Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tips to Help You Find Great Summer Outdoor Camps for Kids

Two Kids on Dock YMCA Summer Camp Manitou-Lin 8-6-09 IMG_4432
Looking for fish off the dock at the local YMCA camp
I was reminded the other day that it's time to start thinking about where to send the kids to camp this summer when I opened the local parenting magazine and saw the ads for various area camps splattered throughout.  If you are going to send your kids to summer camp, now is the time to start planning. Not only will you get spots at your top picks when you register early, but you'll avoid hearing the “I’m bored!” complaint from your kids because they'll have something better to do than hang around the house all day ALL SUMMER. 

Consider this --- rather than sign them up for the now typical offering of soccer, computer, basketball, Lego, tumbling camp and the like, why not go the more traditional route and send them to an outdoor camp?  You know, the kind we attended when we were kids that included all the fun stuff like camping, archery, fishing, target shooting, animal tracking, orienteering, hiking, swimming in lakes, cooking by campfire, sleeping in cabins and tents and learning outdoor survival skills.  It’s the classic picture we all have in our minds from our camping days.  

Nowadays, if you want your kids to have the same experience you did as a kids, you have to specifically look for an outdoor camp.  What exactly are outdoor camps?  After all, kids are outdoors when they play soccer, tennis, etc.  Well, outdoor camps include activities that focus mainly on traditional outdoor activities like boating, hiking and those I mentioned above and you have to specifically look for them when searching for options.

For a multitude of reasons, the popularity of this type of camp has declined.  But, given all the news these days about children needing to reconnect with the outdoors and nature, outdoor camps may be enjoying a comeback because they are just what the doctor ordered to help fight childhood depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder.  In fact, according to a multitude of research studies (under "why it's important" link), children who are connected to nature are actually better learners.  Additionally, a child who is active in nature has reduced stress and increased attention span.  Wouldn't it be great to send your child back to school this fall with an improved ability to learn, increased attention span, less stress and a real connection to nature?  Traditional outdoor camps provide an abundance of the outdoors.  In fact, their whole purpose is to create that connection and benefit kids in those ways. 

If you think you would like to go this route, below is valuable information to get you started.  The links will help you find and learn about traditional outdoor camps and what they offer campers. is an excellent resource to help you find, choose and plan for camp, though be aware it represents all types of camps, not just outdoor camps.

4-H has summer camp programs that are activity specific such as swimming, archery, fishing, boating, hunter education, outdoor skill building and more, and are often offered through your state fish and wildlife agency.  To find info about your local 4-H just type your state name and "4-H" into your favorite search engine. is an online database that includes outdoor camps as a possible search query and has more than 10,000 camps listed.  You can do a specific search for the activity on which you would like your child to focus.  Also try the American Camping Association's site and click on its "Find A Camp" button.  It lists all types of camps, but includes many with an outdoorsy focus.

If you have older kids and are looking for adventure or travel camps try:  Outward Bound, Moondance Adventures, Adventures Cross Country or Bold Earth.

Lastly, if you want your kids to stay close and would like to go the less expensive route, look for nature specific programs offered by your local park and recreation department or the YMCA.  Most offer at least a few day camps that are conducted outside and may include swimming, hiking or even outdoor art lessons.

Good luck and if you find a great camp or have one to recommend, please post it in the comments section.


  1. If you're in Colorado, check out Walking Mountains Science Center - fantastic summer science camps for kids in 1st through 8th grade. Day camps or overnight camps - Summer Camp Registration

  2. Thank you for the information. I checked out your site and your programs look fantastic!

  3. These links are helpful to many parents out there. Summer is coming so this is great for kids to experience outdoor activities.


  4. Every kid should experience the fun that attending a nature camp can provide. Good post.