Sierra Explorer

The Sierras buttress California's eastern border—a crenellated rampart of granite domes and crags. On Sierra Explorer we'll hike and backpack in this high mountain landscape of forests, rivers and lakes, of valleys, ridges and mountaintops. When our hiking is done, we'll raft the American River for two days of rollicking fun—a different and exciting way to explore the sunny Sierras.

Overview Details Itinerary What to Pack FAQs Before You Go

Overview

Two incredible weeks in sunny California—hiking, rafting and exploring the Sierras.

Beyond California’s coast and cities are the breathtakingly beautiful Sierra Nevadas. Big mountains, deep valleys, rollicking rivers. The Sierras are bold and wild, impressive and inspiring.

Thoughtfully designed activities: hiking, backpacking, rafting. All perfectly sized and paced for our groups.

The goal is friendship: time together in a new and exciting place, shared tasks and challenges, teamwork and group living. Wonderful friendships grow in a positive, supportive and wholesome atmosphere overseen and nurtured by Overland’s leaders.

The focus is fun: many—maybe even most—of the kids who come are first-timers on a trip like this, so we keep the focus on fun, the tone upbeat.

At trip end we’ll revel in the places we’ve been and the feats we’ve accomplished. Even more so, we’ll enjoy the bonds we’ve created as a group–the type of bonds that come from spending two weeks in a beautiful place, pursuing fun activities and relying on each other for support in times of challenge.

 

We value the quality of the programs, the mission and the empowerment of the participants. We have seen growth, maturity and greater self-confidence in Drew upon is completion of each trip.


- Sallie Bunn, Short Hills, New Jersey

The Best of the Sierras!

Days 1-4: Trip Start & Hike in Yosemite

After meeting in San Francisco, we’ll drive east to beautiful Yosemite National Park. We’ll get to know one another, review our gear and learn how to pack our backpacks. We’ll also prepare for our backcountry hike by shopping for food and hiking the picturesque trails of Yosemite.

Days 5-7: Backpack in the High Sierra

On the fifth day of our trip, we’ll hit the trail and hike into the heart of the Sierra high country, the Humboldt-Toiyabe and Stanislaus National Forests. For three days, we’ll hike along rocky passes, through valleys, past alpine lakes and along grassy meadows. Few landscapes in the country are as dynamic as the High Sierra—in a single day we might start hiking in an alpine forest and end the day near a wide-open granite peak. Averaging six miles a day at altitudes between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, we’ll learn Leave No Trace principles and valuable backpacking skills. Along the way, we’ll find time for refreshing swims in alpine lakes or relaxing afternoons surrounded by incredible peaks and wildflowers.

Days 8-10: Raft the American River

After our backcountry hike, we’ll head to the historic town of Placerville and prepare to raft the American River. We’ll spend two days rafting through lively Class III rapids, spending a night in a private campground on the river. Our professional guides will lead us through alternating rapids and peaceful stretches of calm water.

Day 11: Challenge Hike

Following an exciting couple days on the river, we’ll head back into the mountains for our challenge hike. As seasoned hikers after our time in the backcountry, we’ll reach incredible viewpoints as we tackle one of the high peaks of the Sierras, the final triumph of our two weeks of rewarding challenges.

Days 12 & 13: Jackson

At the end of the trip, we’ll head back to San Francisco and celebrate two weeks of accomplishments, leadership growth and adventure in the wilderness of the Sierras.

ACCOMMODATIONS

9 nights of frontcountry camping. Campground facilities will vary and may include flush toilets, hot showers and/or laundry.

3 nights of backcountry camping at established campsites with no access to bathroom facilities.

1 night in a hostel in San Francisco.

Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
Download PDF

We travel light at Overland.

Luggage

  • Internal Frame Backpack
    50-70 liters or 3,000-4,300 cubic inches (if you plan to do longer backpacking trips in the future, consider purchasing a pack that is towards the higher end of this range). Before purchasing a backpack, find your backpack size by measuring your torso length and your hips (instructions are available here). We recommend getting fitted at a store and trying on multiple packs.

Clothing

  • Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
    We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
  • Synthetic T-Shirt (3)
  • Synthetic Shorts (3)
  • Fleece Pants (1)
    Please do not bring cotton sweatpants (they are heavy and bulky and will not keep you warm if wet).
  • Synthetic Hiking Pants (optional)
    Lightweight and quick dry material. Non-cotton warmup style pants are acceptable.
  • Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
  • Underwear (5)
  • Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
  • Gloves or Mittens (1)
  • Winter Hat (1)
  • Hat with Visor (1)
  • Swimsuit (optional)
    If we swim, many students will wear shorts (and a sports bra for girls).
  • Pajamas (optional)
    Students sometimes prefer to sleep in shorts and a T-shirt instead of pajamas.

Outer Layers

  • Lightweight Fleece Jacket or Pullover (1)
  • Fleece or Synthetic/Down Jacket (1)
    Medium to heavyweight fleece jacket or lightweight, compressible, synthetic (Primaloft or similar) or down jacket.
  • Insulated Fleece or Down Vest (1)
  • Raincoat (1)
    Waterproof material (e.g., Gore-Tex, or similar) is required. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. Ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Waterproof Rain Pants (1)

General Gear

  • Waterproof Pack Cover
    If your backpack does not come with a cover, we recommend buying a cover one size larger than your pack.
  • Day Pack
    Basic two-shoulder backpack large enough to hold your lunch, two water bottles, snacks, extra layers and rain jacket. Use your day pack as a carry-on for your flight and for daily activities or hikes. A standard school backpack is usually fine (no satchels or shoulder bags).
  • Sleeping Bag
    A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or treated down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
  • Sleeping Pad
    ¾-length or full-length closed cell foam (thin and firm) or self-inflating.
  • Bowl, Mug & Utensils
    6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
  • Headlamp
    Please bring an extra battery/batteries.
  • Water Bottle
    One 1-liter bottle. A Camelbak or similar water carrier is acceptable.

Footwear

  • Waterproof Hiking Boots
    Choose comfortable boots designed for hiking with a pack (i.e., mid to high cut for ankle support).  Boots should be waterproof. Break them in before the start of your trip.
  • Water Shoes
    Closed-toed sport sandals, water shoes or old sneakers to wear on the water. Sandals must have a heel strap for activities such as kayaking, rafting or canoeing (flip flops and Crocs are not acceptable).
  • Camp Shoes
    Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.

Miscellaneous

  • Synthetic Camping Towel
    A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
  • Travel Size Toiletries
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
    To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
  • Large Trash Bags (4)
    To waterproof your gear.
  • Package of Moleskin or Molefoam
    To protect your feet from blisters.
  • Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
    A digital or disposable camera.
  • Personal Journal or Book (optional)

Important Documents

  • Health Insurance Card
    Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
  • Photo Identification
    If you are not flying: Overland does not require photo identification. If you are flying within the U.S.: The TSA website has two relevant pieces of information. (1) “TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States.” This language indicates that TSA staff can insist that an under-18 year old who does not have a companion (we interpret this as a companion who is 18 or over traveling with them—not just checking them in) must have TSA-compliant identification. Our experience is that this requirement is inconsistently enforced but, since it might be enforced, we recommend that all Overland students who are flying to/from their trip have TSA-compliant identification. (2) “Contact the airline for questions regarding specific ID requirements for travelers under 18.” This is always smart to do as airline policies vary widely and change frequently.

Spending Money

  • Spending Money & Miscellaneous Expenses
    Each student should bring a debit card, an ATM card or a prepaid Visa card to cover spending money and miscellaneous expenses. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example: for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example: an equipment repair or baggage fees at trip end). Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money), to cover these expenses.

Things to know

  • We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on this list.
  • Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
  • Please do not bring your smart phone (or any other electronics).
    Please visit the FAQ tab for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
  • Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
  • If you are flying to your trip, wear your hiking boots and carry your sleeping bag and sleeping pad on the plane in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time.
  • Pack everything in your backpack or day pack. Do not bring additional luggage.
  • There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
    Please schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.

Questions? Call us: 413.458.9672.

  • What is the weather like on Sierra Explorer?

    You can expect typical summery weather with lots of sunshine, some rain, warm days and cool nights.

  • What are the arrival and departure airports for Sierra Explorer?

    Your child will fly to and from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a trip.

  • How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?

    While we have regular access to showers, most students will shower once or twice a week. Groups will do laundry once a week.

  • What do you do about bears?

    Traveling as a large group goes a long way in preventing unwanted attention from wildlife. In addition, we hike in well-traveled areas and train all of our staff in backcountry skills and awareness. We instruct our leaders how to set up camp and store food in ways that reduce the chances of attracting wildlife, including bears. We’ll brief students on these routines at the start of the trip. Both of our leaders also carry bear spray in case of an emergency.

  • Please tell me about safety at Overland.

    Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.

  • Does my child need to have previous experience?

    While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.

  • Please tell me about Overland's admissions process.

    For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.

    When we receive child’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.

    We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:
    1. Teamwork and Shared Responsibilities.
    2. Independence and Self-Reliance.
    3. Support of Others and Consideration for Others.

  • What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?

    PHONES:
    To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers (the exceptions to this are: your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency). If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send him or her with an expensive smartphone; instead bring an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss to phones, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

    ELECTRONICS:
    Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).

    COMMUNICATION:
    We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.

  • Can I send mail to my child during a trip?

    Getting a letter, card or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting.
    Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:

    1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards or postcards only. If mail is late, lost or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.
    2. Please use the US Postal Service first class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).
    3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back (for this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery).
    4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.
    5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.

Get ready for fun, friends & adventure.

Students going on Sierra Explorer should prepare for:

  • Full days of outdoor activities led by two caring Overland leaders
  • Day hikes to viewpoints and mountaintops
  • A multi-day backpacking trip designed for first-time backpackers
  • A fun, supportive and wholesome Overland experience

We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.

Preparing for the Hiking

On Sierra Explorer, you will hike on well-established trails over a wide range of terrain, from meadows to hills to mountains. You'll start with day hikes where you'll carry just the essentials for the day (snacks and lunch, water, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, bug spray and a raincoat). As the group's skills and fitness increase, you'll set out on a multi-day backpacking trip. While backpacking, you will carry all of your belongings (clothes, sleeping bag and pad), some group gear, food and water. Typically when backpacking, pack weights average about 30% of a hiker's weight. In the month before your trip, you should break-in your hiking boots (wear them a lot!) and complete the pre-trip training (see below). Once on your trip, you'll find that enthusiasm and a positive attitude will help to make the trip a success for you... and for everyone in your group.

Pre-trip Training:

  • 4 weeks before your trip: three 45-minute hikes or walks in your boots.
  • 3 weeks before your trip: three 60-minute hikes or walks in your boots.
  • 2 weeks before your trip: three 90-minute hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 10% of your body weight.
  • 1 week before your trip: four 2-hour hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 20% of your body weight.

Preparing for an Overland Experience

Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your leaders. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland trip.