5 Great Family Summer Camps in the USA

Jun 3, 2015

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Summer camps aren’t just for kids! A number of nifty retreats in the US encourage mom and dad to tag along for campfire sing-alongs, archery, canoeing and arts and crafts. TPG Contributor Kara Williams (the mother of two adventurous kids) shares five family summer camps around the country. Hopefully they’ll have you conjuring up memories of your own summer sleep-away camp experiences!

Kids play on a grassy area at Vermont's Tyler Place. Courtesy photo.
Kids play on a grassy area at Vermont’s Tyler Place. Photo courtesy of Tyler Place.

1. The Tyler Place Family Resort — Highgate Springs, Vermont

This luxury, all-inclusive family resort in rural, northern Vermont features quaint cottages and suites with separate sleeping areas for children; differentiated, age-appropriate programming for infants through teens; and a dizzying array of sports and recreational activities, from windsurfing, mini-golf and tennis to hayrides, volleyball and wakeboarding. Typically, children hang out with same-aged pals in the morning at Tyler Place, with “family time” in the afternoon. Then, in the evening, children are reunited with their friends and upbeat counselors, while grownups get some kids-free time for cocktails followed by candlelit dining.

The 165-acre property, which sits on a mile of private lakeshore, has been in the Tyler family for five generations, and has been welcoming guests since 1933, with all meals, lodging and activities included in one price up front. Vermont’s Burlington International Airport (BTV) is about 45 minutes away, while New York’s Plattsburgh International Airport (PBG) and Montreal-Trudeau Airport (YUL) are about an hour’s drive. Another option: Amtrak train service to St. Albans, Vermont, just 12 miles away. Taxi service is available from the airports and train station; you don’t need a car once you arrive at Tyler Place, unless you think you might want to explore sights nearby.

Family arts and crafts at Snow Mountain Ranch, near Winter Park, Colorado. Courtesy photo.
Family arts and crafts at Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Snow Mountain Ranch.

2. Snow Mountain Ranch — Grand County, Colorado

Popular in the winter for its tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country ski trails, Snow Mountain Ranch, set 12 miles north of Winter Park, transforms into a playground for all ages in the warm-weather months. It boasts Colorado’s only summer tubing hill, plus horseback riding, zip-lining and mountain biking. Indoors, you’ll find a pool, roller-skating rink and climbing wall, plus an impressive arts center, where the entire family might make tie-dye shirts or design jewelry. Free family programming includes yoga, dodgeball and s’mores at the campfire (some of the other sports are fee-based).

Accommodations are welcoming for multi-generational groups or multiple families, with two- to four-bedroom cabins and two- to five-bedroom vacation homes, each with a kitchen. You can also opt for simple lodge rooms, campsites or, if you’re game for something unusual, yurts. Buffet dining in the large cafeteria is inexpensive, and meals are offered three times a day. Snow Mountain Ranch is affiliated with the YMCA of the Rockies, but you don’t have to be a YMCA member to stay here. Fly into Denver International Airport (DEN), and rent a car if you’d like to check out the surrounding mountain communities during your stay or shop for groceries on the way. Otherwise, you can arrange for shuttle transportation to Snow Mountain Ranch.

Trapeze show at Callaway Gardens' Summer Family Adventure in Georgia. Courtesy photo.
Trapeze show at Callaway Gardens’ Summer Family Adventure in Georgia. Photo courtesy of Summer Family Adventure at Callaway Gardens.

3. Summer Family Adventure at Callaway Gardens — Pine Mountain, Georgia

Callaway Gardens is a 6,500-acre resort complex with about 2,500 acres of woodland gardens, including gorgeous native azaleas. The rest of the space features biking trails, lakes with one of the world’s largest white-sand beaches, a butterfly habitat and golf courses. From Memorial Day through the beginning of August, families can book a four- to seven-night Summer Family Adventure package, where Callaway Gardens partners, interestingly, with the Florida State University Flying High Circus. These college students serve as camp counselors by day and circus performers by night. Indeed, both kids and adult guests here can learn trapeze skills! But there’s also sand castle building competitions, water skiing and tubing, geocaching and drama classes, as children ages 3 to 17 are split into age-appropriate groups for daily activities. Adults can take part in these fun options, too, or choose to brush up on their golf game, attend a Birds of Prey show, listen to an organ concert or sample an astronomy program.

Accommodations are in neighborhood-style cottages or villas equipped with a full kitchen, living and dining areas, screen porch and free Wi-Fi. Callaway Gardens is located in the town of Pine Mountain, Georgia, an hour southwest of Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL) and about 30 minutes north of Columbus Metropolitan Airport (CSG). Fee-based, private shuttle service is available from the Atlanta airport; you won’t need a car once you arrive at Callaway Gardens for your Summer Family Adventure.

Teenagers — happy, smiling, joyful teenagers — jumping into Squam Lake. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Teenagers — happy, smiling, even joyful teenagers — jumping into Squam Lake. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

4. Rockywold Deephaven Camps — Holderness, New Hampshire

Get away from it all at this rustic camp on Squam Lake, where multi-bedroom cottages feature screened-in porches, fireplaces and electricity, but no heat, air-conditioning, telephones or televisions. Fishing gear, insect repellent and hiking boots are optional, but a flashlight is a must-pack item for this rural, wooded spot. Activities naturally focus on the outdoors, with canoes, kayaks and sailboats available, as well as clay tennis courts and plenty of walking and hiking trails. Weekly events — from Monday-night capture the flag to Friday-night square dances — are longstanding traditions. Other activities might include guided hikes, mini-triathlons, bicycle tours, scavenger hunts, movies, parades and tie-dying.

All meals are in included in the nightly rate, and they are taken in a historic lodge (the camps date back to 1897) with vintage exposed beams. The same families tend to return during prime-time weeks (the end of July and beginning of August) year after year, so your first stay at Rockywold Deephaven Camps may be earlier or later in the season. Fly into Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS), which is 2.5 hours away, or Manchester (MHT), an hour away. You don’t need a rental car once you arrive at Squam Lake (especially since all meals are included here), unless you want to go off property to check out some of the area’s great hiking trails, for example. Private shuttle service is available from either airport.

Upstate New York's Catskills. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains, in the Hudson Valley, make a gorgeous background for Pollace’s Family Vacation Resort. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

5. Pollace’s Family Vacation Resort — Catskill, New York

New York’s Catskill Mountains are home to dozens of sprawling family resorts (think Dirty Dancing), but Pollace’s Family Vacation Resort stands out for its longevity — it’s been welcoming guests for seven decades. It’s also popular for serving a hearty three meals daily, with a focus on Italian specialties (don’t even think about dieting here). Of course, you can work off those calories with a bunch of included activities: mini-golf, horseshoes, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball and bocce. A rec room features ping-pong, billiards, arcade games and board games. There’s a huge 66-foot swimming pool and a lake for fishing, as well. Evening brings live musical entertainment, dance lessons, karaoke, magic shows and more.

Comfortable (read: not plush) accommodations include lodge and motel-like standard rooms (two double beds) and two-bedroom units. Pollace’s is in Catskill, New York, two hours north of New York City. From LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), you can take a bus or train, though a rental car would be much faster. Plus, that way you’ll have a car on hand to explore some of the area’s attractions, such as a zoo, caverns and a water park.

Note: Remember that credit cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard  give you 2 points per $1 spent on travel — including bookings at family summer camps. To further maximize your summer spending, be sure to see The Points Guy’s post on My 5 Hottest Credit Cards for Summer.

Have you ever stayed at a family summer camp? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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