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Beginner Skills

Five Perfect Girls-Only Summer Backpacking Programs

Ditch summer camp for these five excellent adventures, where young women gain wilderness skills and the confidence to use them from real outdoor role models.

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Growing up outside Boulder, I spent many childhood weekends backpacking through Rocky Mountain National Park with my dad and older brothers. So when I first attended Camp Kamaji, an all-girls summer camp in Minnesota, I considered myself somewhat of an outdoors pro. Yes, I was only ten years old, but my familiarity with sleeping in a tent—and peeing in the woods—was a major point of pride.

It wasn’t until I actually went on an overnight trip at Kamaji that I realized I was lacking a crucial quality in my young outdoors résumé: the confidence to take ownership of my own camping experience. Kamaji pushed me to do just that: I learned to pitch a tent without my dad pounding in the stakes, and start a fire without my brother lighting the match. By the time I was 15, I was carrying canoes through portages in knee-deep mud. When I returned to Kamaji as a counselor, I watched as my own campers learned to canoe, rock climb, backpack, and camp with confidence. Whenever a girl talked about her adventures, I could hear the pride in her voice—the same pride I felt about my own outdoor accomplishments. The kind of pride that only comes with knowing that, whether camping or indoors, she didn’t need anyone else’s permission to thrive.

Kamaji offers an introduction to a wide variety of outdoor activities from its basecamp in Minnesota. But if you’re looking for multi-day wilderness treks for your daughter (or yourself), check out these other girls-only programs across the U.S.

Alpengirl, Manhattan, MT, Ages 11-16

Alpengirl offers multi-activity excursions in Washington, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana that range from seven to 13 days in length. In addition to backpacking, each trip includes activities like sea kayaking and horseback riding, making this program ideal for girls who are still figuring out their interests or who want to build confidence in a wide variety of outdoor skills.

GALS, Durham, NC, Grades 9-12

Your daughter can combine her passion for the outdoors with her interest in STEM at this free summer science program. Designed to increase hands-on science opportunities for girls—especially for students of color and from less privileged backgrounds—these two-week trips in North Carolina, New Mexico, Texas, and California allow high-schoolers to learn ecology and earth science from local scientists while backpacking through the wilderness.

Women’s Wilderness: Girls’ Wilderness Program, Boulder, CO, Ages 8-18

Though this non-profit runs outdoor experiences for women of all ages, the heart of their mission is their girls’ programming. During one- to 10-day backpacking, camping, and climbing trips in Colorado and Wyoming, girls are taught by mentors to whom they can directly relate, including a nature program aimed specifically at queer young women.

GirlVentures, San Francisco, CA, Grades 6-12

GirlVentures’ four wilderness courses follow a “Leadership Progression Model,” allowing girls to advance to longer, more difficult trips as they build up their backpacking, rock climbing, and kayaking skills on trips through Northern California. New participants can enroll at any stage, and high-schoolers who complete the final “On The Rise” 12-day expedition can become assistant instructors on future trips.

Lasting Adventures: Young Women’s Adventure Program, Groveland, CA, Ages 14-18

Young women who join Lasting Adventures’ sole single-gender program will spend 13 days backpacking 60 to 70 miles through Yosemite National Park. It doesn’t end with practical skills, either: The expedition is led by the organization’s top female guides who, in addition to teaching wilderness skills, educate them about Yosemite’s influential female adventurers and contemporary issues regarding women’s roles in the community.

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