LOS ANGELES — There’s nothing like spending a night under the stars unless you’ve never spent a night under the stars, in which case it can be a little intimidating. Just ask Diane Romero.

“I’ve done cabin camping,” she said, as she scoped out some real estate at Circle X Campground. “Never tent camping.”

What You Need To Know

  • Girls Outside is a pilot initiative from the National Park Service to introduce high school students from LAUSD to the great outdoors

  • The female identifying participants spend two nights camping at Circle X Ranch

  • The students learn basic camping and hiking skills like how to pitch a tent and use a compass

  • Organizer Ana Beatriz Cholo hopes this becomes an annual program

Romero is a rising senior from Pacoima, so she’s pretty excited about the change of scenery.

“Not a lot of forests over there,” she said dryly.

She admits pitching a tent was never high on her bucket list.

“I think it’s something that I would get someone else to do for me, like my brother,” she laughed. “It’s a very foreign concept to me.”

Despite the abundance of amazing natural resources in SoCal, not everyone has the opportunity or encouragement to explore them. It’s something Ana Beatriz Cholo of the National Park Service desperately wanted to change.

“I think the outdoors is just such an amazing healing place,” Cholo said.

That is why she has spent a lot of time developing the Girls Outside program. Although a ranger now, she said she didn’t discover the outdoors until later in life.

“I had a strict father, and he thought these things weren’t for girls,” she explained, “but these things are for girls. They are for everyone.”

The pilot program — which held two sessions this summer — is a partnership between the National Park Service and Los Angeles Unified School District, in addition to the SAMO Fund. Participating girls spent two nights at Circle X Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains where they learned basic camping skills and hiking skills such as map reading and compass usage and important outdoor principles like leave no trace.

There were also leadership sessions that gave the young women a chance to meet other women who have made their careers in the great outdoors. Careers that Cholo didn’t even know existed when she was a girl. Whether they want to continue exploring the natural world or work in it one day, Cholo said it’s important for them to know they play a role in it.

“These are their public lands and we need future stewards,” Cholo said. “We need people to take care of these public lands.”

This is the first year she’s run the program, which she hopes will continue for many summers to come. As an avid photographer, she is thoroughly documenting the journey, which also allows her to really witness close up the impact it can have.

“There were a few moments where I thought I might cry,” Cholo admitted. “It’s personal to me. I was that girl. I wanted to be out here, I wanted to do this kind of thing and I couldn’t. And so this is like a dream come true.”

Pitching a tent turned out to be much easier than Romero had ever dreamed.

“I thought it would take forever,” she said. “It took like five minutes to do this.”

Up on the mountain, she’s far from her comfort zone, but working alongside and laughing with her friend and tent mate Samantha, she found she was growing more comfortable by the minute.

“It can make you feel confident when you complete something, which I think is very important for a lot of girls to have confidence in themselves,” she said, as she pressed a stake into the ground. “Make you feel accomplished and make you want to do more things.”

With more than 150,000 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area alone, there’s plenty more to do for girls outside.