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Outdoor Hotspots for Youth Groups

Youth group trips are typically filled with large amounts of sugar and caffeine and are devoid of good nights’ sleep. Somehow, teenagers who can barely stay awake through history class are suddenly imbued with energy once boarding the bus or van to an out-of-town destination with their friends. So it’s not surprising that many youth group trip planners opt to channel teens’ newfound energy into a place with limitless space: the great outdoors.

Whether rock climbing or whitewater rafting, teens will satisfy their sense of adventure and learn about themselves when taking a trip centered around nature. The following out-of-the-way places make great escapes for trips with groups of teens of any size and have enough space to contain any amount of teen mania.

Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

The three-county area of Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania contains eight different state parks, five national parks and a state forest within its borders.

The opportunities to explore these wild areas is nearly limitless.

Every group will need to start somewhere, though, which is why Stacey Magda, group sales manager for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, recommends beginning in the town of Ohiopyle. Within the Ohiopyle State Park surrounding this tiny town of less than 100 residents is a 20-foot waterfall and a brand-new visitors center that offers interpretive programming. “Right now, they are doing a wildlife program where students are conducting research on river otters,” said Magda.

The park is also home to four outfitters, all of which offer excursions and team-building activities for youth. “Wilderness Voyagers, which is a really good one, was actually started by taking scout groups and youth groups down the river,” said Magda.

Magda noted the history of one of the popular lodging options, too: a famous hostel called the Hostel on Main that sits on the Allegheny trail in Rockwood, Pennsylvania The hostel was a general store before it was renovated into the comfortable and affordable accommodation it is today.

Other interesting structures groups traveling to the area should check out are a small collection of houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, including one of his most famous, Fallingwater. Groups can hike to see the home, and tours of the house are held every day from April through November and on a limited number of days the rest of the year. Adult tickets are priced at $25, but student groups of 10 or more can negotiate discount pricing.

Branson, Missouri

“It’s the neon and the nature,” said Lynn Berry, director of communications for the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau, when asked why Branson is such a popular destination for teenage travelers year after year. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains close to the Missouri-Arkansas border, Branson is, as Berry described, “so unbelievably green.”

One area especially worth hiking through is Dogwood Canyon, which has a plethora of waterfalls. The property is 10,000 acres and straddles Missouri and Arkansas. Dogwood is heavily populated with buffalo, deer, elk and other wildlife. “Don’t be surprised if the elk want to come right up and lick you,” said Berry.

Berry said it was the nature that started the entertainment portion of Branson’s attractions.

“The first entertainment in Branson happened in the late 1950s on the banks of Lake Taneycomo,” she said. “A family of traveling entertainers came down to play for the campers because they knew that if they entertained the moms and the kids, then the men could stay and fish more.”

Today, there are four dozen different theaters in Branson offering 120 full productions each week; hence, the neon.

One of the main stops youth groups include on a Branson travel agenda is Sight and Sound Theatre, which is famous for staging large-scale, Broadway-style musical productions depicting stories from the Bible.

Another popular theater in Branson is the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, the only theater to ever be featured in an issue of Architectural Digest. Though that may be a point the adults on a youth trip are more keen on appreciating, the entertainment booked at this venue will have visitors of all ages on the edges of their seats.

The lodging options in Branson are as endless as the entertainment and excursions, with the lakefront Still Waters Resort being a popular destination for youth groups and Green Mountain Cabins a great destination for groups on a budget.