Camp Winnarainbow

El Sobrante, Outside the Bay Area
School-Aged, Preteens, Teens
153 participants
mail [at]
Editors' Notes: 

Located in Mendocino, CA but using a site in El Sobrante for Summer 2020.

Winnarainbow is a socially minded, justice focused organization founded by Hippy Icon, Flower Geezer, Poet, Activist Wavy Gravy in 1975. Wavy was later joined by his wife Jahanara, who has been a very important part of creating who we are as a Camp Winnarainbow community. Utilizing all the ideals and teachings they learned through traveling the world, being a part of their Hog Farm community, and their devotion to “do something good for a change”, the philosophies and values of Camp Winnarainbow were created. Through the years our culture and traditions have been created from the inspiration and ingenuity of the staff and campers who have become the Winnarainbow community. Our motto is Toward the Fun!

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello, I noticed a lot of positive posts for Camp Winnarainbow that have been archived and are a few years old.  Has anyone been recently?  Can you recommend it and/or share how the experience was for your camper and family?

    My daughter has attended for several years and is now a "teen counselor." She calls it "her home away from home" and where she feels like "she can be herself." It is a camp for free-spirited, quirky, and arts centric (but not necessarily highly skilled) kids. The staff is very responsive to her needs and has also contacted me when she had asthma issues, so I feel safe with her there emotionally and physically.  Of course, every child's needs are different so you should consider attending the orientation.

Parent Reviews

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I highly recommend Camp Winnarainbow sleep-away camp!  Our (adopted) child, who has ADHD and PTSD -- which has similar manifestations to the autistic spectrum -- spent two weeks each the summers after 7th and 8th grade, and it was a fantastic experience for her. 

There's really "something for everyone" at Camp Winnarainbow -- and NO SPIDERS!

Everyone sleeps in teepees, not tents. The floor of the teepee is completely covered.  One is *not* sleeping directly on the ground. So please don't let "imaginary spiders" be a deterrent to participating in this fabulous camp.

She learned to juggle, which is an activity that suited her, and I would imagine would suit most kids with autism.  Their juggling instructors were the best!

(She would have kept on going after 9th grade but at a certain age they expect you to become a junior counselor (with somewhat different wording) and since she was very immature for her age, she wasn't interested in taking responsibility for others.  Although she did spend her time with the younger campers... I met two nine year old girls were crazy about her!)

Anyway, NOW is the time to sign up for Camp Winnarainbow!

And you may know, they have a bus that picks up the kids at Live Oak Park.  Before they get on the bus, they need to present a medical certificate from their doctor, and their heads are examined thoroughly for lice before they are allowed to board the bus.  So not ony no spiders, but no lice either!  And she reported that the food was delicious.

Finally, she went up on the bus, but I picked her up two weeks later, so I got to watch the amazing performances of the "circus"! 

As Wavy Gravy says, "We're not training kids to be circus performers; we're training them to be *balanced in life."

Our kid was/is non-conforming in so many ways, and Camp Winnarainbow (Mendocino County) was an amazing fit.  They do all the standard camp activities, but also, it's a circus and performing arts camp - so there's lots of creative expresssion.  ALSO, they have a fantastic swimming hole.  That picture is what sold our kid on going.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Camp Winnarainbow for boys

March 2016

I am considering Camp Winnarainbow for my almost-10-year-old son this summer. Most of the reviews on here are older--and most seem to refer to girls who loved the camp. Anyone send their boys recently? Is this camp still as wonderful as the older reviews seem to suggest? If anyone has a suggestion for another similar over-night camp, I'd love to hear about that as well. Thank you! Wondering Winnarainbow

We're sending our 8 year old son there for the first session. He hasn't been before. But we love the ranch and Wavy Gravy and think that it will be a great experience for him. Trying it!

Feb 2016

RE: Boarding school for very active middle school extrovert?

Both of our kids went to sleep-away camp, sometimes for a month at a time.It was wonderful.I believe they are both much better people than we(parents) are as a result. Summer is coming and you should sign him up now so he has something to look forward to. Camp Winnarainbow has a goofy name but is staffed by exceptional people who care about your child and everyone else. Without hitting them over the head with it , they teach conflict resolution, compassion, life skills and how to get along with anyone. My favorite is all the circus skills like juggling, stilts, trapeze, unicycle, tightrope , acting and song composition.Every 2 weeks there is a BIG SHOW you can attend so you don't have to go the entire summer away from your child.They have an open house very spring.

Feb 2016

RE: Boarding school for very active middle school extrovert?

You have many options for camps in California, but I would highly recommend Camp Winnarainbow. Our child went there for two wonderful summers, and only stopped because she got too old (and they hadn't begun Teen Camp at the time). As you can see here, you could send your son to Camp Winnarainbow for up to nine weeks. Or you could send him to a camp where more of the campers would be present for an extended period of time, and he wouldn't need to make a new set of friends every two weeks.

Oct 2014

Re: What sleep away camp did your child LOVE?

Camp Winnarainbow. It's a circus arts camp in Mendocino County, run by Wavy Gravy. But that doesn't begin to describe what it's meant to my two kids (both girls). Camp is a loving community that teaches the kids to respect and be kind to humans and the environment. (And also lets them choose from a wide range of activities: unicycling, stilts, aerials, clowning, dance, singing, poetry, etc. There's also a lake for swimming.) Time at camp (generally, two or three weeks each summer) was always the best part of the year for both of my kids -- it was the place where they could be whoever they wanted to be, and have that completely accepted. Both of them have continued on as ''teen staff'' after they were too old to be campers, and both have cherished local friends from camp whom they see on a regular basis. They love it, and I love what they've gotten from it. Kathy

Nov 2013

Camp Winnarainbow should be a part of every child's education. My daughter loves Camp Winnarainbow which she has attended for two weeks every summer for the past 5 years. She considers it her spiritual home and hopes to work there as a teen counselor if she can. I am so thankful that she has had the opportunity to experience the idealism, caring and social awareness of the 60's even though that special time is long gone. Such an experience is something every young person should get to have before they forge ahead into adulthood. They also get to live in tee pees in a redwood forest, learn aerials acts,stilt walking and various other circus arts as well as swim in the cool waters of Lake Veronica. Scholarships available. Amy

April 2009

This is my, and my daughter's, annual recommendation for Camp Winnarainbow in Mendocino County (

Camp Winnarainbow is a fabulous camp, with a thirty year plus history. It's activities are centered around Circus and Performing Arts, and it is chock-filled with everything that makes for a lifetime of great camp memories. Most of the senior counselors have been coming to camp since they were kids, and are living examples of what the camp's goals for the campers are. from their website -

''Drawing from our knowledge of circus and performing arts, we teach timing, balance and a sense of humor. Kids learn respect for themselves, others and the environment. We honor the creative spirit of each child in an atmosphere of approval and mutual encouragement. ''

Let's see... random notes They have a one week session for kids age 7, for their first sleep away experience. They have a beautiful lake and a 350 ft. water slide. They have vegetarian and vegan meal choices at every meal

The camp's administration is absolutely amazing and every precaution and care you would want them to take - is taken to a tee. Research and you will find that they have the highest safety rating available to any camp in the country -and the beautiful setting is second to none in Northern CA.

Really. This is the very best sleep-away camp! And I'd be happy to answer any prospective parent's questions.. Lily's Dad

Feb 2009

Re: Nearby Sleepaway Camp for 9 Year Old Girl
My daughter went, for the first time, to Camp Winnarainbow. It's farther away, but she says its the best ever. Lisa

May 2008

Re: Overnight camp for 14-y-o computer addict
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.

I wish I could explain this place's magic concisely!

It's nominally a circus arts and performance camp, but it does not intend to produce Cirque de Soleil performers.

About 1/3 of the campers are on full scholarships and come from foster homes and underprivileged neighborhoods. Most other campers pay full fees, at a fairly average rate. All the kids are supported and encouraged to try new things and work out conflicts amicably as they write poetry & songs, learn to unicycle and walk on stilts, walk a (low) tightrope, mime, clown, use costumes, juggle, etc., bicycle or walk to the lake, to swim (where there's a water slide donated by Waterworld) and prepare for the Big Show (using professional sound equipment donated by the Grateful Dead).

The kids get woken from their tee-pees by someone blowing a conch shell, or perhaps by a recording of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner. Early risers can go to the outdoor ''dining room'' for cocoa. Real sleepy-heads get sprayed with a garden hose at some point.

The morning reading might come from Walt Whitman. Then they choose their own activities from an ample list, all day, with professional, adult staff and activity changes signaled by the aforementioned conch-horn.

At night there are performances, campfires, stories, and, for the oldest campers, a coming of age ceremony at the labyrinth, at the end of the season. (Patch Adams is a counselor in clowning at one session.) Then it's ''brush 'em if you got 'em,'' before bed.

My son (17) has graduated to being a junior counselor and will even get paid a bit this year. He credits this place with helping him to find himself. During the rest of the year he now puts on rock-concert benefits for charities, with a group of teens, many of whom attended Winnarainbow, and featuring friends' bands, including one band from camp, with kids for whom he was a ''teen-staff '' (junior-junior counselor) a couple of years ago.

Oldest campers are 14. I know there are still several openings in sessions D (July 21 - Aug 2) & E (Aug 4 - 16), and a few spots in earlier sessions.


Best, and good luck, mimi

April 2006

This is my, and my daughter's, annual pitch/recommendation for Camp Winnarainbow in Mendocino County ( It is a fabulous camp, with activities centered around the Circus Arts, and is chock-filled with everything that makes for a lifetime of great camp memories. Most of the senior counselors have been coming to camp since they were kids, and are living examples of what the camp's goals for the campers are. from their website - ''Drawing from our knowledge of circus and performing arts, we teach timing, balance and a sense of humor. Kids learn respect for themselves, others and the environment. We honor the creative spirit of each child in an atmosphere of approval and mutual encouragement. '' Research and you will find that they have the highest safety ratings available to any camp in the country -and the beautiful setting is second to none in Northern CA.

Let's see... The camp has a one week sleep-away session for kids 7 and up. The camp's administration is amazing and every precaution and care you would want them to take - is taken. Check it out! This is the best sleep-away camp!!!
Lily's Dad

March 2004

My daughter had a wonderful experience at Camp Winnarainbow. It is nominally a circus camp, but the kids get to choose their activities, and there are some normal overnight camp activities like swimming as well. My daughter is kind of a timid type with respect to things like flying through the air on trapezes, but, much to my surprise, she became a great juggler and qualified stilt-walker. But none of this says what the camp is. When her friends had been, and she wanted to go the next year, I went and asked the kids what the camp was like, expecting to hear about stilt-walking, etc. I swear that they started to glow when I asked the question. Instead of telling me anything about activities, they talked about how everyone there was respected, no one teased anyone there-- basically, they told me how wonderful the values were, and how that made them feel valued and wanted and feel that they fit in. It isn't a wilderness experience, though the kids live outside in large teepees. So maybe it isn't what you are looking for. But it is wonderful, and unique in the sense that it takes kids, for perhaps the only time in their lives, to a place where life is what it ought to be. The office is in Berkeley, except in the summer when it is at the camp itself. The camp is up north of Eureka. There is a bus that takes kids there from Berkeley, though I found I always enjoyed the long drive. Christine

January 2002

Has anyone out there sent their child to Wavy Gravy's circus camp, Camp Winnarainbow? I'd appreciate any information. My daughter will be almost nine and id begging me to go with a friend -- though I think nine is kind of young to go so far to sleepaway camp, but I'm probably being overprotective since she's very responsible. How have kids that age done at sleepaway camp? I'm anxious to hear. Thanks Stefanie

NPR had a piece on the camp last summer, which you may be able to find in their archives. It sounded really fun for kids. Maybe a little on the groovy side, but fun. Nine is NOT too young for camp. I went to my first away camp at 8 or 9, then the next one maybe when I was 11 or 12. I had the BEST time! Going away, not having to clean up so perfectly, being outdoors, singing silly songs, making new friends (later to be pen-pals), swimming, hiking, doing crafts. I did not want to come home! If your daughter wants to go, and you can swing it, go for it!

My older son (age 14) has gone to Camp Winnarainbow for several years and my younger son (age 9 last August) went for the first time last summer. They both loved it! I also had my doubts about a 9 year old going to sleep away camp but he did fine. One suggestion--send your child to the one-week session to start out. The staff was lovely and the activities were creative, engaging, challenging and fun. It may be that my younger son would have been more tentative without his older brother there, but I would recommend the camp with or without an older brother or a friend. If you want information, feel free to e-mail me directly. Judy

I have worked at Camp Winnarainbow almost every year for 15 years. I haven't been to the kid's camp since the early 90's, (I teach at the adult camp still, though) but I can give you a pretty good idea of what it's like. It is a very sweet place, a beautiful piece of land, and a good opportunity for kids to learn some fun skills like juggling, stilts, trapeze, theatre, and experience a community type feeling with kids and staff. It's geared towards circus and performing arts, but there are also other things offered, usually a really amazingly wide spectrum of choices each day.

There are kids 7-14 there as campers, and then older than that they become jr. staff and staff. I know kids who have literally grown up there every year, and they are wonderful adults now. People make lifelong friends there. The fact that your child wants to go with a friend sounds great, because it's an easy way to break in and feel comfortable. I'd bet she comes home feeling like she has a whole new circle of people and activity in her life.

I went to a sleepaway arts camp as a kid, and it changed my life. Winnarainbow is less professional arts oriented, more geared towards having big silly fun, and acquiring some arts skills and some social skills of living in a group. Kids are supported well through the rare homesickness bout, and there are always an abundance of well trained staff to talk to.

This year, we'll most likely be there with our daughter, who's just old enough to start to participate. THis will be my first experience having a child as a camper, so I'll let you know how that perspective is at the end of June! isabel

I am certain I will be one of many folks to give a positive recommendations to Camp Winnarainbow. My twin girls were 10 when they went for a week and loved every minute. Don't fret! Let your 9 yr old go and have a great time. Tim

I can only address the latter part of your question regarding an appropriate age for sleep away camp. I started going to sleep away camp when I was eight years old until I was fifteen, and it was always the highlight of my year. At the younger ages, I never went for more than two weeks. The first few days at camp there was always the inevitable homesickness, but once I got through that stage it was pure fun. I would say, especially if your daughter wants to go with a friend, that it would be a great experience. I never went to camps with people I knew, but in sleepaway camps the friendships form very quickly Daphne

I don't have experience with this camp in particular, although I am considering it for this year. My son , however, went to overnight camp at Camp Gualala, which is pretty far away as well, when he was eight. He went for a week with his best friend and had a great time - no homesickness at all! I think that going with a friend is definitely empowering. I had my reservations about it, but he knew that he could handle it, so I followed his lead and it was right on! Jody

Camp Winnarainbow is our daughter's home away from home. She is eleven, and this year will be her fifth summer there. (she started when she was 7, the minimum age) It's really great if your child can go with a friend, but if not, they make friends readily there. The first year that my daughter went, she was only seven, and although she didn't hesitate for a second, I missed her terribly and wondered about her a lot. Her counselor was so amazing and *called me every night* with a report on my daughter's day.

The staff there is outstanding, and not only do they focus on fun things like circus skills: unicycle, juggling, tightrope and clowning, they also place quite an emphasis on life skills, working in community, caring about the people around you, etc. We were really astounded by the change in our daughter's whole outlook when she returned from camp -- she had become 100% more cooperative, generous, empathetic, etc. The older campers really look out for the little ones, and she had lots of new older buddies who were exceptionally kind to her. She can't imagine summer without Camp Winnarainbow, and starts counting down the days on the day that she comes home.

For people who are concerned about sending a child away, they are very understanding and caring and the counselors are very good about keeping in touch if need be. You can choose between a one week or two week session. We did a one week the first time, which was really nice except then there was no big show which is the highlight for the two weekers. Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions; my daughter Mollie would be happy to share her experiences about her Favorite place on earth. Susan