Thursday, November 13, 2014

New! Adult & Family Day Hikes!

by Kurt Gantert, Wanderers Founder & Director

This fall Wanderers launched a whole new program-- adult & family day hikes!  The day tours will be led by me and my staff and will be open to adults and families.  Each tour will focus on one special off-the-beaten-path hike that we at Wanderers really love.  During the hikes, we'll teach all about the natural history of the area and the wildlife and plants we encounter.  Most hikes will also include a stop for lunch and/or wine tasting at some of our favorite local restaurants and wineries. All round-trip transportation from San Francisco, snacks, and parking fees are provided.   Our first tour is called "Point Reyes Tule Elk Wildlife Explorer".  We'll hike the Tomales Point Trail in Pt. Reyes, which is in the heart of the tule elk reserve.  It's a spectacular hike, which includes views of the Pacific Ocean, Tomales Bay, and close encounters with endangered elk!  A detailed description of the tour can be found here .  We are kicking off the tour on Sunday, December 7th with our inaugural hike.  If you sign up for the inaugural hike, you can take 50% off.  For more information and to register for the hike, please email me at  

Male tule elk

We'll be adding more hikes in Pt. Reyes, Mt Tamalpais area and more in the coming months, so stay tuned!  You can stay up to date on this and all of the latest Wanderers news by subscribing to our e-newsletter here or liking us on Facebook here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Post - Wanderers Instructor, Ben Tzinberg

From time to time we like to introduce our Instructors to everyone.  We are very happy to have one of our best Instructors, Ben Tzinberg, back to work for us during the summer of 2014.  Here's a bit about him, in his own words.

That's Ben on the left at Fort Ross, CA

"I grew up in St. Louis, MO and graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Spending time outdoors and working with young people has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. For over a decade I spent my summers as a camper and later as a counselor at the same camp in the Ozarks of Missouri. Summer camp, in addition to family canoeing and camping trips, instilled me with a passion for the natural world. For the last two years I have taught outdoor environmental education in Washington and North Carolina. I also spent two summers leading service adventure trips for Mill Valley based Adventures Cross-Country. I am currently working at a charter school in Denver, CO as a Math Fellow. 

I am so excited to be returning to the Bay Area for my second summer with Wanderers! A few personal highlights from 2013 include tide pool exploration at Salt Point and leading the militia at Fort Ross during Sonoma Coast Explorer. Last summer was such a wonderful experience exploring, teaching, learning and generally enjoying the natural wonders of Northern California. Wanderers campers make the program truly unique as their sense of adventure and wonder run free while exploring as a group. Every Wanderers camper I worked with taught me something, from new jokes, to origami, to a different way of looking at the world. It was a pleasure to work alongside Kurt and the other instructors, a group with such rich and diverse experiences. I can't wait to get back to California for another awesome summer with new and returning Wanderers campers!"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wanderers 2014 Summer Camps!

By Kurt Gantert, Wanderers Founder & Director

I'm thrilled to announce that, for Wanderers 6th summer, we will again be offering 1-week overnight outdoor education camps for 7-14 year-olds in 3 different locations throughout Northern California.  Our locations this summer are the Sonoma Coast, Yosemite National Park, and Mendocino County.  This will be our 5th summer on the Sonoma Coast, 4th in Yosemite and 2nd in Mendocino. Read on to learn many exciting details about each camp, including curriculum, locations, and activities.  We also have some exciting new offerings this year.  Read on!

NEW for this year:

Online registration through Activity Hero. Registration for our 2014 summer camps is now live.  

Early Bird Registration Discount 

If you register for a camp by January 15, 2014 you receive 5% off.  You can register Here

Sonoma Coast Explorer   

The "militia" marching at Fort Ross

This will be our 5th summer offering our very popular, Sonoma Coast Explorer Camp.  It is a 5-day/4 night camp.  

We camp for the first 3 nights at Salt Point State Park in the Gerstle Cove campground.  Salt Point is a spectacular, rocky and pine-forested location on the Northern Sonoma Coast, just off Highway 1.  Throughout the week, the campers will get a chance to help set up the tents, cook the meals, clean dishes, etc (as is the case for all of our camps).  

The campsite gives us easy access to the Gerstle Cove Marine Sanctuary & tide pools and some amazing hiking trails to the "Tafoni", which are the salt water carved sandstone cliffs along the ocean.  

Gerstle Cove is a protected Marine Sanctuary, so it is lush with sea creatures.  In the past, we've spotted harbor seals, sea & river otters, sculpin, crabs, sea stars, anemone, jellyfish, sea cucumber and lots more.  If conditions are right, the kids will get a chance to find and learn about all of these animals and their adaptations to their environment.  

Gerstle Cove campground is also very close to Stump Beach, one of our favorite beaches for exploring, building with natural items, finding critters, and just playing.  In addition to these activities, we spend one day hiking among some of the most stunning and gigantic trees in the world at Armstrong Redwoods State Park.  

The final 2 days of camp are spent at Fort Ross State Park.  This is one of the most popular sections of the camp, because students get to take part in the Fort Ross "Environmental Living Program", which is a hands-on experiential learning program aimed at teaching the campers about the Russian & Native American history of the California Coast.  Some examples of the kids favorite activities are:  dressing in Russian costume, cooking authentic Russian food like borscht, fishing with "poke poles", learning to make rope, candles and baskets, "night watch", sleeping in the guard towers, marching with muskets, and firing the cannon.  Many California 4th-5th graders take part in this same program as part of their school curriculum.

To view the 2014 itinerary, including dates and rates for the Sonoma Coast Explorer camp, click here.

To register for Sonoma Coast Explorer, click here

Yosemite Hiking Adventure

View of Yosemite Valley

This summer, we are making some changes to our Yosemite overnight camp.   In the past, we have offered it as a 7-day/6 night hiking, outdoor ed and rock climbing camp.  The changes:

  • It is shorter- 5-days/4 nights. 
  • We cut out the rock climbing portion.  
  • It has a new name- "Yosemite Hiking Adventure"
  • 2 NEW hikes.  One at Glacier Point and one in the Tuolumne Grove of Sequoias
  • Less Driving
  • 1 base camp for the entire week at Hogdon Meadows Campground instead of having to move half way through the week.
See the entire itinerary, dates & rates here  

A note on rock climbing.  We apologize to all of those who may be sad that we no longer offer rock climbing as part of this camp. We love rock climbing at Wanderers and may offer it again on camps in the future. This summer, however, we decided to cut the climbing portion of the camp because in the past some campers really seemed to enjoy it and take part in the activity to the full extent, but other campers didn't enjoy it as much.  The campers who didn't like the climbing as much, at times might have felt left out and/or bored.  We think that keeping the group together and offering hikes that everyone can do is more in line with our goals of group-bonding and teaching teamwork skills. We think the new hikes will be better suited for the entire group to do together and require less driving. 

To register for the Yosemite Hiking Adventure, click here.

Yosemite Backpacking

Lower Young Lake

For the second year in a row, we'll be offering a week-long backpacking trip for 12-14 year olds in the remote high country of Yosemite National Park.  Last summer, we had an awesome time!  It was a fun group, great weather and spectacular scenery.  The photo above is of our last summer's group.

We'll begin our backpacking trip in Tuolumne Meadows.  Our first day is spent driving from San Francisco to Tuolumne and preparing for the trip.  We'll camp on night one at the Tuolumne Meadows campground near our trailhead.  The next morning, we'll get an early rise, finish packing our packs and head out into the backcountry.  Our destination is Lower Young Lake, which is about a 6.5 mile hike from the trailhead.  We'll take lots of breaks for photos, lunch, water, games, etc.  

We'll base camp at Lower Young Lake for 2-3 nights and take day hikes, swim, fish, etc. during the days.  There is an option to move camp on day 3 of the trip if the campers & staff decide to.  

On day 4, we'll do a peak ascent if we feel the group is ready for the challenge. Last summer, we summited an unnamed peak that the campers dubbed "Thunder Dome".  Here's a photo of the group from the summit:

From the summit of "Thunder Dome"

On the morning of day 5, we'll pack up camp and hike out to the trailhead. That evening, we'll celebrate our "return to society" with burgers, fries and milkshakes from the Tuolumne Meadows store.  We'll camp once again at the Tuolumne Meadows campground

Each day, we designate one of the campers to be a "Leader of the Day" (LOD). Each LOD gets to work with the Wanderers staff to make decisions on where to take breaks, what route to take, where to camp for the night, etc. The LOD also gets to be in charge of the topographic map and compass for the day.

Throughout the trip, the Wanderers staff will teach lessons about leadership, map & compass skills, teamwork, natural history, cooking on a stove, cleaning dishes in the backcountry, bear safety and food storage, etc.

To view the itinerary, dates & rates for the backpacking trip, click here.

To register for the backpacking trip, click here.

Mendocino Explorer

Tide pooling on the Mendocino Coast

For our youngest campers, 7-9 yrs old, we'll be offering the 5day/4 night, Mendocino Explorer camp this summer.  Our base camp for our week in Mendocino county will be among the Redwoods at Camp Navarro, an amazing re-vitalized boy scout camp at the very western end of Anderson Valley.  

Mendocino Explorer is most suitable for our youngest campers because the hikes are easier, we build in more "free play" time, and there are more modern amenities at Camp Navarro like showers, a dining hall, etc.  In our experience, having some of these modern conveniences helps the campers feel more comfortable and lessen the chance they will get homesick.

Some of the activities that we offer during our week in Mendocino will be: hiking among the Redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park, tidepooling at MacKerricher State Park, a hike to the Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse, beach time and hiking along the coast near the town of Mendocino, arts and crafts, archery, a climbing wall, night hikes, campfires, and more! 

See the full itinerary, dates & rates here

To register for the Mendocino Explorer, click here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wanderers 2012 takeaways & 2013 goals

I enjoy this time of year as a summer camp director.  It is a time for me to reflect on how the past summer's camps went, look over the feedback, and start planning for next summer.  One of my favorite parts of being a camp director is planning and creating new itineraries and improving on old ones.  Each year, I learn more about what I think Wanderers campers enjoy, which aspects of the program were effective, and which ones didn't work so well.  It's challenging to parse this out sometimes, especially because we work with a number of different age groups, offer both day camps and sleep-away camps, full of many different activities ( rock climbing, hiking, games, natural history education etc.) and because each individual child is so different.  I'll share with you some of my takeaways from 2012 and some of the goals for 2013.  I like to frame these takeaways  by using a big idea and then breaking it down to come up with some tangible goals for improving the program.

Building Character

Making it to the top of Yosemite falls!

2012 Takeaways

One of the things I'm realizing about Wanderers camps is that they build character.  I know the phrase "character-building" has become a cliche, but here's what I mean.  For many of our campers, a Wanderers sleep-away camp is their first experience being away from their parents.  We expect a lot of the campers; they set up their own tents, cook their own food, pack and carry their own backpacks on hikes, work together in a group of peers to accomplish goals, and hike further than they thought they could.  It's exhausting for them and a real challenge at first, but by the end of the week I usually see a lot of improvement in their teamwork skills, manners, self-sufficiency and confidence.  When I founded Wanderers, I believed our central focus would be to instill a sense of love and passion for nature.  Now I'm realizing that building character might be what we do better than anything else.

2013 goals

Provide more opportunities for the campers to do things themselves, more activities that get camperes to work together as a team, and set the stage earlier as to what the staff expect of the campers. They need to understand that we expect a lot!

Wilderness Experiences

Ansel Adams Wilderness

2012 takeaways

In 2011-2012, I spent a lot more time in the wilderness than I had in recent years.  My wife and I climbed the Grand Teton together, I backpacked the Grand Canyon with my brother, climbed Mt. Whitney with my wife and son, hiked and climbed in the Wind River range in Wyoming, and spent a lot of time hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing all around northern California.  All this time in the wilderness forced me to unplug from technology, get exercise, bond with a group of people, and use all of my senses in a way that I hadn't recently.  In other words, I was reminded of the power of wilderness to rejuvenate.  

I'm also reminded of the power of wilderness to rejuvenate when I see what effect it has on the Wanderers campers.  Here are some of the examples of this from the Wanderers summer camps of 2012

-Swimming in Wapama Falls at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, one of the boys turned to me and said- "This is the best thing I've ever done!"  After that, all of his sentences seemed to start with "This is the best....."  Ex.- "This is the best hike I've ever done!"  "This is the best view I've ever seen", etc.  It was pretty funny, but he was being honest.  He hadn't spent much time in the outdoors and this whole wilderness thing was blowing his mind.

-Hiking to the top of upper Yosemite Falls.  It's a 7.6 mile round-trip hike with 2,600 feet of elevation gain, not an easy hike for a 10-11 year old!  The group of kids who made the top, were ecstatic.  It was such a thrill for them to have pushed through the pain and make it to the top of such a beautiful falls, one of the tallest in North America.  Just look at their faces in the photo above.

-During our hike in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, we had the kids all spread out and do "solo sits" in a quiet area among the giant trees, wildflowers, etc.  The instructions to the kids were to sit quietly for 10 minutes and take in everything you can, using all your senses.  We instructed them to look closely at the ground, smell the air, listen for sounds, feel what's around you. Take it all in.  We then brought the group together to share what they had seen, smelled, heard, touched.  It was pretty powerful because they all had a lot to say.  They really seemed genuinely moved by the experience and it sparked a lot of interesting discussions about what was going on in the forest ecosystem.  I don't think these discussions would have happened without taking this time to "tune in" to what was around them.

I could go on and on with examples, but these are a few that stand out in my mind.  My argument is that these discussions, experiences and realizations would not happen without the rejuvenating power of wilderness.

2013 goals

Wanderers will continue to take kids into the wilderness areas we already go to and we'll go deeper into the wilderness.  The Sierra Nevada mountains are such a spectacular mountain range and they're only a few hours from the Bay Area.  We'll explore the range much more in the future.  For 2013, we'll offer our Yosemite Adventure camp for rising 5th and 6th graders and introduce a new backpacking trip for rising 6th and 7th graders, probably in Yosemite or the Ansel Adams wilderness.  Stay tuned!

Experiential Education

Learning about 1800s trade at Fort Ross

2012 takeaways

“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”

-Chinese Proverb

This quote is one of my favorites.  I was reminded of it recently because it's taped on the wall in the office at Fort Ross.  The staff at Fort Ross really live this proverb in all of the educational programs they provide.

Fort Ross is one of my favorite places we visit on our Wanderers camps. Fort Ross is a Russian Fort on the Sonoma coast of northern California.  It was occupied by the "Russian-American Company" in the early 1800s as a settlement to hunt otters for their valuable pelts and grow food to ship back to Russia's growing northern empire in Alaska.  We take the campers here for the final two days of the Sonoma Coast Explorer camp.  While we are at Fort Ross, we get into full-on acting mode and pretend that we are living in the early 1800s just as the Russians and native Americans did.  We dress as they did, we cook bortsch over an open fire, we have a militia assigned to muskets and weapons who march and patrol the fort, we have a night watch, we make rope, candles, and baskets, we go fishing with traditional 1800s fishing rods, and we learn why the Russians were there by a hands-on trade demonstration involving fun costumes (see photo above).  As the proverb says above, we really involve the campers by immersing them in the history of the area.  They do it all, adults don't do it for them,we are just there to help them if they need it.

9 out of 10 kids say this is their favorite part of the Sonoma Coast Explorer camp.  Most of the kids even eat the bortsch and like it!  I really think they learn a lot too.  I know I have!  I learn and retain much more of the history because it is much more interesting when I'm actually living and experiencing what the Russians and Native Americans of that time were experiencing.  

2013 goals

We'll be heading back to Fort Ross for sure, but we'll also incorporate more experiential learning like this into all of our programs.  In Yosemite, we do a mock trial about the building of the O'shaughnessy dam at Hetch Hetchy.  I'd like to improve this activity and add more like it.