The next time your kids pack their sleeping bags and head off to camp, ready for gooey roasted marshmallows, scary stories and new friendships, why not go with them? Family camps are becoming wildly popular, fusing nostalgic all-American camping with family vacations. Think traditional summer camps, except mom and dad and even grandparents are welcome to join in the fun.

What are Family Summer Camps?

Basically, family camps are your typical week-long summer camps for kids, with one fun exception: parents are invited to come along.

Some family camping programs take place at standard kid-only summer camps, which open the campus up to families for a few weeks or a weekend here and there. At these kinds of camps, parents live like young campers, sleeping in dorms, eating meals in a cafeteria and participating in sing-a-longs and nature hikes alongside their kids. Other camps operate more like family resorts, with extensive childcare programs, activities specifically designed just for parents (like wine tasting) or well-appointed lodging with maid service and private bathrooms. All in all, your camping experience can be as authentic as you want it to be.

Where Will We Stay?

Standard lodging at family camps is most often typical camping digs: tents, cabins, maybe a yurt thrown in somewhere. Shared bathrooms are common. But some campgrounds have surprisingly unusual, offbeat lodging styles. Cheley Colorado Camps near Rocky Mountain National Park evokes the Wild West with covered wagons for campers to sleep in. The wagons are set on sturdy poles, not wheels, so you don't have to worry about rolling away mid-dream.

Are you more of a "glamper" than a camper? Luxury options are often available for parents or kids who prefer posh hotel rooms to electricity-free shared cabins. Cabins at Connecticut's Club Getaway are pretty ritzy, with daily housekeeping, private bathrooms and air conditioning.

What Kinds of Activities Do Family Camps Offer?

Get ready for traditional camp pursuits like marshmallow roasting, canoeing, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, tennis, archery, sing-a-longs and wildlife watching. The activities available at each camp vary, depending largely on camp location. If you're near a lake or some body of water, naturally you can expect the camp to provide activities on the water -- get those rowing arms in shape.

Activities at many camps go way beyond sitting in a circle around a campfire. At the Jean Michel Cousteau Family Camp on Catalina Island, families can take part in enriching programs, like nature walks and photojournalism. At Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, budding scientists (and their parents) can explore ancient archeological sites in Colorado.

How Much Do Family Camps Cost?

Family summer camps are arguably one of the most affordable vacation options for families. Costs range from about $500 to $2,000 per adult, and rates are usually much cheaper for children. But here's the fantastic part: At most family camps, everything is included. Just think of it as an all-inclusive vacation without the fancy resort or the room service.

There are always extra fees to watch out for -- and camping is no exception. Upgraded accommodations, special activities and some childcare programs might require additional costs.

YMCA camps, which have popped up in destinations across the country, are remarkably affordable. Honolulu's YMCA runs Camp H.R. Erdman on Oahu's North Shore, where per-adult rates start at $88 for two nights' lodging in tent accommodations -- and that's including all meals and activities. Ocean-front cabins are also available starting at $775 for up to eight people -- for two nights in a private cabin on the beach in Oahu (meals and family fun included). That price ain't bad.

Is There a Campground Near Me?

Yes! If you live in the continental United States, there's most likely a campground within a day's drive. To find a family camp site near you, visit the American Camp Association Web site. Last time we searched we found 559 campgrounds offering programs for the whole family on the American Camp Association Web site.

Recommended Campgrounds

Emandal, a Farm on a River, California
Your kids will have a blast discovering where their food actually comes from at Emandal -- a charming working farm set on the Eel River in Willits, California. All produce served to campers is grown locally, and guests are invited to pitch in with the farm work by milking cows, collecting eggs or harvesting vegetables. When you're done tending to the farm's goats and wild turkeys, grab an inner tube and relax on the river, take an afternoon nap in a hammock or count stars once night has fallen. Guests stay in private cabins with bathrooms and running water.

Club Getaway, Connecticut
Club Getaway is a luxury-style camp for families -- guests may feel more like they're staying at an all-inclusive resort than roughin' it in the woods. The Club is set on 300 acres in the Berkshires region of Connecticut, where a large lake provides the perfect setting for an array of water sports -- including SCUBA diving. Other activities consist of spelunking, zip lining, rock climbing, mountain biking, cooking and wine tasting. Various aerobics and yoga classes are also on offer at the Club. Accommodations are in well-appointed private cabins with air conditioning.

Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, Minnesota
Escape to 2,000 acres of forest in the wilds of Minnesota, where families can enjoy sea kayaking, hiking, birding, canoeing and more. Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center is actually an accredited K-12 school -- but don't tell the kids. While the youngsters are spotting whitetail deer in the woods or having a picnic on the beach, they probably won't even realize how much they're learning about science and environmental issues. Families stay in dorm-style accommodations with private bathrooms.

Ohana Camp, Vermont
Built in the early 1900s, Ohana was recently restored in 2007, and now provides a classic New England family camp on Lake Fairlee in eastern Vermont. Its original rustic charm attracts family from all over, giving them a unique and wonderful experience. Accommodation options for campers include one- to four-bedroom cottages with living rooms, fireplaces, kitchens and porches or spacious tent cabins with comfy bedding, a living room with a fireplace and screened in porches. Ohana offers activities perfect for all ages such as swimming, fishing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking. Other activities include hiking, biking, arts and crafts, tennis, volleyball and more! The Green and White Mountain National Forests, and New England towns such as Hanover, N.H, and Woodstock, Vt., are easy daytrips away. In the evening, guests gather for storytelling, dancing and music making, or enjoy listening to locals about the rich history and culture of the region.

Have you ever stayed at a family camp? Share your story on our Family Camping Vacation Forum!

For more family vacation ideas, check out:
10 Best Family Adventures
10 Whitewater Rafting Adventures for Families
A Beginner's Guide to Family Camping

Written by Caroline Costello

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