Canadian Border Leadership Semester

Canadian Border Leadership Semester

Make a difference in the world.
This intensive nine-week course in the border lakes region utilizes Minnesota and Canada as unique and inspiring classrooms for leadership development.

The course includes a diverse curriculum of outdoor skills including sea kayaking on Lake Superior, backpacking in the Superior National Forest, and an extended canoe expedition in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

In addition to broad technical skill exposure, the length of this course allows for learning and inspection of personal goals, leadership styles, problem solving techniques, effective communication, group processing, and an ethic of service.

With a focus on developing leaders who aspire to learn while striving to make a positive difference in the world, the Canadian Border Leadership Semester is guaranteed to be a Gap Year like no other.

Course Area

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Established in 1964, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a labyrinth of lakes and rock that has been specifically protected as a true American wilderness; no roads, power lines, or motorized craft may enter its borders: Therefore, the Boundary Waters has changed little since its unveiling when the glaciers melted 10,000 years ago.

Over 1 million acres in size, the BWCAW extends 150 miles along the Canadian border. With over 1,200 miles of canoe routes, nearly 2,200 designated campsites and more than 1,000 lakes and streams, the BWCAW is a truly amazing place to experience the wilderness.

The BWCAW contains portage-linked lakes and streams, interspersed with islands, forests and crags. It has no piped water, prepared shelters, or signs to point the way. Within these borders you can canoe, portage, and camp in the spirit of the French-Canadian Voyageurs of 200 years ago. The Boundary Waters’ paddling routes offer outstanding opportunities for solitude, remoteness, teamwork, adventure, and challenge.

Lake Superior, Ontario
The Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (LSNMCA) is a wilderness archipelago along the Canadian north shore of Lake Superior. The LSNMCA is a rugged and pristine landscape of sparkling, clear water, cliffs, pebble and sand beaches, and numerous islands. It is the largest freshwater, protected marine environment in the world and a premier sea kayaking destination.

Superior Hiking Trail, Minnesota
The 296-mile Superior Hiking Trail winds its way among birch, cedars and maples while crossing over dozens of sculptured waterfalls that cascade into Lake Superior. Well-marked trails, campsites and moderately challenging terrain make this a perfect place to gain independence from your instructors, continue to build teamwork and finish your expedition with style.

Gap Year / Semester Courses
Our Gap Year and Semester expeditions take you out of the classroom – and into the world. These courses are all about cultivating independence, developing technical skills, and engaging with the people and places around you. Learn from the best Instructors in the industry. Tackle challenges alongside a supportive crew of motivated peers. Amidst rugged natural landscapes, learn to lead and to follow; to give and receive feedback; and to trust in your own capabilities.

  • Achievable Goals: Instructors work with individual students (average 1 to 4 Instructor/Student ratio) to make solid self-assessments and set achievable goals.
  • Build core skills: Learn and practice wilderness, teamwork and leadership skills. Form a crew that supports and encourages one another, and in the thick of natural challenges, discover there is more in you than you know.
  • Practice Outward Bound values: Learn to incorporate Outward Bound values into everyday life by pushing your own limits and seeking challenge as an opportunity for personal growth.
  • Demonstrate mastery: As the course nears the end, take on more leadership and decision-making responsibilities. Work together to apply new skills and achieve team goals during this final phase of the expedition.
  • What you’ll learn: Return home an experienced leader with technical wilderness skills. Back in the workplace or classroom, apply a renewed commitment to excellence, a capacity to inspire others, and a desire to make a difference.

Listed below are a few of the activities:


As part of your course, you will complete an extended canoe expedition that is entirely self-supported. This expedition includes learning the art of paddling a canoe in a variety of conditions as well as portaging, map and compass reading, route finding, expedition planning, and Leave No Trace® wilderness living principles. Paddling partners work together to navigate a variety of waterways such as lakes, rivers, and swamps.


Groups work as a team to carry packs and canoes over portage trails when transitioning from one lake to another or around challenging rapids. Portage trails are rugged and often rocky or hilly. They vary in length from 10 yards to a mile or longer. Pack weights vary depending on the length of the trip. Personal packs weigh at least 40 pounds and sometimes considerably more; food and equipment packs usually weigh between 50 and 70 pounds.

Each 75-pound canoe is carried upside down on one person’s shoulders by utilizing the pads attached to the center thwart.

Sea Kayaking

Student groups will travel to the Canadian north shore of Lake Superior. From there students and begin their sea kayak expedition from the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (LSNMCA) in Canada along Lake Superior’s north shore. Students learn the art of paddling a sea kayak in varied weather, landing the craft in a variety of conditions, as well as navigating and rescue techniques. Instructors will share the secrets of handling and balancing your boat safely, regardless of the elements, and how to effectively teach these skills to others.

Students will develop their paddling and teaching skills as they bond as a group while traveling and camping along the rugged, rocky Superior shoreline. Additionally, they will experience challenging open water crossings where fog, waves, and weather necessitate their newly acquired navigation skills.

Backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail

On the southern edge of the massive Canadian Shield, a granite rock formation that runs from Minnesota to Hudson Bay and the Northwest Territories, sits the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. The Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) follows the northern shore of the lake from Duluth, Minnesota to Canada covering almost 300-miles along the low-lying Sawtooth Mountain range. You will spend four to six days hiking on the trail which meanders through dense boreal forest, offers awe-inspiring overlooks, and plunges into pristine river valleys. Well-marked trails, designated campsites, and challenging terrain make the SHT a great introductory backpacking experience.

Whitewater Canoeing and Kayaking

This course offers students the opportunity to increase their skill and knowledge of whitewater paddling, progressing from maneuvering in small currents to more challenging rapids (up to Class III). Emphasis is placed on boat control, safety, and the thrill of whitewater paddling.

Two days of whitewater canoeing and a half day of whitewater kayaking add to the excitement and breadth of your experience. You will learn how to “read” water and trust yourself to make split-second decisions in order to determine the best routes through the rushing waves.

Rock Climbing & High Ropes Course

During 3 climbing days, students learn about general rock-climbing equipment, safety and etiquette. Students have many opportunities to climb, belay, and rappel while learning and employing safety systems that are compliant with national standards.

The rock climbing sites provide a number of different route options including cracks, sheer faces, and chimneys. Regardless of a student’s rock climbing background, they are sure to find a route that will engage them and encourage the expansion of their comfort zone.

Looking out over the top of the boreal forest, the High Ropes Course is an incredible obstacle course set 30-feet in the air. Students will swing from Tarzan ropes, walk on tightrope wires, and climb a cargo net before jumping on the zip line for an exhilarating ride back to solid ground.


Weather and time permitting, the Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. Many students use this time to make significant decisions about their future, journal, or write letters to friends and family. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type, as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. Students on a Leadership Semester Course typically experience one to two 48-72 hour Solos.

Regardless of Solo length, all students receive sufficient food, water, and shelter to keep them safe and healthy during Solo. Instructors choose Solo sites to offer as much solitude as possible while retaining some proximity to the whole group. While students spend the majority of their Solo time alone, Instructors do check on each student as often as needed, usually 1-4 times per day, to ensure that each student feels safe and comfortable. The two Solos are purposefully scheduled so that students have plenty of time to acclimate to their new environments beforehand.

Students often have mixed feelings leading up to Solo: nervousness and hesitation regarding the unknown but also excitement to rest, reflect, and test their new skills while alone. Students often find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound experience.

Personal Challenge Event

Time and weather permitting, the course will end with a Personal Challenge Event (PCE) that is a final individual physical feat.

The PCE is non-competitive triathlon-style paddle, portage, run, or ski to show each student how their mental and physical stamina has grown as a result of their wilderness expedition and training regime. Students celebrate the completion of their PCE and wilderness expedition with a final banquet and graduation ceremony at the VOBS basecamp.

Please submit the Course Inquiry form or call (828) 239-2376 to discuss if this course is right for you.

Visit the Voyageur Outward Bound School frequently asked questions page to learn more about the application process, scholarships, what to expect, how to pack and where your course begins.

Upon enrollment on a Voyageur Outward Bound School course students receive a day-by-day course itinerary, detailed packing list, and detailed arrival and departure information specific to their course.

Scholarship Info

Our Scholarship Program is guided by a single principle: Every person should be given the opportunity to experience adventure and challenge, develop character and compassion, and learn leadership skills and service ethics, regardless of financial ability.

Moreover, we bring together diverse groups of students to instill cultural understanding and teamwork skills that enable them to become principled leaders.

Thanks to generous donations from alumni, parents, corporations, foundations, and others, Outward Bound awards up to $3.7 million in scholarships to 6,000 students each year.

The Voyageur Outward Bound School scholarship program is need-based and in order to be considered, applicants must first enroll on a course, pay a $500 deposit and check a box noting that they are interested in a Scholarship. The deposit payment is applied toward the total cost of the course and includes a $150 enrollment processing fee (usually non-refundable). After the applicant enrolls, a Course Advisor will send them a Scholarship Application along with the other enrollment materials. The applicant is required to submit a copy of their most recent 1040 tax return along with the completed Scholarship Application. The average scholarship is 15-30% off of the posted fee. If the applicant receives an Outward Bound scholarship but it’s not enough for them to participate, Outward Bound will refund their $500 deposit, including the $150 enrollment processing fee.

In some cases, applicants can schedule a payment plan with the Voyageur Outward Bound School rather than paying for the whole course in one lump sum. In cases of payment plans, final balances are due at least 90 days prior to the course-start.

Packing for a Voyageur Outward Bound School course

In general, Outward Bound provides sleeping bags, sleeping mats, rain gear, and all group cooking, camping and traveling equipment. Students need to provide their own clothing, footwear, toiletries and a few other items, like a headlamp and water bottle.

Traveling to and from the Voyageur Outward Bound School

MN Courses:  In most cases, but not all, Voyageur Outward Bound School students meet in the Duluth International Airport baggage claim at 1:00 PM on the first day of the course. Students typically return to the Duluth International Airport around 11:30 AM on the last day of the course and should plan to fly out any time after 1:00 PM to account for check-in and security clearance.

TX Courses:  In most cases, but not all, Voyageur Outward Bound School students arrive in El Paso, TX the day before their course officially begins.  Students spend the night in a local hotel (not included in course-cost) as directed by their Course Advisor. Students typically return to the El Paso International Airport around 1:00 PM on the last day of the course and should plan to fly out any time after 2:00 PM to account for check-in and security clearance.

Explicit travel directions will be shared with you after you enroll on a course.  Students should refrain from making travel plans prior to being approved for their course and receiving travel details for their specific course as the exact details may differ slightly from the directions listed above.

Please submit the Course Inquiry form or call (828) 239-2376 to discuss if this course is right for you.

72 – Day Expedition
Dates Days Age Tuition Course #
6/14/16 – 8/16/16 64 18+ $8995 VMGL-672

Canadian Border Leadership Semester Inquiry

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