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Overnight Camps for Teens & Preteens

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Overnight summer camp for vegetarian boy

Dec 2013

My son would like to attend summer camp in 2014, and I'm trying to find a place that offers vegetarian meals. Does anyone have any good suggestions within three hours of the Bay Area? He will be 10 years old next summer.

My daughter, who is two years older, has attended three different Girl Scout Camps and they do a great job with special diets. Before each meal, they announce that vegan and vegetarian meals are available at the dining window and she was satisfied with the food. In particular, she liked Skylark Ranch the best, followed by Deer Lake, if anyone is looking for recommendations. I'm hoping to find a similar overnight camp for boys: fun, reasonably priced, traditional camp with vegetarian meals on offer. Any suggestions? Thank you! Jenn

You might try Full Belly Farm - they do one week summer sleepaway camps. It's about 2 hours from the East Bay and a really amazing place. (They are a CSA). While I'm not sure if the meals at camp would be solely vegetarian, I'm sure there would be a lot of vegetarian options. We recently signed our kids up for a half day kids-camp thing, part of the annual Full Belly Hoes Down, and they had a blast. They're vegetarian, and the lunch that day was veggie. I don't see anything listed on the site yet for camp in 2014 ( but I'm sure they'll put info up eventually, or you can email them via the site. -- likely parent of a future Full Belly sleepaway camper

Whether to push 14 year old to go to sleepover camp

March 2012

I'd love advice on whether to send our foster son to sleepover camp even if he doesn't want to go.

Eighteen months ago, we became foster parents to a teenaged boy we already knew. He came directly to us from his bio parents' house and we expect to be his permanent parents. He has PTSD, grief and depression. His daily behavior was highly anxious and suspicious when he first came to us. He is now 14.5 years old.

With a lot of support, patience and good therapy, he has improved quite a bit. He still has a long way to go. Last summer was really difficult--the large blocks of unstructured time made him very anxious and depressed. At that point, when he was having nightmares and was afraid of all strangers, sleepover camp was impossible and we resisted social services pressure to send him. We enrolled him in some day camps, but several were cancelled. He has no skills for entertaining himself if he doesn't have something electronic to do. He struggles with reading, and his social skills are poor. He has very few friends and clearly doesn't understand how to be a friend yet. He is very agile and enjoys ping pong and tennis, but those require a buddy. We will get him in some camps this summer, but the hours will once again stretch for him (and us).

As a foster youth, he could attend Camp Mendocino. And I can also get him into YMCA's Camp Jones Gulch, where my adult daughter works. He doesn't want to do either. He has no experience with sleepover camps and withdraws in social settings, although I'm told he does okay socially while at school.

Does anyone have experience with requiring a reluctant teen to go to camp? Our hope would be that the extended, close time with other kids in a supportive environment would build social skills, morale, and self-esteem--and that he might have fun. Our fear is that he will feel alone and scared. He's going to be aging out of camps soon, so this might be the last summer he could do it. I will be discussing this with his psychologist, but wanted a parent perspective too. want our boy to enjoy himself for a change

Your intentions are good, but why push this issue of sleepover camp? Let him build his relationship with you as a family, heal, retreat from the world a bit if that's what he needs to heal and don't make a big deal over sleepover camp. Of course you want it to be great for him, but how great can it be given his current emotional mind set? Not very is my guess, and he's likely to be resentful of you for sending him. Good luck. anon
I can't answer your question from a parent's perspective, but I can from a Camp Director's perspective (as well as past counselor, unit leader, and activity director). It sounds like camp could be a great experience for your son! Sleep over camp provides bonding experiences between children and helps them work on their social skills and developing their personality traits. It also lets him "be someone else" for the time he is at camp. If possible I would love for a camp that offers a chance for the camp experience before he's there without you. Look for a camp where you can do family camp for a weekend before you send him for sleep away, or where you can do a site visit with him. If you can show him where it is, what the cabins are like, and how the dinning hall works that may help him easy into the situation. I would also recommend talking to different camp directors. They can not only help prep his counselor to make sure it is a positive experience, but some camps have on-site therapists which might be a good choice for your son. I have personally worked with campers who were suicidal, cutters, dealing with their sexual identify, and been abused - most of these campers had a very positive experience. Some I am even still in contact with (10+ years later) and they say that one week of sleep away camp changed their lives. Camp can help with so many problems. I wish your family luck and I hope you are able to do what is best for your foster son.

As a parent and as someone who has worked with foster teens, definitely not. While you seem to have the best of intentions for sending him, he will think you are trying to get rid of him.

There are so many great day camps--most will give scholarships for foster teens. It will be a bit of work to get them all set up, but you should be able to fill up his whole summer. Some have one overnight in a week or two week session--encourage him to try that out but don't push. If you find gaps that you can't fill with day camp, say he has to spend 30/hrs week volunteering. is a good place to look or try your local library or perhaps he can volunteer in a camp for younger kids. best wishes

Our daughter has an anxiety disorder, and also really did not want to go to sleep away camp 3 Summers ago. We have found that all of the most loved things in her life are things which she initially refused to consider due to fear/ anxiety. We did the following:

1) Researched the camp, until we were 100% comfortable with it (volunteered time with the Directors, visited it off-season, sought feedback from experienced camping families, etc.)

2) Made sure that the supervision would be provided by carefully selected, mature adults and not youngsters because many teens are not yet able to provide a) unconditional love even if they don't like a kid, and b) firm yet fair and consistent limits/ boundaries

3) Negotiated an agreement with the camp that our daughter had to stay for 4 days (out of a total of 3.5 weeks) and that, if she wanted to come home, she could after that (so she didn't feel trapped).

4) Told her that she had to go for the 4 days and that we'd come pick her up after that if she wanted us to. She never looked back, and the next Summer, went, at her request, to both 3.5 week sessions.

Should you be interested, all 3 of my kids say that they rate Plantation Farm Camp (2 hours from San Francisco) a 100 on a scale of 1 to 10!... and that they will never miss another Summer there again. All my best to you and your foster Son

Outdoor/backpacking camp for teen daughter

March 2011

Does anyone know of an outdoor or backpacking camp that lasts for a week at the beginning or the end of the summer? My daughter wants to go to Stage Door Conservancy which will take from July 5 to August 14, so we're trying to fit a week or two of outdoor camp in to balance that out. anon

Well, it only touches on your date, but the program is so Excellent it's worth it, check out Camp Unalayee at Unalayee's been taking teens backpacking for 62 years, has a rare setting in the uncrowded, pristine Trinity Alps Wilderness, and offers the only Wilderness Immersion (not just toe wetting) program for teens around. Seena

Kayak, canoe or rafting summer programs

Nov 2009

My 16 year old son would like to spend a few weeks canoeing or kayaking this summer and we are looking for recommendations of programs. Thanks

My daughter had a fantastic life-changing 4 weeks kayaking around southern Alaska with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) last summer. They learn so much more than just kayaking. See Anna

Summer adventure experience for 17-year-old boy

May 2009

I am looking a weeklong, or longer, outdoor summer adventure experience in CA for my 16 (17 year old in the summer) boy. I want him to have an experience away from Oakland this summer, and experience a different, healthy reality. He's gone white water rafting before and loved it. Can anyone recommend a reputable program that is not over-the-top expensive? Michele

If your son is not already a member of a local Boy Scout troop, I would highly recommend it for anyone with a love of the outdoors and a concern for the environment. My son joined Boy Scouts as soon as he turned 11 (was not involved in Cub Scouts) and it has been a wonderful experience all these years for him. These are some of the activities he has been involved in:
  • monthly outdoor outings for hiking, camping, & bicycle trips -- to Bay Area state parks and national recreation areas (Point Reyes, for example);
  • summer backpacking trips;
  • a week long trek to Florida for canoeing:
  • a two week trek to New Mexico: for hiking & camping;
  • summer camp at the Council boy scout camp in the Sierra;
  • and even a ''scout exchange'' trip to Japan for 3 weeks, where he climbed to the top of Mt Fuji & stayed for a week with a host scout family.

    His scout troop is also involved in many community service projects throughout the year. You can contact your local Boy Scouts of America council at: or General information can be found at Scout Parent

    Last summer I also wanted my son to be outdoors for a week, so we sent him to a one-week whitewater rafting class. He didn't know anyone who was going and wasn't thrilled about it when I dropped him off. But he had a great time, and when I picked him up at the end of the week, he got goodbye hugs and cell number exhanges from a bunch of kids. He was 15. The camp was: It is not big, and the owner is there the whole time and answered my questions thoroughly in advance. I'd recommend it. anne
    My daughter has had wonderful experiences with Camp Chrysalis, an outdoor nature and environmental education camp run by Lee Tempkin, a Berkeley teacher. He runs four camp trips a year, geared to different ages and levels of ability. Supportive yet challenging, we love the program for how it has engaged our daughter. Lee also keeps it very affordable, which is great! City mother of outdoorsy girl
    The best outdoor camp in the world is Camp Unalayee, a non-profit camp situated in the Trinity Alps. It is non-affilated and run with wonderful care. The kids come back with a strong sense of self. It is two weeks long and there is no cell phone coverage. It's very good for the soul to be out in nature with minimum possetions. The ratio is small and the food is wonderful. Of course, they may just be hungry. The next session is mid-July to early August. First session was cancelled -- so few people send their kids to outdoor camps. Here is the website: PS If it's too expensive don't write it off -- there may be a way. anonymous

    Outdoorsy camp for athletic 13-year-old

    Dec 2008

    Hi - we're looking for a summer camp for our son, who'd like to do the following: archery, target practice (I know, this will send shudders throughout many households), rock climbing, swimming, river rafting. Our son is a good athlete and pretty outdoorsy, but not at all macho and not highly competitive. He is not into arts and crafts. He's been to a couple of camps (Ravencliff, Tawonga, Newman) and has enjoyed himself, but no camp experience has seemed worth repeating to him. He does not need a lot of exposure to nature, does not need a ''Touch the Earth'' or ''Sarah's Science'' kind of place - He's thirteen, a very smart cookie, makes friends easily, and is happy to go away from home for a few weeks if it's the right kind of camp. Perhaps Boy Scouts? We have no experience with a scouts camp, although he was a scout many years ago. We're open to places around state, not just in the Bay Area. Thanks for your ideas

    My sons have both enjoyed Mountain Camp in the Sierras, They might not have every activity that your son is looking for, but they have archery, all kinds of water activities and sports (they're on a lake) and mountain biking. My kids also like the fact that you get to choose your activities, so if you're not an arts and crafts person, you don't have to do that. It's basically a good, old-fashioned, outdoor-oriented co-ed summer camp.

    Another program that might appeal to your son is Adventure Treks. They offer outdoor adventures for teens, with an emphasis on community and outdoor skills. The kids backpack, river raft, climb mountains and do all kinds of cool stuff for 2-3 weeks. It's expensive, but it's exceptionally well-run, and the kids have a real sense of accomplishment at the end.

    If he's looking for local day camp activities and is really into archery, I recommend the Shake, Rattle & Roll camp (I have no idea why it has that name) offered by Oakland Parks & Rec. It's for ages 12-15. The kids make their own bows and arrows, and learn a lot about outdoor survival skills. Mom of Boys

    My rec for Bar 717 is in the archives, so I won't say much other than check it. Has archery, swimming, and serious hiking, but not the other activities you mentioned. happy Bar 717 parent
    You might want to check out the co-ed overnight camp called Mountain Camp in the Sierras. Both my sons have gone there and will go again this year. One goes for 2 weeks; the younger for one. Last year they just started letting kids combine sessions to make 3 and 4 week stays, but few did it during my kids sessions. They don't have river rafting, but have sailing, water skiing, canoeing and other water sports. They have a ton of activities too numerous to list both outdoors and indoors. We have known kids that have attended this camp over the last 15 years from all over the bay area. It is always recommended. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. If you decide to go there please use my name as a reference. Thanks. Linda
    I have two sons ages 14 and 15. My 14 year old loves Mountain Meadow Ranch in Susanville, CA. He will go back next year. The other loves Catalina Sea Camp where he got Scuba certified . We too have gone through many camps but these two were exceptional. Feel free to contact me. rita
    Try Schaeffer's High Sierra Camp just north of Lake Tahoe with all the activities you mentioned. Great counselors and one, two and three week options. Joan

    Great sleep away camp for 13-year-old boys?

    Feb 2008

    I'm looking for a great sleep away camp (preferably in California) for 2 middleschool boys entering 8th grade in the fall. Both are very popular at school, seem to just like to hang out and socialize, not really into sports, (more into the creative arts) and aren't too thrilled about the idea of going to a sleep away camp. However, we think it would be really good for them and that they would have a great time!

    (Editor Note: click on the camps below to read the full reviews)

    Hi, My children go to a great summer camp called Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa ...

    I highly recommend Camp Tulequoia in the Sierra's. Both the Youth and the older Teen camp's are excellent. ...
    You may want to look into Mountain Camp in the Sierras SW of Lake Tahoe. Our 13 year old went last year for two weeks and loved it....
    I highly recommend Bar 717 Ranch It's a sleepover camp in the Trinity Alps of Northern California. Beautiful! ...

    Overnight camp for 14-y-o computer addict

    Feb 2008

    I have a son who has just turned 14 yrs old, and is in 8th grade. He is totally addicted to computer games and other screen forms of entertainment (TV, gameboy, etc.) and is not doing very well in school,(says it is very boring). I would like to find a summer program or camp where he could learn good values,discipline and get support and help with anger management, caring about his school work, and learn to appreciate and get involved in outdoor activities and/ or sports. We live in Berkeley and I am only interested in residential programs that are in Northern California, or non-residential programs in the East Bay.

    I recommend Camp Winnarainbow for your son. Despite its slightly goofy name, this is an amazing, life changing camp, at which teen campers, especially, get a large amount of self-determination about their activities (of course there are no electronic devices around), and the main goal, though not overtly stated, is to help kids become good, caring people, in the context of having fun.

    (See Camp Winnarainbow for the rest of this review).

    Summer Growth Experience for high school daughter

    Feb 2007

    I would like to find a summer experience for my high school sophomore daughter that would help develop her in a number of ways. Top 2 are self reliance and larger perspective outside of the high school ''fitting in'' microcosm. She's a good student and makes friends easily but I think she needs to develop her self confidence and get a stronger sense of who she is. Some experiences with boys are giving me cause for concern. Her interests include animals, esp.horses/ veterinary work (she has volunteered for a vet), and adults or children with disabilities and musical theater. I am open to many possibilities. I have looked at girl scout destinations - national or international trips or camp counseling. I question whether having an away from home experience might foster this as opposed to having another summer of volunteering at the vet and a school for adults with disabilities. I already know these resources.

    Perhaps I ask a tall order, but as a community many of you have probably grappled with the same concerns and have had some experiences to share. Thank you

    My daughter (15 at the time) spent 2 weeks last summer at the Eagle Arts Academy on Vancouver Island. ( She met young people from all around the world, and enjoyed structured arts experiences, beautiful scenery, and real international travel. In my experience, going away to a safe, well-structured environment is a great - and necessary - growth experience for a teenaged young lady. anon
    I don't have a specific resource to share, but I would like to encourage you to allow your daughter the most expansive experience that passes your gut test. Last summer I sent my almosts 15 year old daughter, who had just finished 9th grade, to spend 6 weeks with relatives in Africa. Sounds drastic, but I know the place well and the relatives, and the flight was the scariest part. I had this strong feeling that she was ready for a new level of challenge and maturity, and that she wasn't getting it at home or school. I feared that if not challenged, she would just turn that energy into something negative -- rebelling against her parents or indulging in the scary things that ''bored'' teenagers do. I am happy to say that she had a wonderful, world-view broadening experience, and came home more mature and balanced, as I had hoped. At her relatives, she was the adored older cousin of four young ones, and treated like an honorary adult by the parents. She also volunteered at an orphanage, and saw real hardship and poverty that put Bay Area life into much broader perspective. It doesn't have to be overseas -- but some time away from home might do her a world of good in the way you are hoping. Best of luck, anne
    Summer Camp may be your best bet!

    Given that your daughter really likes animals, Plantation may be just the place.

    I have not been to this camp personally, but it is highly recommended by my very own summer camp friends and is where they send their kids. (our camp, Camp Beaverbrook, closed in 1985, so it was not an option) Since our camp was so amazing and produced such an incredible experience, we are all quite particular when it comes to recommendations such as this.

    Another choice by former Beaverbrook kids is Copper Creek. Good luck!! KT Pleasanton

    Sounds like the SASS program would be perfect for your daughter. It is a partnership between the amazing folks at Julia Morgan School for Girls and Mills College. Check out their website:

    It is ''a unique residential summer program for high school girls (entering 10th and 11th grade) located on Mills College campus. The program is designed to promote a young woman’s sense of purpose and make a difference in the world. The hands-on, project-based curriculum integrates art, science and service learning around the theme of nature and understanding one's place in the web of life.''

    Summer 2007 Sessions Session One: June 17-30 Session Two: July 1-14 Contact: Kristen Brookes, Director of SASS Julia Morgan School for Girls 510.632.6340 x115 kbrookes[at]


    Summer outdoors adventure for teens

    Feb 2007

    Does anyone know of a good summer 1-2 week program in the US for teens, involving outdoor wildernness adventure/skills/training--eg backpacking, hiking, ocean, kayaking, whitewater, etc.? There are so many programs; it's hard to know which are quality and safe. We're looking for outdoor adventure/skills, but not dangerous, good supervision, for two competent boys ages 14&15. Thank you! anon

    I'd recommend Lifeschool. My then 15 year old son went last summer on a hike on the Lost Coast and had a great time. It also included a white water raft trip. He didn't even know anyone to begin with. They offer lots of different levels and locations. see their website

    Outdoor adventure program for 14-year-old

    Dec 2006

    I'm looking for a 3-to-4-week outdoor adventure for my 14 year old daughter this summer. I have explored Outward Bound but would like some suggestions from parents who have had good experiences with other outfits. There are many listed on the web, but I would like a more personal referral. Thanks whitney

    My son, now 15, has done Teen Quests through Camp Tawonga for the last three summers. These are trips for groups of 10-12 kids, with three counsellors, to places like the Pacific Northwest, Canada, the Southwest and Southern California. There is a lot of hiking, some backpacking and, depending on the trip, whitewater rafting, rockclimbing, or kayaking. Most important, these trips foster community and responsibility. The staff works hard to create a community in the group, keeping cliques from forming and making everyone accountable to everyone else. The kids set up camp, shop, cook, clean -- everything. Our son has come back each year happy (and filthy), with new confidence, skills and friends. It has been a wonderful part of his growing up.

    Tawonga is a Jewish Camp, but kids do not have to be Jewish to go either to the Camp or on the Teen Quests. The trips do have some Jewish ritual incorporated, like making kosher meals and celebrating Shabbat. But it is pretty low key, especially since not all the kids and/or counsellors are Jewish. We are culturally Jewish but non-practicing, and basically atheist. The ritual part of Tawonga was no problem for us.

    Check out Big Tawonga Fan

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