Become an Explorer

Become an Explorer

At Explore Austin, we empower youth from economically disadvantaged communities through mentoring, leadership and experiential education via outdoor adventure. We call our youth “Explorers” because they are willing to try new and hard things, are curious and seek adventure and opportunity wherever they go.

General Info

Explore Austin is a 100% free program for youth who qualify for free or reduced lunch in school. Those accepted join a team of 15 youth and five adult volunteer Mentors in the spring of sixth grade, staying together through high school graduation. 

Prerequisites & Commitment

6th-12th Graders

in the greater Austin area; the majority of youth begin the program in 6th grade, but older teams may have backfill opportunities through the sophomore year of high school

Free or reduced lunch

If you qualify for free or reduced lunch in school, you may apply to the Explore Austin program!

One Saturday per month

During the school year (called Saturday Challenges)

Commit to a weeklong SWT

Summer Wilderness Trips occur each May, June or July, most of which are out of state

Multi-year program

Commit to advancing through the program through senior year of high school

“Thanks so much, this program has really meant a lot to Julian and to myself. I grew up camping and canoeing and basically spending my summers outdoors. Unfortunately, life being life, I was unable to do these things with Julian. It makes me so happy he has a chance to explore the outdoors and have such great mentors to guide him along the way. Thanks again!

Explorer Parent

How to Apply

Step 1

Confirm youth meet(s) the above requirements (Prerequisites & Commitments).

Step 2

Fill out the Explorer Interest Form; you will be notified when the Explorer Application opens. If applying while applications are open, skip to Step 3.

Step 3

Explorer Applications are closed for the 2024-2025 program year. Please fill out the Explorer Interest Form in Step 2 to be notified when applications re-open in the fall of 2024 for the 2025-2026 program year.

English speakers, contact Anitra Edwards, Program Manager, at or (512) 320-8899.
Para Español, contact Bertha Diaz, Parent Liaison & Administrative Coordinator, at or (512) 320-8899.

The six-year program allows our Explorers to form strong bonds with their peers and Mentors.

Explorers have ample time to focus on a variety of outdoor disciplines and skills that are taught by Explore Austin’s Trip Leader staff, including:

Hiking & Backpacking



Mountain Biking

Rock Climbing & Rappelling

Explorers spend 1,100+ hours in nature over six years in the program, mastering a variety of outdoor skills.

Our Method

Saturday Challenges and Summer Wilderness Trips afford Explorers the opportunity for leadership development and social-emotional learning (SEL) through experiential outdoor education. Mentors facilitate SEL discussions using evidence-based curriculum from the Search Institute to help Explorers gain self-awareness and interpersonal skills.


Saturday Challenges are in local natural areas and include activities such as backpacking, paddling, rock climbing, mountain biking, swimming, navigation and wilderness medicine.

Explorers learn more advanced skills each year, building confidence and strengthening overall wellbeing. One Saturday Challenge a year is a volunteer project focused on environmental stewardship. 

Wilderness Trips

SWTs are annual, week-long excursions to premier backcountry destinations across the country where Explorers apply the knowledge and skills they have developed throughout the year.

Last summer, our newest Explorers traveled to Texas’ Colorado Bend State Park while more experienced teams explored mountains, rivers and hiking and biking trails in Arkansas, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho. For many of our youth, these trips represent their first experience traveling away from home and their families, and their first time on a plane or out of state.


Explore Austin produces a pipeline of youth who are poised to become leaders within their spheres of influence. Over the course of six years, an Explorer spends 1,100 hours or more in nature mastering a variety of outdoor skills under the guidance of committed, caring Mentors and Trip Leaders. That proficiency, combined with social-emotional learning and our leadership approach, gives youth the tools and surety to teach others the skills they have learned, broadening the reach of our program. Explore Austin’s program helps youth pursue their own versions of success and enables them to envision possibilities beyond their current circumstances.