Photo via Camp Trinity on the Bar 717 Ranch
There's nothing like a week or two at sleep-away camp to get your kids off the couch, away from the Wi-Fi, and detached from their cell phones in favor of hiking, swimming, and exploring the great outdoors. These camps focus on getting kids in touch with Mother Nature -- from working in gardens that provide the camps with food to taking daily walks to look for different plants and animals -- so that they come back more in touch with their environmental side than ever. And though it may be too late to book a trip for this year, it's never too early to start planning for 2011.
1. Camp Trinity on the Bar 717 Ranch, Hayfork, CA
On its Web site, Camp Trinity on the Bar 717 Ranch sums up its programs this way: "Our underlying philosophy provides that our camp activities should be wholesome, practical, challenging, and rewarding, as well as being fun."
So what does that mean for your camper? A trip to the 450-acre ranch, located in Hayfork, CA, includes traditional activities -- arts and crafts, horsemanship, river swimming, a ropes course -- alongside time to participate in hands-on versions of more practical (and pioneer-friendly) techniques: blacksmithing, gardening, woodshop, cooking and baking. You can help weed the organic garden during your free time, and then settle in to enjoy the harvest at dinner -- and that's just one way the camp helps kids understand the relationship between the Earth and themselves.
2. Camp Unalayee, Callahan, CA
Since 1949, Camp Unalayee in Callahan, CA, has been sending campers out into the wilderness for an experience based on the writings of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, teaching them that there's more to the world than sitting in front of the television all summer. The backpacking-based program groups kids into small groups -- called tribes -- and relies on a combination of in-camp activities and overnight hiking trips where "lifelong friendships start and grow, and a love and respect for nature reveals itself or deepens." The camp has also participated in National Environmental Education Week, where students are encouraged to learn about and appreciate sustainable living.
3. Hidden Villa, Los Altos Hills, CA
Summer programs include both day and overnight camps: younger kids sleep in tipis, older kids can focus on caring for farm animals and exploring the environment, and 10th-12th graders can do the Bay to Sea Backpacking trip, which takes them from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific while teaching wilderness techniques along the way.
4. Tanglewood 4-H Camp, Lincolnville, ME
Overnight stays at Maine's Tanglewood 4-H Camp require kids to go "unplugged" for maximum fun, and include plenty of outdoor activities on the forested 940-acre property: swimming and canoeing in the river, hiking, studying the ecosystem of the local pond, and plenty of field games.
Campers can also study outdoor living, global cultures, gardening, and forestry, and refuel on food sourced from nearby farms -- and from its own garden and herb center.