Bay Area Outdoor Camps
You can help your kids forget about TV and video games (at least for the summer) by signing them up for one of the many outdoor camps in the Bay Area with interesting themes, thrilling adventures and quirky names for camp counselors like Pickleweed, Dingo and Anaconda.
After all, studies say our kids aren’t getting enough of the outdoors. The average American boy or girl spends as little as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours in front of an electronic screen. Many attribute the growing childhood obesity rates to this lack of outdoor time.
The Bay Area has an array of choices for summer camps where your kids can spend time outside – from the more traditional where kids hike, sing songs and play games to the more eccentric where campers immerse themselves in role-playing as they learn outdoor skills.
Zombie Survival Camp
Trackers Earth: Bay Area (trackersbay.com) focuses primarily on teaching outdoor skills to kids in first through fifth grades, but with a twist.
Many of its camps, located in Berkeley and Larkspur, teach things like wilderness survival, tracking, archery, fishing and outdoor cooking, all with a storyline. The campers learn skills by portraying a character, and there’s a plotline, props, costumes and make-up.
“We think a lot about what kind of world we’re trying to portray,” says Jess Liotta, Bay Area director. “We like the kids to feel like they’re being transported somewhere else.”
One of the popular camps is Zombie Survival for kids in fourth grade and up. These campers learn outdoor survival skills in an effort to stop a zombie invasion. There are kids wearing zombie make-up and costumes, but Liotta says they try not to make it too scary.
“They are learning a lot of legitimate disaster preparedness skills. Calling it zombie camp just makes it more fun for the kids,” she says.
Not all of the camps at Trackers Earth are story-based. There’s stealth archery, kayaking, blacksmithing and wilderness survival without the storyline.
Camps cost between $315 to $550 per week, and scholarships are available.
“Kids need to get out there and take risks with a competent adult. They need to learn when something is safe and when it isn’t safe,” Liotta says. “There’s a very serious message in what we do.”
For adrenaline junkies or kids needing an extra thrill, Treks and Tracks (www.treksandtracks.com) takes kids ages 8 to 14 on rock-climbing excursions at Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The day camps start with some games to get the kids feeling comfortable, and then the group hikes to the cliff for climbing. The guides demonstrate climbing techniques before everyone gets started.
“Sometimes we get kids who climb up and decide it’s not for them,” says co-founder and guide Daniel Laggner. “The guides have tactics for kids who don’t want to climb. We put them in leadership positions or have them climb something easy.”
The camps, Laggner says, are very safe, and all of the guides have received certification and understand the standardized safety measures.
The camps cost $119 per day, and some kids sign up for three or four throughout the summer, he says.
“It exposes kids to the outdoors and adventure. It brings them into true wilderness,” Laggner says. “You have kids doing this really incredible thing. They almost always make it to the top, and it’s a really thrilling experience.”&pagebreaking&Horseback Riding
Riding a horse can also be a very thrilling experience.
Spring Down Equestrian Center (www.springdown.com/camps/index.php) in Portola Valley offers camps where kids learn horseback riding and aspects of horsemanship.
Owned by Carol Goodstein, the center has 48 well-trained horses and two large all-weather arenas on six acres, says Diane Allison, director of the summer camps.
The Horsemanship Camps, for ages 6 and up, are one- to two-week sessions offered throughout the summer.
During riding lessons, kids are grouped based on their experience. Children with little or no experience are paired up with a private instructor, while more experienced campers are in groups. Campers also learn horsemanship fundamentals such as grooming and care, barn and horse safety, proper mounting and dismounting, horse psychology, how to identify different horse breeds and how to take care of your own horse.
Two-week sessions are $750, including a free riding lesson, and one week costs $425.
“What makes us stand out is the owner has a love of horses and wants to share that with people and make it affordable,” Allison says. “Our staff has been stable for years and we don’t have much turnover. Our school horses are very reliable and well trained and we are very safety conscious.”
Good Old-Fashioned Camp
If you want your child to attend the type of camp you attended as a child, then you should check out Hayward Area Parks and Recreation (H.A.R.D.) camps at East Avenue Park. Camp Tenderfoot, Camp Potowatomi and Vida Nueva Leadership Camp (www.haywardrec.org) have been around for more than 50 years and have become a right of passage for many kids in the area, says Jennifer Koney, recreation supervisor for H.A.R.D.
“It’s a very traditional, old-school camp. The kids get to be kids,” Koney says. “Now we’re getting parents who went through the camp who are bringing their kids.”
Located in the Hayward hills, all of the day camps’ activities take place outside in a 140-acre park with hiking trails, creeks and wildlife.
In Camp Tenderfoot, for ages 5 to 8, kids participate in hikes, games, skits, singing, storytelling, arts and crafts, and nature exploration.
Camp Potowatomi, for ages 8 to 12, has similar activities, but campers can also participate in a swimming trip and sleepover under the stars.
At both camps, counselors choose fun camp names like Anaconda, and there’s a big potluck for all of the families to attend on Thursday night when the campers perform a skit or song they have prepared with their counselor.
Weeklong sessions are offered throughout the summer and each session costs $185 ($10 additional for non-residents).
The Vida Nueva Leadership Camp, for ages 11 to 14, is for tweens and teens transitioning to becoming a volunteer junior counselor, Koney says. The two-week sessions involve overnight campouts, swim days and a community service day. It costs $430 for each session.
All of the camps have a lot of kids returning each summer, Koney says.
“From the first day of camp I have kids tell me, I love it and I want to come back next summer and I want to be a camp counselor someday,” she says.
Sara Raymond of Castro Valley says her son can’t get enough of Camp Tenderfoot. He started attending the camp as soon as he was old enough, and this coming summer she plans to sign him up for four weeks.
“He loves being outdoors all day. It is such a refreshing change from the emphasis that is placed on indoor education,” she says. “He loves the hikes and the creek, and he loves getting dirty. He loves the zany jokes the counselors tell and loves that they all have camp names. He has his sights set on becoming a counselor someday, and is already working on picking out his camp name.”
Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.