Trails Carolina Investigation

trails carolina investigation

Trails Carolina is a well-known wilderness therapy program designed to help struggling adolescents and young adults overcome various emotional and behavioral challenges. This investigation seeks to provide an in-depth analysis of Trails Carolina, including its history, approach, controversies, and outcomes. By examining these aspects, we aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of the program’s effectiveness and impact on participants.

Historical Background:

Trails Carolina was founded in 2008 by Graham Shannonhouse and Linda McKenna. The program is located in North Carolina and offers a wilderness therapy experience to adolescents aged 10-17 and young adults aged 18-25. The founders’ vision was to provide an alternative therapeutic approach to address emotional and behavioral issues among young people, focusing on the healing power of nature and outdoor activities.

Program Approach:

Trails Carolina’s approach combines traditional therapy with outdoor experiences in a wilderness setting. Participants are removed from their daily routines and immersed in a natural environment for an extended period, typically lasting 8-10 weeks. Key components of the program include:

  1. Individual and Group Therapy: Participants engage in individual and group therapy sessions led by licensed therapists. These sessions aim to address underlying emotional issues and develop coping skills.
  2. Outdoor Activities: Wilderness experiences, such as hiking, camping, and adventure-based activities, are used as therapeutic tools. These activities promote personal growth, teamwork, and self-discovery.
  3. Academic Support: Trails Carolina provides educational support to participants, allowing them to continue their studies while in the program.
  4. Family Involvement: The program emphasizes family involvement through family therapy and workshops, recognizing the importance of family dynamics in the healing process.

Controversies and Criticisms:

Despite its popularity, Trails Carolina has faced several controversies and criticisms over the years:

  1. Lack of Regulation: Wilderness therapy programs, in general, operate in a regulatory gray area, with minimal oversight. Critics argue that this lack of regulation can lead to potential abuses and safety concerns.
  2. Cost: Trails Carolina is a costly program, making it inaccessible to many families. Some argue that it caters primarily to affluent families and may perpetuate inequalities in access to mental health care.
  3. Ethical Concerns: There have been allegations of ethical concerns, including issues related to staff qualifications and the use of therapeutic restraint. These allegations have raised questions about the program’s commitment to participant safety.
  4. Limited Scientific Evidence: While Trails Carolina cites success stories, there is a lack of rigorous scientific research supporting its long-term effectiveness. The absence of comprehensive outcome data leaves room for skepticism.

Outcomes and Success Stories:

Trails Carolina has numerous testimonials and success stories from both participants and their families. Many report significant improvements in emotional and behavioral issues, improved family relationships, and enhanced self-esteem. However, it is essential to acknowledge the limitations of anecdotal evidence and the need for more systematic research to validate these claims.

Safety and Risk Management:

Ensuring the safety of participants is a critical aspect of wilderness therapy programs. Trails Carolina claims to prioritize safety through staff training, risk assessments, and comprehensive safety protocols. However, concerns about the potential for accidents, exposure to harsh environmental conditions, and participant-staff interactions persist within the industry.

Ongoing Research and Evaluation:

To address the criticism regarding the lack of empirical evidence, Trails Carolina has expressed a commitment to ongoing research and evaluation. Collaborations with universities and researchers aim to assess the program’s impact, safety, and effectiveness.

Alternatives and Considerations:

It is essential to consider alternative therapeutic options when evaluating wilderness therapy programs like Trails Carolina. Traditional therapy, outpatient treatment, and residential treatment centers are among the alternatives, each with its unique strengths and limitations. Families must weigh these options carefully when seeking help for their children or young adults.


Trails Carolina has become a prominent player in the field of wilderness therapy, offering an alternative approach to address the emotional and behavioral challenges faced by adolescents and young adults. While the program has garnered positive testimonials and success stories, it is not without its share of controversies and criticisms. Concerns regarding cost, regulation, safety, and the need for scientific evidence persist. Ongoing research and evaluation are essential to determine the program’s long-term effectiveness and ensure participant safety. Families considering Trails Carolina or similar wilderness therapy programs must carefully weigh their options and consult with mental health professionals to make informed decisions regarding the best treatment approach for their loved ones.