• Backcountry Odyssey is a unique opportunity to get to know your fellow students before arriving on campus in August.

Backcountry Odyssey

Backcountry Odyssey is a unique opportunity to get to know your fellow students before arriving on campus in August. Experience Davidson's values of community, responsibility and service while backpacking through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina. The Odyssey offers three sessions and financial aid is available for each one. Sessions I and II are shorter and designed for those who cannot take a week in the summer to attend Session III.

Over the course of about week, students cooperate and encourage each other as you backpack, camp out, whitewater canoe and complete a service project, all while learning how to live outdoors with minimal impact on the environment. Trained upperclassmen lead each freshman group on either a five-day or eight-day excursion. This is a vigorous program with all the challenges and rewards that come with time spent in remote areas.


Three nights out on the trail give you and your crew an exercise in self-reliance and cooperation. We will hike from six to 12 miles each day, for a total distance of about 25 miles for both the five- and eight-day Odyssey. The trail will bring you challenging steep climbs, rainstorms and hot sun, as well as great views, shady rest stops and the satisfaction of finishing the climb and arriving at the next campsite. Additional instruction along the way helps your group take on more responsibility for setting up camp, cooking meals and finding your way down the trail.

Whitewater Canoeing

The river component of the eight-day Odyssey emphasizes teamwork and communication in pairs. Two days on the river provide a mix of exciting Class II and III whitewater to test your new skills and quiet stretches to raft up and float along with the rest of your crew. After the first morning of instruction, you and your partner work together to hone your skills and move your canoe with growing coordination and confidence. Together you rehearse maneuvers and plan your route through easy rapids the first day. You'll put your new abilities to use the next day as you run more difficult whitewater.

Mountain Biking and Climbing

During Sessions I and II we plan to offer activity-specific five-day Odyssey experiences. Last year we offered mountain biking, backpacking, and whitewater canoeing. This year we plan to add climbing to that list. The five-day session will offer instruction and equipment in whatever activity you choose. We will ask for your preferences on the registration form.

Service Project

The eight-day Backcountry Odyssey includes a one-day service project that gives each crew an opportunity to work together to bring improvements to the local community. These projects have included renovations to day care centers, work at regional food banks, assistance to area residents and work with Habitat for Humanity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to be an outdoor "expert" to enjoy the Backcountry Odyssey?

No. The Backcountry Odyssey is open to all incoming first-year and transfer students and is designed to accommodate any level of experience. Beginners are welcome. Backcountry Odyssey participants will spend the entire week outdoors.

What if I already have a lot of outdoor experience?

Even if you have a lot of personal experience with service, hiking, or paddling, you have never done them with this group, the members of your first-year class. Join us for the chance to share skills you enjoy while you build lasting connections with your classmates. 

What kind of shape do I need to be in?

You will enjoy the program more if you are fit. Forty minutes of aerobic activity three to four times per week for at least one month prior to the Odyssey should be adequate conditioning. In addition, we conduct a medical screening process to help you determine which trip is appropriate. 

What equipment will I need?

You will have to bring some specialized clothing and a good pair of hiking boots. Wear boots sized for your feet that you have broken in before the trip. Davidson Outdoors can provide your pack, sleeping bag and pad, and all other group gear. 

Why is Session III longer?

We decided to offer five-day Odyssey experiences for folks who were not able or willing to take a full week out of their summer. We hope that the shorter and more affordable nature of the first and second sessions will be attractive to those folks. Session III includes backpacking, whitewater canoeing, and service. Sessions I and II offer three days of a single outdoor activity like backpacking, canoeing, mountain biking, or climbing.

Is financial aid available?

Yes. Financial aid is available to students who have qualified for aid from Davidson.