Gap Year Programs
for adventurous spirits

Build life skills. Be true to yourself.
Satisfy your thirst for community.
Take a transformative gap year!

Gap Year Opportunities to Discover Yourself

An outdoor gap year program adventure, four smiling teens are backpacking with mountains in the background.


Here you have the chance to be seen and accepted for who you are.  You might feel like you're coming home or feel a sense of closeness we all crave. Share challenging & crazy adventures that create unparalleled friendships.

A young woman learning from a farmer outdoors in a garden.


You don’t want to sign up for an ordinary Gap Year program; you want to co-create adventures.  Rules? How about choices and opportunities? Here you can be what matters.

Six teenagers participating in a wilderness gap year have fun posing for a group photo.


Join us if you want to feel inspired; if you embrace homespun and informal fun; wilderness adventure; if you're intrigued by dumpster diving, skinny dipping and being real. Be ready to laugh hard and feel high on life.

A teenager spreads her arms, celebrating on top of a mountain.


Here you'll find your voice will be respected and heard. We believe that choice matters. You'll find a place where part of freedom is having the courage to take ownership of what you choose.

Upcoming Gap Year Programs

FALL 2022

Grow greens, climb mountains, create community, travel off the beaten path:

Join us for the fall semester

Take a semester to challenge yourself and grow in ways you never thought possible. Explore the Colorado wilderness and local rural community living. The program finishes with an immersive group road trip to Mexico. You will emerge from the program with skills and self-knowledge that are strong assets to a college education or whatever life-path you choose to take.

From: Aug 17, 2022 To: Nov 21, 2022

Applications Closed

Spring 2023

The ultimate road trip to focus on spontaneity and living in the moment:

Join the spring semester

For eight weeks you will practice living in the moment while riding an old bus throughout the southwest and Mexico.  You will dig into the skills that make spontaneity fun and exciting and you will have daily opportunity to shape what you do and where you go.  You will emerge from the program with a feeling of freedom and a sense of possibility. 

From: Feb 23, 2023 To: April 20, 2023

Applications Open

Spring Intensive

Write your heart out with a group of creatives in the Colorado Rockies:

The Writing Retreat

The Writing Retreat is spring opportunity separate from our gap year program. Accomplish an ambitious, self-paced writing challenge in a tight-knit community. Located in Paonia, Colorado take advantage of small group sharing sessions as well as opportinities for one-on-one feedback if you want or opportunities to take part in adventure in Colorado that feeds your creative spirit.

From: May 24th, 2023 To: June 28th, 2023

Applications Open

What past participants say about our gap year programs

Two young women talking about their gap year experience with mountains in the background.
A young man hiking in the wilderness with mountains in the background.


Seattle, WA

My gap year at the High Desert Center was easily one of the most transformative, rich, and important experiences I’ve ever had. That year spent in the red canyons and tall mountains and juniper forests and small farms of Southwest Colorado brought me more growth, learning, joy and challenge than I ever imagined. Creating a strong, intentional community with the other participants and staff was a challenging and incredibly rewarding experience.


Atlanta, GA

I joined the program unsure of who I was or what I wanted in life, and found a community that not only accepted me, but celebrated me for everything that I am. From day one, everyone wanted to tear down their walls and be as authentically themselves as possible.  I grew emotionally, physically, and mentally.  I truly believe anybody could gain something profound from coming to the HDC.

Dev Carey, Director of the The High Desert Center and Gap Year Program leader.

Meet Dev Carey, co-director of the High Desert Center and all Gap Year opportunities.

Dev thrives on adventure, outdoors, and connection with others.  He’s had “normal” jobs like working for Sterling College, with inner city youth as a VISTA Volunteer, as a counselor at Not Back to School Camp, and as a river guide. He has a Ph.D. in ecology and still now and then writes plant and animal guides with local youth.

While working on his dissertation, he became an advocate for students and families who were looking for ways to learn outside of the classroom. That advocacy turned into the The Vision Program, a charter program of the Colorado Delta County Public School system. The program supports over 600 elementary, middle and high school students to design their own home and community based educations.

He loves building and living in funky sustainable houses, sharing land and meals with community, "adopted" teenagers and his family: Seraya, Huckleberry, and Marian.

His main work and passion is creating off-the-beaten path adventures with teenagers.