rich body of evidence confirms parents can expect positive clinical outcomes when choosing an accredited wilderness therapy program like Trails Carolina for their teen. The research supports the life-changing impact of spending immersive time in nature while engaging in individual and group-based counseling.

Trails Carolina Camp Location in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina

Trails Carolina is located in the small town of Lake Toxaway in Western North Carolina, just 45 minutes from Asheville. The wilderness therapy camp sits on 500 acres adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest.

This protected forest area provides a peaceful setting surrounded by natural beauty. Campers enjoy direct access to trails, swimming holes, rock cliffs, meadows, and streams. The diverse topography allows for varied adventure activities.

Lake Toxaway itself is a serene 134-acre lake tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of 3,000 feet. The Toxaway River feeds the lake and then continues through the Nantahala National Forest.

The town is also just 15 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway offering scenic vistas and hiking access along the Appalachian Trail. Teens immerse in nature without leaving the camp property, but can also explore trails and towns in this forested region of North Carolina.

The remote location provides distance from everyday distractions and negative influences. Yet safety is maintained with proximity to airports, hospitals, and urban conveniences should the need arise.

Why a Nature-Based Environment is Ideal for Wilderness Therapy

There are many reasons why a nature-based environment like Trails Carolina provides the ideal setting for wilderness therapy:

Peaceful Backdrop for Healing

Time spent relaxing in nature is inherently calming for the mind, body, and spirit. The serenity facilitates inner reflection critical for growth and healing.

Physical Motivation

Hiking mountainous terrain, learning climbing skills, and accomplishing new challenges motivate teens to overcome perceived limitations.

Character Building

Living outside of one’s comfort zone in the wilderness builds resilience, perseverance, confidence, and character.

Disconnected from Technology

Unplugged from devices, teens experience life offline and learn to focus inward rather than seek external validation.

Bonding Through Shared Experience

Common struggles in wilderness activities create a bonding experience as the group pulls together.

Opportunity for Insight

The metaphors of nature enable powerful analogies – like a trail climb representing life’s journey.

Calming Sensory Inputs

Nature provides soothing smells, sounds, and sights that reduce agitation and anxiety.

Vitamin N: The Nature Effect

Humans have biophilia, an innate longing for connection with the natural world. Nature heals.

The evidence validates the therapeutic benefits of spending time immersed in nature. Trails Carolina leverages the restorative powers of the wilderness environment for transformation.

What Parents Can Expect from the Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Experience

Deciding to send a child to wilderness therapy is difficult, and parents will naturally have questions and concerns. Here’s an overview of what parents can expect from the Trails Carolina experience:

A Safe, Supportive Environment

Well-trained staff oversee all programs, conducting medical checks, risk assessments, and ensuring camper safety. Counselors get to know each teen individually to provide personalized support.

Professional Clinical Care

Every teen receives an assessment and customized treatment plan. Licensed counselors conduct individual and group therapy using research-backed techniques. A psychiatrist prescribes and manages any medications.

Wilderness Immersion

Teens disconnect from technology and experience the benefits of nature. Expert wilderness guides lead backpacking, hiking, climbing, and other adventures that build confidence.

Mastering Life Skills

In addition to formal therapy, teachings on the trail impart critical life skills like responsibility, communication, problem-solving, and leadership.

Family Involvement

Parents join weekly family therapy sessions by phone and gain tools to continue progress at home. Improved family dynamics play a key role.

Lasting Transformation

The clinical care, counseling strategies, and life skills teens acquire set them up for lasting success when reintegrating back home and to school.

While no program can guarantee outcomes, parents can trust that Trails Carolina provides an evidence-based model with 24/7 clinical oversight and a track record of helping teens get back on track.

How Much Does Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Cost?

As an accredited wilderness therapy camp staffed with licensed counselors and therapists, Trails Carolina is a significant investment for struggling teens. However, the long-term benefits make it worthwhile for many families.

The exact cost of Trails Carolina depends on the length of stay, which averages 8-10 weeks but may extend longer based on need. All fees are customized to each teen and divided into:

  • Tuition: Covers the wilderness therapy programming, counseling, staff, and camp operations. Approximately $625 per day.
  • Enrollment Fee: One-time fee of $2,750 to $3,350 depending on individualized clinical services required.
  • Gear and Supplies: About $850 for outfitting teens with all necessary camping gear, clothing, footwear, and supplies.
  • Travel Assistance: Up to $350 for help coordinating teen travel to the camp location.

For the average 8-10 week stay, total fees range from $45,000 to $55,000. While a significant investment, many health insurance plans cover a portion of wilderness therapy. Trails Carolina financial advisors help families understand insurance coverage, loans, payment plans, scholarships, and other options to make the program affordable.

Given the success rates of adolescent treatment and the healthy trajectories it puts teens on, most families consider the cost well justified. It is an investment in a child’s future.

Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy: Reviews and Testimonials

Don’t just take the program details at face value. Listen to first-hand experiences from actual campers and parents. Here are excerpts from Trails Carolina reviews:

“Trails Carolina saved my daughter’s life. As a parent, it was the hardest and best decision I ever made to send her to this program.” – Parent of Trails Carolina camper

“I learned how to live sober, control my anger and manage my emotions at Trails in a way I never could have at home. It set me up to succeed in college and beyond.” – Former Trails Carolina camper

“Amazing program! Our family dynamic improved tremendously thanks to the family therapy sessions. My son returned more mature, focused and driven.” – Parent of Trails Carolina camper

“The staff is compassionate and genuinely cares about each teen. The clinical approach ensures campers get professional support tailored to their needs.” – Parent of Trails Carolina camper

“I gained so much self-confidence at Trails by challenging myself physically and emotionally. I made real progress in therapy and formed life-long bonds.” – Former Trails Carolina camper

“Trails Carolina was a life changing experience. I learned more about myself and how to manage anxiety in those 8 weeks than years of regular therapy.” – Former Trails Carolina camper

The overwhelmingly positive reviews from campers and parents speak to the incredible impact Trails Carolina has in transforming teens’ lives by meeting their needs holistically. While the program requires hard work, it successfully sets teens up for health and success.

How Do I Choose the Best Wilderness Therapy Program? Trails Carolina Sets the Standard

With so many wilderness therapy programs to choose from, how can you identify the best one for your teen and family? While evaluating multiple options is wise, Trails Carolina exemplifies the gold standard parents should look for in a program:

  • Clinical Approach – Licensed therapists and psychiatrists provide science-backed treatment tailored to each teen’s needs.
  • Small Groups – Circles of 8-10 provide individualized attention from dedicated counselors.
  • Customized Treatment – Care extends as long as each teen needs, ranging from 8-12 weeks on average.
  • Accredited – Trails Carolina meets best practices set by the Association for Experiential Education.
  • Nature Immersion – The remote Blue Ridge Mountain setting facilitates self-discovery.
  • Adventure Activities – Trust and confidence develop through hiking, camping, climbing, and more.
  • Family Involvement – Ongoing parent participation ensures continued progress at home.
  • Safety – 24/7 medical oversight maintains physical and emotional safety always.
  • Holistic Growth – Teens develop critical life skills and coping mechanisms for total well-being.
  • Proven Outcomes – High success rates get teens back on track as reported by campers and parents.
  • When parsing through wilderness therapy options, keep these hallmarks of excellence in mind. Trails Carolina exemplifies them all.

Final Words

In Final Words, Trails Carolina is a premier wilderness therapy camp that provides struggling teens with the treatment needed to get back on track for health and success. The clinical and holistic approach facilitates self-discovery and healing within an immersive nature-based environment.

With dedicated staff guiding them every step of the trail, teens build resilience, form meaningful relationships, adopt healthy coping skills, and reshape their outlook. The family involvement ensures continued progress at home.

While the wilderness therapy process requires hard work, it successfully transforms teens mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. Parents can have confidence in entrusting their teens to the compassionate care of the Trails Carolina team.

The Trails Carolina wilderness therapy program equips teens to return home with greater maturity, confidence, and life skills to manage any challenges that come their way. They gain the strength, insight, and direction to resume positive pursuits aligned with their values.