Let's ALL Go to Camp

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations Guide

Let's ALL Go to Camp

Why should the kids get all the s'mores? At these adventure retreats, families are in it together--from hiking, biking, and rafting, to the inevitable campfire singalong


Strap on the yellow sou'westers and head for Hog Island, a virgin 333-acre Audubon wilderness preserve less than a mile off the rocky coast of central Maine. Here, naturalists will guide your family through five days of hands-on oceanographic, geological, and ecological studies, using the spruce forests, tide pools, quaking bogs, salt marshes, and cold waters of Muscongus Bay as your laboratory. The camp is based on the northern tip of the heavily wooded island, where Audubon maintains a cluster of rustic cabins and a central wood-frame lodge. Aimed at families with kids ages nine to 13, the program features daily classes, workshops, and field trips that have a definite prepubescent bent: Spidermania, Insect Safari, Ocean Creature Feature, and Owl Pellet Dissection (how cool is that?) are among the elective offerings.

You'll start each day with a bird walk (though the kids may get out of bed with more enthusiasm if you talk up the carnivorous plants lurking in the wet forest) and end it with an evening campfire. In between you'll attend classes, do field research, make crafts, play pickup volleyball games, and take motorboat excursions to search for minke whales, harbor seals, puffins, and other marine life. The camp accommodates 38 people in three cabins with shared baths; two cabins have two bedrooms each, while the other houses up to 14 people dormitory-style. You'll eat meals in the lodge dining hall, where the high point is a lobster feast on the camp's final evening. The session runs August 21–26. Both adults and children pay $485 per person; call 888-325-5261.



We understand. Not every family wants to do the load-the-backpack-with-rocks-and-march survival training thing. For parents who like the idea of introducing their kids to the backcountry but aren't quite ready for a major hair-shirt expedition, this low-key, low-pressure program offers a sample of outdoor activities suitable for novice adults and children as young as six.

The week begins with a guided two-day Class II and III whitewater rafting/camping trip through the striated pink canyons of the Rio Grande near Santa Fe. Then it's off for either horseback riding or fly fishing at the actual Brush Ranch, a former dude ranch turned youth camp about 35 miles east of Santa Fe. Riders will spend about two hours in the saddle headed toward Rosilla Peak Ranch, a 300-acre mountaintop spread at 9,500 feet (owned by Brush Ranch); anglers will pass the afternoon on the Pecos River. The rest of the trip is up to you. One option is mountain biking: Based at Rosilla Peak, families sleep in one of five platform tents on ranch grounds, and ride the mostly flat dirt roads and trails in Santa Fe National Forest. Families who opt for rock climbing or backpacking can hike two hours into the red-rock Doctor's Creek Canyon, where they'll set up camp and spend the next few days exploring the cliffs or trails. Instructors tailor the day's schedule to your family's wishes--even if that means scrapping the physical stuff and spending the afternoon sitting in the wildflowers wondering how the sky can be so blue. Sessions run June 18–24 and July 23–29. Adults and children over nine pay $800; kids ages 6–9 pay $600 (kids under six are not accepted). Contact 800-722-2843; www.brushranchcamps.com.



Looking for a way to knock the Pokémon figures right out of your kid's hands? Consider a stay at the ACE Adventure Center, a 1,400-acre lakefront wilderness resort near the rim of southern West Virginia's New River Gorge. The center's menu of kid-friendly rafting, rock climbing, caving, mountain biking, horseback riding, and kayaking clinics just may have your 11-year-old saying, "Pikachu who?"

Activities are offered à la carte, so you're free to sign up for (or send your kids on) as many or few as you please. Among the offerings: Class III to V whitewater rafting from two private put-ins on the lower New River or nearby Gauley; guided mountain-bike outings on 25 miles of trails, all of which connect to the New River Gorge National River Park trail system, and rock climbing and rapelling on gorge cliffs.

While most of the clinics best suit kids over age nine, the center welcomes younger children, who will likely be quite content to swim, fish, and boat on ACE's largest lake (one of five on the grounds), and join a raft trip on the gentle Upper New. Accommodations range from tent sites ($4 per night) to platform tents for two or three people ($33–$41 per night) to deluxe two-bedroom chalets with private hot tubs ($130–$210 per night). Kids under 14 stay free. Meals (not included in lodging rates) are served buffet-style in the lakeside dining lodge. ACE will customize meal and activity packages for families. Call 888-223-7238.



Breteche Creek, a working cattle ranch 30 miles east of Yellowstone National Park, offers visitors much more than the chance to yell "yee-ha!" and wear a silly hat. This is highbrow wrangling, combining the usual guest-ranch activities with daily programs in ornithology, astronomy, geology, writing, and photography. Guests are free to attend as many workshops as they like--or they can skip the book-learnin' stuff and head out on foot or in the saddle into the ranch's 9,000 acres of rolling sagebrush, aspen groves, and volcanic rock spires. The ranch also maintains a fleet of canoes for use on its lake and an outdoor climbing wall to prep your gang for optional rock-climbing outings to a nearby granite uplift.

Families stay in one of nine private, electricity-free wooden cabins with canvas roofs and walls; they dine--often on grub cooked to cowboy perfection in an outdoor barbecue pit--in a recently expanded central log lodge. Rafting on the Shoshone River, as well as excursions to Yellowstone, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and, yee-ha!, the Cody Night Rodeo, round out the week. Adults pay $1,100 per week; kids ages 6–13, $825; ages 1–5, $425. For information, call 307-587-3844.



The Poulter family has been making outdoorsmen and women out of tenderfoot kids for some 30 years at their camp about 20 miles from Steamboat Springs. Their mid-August Family Camp is dedicated to helping kids and their parents acquire outdoors skills, gain respect for the wilderness, and--this is key--achieve an across-the-board reduction in whining. The remote, heavily forested facility at 8,000 feet provides a fine jumping-off point for all kinds of activities: Mountain bikers and horseback riders can follow trails directly from camp into the Routt National Forest; rock climbers head up to nearby Rabbit Ears Pass to scale good introductory and moderate routes; kayakers and tubers take to the flat water of the Yampa River. Parents and kids can participate as a unit or strike out on their own under the guidance of camp staff. Even infants are welcome--the camp provides day care. Families stay in the same log-frame dormitory cabins that house youth campers during the rest of the summer, and eat meals in a central dining hall. Family Camp runs August 13–20; cost is $650 per person for the first two family members, with a ten percent discount for each additional person. Call 800-651-8336.

--Meg Lukens Noonan



If the words "color war" still make your heart race, if ghost stories still give you goosebumps, if gimp is still your artistic medium of choice, you are a strong candidate for a family week at a traditional overnight summer camp. Many youth camps now offer family sessions during which you and your children get to share the fully retro camp experience--from the lanyard-making to the canoe-capsizing to the inescapable Skit Night. Here are four that will have you dreaming of toasted marshmallows.

Lake Hubert, Minnesota

A venerable 90-year-old lakefront camp about 125 miles north of Minneapolis, Lake Hubert offers a full menu of traditional and not-so-traditional activities, from sailing to kickboxing, all designed for parents and children to do together. Three families with similar-aged children share a cabin (three sleeping rooms, a central living room, and bathroom). Dates: August 12–18. Adults, $560; kids under ten, $520. Contact 800-242-1909; www.lincoln-lakehubert.com.

Arapahoe, North Carolina

This YMCA-run camp east of New Bern uses the sheltered waters of Pamlico Sound for its highly regarded sailing and seamanship programs. With a fleet of boats from sailboards to 13-foot Boston Whalers to 24-foot Helms, families can spend as much time as they wish on the water. The camp accommodates 55 families, who stay in private cabins or a limited number of air-conditioned rooms. Child care is available for the youngest kids for two hours each day. Dates: August 13–19. Adults, $450; ages 6–12, $350; five and under, $280. For information, contact 252-249-1212; www.seagull-seafarer.com.

Fairlee, Vermont

Hulbert has been hosting a family camp on the piney shores of Lake Morey for some 20 years. Families bunk in rustic lakefront cabins and spend their days following a traditional camp schedule of canoeing, hiking, swimming, sailing, singing, craft-making, and studying natural history. Special teen activities, including an overnight hike, may help convince your otherwise reluctant adolescent that camp is actually kind of cool. Though infants and toddlers are welcome, there are no programs for children under four. Dates: August 19–25. Adults, $380; kids 4–16, $285; under four free. For information, contact 802-333-3405; www.alohafoundation.org.

Raymond, Maine

Family campers gather on the shores of Panther Pond, about 25 miles northwest of Portland, for a week of canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, archery, and other classic camp activities. Though kids can do supervised activities during optional adults-only outings, families are welcome to simply hang out on the waterfront all day and treat the camp as a schedule-free resort. Cabins are assigned to each family; meals are served alfresco at picnic tables or in the lakeside dining hall. Dates: August 20–26. Adults, $525; kids 9–16, $195; kids 4–8, $175; under four free. Contact 800-480-1533; www.kingsleypines.com.


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