How Summer Camp Became Family Camp With Parents Going Along for the Ride

Summer camp wasn’t the same this year. For many it was better, as they got to experience the annual event as a family.

How Summer Camp Became Family Camp With Parents Going Along for the Ride

Parents were allowed along too this year.

Photo by EvgeniiAnd / Shutterstock

One of the many traditions upended by the pandemic during 2020 was the great American summer camp. Kids nationwide lost the opportunity to play outside and forge new friendships while COVID-related health and safety concerns rightly took center stage. But several enterprising summer camps saw the proverbial opportunity in a crisis and decided to invite the whole family.

Those cabins that normally hold a dozen kids? They could also work for a single family. The surrounding acres of woodland and alfresco play zones? Tailor-made for socially distanced fun (not to mention a panacea for anyone cooped up at home for months).

Ayn-Monique Klahre, a parent in Raleigh, North Carolina, jumped at the opportunity to experience family camp this summer. Her family of four stayed at the YMCA’s Camp Kanata in nearby Wake Forest, about 30 minutes from home. Her seven-year-old daughter was already booked in for her first full week of overnight camp before COVID struck, having visited once before for a weekend for Y Guides.

“We really did disconnect and spend time together as a family,” Klahre says. “No screens for any of us and plenty of slow times to just chat with the kids. It was fun to re-experience the things I loved about camp as a kid . . . so often as a parent you sign your kids up for something and just stand on the sidelines and watch them do the fun stuff.”

Not this time. Over the week, she took part in archery, rock climbing, and riflery; went flying down waterslides; and made friendship bracelets across several days filled with activities. And COVID was kept in consideration, with one family per cabin (Klahre’s crew had 16 bunks for the four of them), diligent mask wearing, and groups spaced out across the camp’s 150 acres during the day.

The family had managed a few smaller trips this summer—to the beach, the mountains, and a visit with relatives—but this was the real family vacation with everyone taking time off work.

Days at Camp Kanata are packed with activities.

Days at Camp Kanata are packed with activities.

Photo by Ayn-Monique Klahre

Over in Idaho, meanwhile, Courtney Everson had a similar experience with her sister-in-law, nephews, and two kids. They signed up for family camp at Lutherhaven in Coeur d’Alene, which would normally welcome some 200 campers a week. A nephew had attended camps in the past, and her church organized the event for its congregation. Several families took up the offer.

“We had a ball!” Everson recalls. “The adults had just as much fun as the kids.” Their days were spent canoeing, ziplining, and candle-making, with evenings spent round the fire singing and, of course, tucking into s’mores. “The camp did a great job of managing health and safety for COVID-19,” she says. “There were daily temperature checks, required masks, hand sanitizer everywhere, and special protocols for food service.”

A springtime pandemic pivot

The YMCA of the Triangle (the umbrella organization for YMCA Camp Kanata in Wake Forest and Camp Sea Gull and Camp Seafarer in Arapahoe, North Carolina) realized in the spring that it wouldn’t be able to offer its usual schedule during COVID-19. But the leadership knew it wanted to provide safe summer options. Following recommendations from the state and the CDC, it landed on Embark Family Camp, a four-day experience for families at Camp Seafarer, and Camping Out at Kanata.

“Feedback from families has been overwhelmingly positive,” says John Hyde, executive director of Camp Sea Gull. “Participants felt very safe and comfortable in our camp environment and appreciated the extra attention to cleaning and distancing protocols. One participant captured it best: ‘Thank you for finding a path forward in this difficult time—Family Camp was THE highlight of our summer.’”

More than 700 people participated in family camps over the summer, the organization says (with 1,455 people attending day camp from June to August).

Over 700 people came to family camp this summer, YMCA of the Triangle says.

Over 700 people came to family camp this summer, YMCA of the Triangle says.

Courtesy of YMCA of the Triangle

Family camp continues into the fall

Camping Out at Kanata was so successful it’s been extended into the fall, with a three-day break offered from October 2 to 4 for $136 per person (adults and children alike).

In Texas, YMCA Camp Cullen launched Escape to the Woods family getaways, promising “a change of scenery in beautiful woods” as well as “control over your family’s exposure to others” and “a 100 percent contactless experience.” Their cabins start at $99 per night with a two-night minimum.

Outside the YMCA network, you could try Montage Deer Valley’s Camp Compass in Park City, Utah, which is running well into the fall. It has a new program for kids ages 6 to 17, Wednesdays through Sundays. Camp staples in 2020 include obstacle courses, friendship-bracelet making, and drone races. The whole family can join for “bonding” activities like naturalist hikes, fly casting, cowboy games, and pizza making.

Anywhere in the country, COVID-19 still poses a risk. Check information and guidelines for your destination and camp before traveling.

>> Next: What Camping During COVID Is Actually Like

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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