With warm summer days spent boating on a lake and hiking through the woods, and nights spent around the campfire and gazing at the stars, who wouldn’t want to go to summer camp? Now adults want to get in on the experience. Family camps around the country are making it possible for multiple generations to enjoy the summer camp experience together.
Family summer camp is a unique bonding experience. “My favorite part is that there’s nothing to do except spend time together. There are no phones, tv or internet. It’s just boating, swimming and fishing,” says Bill Gaul of Evanston, who has spent a week with his family at Camp Nawakwa for the past three summers. “My work life is pretty wired, so it’s important to vacation unplugged.”
The old school approach is a big part of the fun of family camps. “We do talent show skits, sing campfire songs, and watch our kids do the same thing,” says Ann Skirvin of Bloomington, Ind., who has attended Camp Brosius with her family for 12 years. “It creates a bond that you don’t find on other family vacations. These are memories our children will take with them for a lifetime and can pass on to their kids.”
“It’s a neat thing to see this beautiful place inspire people and to watch them have such an enjoyable time with family members, both those with whom they live and others who live far away,” says Camp Director Wiley Craft. “It’s a great place for a family reunion.” There are often families with four generations visiting together, from infants to octogenarians.
“Camp is a place where we give our children more freedom than we would on a different vacation. We trust everyone there and the environment, so we allow them to go with their friends and do activities without the same level of worry we would have in our day to day life,” says Skirvin, who worked at Camp Brosius while in college, as did her husband. They now attend with their children, ages 16 and 12. “As parents, we are more relaxed when we are there, and in turn, my kids are very relaxed and have so much fun.” At Camp Nawakwa in Lac du Flambeau, Wisc., family camp activities range from ice cream socials to triathlons to the popular boat-in breakfast. Even reluctant campers have been converted into devoted fans after spending some time at Camp Nawakwa.
“I am not opposed to nature on principle but I am not what anyone would call an ‘outdoorsman.’ In fact, I fancy myself an ‘indoorsman,’” says Tania Richard, Gaul’s wife. She says that while she was dazed and confused at the archery field at first, her love for Nawakwa grew from watching her children. “I come here for my family. They love it here. That’s why I do it and always will.”
Medomak Family Camp in Maine is the first full-season secular family camp to be accredited by the American Camping Association. It offers traditional camp activities for all ages, and also includes some adult-only options such as cheese-making classes, yoga, massage therapy and visits to the local gin distillery and art gallery. As fun as the adult-only options sound, “Part of the appeal of family camp to a lot of adults is getting to do the activities that the kids do, like archery and arts and crafts. We make them more challenging for adults,” says David Brunner, director of Medomak Family Camp.
The day is divided into thirds, with mornings spent with those in the same age groups, afternoons enjoyed as a family at the lake and all campers coming together as a community at night for activities like a barn dance, scavenger hunt or sunset canoe cruise. The schedule gives parents a bit of everything. “They don’t want to be away from their kids but appreciate having a little bit of time to themselves, too,” Brunner says.
He also notes that the family units that attend are not always a traditional nuclear family, with grandparents attending with grandchildren, aunt and uncles often being included and some families bringing friends.
Cheley Colorado Camps offer a popular August family camp in picturesque Estes Park, Colo., for families with children age 6 and older. Hiking, horseback riding, technical climbing and target sports are a few of the activities offered.
Jeff Cheley, director of Cheley Colorado Camps, says, “We started it in the late 1980s because parents were saying ‘I want to go to camp!’ It’s a great vacation for families because you’re not worried about where you’re going to dinner or wondering if you have tickets for tomorrow. Every night, you just sign up for activities for the next day.”
He adds, “It’s a different experience. There isn’t happy hour in the evening, it’s sitting around the campfire at night or playing games or listening to the guitar. Families keep returning and get to know other families that are coming and there’s camaraderie there as well.”
McGaw YMCA Camp Echo, located in Fremont, Mich., hosts family camp weekends over Memorial Day and Labor Day, in addition to family camp sessions in August.
Many children begin their Camp Echo experience as toddlers during Family Camp along with their parents and grandparents, and then return in later years as summer campers enrolled in camp just for kids.
All camp directors recommended registering as soon as possible because camps do fill up quickly.