Great Kids Camps
When you’re trying to land on summer camps for your kids, the decision can feel as big as helping them pick where they want to go to college. Here are some of the best summer sleepaway experiences in the U.S., along with a few international adventures. As a bonus, many of these allow trial runs, so you can pull the plug if your little one is too homesick to stick around.
Camp Walt Whitman1000 Cape Moonshine Rd., Piermont | 603.764.5521
Despite the name, Walt Whitman is not a poetry camp. (Although it does open with a campfire-side reading of Whitman's "I Hear America Singing.") Arnie and Chick Soloway, who started this New Hampshire-based camp in 1948, chose the name because they were both fans of Whitman's poetry and his philosophy on community, which the founders wanted to incorporate into the experience. Today, Camp Walt Whitman is run by the grand-nephew of Arnie and Chick, and is a favorite jack-of-all-trades sleepaway camp: sports, water games, outdoor adventure, and the arts. (For kids that are into sports this is a particularly fun camp as many of the athletic coaches are current or former collegiate athletes/coaches.) And although there is plenty of room to explore and play on campus—300 acres set on the shores of Lake Armington—older campers also have the opportunity to head out on three-to-five-day expeditions (backpacking, biking, canoeing), as well as week-long trips to the Maine seacoast and cities like Montreal. Camp Walt Whitman is designed to be a summer-long experience, but kids (second to seventh grade) can sign up for a shorter three- or four-week session; and there's also a five-day family camp in case Mom and Dad want to join in on the fun.
Hidden Valley Camp161 Hidden Valley Rd., Freedom | 800.922.6737
You won’t see any uniforms or color wars happening at Hidden Valley Camp. Run by the same husband-and-wife duo since 1988 (and founded by another couple in 1948), Hidden Valley has a decidedly nice vibe. Each camper’s program is tailored to his or her own interests—whether that be playing the guitar, caring for llamas (which reside at Hidden Valley's farm, along with donkeys, rabbits, ducklings, and more), dancing, or hiking and biking. The camp, which is situated on 350 acres in Maine, is open to kids from 8 to 14 years old, for 4- and 8-week stays, as well as a 2-week “introductory” session, which can be a good option for a first-time camper.
Camp Laurel1218 Pond Rd., Mount Vernon | 207.685.4945
Divided into 6 campuses—3 for girls, 3 for boys—with names like Kennebago, Acadia, and Sequoia, Camp Laurel welcomes 240 girls and 240 boys between the ages of 7 and 15 to it’s Maine campus every summer. Camp life here is what you think of when you think of a storied Maine sleepaway camp (Laurel was founded in 1949, although originally in another location). After wake-up and breakfast, there’s a campus-wide meeting, called Cove. Then cabin clean-up, three morning activities, lunch, and rest, followed by a few more activity periods. After dinner every night, there’s some kind of programming—theater productions, sport leagues, group games—and an evening snack. And every fifth day is “Special Event Day,” which is sometimes a trip off campus. Laurel is a full-summer camp only.
Skylake Yosemite Camp37976 Rd. 222, Wishon | 559.642.3720
For a traditional East Coast camp experience on the West Coast, there’s Skylake Yosemite, which is located on a lake in the Sierra National Forest, about 15 miles from Yosemite National Park in California. Also big on camper-choice, kids here can do everything from ballet to tennis to paddle to yoga (okay, so maybe it’s not entirely East Coast-traditional). And parents tend to like that the camp serves meals cooked from scratch with a lot of organic fruits and veggies, and with meat delivered fresh from a Fresno market. The camp runs a 2- and 4-week session for kids age 7 to 15.
Kennolyn Camps8205 Glen Haven Rd., Soquel | 831.479.6714
A good West Coast option, Kennolyn is situated on 300 acres of privately owned redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is really convenient for Bay Area families. They take campers entering first through ninth grade, with a leadership training program for those entering tenth. Kennolyn has shorter camp sessions (one or two weeks), and they also get that going to camp for the first time can be intimidating, so they offer a three-day intro camp for their youngest campers (first to fourth grade). For locals, Kennolyn also takes kids for days-only.
The idea for Overland was born when a Williams College graduate rode his bike across the U.S. in 1982, and decided it would be great to offer kids a similar experience: meeting a challenge as part of a small team of comrades. In 1984, Overland kicked off with three bike trips in New England. Today, they offer biking, hiking, leadership, language, writing, service, and field studies programs both in the States and internationally, for students in 4th through 12th grade. Trips typically range from one week to a month long, and they vary from community service in the Southwest to hiking in the Pyrenees while learning Spanish.
Robin Hood Camp70 Robin Hood Rd., Brooksville | 207.359.8313
There are a lot of great sleepaway camps in Maine. One thing that’s cool about Robin Hood, though, is that it’s both lake- and ocean-side. So for kids that love to be in the water, it’s ideal. Their water activities include, but are not limited to: ocean yachting, sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, and even scuba diving. (Yes, it is still Maine—but 12-year-olds and up can register in advance to get scuba certified, which is pretty rad.) There are also plenty of land activities happening here, too, like golf, tennis, squash, and soccer, along with a big arts program that includes dance, drama, singing. Also worth noting: campers are interviewed before being accepted to Robin Hood (to ensure a happy fit) and the camp is electronics-free. Sessions are 2-, 4-, or 8-weeks long, for campers 8 to 14 years old.
Four Winds Westward Ho286 Four Winds Rd., Orcas Island | 360.376.2277
One of the most gorgeous camps we've ever seen, Four Winds Westward Ho is nestled among the San Juan Islands in the northwest corner of Washington State. This camp's roots date back to 1927, which means there are plenty of enduring traditions. All campers wear a uniform and gather regularly in front of the main lodge's fire to sing songs, play music, and swap stories. Not surprisingly, water sports are big here. Four Winds owns its own 62-foot yawl, the Carlyn, which takes campers on day and overnight sails. Land activities include: archery, basketball, pickleball, woodcarving, poetry, gardening. For girls and boys, ages 7 to 18, for 4 weeks; there's also a "junior session," which is like a one-week trial.
Lonehollow1010 Cooley Ln., Vanderpool | 830.966.6600
Meg Clark, the owner-director of Lonehollow is the daughter of Marsha and Dale Elmore, who owns storied Camp Waldemar. Lonehollow is also in Texas, just about an hour's drive south from Waldemar, but it's coed (as opposed to all girls), and for ages 7 to 16, for 1, 2, or 4 weeks. Set on a lake, amidst Texas's rugged mountains, Lonehollow is a great adventure camp: mountain biking and boarding, rock wall, hunter education, horseback riding, and so on. Plus, there are also activities as varied as woodworking, sewing, mad science, yoga, and hip hop dance.
Camp Longhorn1 Camp Longhorn Rd., Burnet | 512.793.2811
This has long been a go-to camp for generations of Texans, and while it's not fancy, it's tons of fun (case in point, a plane flies over campus and drops gum). Family run, Longhorn began with a single camp on the shores of Inks Lake in 1939, and then expanded to a second location, Indian Springs, which is in the woods of Texas Hill Country, situated on two private, spring-fed lakes. Their third camp, "C3," opens Summer 2016, and is also on Inks Lake, where the original camp is still located. All three camps share many of the same traditions and Longhorn's “Attawaytogo” spirit, i.e. an excitement to try new and different activities. The first Inks Lake location and Indian Springs have two- and three-week terms, and C3 crunches the same experience into one week. For 2nd through 10th graders.
Cheley Colorado Camps3960 Fish Creek Rd., Estes Park | 970.586.4244
Known for being particularly terrific for kids who are into horseback riding, Cheley Colorado Camps are spread out on three different sites in scenic Estes Park Valley, which is a mix of spectacular mountain peaks and pine forests threaded with hundreds of miles of trails. Land O' Peaks Ranch is about 70 miles northwest of Denver, and it houses 6 girls units and 6 boys units, broken up by age, from 9 to 11 years old. On a ranch a dozen miles away, you'll find Girls' Trail's End (for 12-17 years old) and Boys' Trail's End (same age). Campers can sign up for half or full season. In addition, Cheley hosts a number of specialty camps: five-day family camp, an eight-day camp for burn survivors, a five-day program in the Colorado Rockies for high schoolers who have an Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard parent, and a fall/spring outdoor education experience.
Concordia Language Villages
The idea behind Concordia Language Villages is to create a study abroad experience Stateside (it's part of Concordia College). Concordia offers 15 different language immersion programs—from Spanish to German, Finnish, and Arabic—for kids of varying ages and language levels. (They have year-round programs for toddlers even, but their summer sleepaway camps are typically for kids aged 7 to 18, with shorter 1- and 2-week programs for younger students, and then longer 4-week programs available for older kids.) The programs are organized by language, and the different language "villages" are spread between five locations in Minnesota. "Village passports" are stamped at "customs," campers engage in activities relevant to the language they are studying (whether that be fútbol or martial arts), and enjoy "local" cuisine (whether that be Swedish meatballs or kimchi). Concordia also offers family, adult, and educator programs.
Onondaga Camp1120 Rackety Trl., Minden, Ontario | 705.286.1030
Onondaga Camp is not entirely unlike the traditional New England camps that we're all familiar with, except, of course, for the fact that it's located in Ontario. Onondaga, which is named after an Iroquois tribe, was founded in 1918, originally as an all-boys camp on the shores of Lake Eerie. In the 1930s, the camp moved to Middle Bob Lake (where it still is today), and in the mid-1970's it became co-ed. Since 1992, it's been run by the same three people, who are all former camp directors. Onondaga Camp is a rustic experience: younger campers (6 to 11) stay in wood cabins and older campers (12 to 16) in the signature canvas tents that line the edge of the bay. There are dozens of activities and sports on offer, including: windsurfing, water trampolines, golf, leather craft, and archery. They have one-, two-, and four-week programs. (Onondaga is associated with the organization Canadian Summer Camps, as is Camp Kandalore, another storied Canadian camp.)
Camp Wekeela1750 Bear Pond Rd., Hartford | 207.224.7878
Camp Wekeela's beautiful campus is on Little Bear Pond (which is actually not so little) in Hartford, Maine, where the staff/camper ratio is about 1 to 2.5. Kids partake in the typical camp land and water activities, but they also have the opportunity to strike out on weekly camping trips around New England, day hikes, whitewater rafting adventures, etc. Teen campers can also go on longer trips—like a surfing expedition along the coast, or to cities like Boston and Montreal. Wekeela is open to kids age 7 to 16, and camp sessions range between 2 (for "rookie" campers) and 7 weeks long.