Ever wish you could spend a week with your kids and learn how to surf or speak a foreign language? After a stay at any of these 20 specialty camps for families (which start at $880), you'll come away with bragging rights, along with one of those classic lanyard key chains.
Timing Sessions usually last five or six nights; some camps offer weekend activities. Others organize special family programs, often just for a weekend, throughout the year.
Pricing Rates depend on the number and age of children. Where possible, the prices we list in this article are based on a family of four with two adults and two kids ages 7 and 13. Unless otherwise noted, each of the mentioned fees is for a weeklong stay and covers all meals, activities, and the least expensive non-tent-camping accommodations.
Sleeping Cabins are almost always single-family. "Dorm" rooms indicate a shared bath. Not all camps provide linens and towels, so it's best to ask in advance.
Trusting Camps that are accredited by the American Camp Association (acacamps.org) meet 31 mandatory health and safety standards and are usually handicap accessible.
The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
On a 170-acre campus modeled after a Pueblo farmstead, campers start out in a lab, learning to identify pottery, stone, and animal-bone artifacts, and then put their know-how to use, excavating alongside Crow Canyon archaeologists in nearby Hovenweep National Monument. Possible find: a 13th-century mano or metate, used to grind corn. The program finale is a tour of Mesa Verde National Park. Lodging: Log cabins sleep six on four beds and one bunk; shared bathrooms. Food: Three buffet-style meals daily. Info: 800/422-8975; crowcanyon.org/archaeology; $4,900; June 28–July 4, Aug. 2–8; kids ages 10 and up.
HOWLANDS LANDING, CALIF.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Family Camp
A Catalina Island cove is the setting for this immersion in marine biology. Oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques) and his scientists at the Ocean Futures Society lead snorkel trips and talk about their expeditions. Campers go sailing along the coast; at night there's top-notch stargazing. Lodging: Cabins sleep up to 12 on bunks; shared bathrooms. Food: Three buffet-style meals daily. Info: 800/696-2267, catalinaislandcamps.com, $3,200, Aug. 19–23, ACA accredited, no minimum age.
Photos1 of 2
At the 88-acre U.S. Space & Rocket Center, parents and kids train like astronauts from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., building and launching single-engine rockets, seeing what it's like to walk on the moon with gravity chairs used by Apollo astronauts, and simulating shuttle missions in an orbiter. Lodging: Dorms sleep five to seven on bunks; shared bathrooms. Food: Three cafeteria-style meals daily. Info: 800/637-7223, spacecamp.com, $1,248, three-day weekends May 22–Sept. 6, ACA accredited, kids ages 7–12.
Photos1 of 1
CANOE ISLAND, WASH.
Canoe Island French Camp
This 47-acre island in the San Juan archipelago provides a stunning backdrop for lessons in all things French. Mornings begin with language classes taught by fluent instructors. Then it's time for a Gallic activity—say, baking baguettes—with bilingual directions. Afternoons are spent doing tir à l'arc (archery) or sailing on Puget Sound. Lodging: Tepees on platforms with electricity sleep five on cots; shared bathrooms. Food: Three family-style meals in a dining hall dubbed Maxim's, where French is spoken. Lunch might be a croque monsieur; dinner, bistro classics like bouillabaisse (using local mussels and crabs partially harvested by families), beef bourguignonne, and crème brûlée. Info: 360/468-2329; canoeisland.org; $920; May 22–25, Aug. 29–Sept. 1, Sept. 4–7; ACA accredited; no minimum age.
Photos1 of 3
Concordia Language Villages
Even though these language-immersion programs are in the North Woods of Minnesota, campers feel worlds away; Concordia's "villages" are modeled after different cultures' traditional architecture. The German settlement looks like a street in Germany, with a café serving linzer torte pastries. (Chinese and Arabic sessions, however, are in regular camp or lodge facilities.) Families are challenged to speak the language of their camp all day—labels everywhere supply vocabulary, and counselors, many of whom are native speakers, are ready to help. While parents are in conversation classes, kids learn songs, play games, and do crafts from countries that share that foreign tongue. Lodging: Cabins sleep 10 on bunks; private bath. Food: Three family-style meals daily of a country's cuisine, taken with instructors who encourage you to say, for example, "die Butter, bitte" (butter, please) when the Brot (bread) is served. Info: 800/222-4750, concordialanguagevillages.org, $2,360, 18 six-day sessions focusing on one of seven languages June 15–Sept. 5, ACA accredited, no minimum age.
THEATER AND MUSIC CAMPS
Cazadero Performing Arts Camp
Amid 250-foot-tall redwoods in a forest in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, Cazadero Performing Arts Camp—Caz, for short—has families dancing, playing music, and making art all day long. There's child care for kids 2 to 5 years old; everyone else signs up for classes led by regional artists. On the lineup: conga drums (taught by Grammy-nominated percussionists), concert sound production (learn the intricacies of microphones and mixers), and circus arts (master juggling and walking on stilts). Running through the grounds is a creek that campers use as a stage for large-scale environmental art projects, with Andy Goldsworthy as their inspiration. Lodging: Platform tents that sleep six or dorm rooms that sleep three, both with cots; shared bathrooms. Food: Three buffet-style meals daily. Info: 510/527-7500; cazadero.org; $2,720; Aug. 10–16, 17–23; no minimum age.
French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts
A skate park and a 10,000-square-foot fitness center are new additions to this lakeside western Catskills spread that also includes a circus pavilion, a field house, and five theaters. Each day is divided into six periods, and parents and kids can pick and choose from performing-arts workshops (learn ring and rope tricks from a magician, take a guitar lesson, fly on the high trapeze, ride a unicycle) as well as traditional camp activities (swimming, water-skiing, hitting the trails on a horse or mountain bike). In the evening, campers play Brain Wars, complete with lights and buzzers, or head over to a nearby movie theater or bowling alley. Lodging: For parents: cabins with electricity and full or queen beds; private bathrooms (rooms with double beds are also available). For children ages 6 and up: bunkhouses that sleep up to 16 with resident counselors; shared bathrooms. Food: Three cafeteria-style meals daily. Info: 800/634-1703, frenchwoods.com, $2,480, Aug. 30–Sept. 5, ACA accredited, kids ages 6 and up.
Photos1 of 2
Idyllwild Arts Family Camp
On the 205-acre campus of a boarding school in southern California's San Jacinto Mountains, children take art classes and create a mini musical to perform at session's end. Teens and parents sign up for workshops—visiting artists recently taught hot clay, Navajo weaving, and Santa Clara pottery. Everyone is free to cut class and hang out at the outdoor pool when the lifeguard is on duty. Lodging: Dorms sleep four on bunks; private bathrooms—as well as daily maid service. Food: Three cafeteria-style meals daily. Info: 951/659-2171, idyllwildarts.org, $3,195, July 4–10, classes for kids ages 3 and up.
At this riverfront YMCA girls' camp, the focus is on seamanship; U.S. Coast Guard-certified instructors teach campers to water-ski, operate motorboats, and sail boats ranging from a Sunfish to a Flying Scot. Counselors lend families gear for fishing, steer them to a three-story tree house (open for overnights), and point out dolphins in the Neuse River. Evening programs include a parents-only sunset cruise with shrimp cocktail on a Corinthian yacht and child care on shore. Lodging: Families get half of a duplex cabin that sleeps up to 18 on each side; private bathrooms. Food: Three family-style meals daily. Info: 252/249-1212, seagull-seafarer.org, $2,385, Aug. 16–22, ACA accredited, no minimum age.
Photos1 of 2
Cliff McCrath's Northwest Soccer Camp
World Cup champion Michelle Akers, a former camper, sometimes makes cameo appearances at McCrath's, which is in a former army base on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle. Kids are grouped by age, size, and skill level and then assigned to U.S. Soccer Federation-licensed college coaches across 18 soccer fields (4 large, 14 small) where they practice their shots and scissors moves. Parents get their own tutorials and scrimmages, but if their muscles are sore, they're free to grab a ferry to Port Townsend for the afternoon. Lodging: Families are separated: Kids are in dorms converted from barracks; parents are in private units—with shared baths, a common area, and a kitchenette—in the old jailhouse. Food: Three cafeteria-style meals daily. Info: 425/644-0470, nwsoccer.org, $1,630, Aug. 9–14, kids ages 7–18.
Photos1 of 1
Heartland Hockey Camp
Set in the piney woods of Minnesota's lake country, this 80-acre spread run by former NHL left winger Steve Jensen and his wife, Sandra, finds families vacationing on ice—indoors, of course. Hockey players of all ages hit the rink together to learn odd-man rushes and watch themselves on a Jumbotron—and then join any non-skating family members down by the lake to swim, canoe, and cast for northern pike. Lodging: Dorm rooms—decked out with bunks, NHL team pennants, and autographs—sleep 2 to 10; shared baths. Eight 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes are ideal for families. Food: Three buffet-style meals daily and a concession stand at the rink. Info: 800/945-7465, heartlandhockey.com, from $3,550 (everyone skating), one- and two-week sessions June 14–Aug. 15, kids ages 3 and up.
Photos1 of 1
SAN DIEGO, CALIF.
Paskowitz Surf Camp
Families are divided into groups based on their skill level for twice-a-day lessons at Tourmaline Surfing Park, on the northern end of Pacific Beach. The school, started by "Doc" Paskowitz (subject of the 2007 documentary Surfwise), is now run by his children. Beginners are welcome, and boards are provided. A tent-and-tiki-hut compound inside a private campground on Mission Bay is where everyone chills after riding the waves. Lodging: Nylon or canvas tents that sleep two to six, with foam mats. Food: Three meals daily: a light breakfast before lessons, a deli-sandwich lunch, and a big dinner such as "beer-can" chicken. Info: 949/728-1000, paskowitz.com, $4,500, nine Sunday–Friday sessions June 14–Aug. 14, kids ages 6 and up.
Photos1 of 1
EQUESTRIAN AND RANCH CAMPS
Camp Trinity at the Bar 717 Ranch
At this program within Shasta-Trinity National Forest, campers learn English, Western, and bareback riding using the ranch's 2 rings, 25 horses, and 30 miles of trails. When they're not in the saddle, kids can collect eggs, milk the cows, bake blackberry pies, or go swimming in the river. Parental perk: a trail ride ending with a picnic of cheese and local wine. Lodging: Three-sided cabins, with bathrooms and a shared bathhouse, sleep 7 to 15 on cots; hotel-style rooms with private baths sleep two to six. Food: Three family-style meals daily highlight the ranch's own beef, pork, and vegetables. Info: 530/628-5992, bar717.com, $2,895, Aug. 9–16, ACA accredited, no minimum age.
Photos1 of 1
ESTES PARK, COLO.
Cheley Colorado Camps
Backcountry trails, covered wagons, and nightly campfires draw families year after year to this 1,600-acre Western-style camp in the Rocky Mountains. Each evening, staff members describe the next day's offerings, which, in addition to horseback riding, might include moviemaking, trout fishing, or a choice of hikes. The camp also brings in instructors to guide technical climbs on-site—at the top, climbers can see Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide. Lodging: Covered wagons, sleeping four, are modeled on those that pioneers used to explore the West, each with inner-spring mattresses on wood frames; shared bathrooms. Food: Three family-style meals daily; trail riders carry lunch fixings such as sausage, cheese, and peanut butter to wrap in tortillas. Info: 800/226-7386, cheley.com, $2,500, Aug. 11–16, ACA accredited, kids ages 4 and up.
Emandal—A Farm on a River
This Mendocino County farm has been welcoming overnight guests since the early 1900s—when the redwood barn, farmhouse, and cabins were built along the Eel River. Campers are free to pick raspberries, gather eggs, and milk cows—or not. Families can explore at their own pace, spending an afternoon hiking over wooded slopes, discovering swimming holes, or simply swinging in the hammocks under the fir, madrone, and oak trees. Lodging: Cabins sleep up to 10, with electricity, cold water, and ceiling fans; shared baths. Food: Three meals daily, including a Sunday dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and just-churned ice cream. Info: 707/459-5439, emandal.com, $2,349, July 19–Aug. 22, no minimum age.
Photos1 of 2
Farm & Wilderness Family Camp
At this Quaker-inspired camp, which borders Woodward Reservoir in the Green Mountains, days are spent rotating between three main locations: the lodge, for meals, silent meetings on the lawn, and time on the porch swing; the barn, to milk cows and feed chickens; and the organic garden, where everything from tomatoes to kale is harvested. There is also canoeing, woodworking, and rock climbing. Lodging: Three-sided lean-tos with bunks that sleep 8 to 12 (often two families to a cabin); shower houses and composting toilets. (Some four-sided cabins are also available.) Food: Three meals daily incorporating garden produce and home-baked breads. Info: 802/422-3761, farmandwilderness.org, $880–$1,260 depending on income, Aug. 23–29, ACA accredited, no minimum age.
Photos1 of 1
Plantation Farm Camp
Everyone steps in to do twice-daily chores on the 500-acre Sonoma County farm: milking the cows, feeding the goats, picking peas in the garden. In between, families can make pickled green beans or cook blackberry jam on a pit fire. There's also time to ride horses bareback and canoe on the spring-fed lake. Lodging: Platform tents sleep two on foam mattresses; shared toilets and outdoor showers. Food: Three meals daily. Info: 707/847-3494; plantationcamp.com; $3,900; June 18–21, Aug. 16–23; ACA accredited; no minimum age.
MAINE AND NEW HAMPSHIRE
Appalachian Mountain Club Family Adventure Camps
The AMC runs guided hiking and naturalist programs out of five lodges scattered through New Hampshire and Maine. Families build campfires, track moose, hike to waterfalls, and investigate the beds of streams and rivers. At certain locations, there is also fly-fishing, river rafting, or overnighting in huts along the Appalachian Trail. Lodging: In New Hampshire, private bunkrooms can sleep four to six; shared bathrooms. In Maine, private cabins can sleep up to nine; private or shared bathrooms. Food: Breakfast buffet, brown-bag lunch, and family-style dinner daily; the latter includes fresh-baked bread and homemade soup. One of the dessert highlights: birds' nests (fried Chinese noodles dipped in chocolate with M&M's clustered in the middle). Info: 603/466-2727, outdoors.org/adventure_camps, rates vary by camp location but start at $1,610 (get 7 percent off that with a $75 annual membership), 17 six-day sessions June 28–Aug. 21, kids ages 5 and up.
Photos1 of 2
Wolf Ridge Family Vacation
Overlooking Lake Superior on the campus of Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center—with 18 miles of trails on 2,000 acres—the program teaches families about nature and the Ojibwa people who once populated these parts. During sessions led by naturalists, kids 3 to 6 might look for deer beds in the grass, and 7- to 14-year-olds might wade in streams in calf-high boots in search of water bugs, while their parents take a wildflower walk. Lodging: Dorms sleep up to eight on bunks; private bathrooms. Food: Three cafeteria-style meals daily. Info: 218/353-7414, wolf-ridge.org, $990, July 19–24, kids ages 4 and under are free.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYO.
Yellowstone for Families at Mammoth Hot Springs
This four-day program at the national park's 162-degree Mammoth Terraces hot springs turns family members into budding park naturalists—and kids get the National Park Service Junior Ranger patch to prove it. Under the guidance of instructors from the Yellowstone Association Institute, kids and adults can hike to a beaver pond, go on wildlife-spotting expeditions to less-trafficked areas of the park, and learn to tell whether animals are herbivores or carnivores from the shape of their tracks. Lodging: Rooms in the 1930s Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel sleep two to four, and duplex cabins with porches sleeping up to four are a short walk from the Mammoth Terraces hot springs (look for elk grazing on the lawn). Food: Full breakfast and a brown-bag lunch daily. Campers are on their own for dinner; they can eat bison burgers at the hotel or drive to nearby Gardiner, Mont., for pizza pies. Info: 866/439-7375, yellowstoneassociation.org/institute, $2,056, June 12–Aug. 21, kids 8–12.
Photos1 of 1