Every summer from third grade through ninth, I packed up my things to leave San Francisco for a parentless, school-free month in Casco, Maine. As a former camper and current adult, I've encountered many skeptics who lovingly tease me for frequently running into yet another long-lost camp friend or starting a story with "this one time at camp" (many of which are of the "you had to be there" variety). If you had the opportunity to attend sleep-away camp, you know camp friends take the special bond of childhood friendship to the next level. But so much more than friendship bracelets and kumbaya sing-alongs filled the lakeside Casco air. In this article from Psychology Today, the author of Nurturing Resilience, Michael Ungar, explains that summer camp is the perfect place "for children to optimize their psychological development."
Ungar explains that camp teaches us how to get out of our physical comfort zones while also providing a sense of purpose, authenticity, belonging, and tradition away from social or familial pressures at home. Personally, I still remember the moment I realized camp was so much more than just a fun summertime pursuit. I was 16 and feeling gloomy at my final campfire when I became overcome by a sense of gratitude that left me speechless. Luckily, I didn't need to speak, since I had lost my voice from cheering at Spirit Day with such relentless enthusiasm that even after guzzling down a bottle of honey, my throat was still sore (and I've never cheered for a sports team in my life).
Surrounded by the people who stood by my side during my formative (and angsty) years, I realized how lucky I was to be a part of a community that encouraged me to celebrate myself, forge pure and lifelong relationships, and establish independence at such a young age. I was sad but grateful for this childhood tradition that would soon only be a memory. While it'd be hard to say goodbye to your child for a week at a time, let alone an entire summer, I agree with Ungar that the investment is more than worth it. So whether you're officially convinced and want to find the right sleep-away camp for your child or you need a little more information, this roundup of the 10 best camps around the country will even make you want to join in on the summer fun.
The Nitty-Gritty: Camp Longhorn is located in Texas and offers a few duration options, making it great for families that need some flexibility or aren't ready to send their children away for an entire summer. One-week sessions are $1737, two-week sessions are $3421, and three-week sessions $4517.
The Standout Features: Aside from having an awesome trampoline on the lake, known as "the blob," as well as other obscure offerings like scuba lessons and cheer classes, the lodging is also unique. Specifically, the campers and counselors live in open-air cabins, which not only feels super serene but also brings the outdoor experience to a whole new level. By the end of the session, each cabin shares a special bond, as they travel to all the activities together.
Robin Hood Camp
The Nitty-Gritty: Opened in 1928, Robin Hood Camp in Brooksville, Maine, has been around for 88 years. So If you're looking for a classic East Coast summer camp experience, here it is. Like most traditional camps, it offers a huge range of activities, ensuring that your children will find something they like no matter their interests and talents. Each child can go for two to seven weeks; fees range from $4900 to $11,000 depending on duration.
The Standout Features: It's the only camp in the world that has direct access to a fresh-water lake and the ocean. To make it feel even more like a country club, Robin Hood offers courses like golf and squash. Oh, and according to the website, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are mandatory shower days, so your little one will stay squeaky clean all summer long, no matter how much mud they play in. Day campers can choose their own activities, so there's plenty of freedom and flexibility for your child to try new activities.
The Nitty-Gritty: Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center is located in the Catskills of New York. Here your kids will spend time in classes studying theater and on stage practicing what they learn and performing. There are three two-week sessions for $6045 each.
The Standout Features: With alumni like Robert Downey Jr., Natalie Portman, and Lea Michele, this is the place to be for theater lovers and aspiring actors. With about 160 counselors and 290 campers, your child will get a lot of individual attention to harness their skills and meet their daily needs. Plus, every counselor and teacher is professionally trained, making Stagedoor Manor a real investment in your child's future if they are serious about performing arts. This camp also features recreational sports during free time, with facilities like a pool and a volleyball court. At night, they feature programs like open mics, outdoor movies, and video dance parties. Even better? The campus is in a former hotel, so the accommodations are dorm-style rooms with private bathrooms and full-size closets.
For Waterfront Adventures:
Skylake Yosemite Camp
The Nitty-Gritty: Skylake Yosemite Camp is a traditional, well-rounded California sleep-away camp for boys and girls 7 to 15. The camp offers both two- and four-week sessions, costing $3500 to $6200, respectively.
The Standout Features: This is the perfect option for West Coast–based families that want to send their kids to a classic camp but not so far away. Located in Yosemite, it offers all the traditional activities waterfront activities as well as team sports, outdoor adventures, and arts and crafts. Each day they get to choose their activities, so there's plenty of variation and movement to keep kids excited. There's also a nightly campfire activity, which creates an awesome sense of community. Also on offer is a "family camp" on select weekends so parents can come to visit their campers.
Camp Laurel South
The Nitty-Gritty: Camp Laurel South is a three-and-a-half-week summer camp, with a sister camp called Laurel for a seven-week experience. Laurel South is $9100, and Laurel is $13,275. Though run separately, both camps have similar picturesque grounds and state of the art facilities that attract campers from around the world. But each offers so much more than scenic views and cosmetic perks, like a crazy-high return rate. Let's find out why.
The Standout Features: While it's structured and efficient enough to master the skills in each class, it's also flexible and encourages kids to be independent and try new things. At Laurel and Laurel South, each child curates their own schedule at the onset of the session, with 10 self-selected activities that are split into two days on a rotating basis. Then, every five days, there is a special field trip or in-camp celebration, like a carnival, so your kids will be busy in the best way possible. As campers get older, they get to add more obscure or specific activities to their schedule, like cartooning, giant swing, modern dance, wakeboarding, riflery, stage design, every team sport you can imagine, and newspaper. The camps even offer croquet and "shower hour," which is basically time to unwind and catch up with your cabin mates.
Walton's Grizzly Lodge
The Nitty-Gritty: Walton's Grizzly Lodge is a lakefront camp in Lake Tahoe, California, for kids ages 7 to 14. The sessions range from one to two weeks, so they're perfect for families who have busy summer plans or for first-time campers who want to feel it out before committing to an extended period of time away home. Prices range from $1850 to $3500.
The Standout Features: The Lake Tahoe location gives this camp a decidedly woodsy feel. It also has a private lake, which is pretty awesome and makes it feel even more like a remote escape from a busy school year. Most cabins house about 8 to 14 kids with two to four counselors. A ropes course, woodworking, waterskiing, dance, weaving, and windsurfing… There are endless options for your child to choose from.
Cheley Colorado Camps
The Nitty-Gritty: Cheley Colorado Camp is great for kids who want to trade in suburbia or city life for the Rocky Mountains. Located in this beautiful mountain range reminiscent of the open, exciting Wild West, this retreat is a true adventure. It's $5700 for the full four-week session, of which there are two.
The Standout Features: This is the kind of place where your child will be able to escape their daily routines and experiment with new challenges, both physical and mental, every day. From hiking and biking to the summit of a mountain to attending target practice, fishing for rainbow trout in the river or rafting through it, and tile-making in the art studio, it's like a trip to a different time. And they get to enjoy all this while soaking up the immense beauty of the natural southwest landscape. If your child loves a good adventure through the wilderness, this is the camp for them.
So They Write Home:
Catalina Island Camps
The Nitty-Gritty: At Catalina Island Camps, your child will experience the essence of a Southern California lifestyle. This camp offers two-week sessions at $3300 for those who'd like to immerse themselves in the camp more fully, but it also hosts kids for a shorter program of one week. The latter is $1750 and perfect for first-time campers or busy families who already have an action-packed summer planned ahead.
The Standout Features: Located on an island along the lower California coast, Catalina Island Camp is most well known for its various waterfront sports like power boat activities, sailing, and snorkeling. That being said, there is still an incredibly diverse list of options, so if your child prefers to be on land, they'll be able to choose anything from rock climbing to a ropes course (with a GoPro in tow, naturally), garden and composting training, and arts and crafts.
The Nitty-Gritty: Lonehollow Camp is a Texas camp that offers a two-week session or four-week session for $3510 or $5,790, respectively.
The Standout Features: With over 60 activities, there seriously is something for everyone. Among them are things like badminton, cooking class, fused glass workshops, a capella, magic tricks, mountain boarding, and puppy training classes. From the athlete to the artist, the team-oriented to the individually motivated, and even the backpacking lover or bookworm, each child will be encouraged to try a little of everything. Lonehollow also has a cool Hogwarts-like tradition. On a first-time campers' arrival, he or she will draw a letter from the "sorting hat," initiating them into one of three lifelong crews to facilitate multi-age bonding outside the typical cabin groups. Speaking of which, the cabins themselves are fancier and hipper than your average camp lodging.
Four Winds Western Ho
The Nitty-Gritty: Located on Orcas Islands in the beautiful Pacific Northwest region, Four Winds Western Ho is a picturesque seaside camp. It offers two four-week sessions throughout the summer for $5300 each, and a junior camper session for $1250 that's only one week long at the end of the summer once the rest of the camper have gone home. The camps also offer financial aid.
The Standout Features: Whatever your niche, you'll find it at Four Winds Western Ho. Batik classes to poetry, kayaking, pony cart classes, and garden crafts, this camp definitely has something outside the box for every kind of camper. This camp also encourages everyone to try the polar bear swim, which is an early morning 50-degree plunge in the water. Kids live in cabins or tents with four to seven campers and one or two counselors, so you can bet they will receive a lot of individual care. Music is a big part of this camp's tradition, and each night, the camp gathers for evening songs.
What is your favorite camp memory from childhood? Would you send your children to any of these camps? Share your thoughts in the comments below.