A rundown of the world’s best summer camps—and not just those for kids
A rundown of the world’s best summer camps—and not just those for kids (Photo: Geraldine Sy)

The World’s Best Summer Camps of 2019

Who says summer camp is just for kids? We rounded up seven escapes made for grown-ups (and a few for their families), plus seven more to entertain the kids while the adults are at play.

A rundown of the world’s best summer camps—and not just those for kids

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Summer camp is an American rite of tradition and a favorite Hollywood trope for teen humor, hormones, and horror. With all due respect to American Pie and Friday the 13th, our picks are way cooler than band camp and a lot safer than Camp Crystal Lake.

Adults, we know you’re just overgrown kids, so we’re leading off with a few of the best places to stretch your skills, detox from life, or digress to simpler days. For those who want to create memories with your children, we threw in some of our favorite family options. And because parents can definitely appreciate having the house to themselves for a few weeks in the summer, we have options for just the kids, from learning how to sail in the Caribbean to paddling in Minnesota to creating an adventure mountain-biking film in Vermont.

For this list of camps across the globe, we relied on word-of-mouth reputation, interviews with camp staff, research, and, most importantly, we picked places that we want to go. Camps today are increasingly sophisticated in their offerings, from the skills they teach—like fishing and sailing—to the skills the staff exhibits when working with campers on a myriad of issues, like how to navigate being an LGBQT teen, nutrition, or just getting off the grid. But just for old times’ sake, we also added the best tried-and-true classics. 

Happy camping.

Camps for Adults

Mountain Trek, Nelson, British Columbia (From $5,400

Part hardcore boot camp, part holistic health retreat, part spa oasis, Mountain Trek has mastered the triumvirate of wellness. Based out of a luxurious lodge in B.C.’s beautiful Kootenay Range, the daily routine includes a gentle 6 A.M. wake-up call followed by yoga and three to four hours of daily, rigorous nordic hiking, with a break for a picnic lunch in between. Back at the lodge, the expert staff lectures on the five pillars of health: fitness, sleep, nutrition, stress management, and detoxification. After dinner it’s back to the yoga studio for one more fitness class and then a massage or a dip in the outdoor spa. All meals are sugar-, starch-, and processed-food-free, and no drinking is allowed. That’s OK. The natural high is plenty.

Kalama Kamp, Namotu, Fiji (From $5,700)

For anyone who harbors the fantasy of learning how to foil, Kalama Camp is the place to make that dream a reality. The first-ever foil camp, which includes instruction in foil stand-up paddleboarding and foil prone surfing, is coached by legendary waterman Dave Kalama and his expert team. Kalama is not only half aquatic species, but he also has a wicked sense of humor that makes even failing fun. If you find that foiling isn’t your thing, this sleepy South Pacific dot is a paradise surrounded by world-class breaks for surfing or SUPing, reefs for snorkeling, and fish for catching. With a private Fijian chef and rustic island huts for sleeping, the camp allows guests to maximize their water time. Yoga, hiking nearby islands, and chilling out in a hammock are also in the mix. September 7 to 14.

Camp Wandawega, Elkhorn, Wisconsin ($550 per night)

A one-time speakeasy and mobster hideaway turned church camp turned lake resort, this 1920s-era classic American oasis features vintage log cabins, tepees, treehouses, bunkhouses, and hipster campers for accommodations. “Camp” is a loosely defined term here. There is no program per se, but the vibe is fun, and relaxation can be had in the form of lake swimming, hiking, biking, campfires, and mixing cocktails. The rustic cabins have limited modern amenities, and there’s no restaurant on-site. Luckily, there is good eating in neighboring towns, like at the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago, world-famous for its apple pie baked in a paper bag. For those who prefer modern amenities, the beautifully renovated Wandawega Hillhouse, overlooking the rest of camp, has an expansive deck, a fireplace, a full kitchen and Wi-Fi. 

Trek Ride Camp, Fredericksburg, Texas (From $1,299)

Need a pre- or postseason pick-me-up? Trek’s new four-day Texas training camp takes advantage of the rolling Hill Country surrounding Fredricksburg, offering 16,000 feet of climbing over 356 miles of well-paved, quiet country roads. Yes, there are some punchy ascents, and the camp is designed to push even experienced cyclists’ limits, but this is wine country, so you can’t take yourself too seriously. Day three is the most challenging, with 79 miles and 3,900 feet of climbing. But guests can kick back every evening at Fredericksburg Inn and Suites, set on five acres alongside a creek. It emanates southern charm and hospitality, with an open-air gazebo, a heated outdoor pool, and a family-size hot tub.

Camps for Families

Rockywold Deephaven Camps, Holderness, New Hampshire (From $6,090)

Established in 1897, this classic East Coast idyll was, and still is, a respite from busy city lives. Families can gather here to fish, swim, paddle canoes, or find a quiet corner and read. It’s not traditional programming. Every minute of every day isn't planned, but there are opportunities for hikes in the White Mountains, and almost every day of the week there’s something on the calendar, like Monday-night games of capture the flag, Tuesday-morning nature walks for kids with staff from the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, and the Thursday wacky canoe race. Teens have their own special fun, such as a weekly excursion to the aptly named Jumping Rock. Lakefront cottages are reserved on a weekly basis, and all cabins offer a private dock, a fireplace, a screened-in porch, and an old-school icebox. 

Mashpi Lodge, Mashpi, Ecuador (From $1,098 per night)

This stunning National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, set in a 3,200-acre private reserve deep in the Andean cloudforest in the megadiverse Choco bioregion, recently launched a forest-steward program for visiting families. Designed to more fully engage kids during family activities (not as in-house babysitting), the program is led by Mashpi’s team of native rangers who were born and raised in local communities. It offers age-old techniques for walking safely through the forest, learning how to use tree leaves as whistles for birdcalls, visiting a butterfly farm, “sky biking” along a cable suspended high in the lush canopy, and working in a special “kid lab” next to the real researchers. Having understood the anatomy of animal species likely to be spotted on trail, as well as the specifics of leaf prints and patterns of various plants, kids walk away as amateur biologists. Price includes meals, activities, excursions, and roundtrip airfare from Quito to the lodge. 

Orvis Fly-Fishing School at Snake River Sporting Club, Jackson, Wyoming (From $179)

When the instructor is two-time Wyoming Top Guide winner Spencer Morton, even rank beginners have a shot at catching a trophy cutthroat trout. The setting for this one- or two-day school is the Snake River Sporting Club, a nearly 1,000-acre former ranch turned vacation paradise 20 miles south of Jackson on the shores of the legendary Snake River. Guests who book one of the brand-new four-bedroom lodges at the club can practically roll out of bed and be on the river. Skills covered at school include fly-casting, choosing the right tackle, leaders and knots, fly selection, and safe release. Price includes lunch at the clubhouse and the use of top-notch fly-fishing gear. 

Camps for Kids and Teens

Camp Brave Trails, Southern California and Maryland (From $995)

This five-year-old camp, with one campus in the mountains an hour and a half from Los Angeles and one in western Maryland, is a safe place for kids ages 12 to 18 who identify as LGBTQ to explore their gender identity, offering everything from archery and hiking to workshops in makeup and drag. The LGBTQ leadership and activism training, however, is where the camp really shines, featuring seminars on topics like body positivity, gender identity, and how to identify queer-friendly colleges. Its Passion to Action program teaches campers how to form and tell their own personal stories, then take those experiences to influence and change the world. Financial assistance available. 

Camp Widjiwagen, Ely, Minnesota (From $565)

Based on the rugged Burntside Lake, at the edge of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near Ely, this YMCA camp is renowned for its “Widgi progression”: the youngest campers start in sixth grade with a five-day camp, where they learn basic paddling, water safety, camping, and team-building skills. The program culminates in an overnight canoe trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Over the next seven summers, kids learn more complicated skills and progress to more remote terrain, the ultimate being the invitation-only 25-to-52-day paddling or hiking trips up to the Alaskan or Canadian Arctic. Scholarships available.

Socapa Mountain Camp, Burke Mountain, Vermont (From $2,685)

The formula here is simple yet awesome: ride bikes and make movies. With direct access to northeast Vermont’s more than 100 miles of Kingdom Trails, plus the features at Burke Mountain Bike Park, the two-week mountain-bike camp is a dream for cyclists ages 11 to 17. They ride with World Cup pro coaches in the morning, then take afternoon classes in cinematography and picture and sound editing, and ultimately walk away with a sweet, short action film debuted at the Showcase Festival on the final evening. Kids aren’t exactly roughing it. They stay at the swank, new $65 million Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center. Scholarships available. 

Camp Chief Ouray, Colorado (From $820)

Boredom is not an option at this 110-year-old camp that sits at an elevation of 8,750 feet on 5,100-acre Snow Mountain Ranch, 80 miles west of Denver. The goal at the “YMCA of the Rockies” is to offer kids ages 13 to 16 challenging experiences that instill confidence and interpersonal skills in a safe, imaginative, natural setting. Chief Ouray’s most popular offerings are the one-week adventure camps, whether it’s adventure backpacking, adventure horsepacking, adventure rafting, adventure fusion (biking, rafting, hiking, and a high ropes course), or adventure odyssey (backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, and rafting). Each camp spends a couple days at the ranch, then three to four days in the Colorado wilderness, where campers learn to work as a group and live in harmony with their environment. Scholarships available. 

Camp Lake Hubert/Camp Lincoln, Lake Hubert, Minnesota (From $3,250)

In a nod to “Minnesota nice” and the classic summer-camp movies of the eighties (think Dirty Dancing, not Friday the 13th), these idyllic, century-old boys’ and girls’ camps (Camp Lake Hubert for girls and Camp Lincoln for boys) sit across a spring-fed, sandy-bottomed lake from one another. But there’s a lot more to do than figure out how to sneak to the other side. The two camps cover more than 400 acres and offer 40 activities, including mountain biking, sailing, windsurfing, climbing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and a ropes course. From two to eight weeks long, kids live in rustic log cabins and learn a litany of camp songs. For those looking for dance partners, the camp also offers offer a co-ed version at Camp Lincoln, complete with dance parties. Scholarships available. 

Mountain Meadow Ranch, Susanville, California (From $3,450)

Operated by a third-generation camping family, this 64-year-old ranch sits on 900 acres north of Lake Tahoe (an hour and a half from the airport in Reno, Nevada) and offers programming like high ropes courses, hiking in the Sierra, and horseback riding, all of which focus on “inclusivity, empathy, integrity, stewardship, authenticity, and mindfulness” for kids ages 7 to 16. Returning to camp programming this year, due to popular demand, is the ranch’s animal-husbandry program, where kids take part in caring for horses, pig farming, and raising lambs, sheep, and chickens. With a two- and four-week option, the camp has a 70 percent return rate, so new spots are hard to come by. Two-week sessions start at $3,450. 

Sail Caribbean, British Virgin Islands and Leeward Islands (From $4,395)

Yes, kids sail the Caribbean in a 45-foot catamaran or 50-foot single-hull yacht, but it isn’t just a vacation. This camp’s True Course curriculum is designed to build leadership and teamwork skills as well as confidence. That means that in addition to learning how to sail, students, ages 13 to 18, are also responsible for cooking, cleaning, getting along with other participants in tight quarters, and everything else it takes to live on the ocean for multiple days. Each itinerary has a slightly different focus, from a 21-day conservation-oriented program where kids tag sea turtles, perform community service, sail, and hike, to a 14-day PADI dive-master course for 18-plus-year-olds, to a 68-day sailing internship for college students. Scholarships available.