Advice about Going to Family Camp

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  • Family camps in US

    (11 replies)


    We're a family from the UK, just moved over here. We hear 'family camps' are a thing in the US and think this may be just the ticket for us to explore the many beautiful landscapes that America has to offer. If anyone has any suggestions on must see places or even better, summer family camps, I'd be very grateful. :-)


    Welcome to the US! "Family camps" aren't exactly common, but they do have interesting sociological history. A handful of progressive US cities bought (or acquired long term leases) on Forest Service land in the mountains in the early part of the 20th century, and created "auto camps" for their residents to go spend a week in more healthful air. Many of these camps exist in some form or another now, either run by city governments, YMCAs, or non-profit organizations. They are not cheap - much more expensive than car camping, because the camp provides all meals and organized activities with very rustic accommodations. It will certainly be possible for your family to go for a short vacation (most families do not go for more than 4-5 days max, and plenty just do a long weekend) even with COVID capacity restrictions, some operations in flux, etc., but you will need to book by March-ish for the summer. City of Berkeley probably is running one this year? but they haven't announced schedule or registration?? We've been very happy with their operation for years (pre COVID). There's also City of San Jose's, which is in a great location on the Tuolumne river but allows cars in camp (an issue with smaller kids). I've heard good things about the YMCA one in the Sequoias, and even a YMCA one in Colorado. YMCA Camp Loma Mar and Camp Campbell run family camp weekends throughout the year/season, for a taster.

    Outside of a family camp setting, you get that rustic nice Americana camp feel at Camp Richardson, in tahoe, and Camp Curry, in Yosemite.

    Look no further than the Family Vacation Center held each summer on the beach, on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. My family spent 10 fabulous summer vacations there. Their motto is “the best vacation since becoming parents” and they live up to the motto in all respects. 


    if your travels can take you to the east coast I highly recommend exploring Maine during the summer. Beautiful state and there are several family camps I have heard amazing things about.

    I want to preface this recommendation with yes, it's a bit expensive, and yes, it's far away, but Tyler Place in Vermont is the BEST FAMILY CAMP IN THE WORLD! We went there because we used to live on the East Coast, so it's a bit of a trek from the West Coast, but Tyler Place is a happy place that we have not found elsewhere. Families can live in little cabins with kitchenettes, or in a room in the "inn"; the rooms are simple but have MAID SERVICE. All meals are provided, and all the food is amazing. Here's the best part: Your kids get enrolled in a traditional camp, with camp counselors, marching chants, they go jump in the lake, ride ponies, and play all day. They eat all 3 meals with their counselors. They get returned to you for 3 hours in the afternoon, and then return, happy and tired, in the evenings for bedtime. We found this the best compromise for our little boy who was afraid to sleep away from us. At Tyler Place, he got the full camp experience, without really being away from his parents. Meanwhile, the adults get adult-only meals, and can sign up for so many activities--hiking, archery, golf, kayaking, fishing, you name it. Tyler Place has been run by the Tyler family for generations, and they have made it a little piece of heaven. High recommend.

    Our family is indelibly loyal to Cazadero Family Performing Arts Camp; despite the name, there are lots of activities for non-performing folks (yoga, art, writing, crafts).

    We have gone to Lair of the Bear (through UC Berkeley) and Feather River Camp (city of Oakland) and both were great and pretty different, though some differences are due to COVID - we went to Lair pre-covid and OFRC last year. Lair is bigger and has more activities, including more kid's camp time (where they supervise your kids so you can have time off, a HUGE selling point of family camp for us!) - their kid activities are 2-3 hours in the morning and in the afternoon, whereas OFRC only has it in the morning. I think OFRC feels a little more laid-back because it's smaller and has less going on. Lair has a pool on site but the lake is a couple of miles away, which was a downside. OFRC has a swimming hole in the river on site, and there are even nicer swimming holes a quick drive away - like some of the nicest swimming spots I've ever been to. Because we have young kids (3 and 6) who are a handful and need to be supervised, I would choose Lair because it has more supervised kids' activities, if I had slightly older kids who could run around on their own I think it would be a draw. 

    Oakland Feather River Family Camp should be on your list!

    Check out the camps run by, or affiliated with, Bay Area cities in the Sierras: Oakland | SF | Berkeley | San Jose | story listing more

    Have only done one -- Oakland's, last summer -- but would 10/10 endorse as a way of being in nature and meeting people. Also don't have to worry about cooking or cleaning for a week, which was actually the #1 reason we went. 

    Camp Tuolumne near Yosemite, operated by the city of Berkeley, is a popular family camp and is scheduled to reopen this summer after being closed for almost 10 years because of a wildfire in 2013.  My family has attended Tuolumne for years and we love it and are looking forward to the camp reopening. There are lots of reviews on BPN's website. Keep up to date on registration dates and constructions updates on its website or by subscribing to mailings from Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp

    Sorry this answer is a bit late. The East Coast really has the camp tradition and tons of camps on lakes all over New England but the West Coast not so much. However most YMCA camps have family camps. I've never done them but I can attest that YMCA camps are great - beautiful settings, cute tents, just the classic camp experience.

    Here are a few close by -   

    YMCA Camp Campbell down in the redwoods by Bounder Creek (between Cupertino and Santa Cruz)

    YMCA Camp Loma Mar - similar location i think as Camp Campbell, but a bit north (by La Honda), bu I've never been but it too as several Family Camp dates

    YMCA also has wonderful camps on the East Coast all over New England and many of these would have family camps too if you are heading that way or prefer to do it there. YMCA camps are also affordable (comparatively speaking) but offer a ton of great stuff - really amazing and those back east even more so. Definitely something to think about for your kid on their own someday too.

    Oops I just said YMCA camps have cute tents - no - I mean cute cabins!

Parent Reviews

Family camp!! It will instantly become an annual tradition that your kids will love. Try to rope in at least one other family with similar age kids. 

When our kids were that age we really enjoyed spending a week at a family camp in the Sierras. Swimming, hiking, campfires, meals provided, kid independence, low parental stress. Here are some that have been recommended on BPN:

So, the weather in the Bay Area is so pleasant that people don't really escape for a month to cooler parts - there's too much fun stuff to do here in the summer. But there are a bunch of places that are popular for a week of vacation with the fam where you'll find other kids running around.

1. Family Camps:  A lot of people I know go to family camps at the same time every summer and see the same families year after year. This is probably the closest thing we have to the Catskills. The cities of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, as well as UC Berkeley and others all built camps in the early 1900's during the "back to nature" movement.  They are mostly in the beautiful Sierras and near Yosemite. Some of them are so popular you have to sign up almost a year ahead of time.  These range from fairly rustic tent cabins to more modern abodes and typically serve 3 meals, have a river or pool, and optional activities for kids and for adults.  These camps are open to all, not just residents or alumni.  We used to go to Berkeley Tuolumne camp until it burned, sadly, in the Rim Fire a few years ago. (But it will be back, and so will we!) Look on BPN for reviews of some of these camps.  

2. Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast:  We also really like to go to Sea Ranch, but there, it's more like comfortable houses with hot tubs and fireplaces nestled in the cedar trees and spaced far apart, so it's a great place for quiet and solitude, not so much for communing with your fellow Bay Areans.  But it's fun for kids. There are swimming pools, playgrounds, beaches, and flat empty roads for bike riding.

3. The Seaside: Some people do a week near the ocean.  Inverness has been a popular getaway for more than a century, and is very beautiful and ideally situated near Pt. Reyes and Tomales Bay (oysters, kayaking, etc.)- look on AirB&B or similar. It's more adult oriented in the sense that it's all about food, wine, fog, and views but it's close to the ocean for the kids. Then there are the more beachy spots popular with families where you rent a house for a week, like Stinson Beach, Dillon Beach, further south near Monterey and Santa Cruz, like Aptos and Capitola, Pajaro, Pismo, etc.

Lots of options!  

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Family camp with private bathrooms?

Jan 2009

I am drawn to the idea of family camp for our family with kids 8,5 and 2. Call me a wimp, but I guess i am a bit reticent of the idea of hauling to communal bathrooms. I would love to hear of family camps with lodging that is a bit less camping and/or experience of those who are not so hardy who have adapted to the more rustic lodging..... I have heard of the Santa Barbara family camp but I would love something in a more quiet and natural setting. I guess I want it all! Dreaming of Summer

Hi, we go to family camp every year. We take up a porta potty, essentially a bucket with a toilet seat, and use that for middle of the night potty sessions (mainly my husband and I use it; the kids seem to be able to hold out until morning). Then in the morning we take it to the bathrooms and clean it out there. Several other longtime families at this camp do the same thing.

I have a list of family camps someone sent me about 5 years ago. It is from Frommer's Budget Travel for the top 50 family camps for 2004. I can send it directly to you if you are interested (it's not a link, but an email w/all the info on all the camps in CA). Stephanie

Here are a couple of really *plush* camping options.

There's the Resort at Paws Up in Montana. It's in the same locale as Robert Redford's movie ''A River Runs Through It.'' It's a rugged setting, but guests stay in luxury tents with feather beds and fine linens. Each tent has its own private bathroom in the bathhouse with heated granite floors, etc. There are all sorts of organized activities for all ages.

An even more remote camping option is called Clayoquot Wilderness Resort near Tofino, BC (on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island). Very secluded, everything gets to the camp by barge (and guests are brought in from Vancouver by seaplane). *Very* expensive, but very nice. I was there last May on a FAM trip and can tell you about it. David

Family camp next year for 6 and 7 year olds?

August 2008

Summer is almost over but we are already thinking about next summer, and are looking for advice about Family Camps! Our kids are 6 and 7 and we'd love to hear about experiences and recommendations for the following camps, including when to signup:

  - Berkeley Tuolumne Camp - Lair of the Golden Bear - Feather River Camp - San Francisco Camp Mather - Any other great family camp I missed??

Thanks! A Happy Camper

Our family went to Lair of the Bear camp this summer for the first time, and we are not UC folks. Pros: great food, very friendly staff, swimming pool, Pinecrest Lake 5 mins away for fishing, swimming, and kayaking, tennis courts,friendly campers, a few nights of funny entertainment, plenty of planned activities for the kids, no bugs. Honestly, I can't think of any solid cons. Anon

Yogi's Jellystone park is the best. There are 2 locations. The one near stockton is brand new and the one in Cobb Mountain has been there for awhile so it's more established. I've been to both & like Cobb Mountain best. It so much fun & lots to do. Yogi has event's everyday. Just check out the website & see for yourself. You're family will have a blast. Shelly

Try Family Vacation Center at USCB in Santa Barbara. We went to San Jose family camp for a few years, but sleeping on a cot in a tent in 100 degrees did not make for a comfortable week for us parents! ''FVC'' at UCSB houses you in dorm rooms. We have two children and arrived to find we were placed in a 4 bedroom dorm room. We had two bathrooms, two showers, a bed for each child and a bedroom to store the bikes. Privacy for mom & dad was a real plus!

We went knowing nobody but both my kids had ''best friends'' in a day or two. There is enough activity to keep any parent happy. It's just a bit higher class than many other camps, but the price is very reasonable. We enjoyed wine tasting and tours, yoga, kayaking, horseback riding, surf lessons, BBQ on the beach, movies, etc. but you can also do nothing but read by the pool if that suits you.

I also can't say enough about the counselors for the kids. I don't know how they do it, but they are unfailingly enthusiastic and fun, and the kids just LOVE them. They participate in so many activities as well. As parents we seem to have just the right amount of alone time and also the right amount of family time. No matter what I think, both kids voted to attend three more years and still want me to book next year. I really can't say enough about the location, the staff, and the fun times we have there. We have met really neat friends there and even learned to surf (fairly badly - but it's not for lack of quality instruction!) Check it out before you decide. For us, the drive is well worth it. Kirsten

We've had two amazing summers now at Camp Cazadero , near the Russian River past Guerneville. Cazadero is a children-only music camp for much of the summer, but for two weeks in August it transforms into a full-service family camp for all ages, humming with fun and creativity. It has an arts focus, but many non-artists and non-performers attend and enjoy it. You sleep in tent or tent cabins in a magnificent redwood grove. Campers can take up to four informal classes a day in music (jazz, taiko, piano, chamber music, harmony singing, guitar grooves, etc) or dance (salsa, African dance, yoga, tap, square dance, etc) or visual art (digital photography, stone sculpture, international fabrics, clay, etc) or other (clowning, circus, creekwalking, kids' swimming, environmental art, etc). But, you can spend all day doing free time if you want! Various families attend it as a reunion for far-flung siblings. There's an old-fashioned wacky talent show, campfire storytelling sessions, night-time dances and jam sessions. Kids have the run of the place and can explore endlessly, make art all day, play sports or ping pong... they love it. If you like a low-key vacation where you can explore and expand your horizons, this is the place. Session A seems to have a teen focus, while Session B seems more geared to younger kids. Happy Camper

My family has been attending Cazadero Performing Arts Family Camp for many years. It's great for families who are interested in music, art, clowning, and drama. The food is pretty good and the classes are wonderful. If your family is not particularly interested in sports, this is a great camp. My sons, ages 23 and 20, still want to come to camp with us! Susan B.

Weekend Family Camp?

May 2008

Hi, I am looking for a recommendation for a nearby family camp that does weekends. I was interested in the Bear's Lair camp, but cannot do the dates offered (the weekends are limited). We are a family of three (one child age 10) and want a camp that provides stuff for kids to do. If it included dogs, that would be ideal--but not necessary. Thanks. camping bound

There are many other family camps you can look into, and often you don't have to be an alumnus or city resident to attend.

Here's a list I've kept on hand for several years now; since I have not updated it, some of these links may be out of date (I know some accept dogs, but you'd have to ask each site for specific info.,):

  •   Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, Yosemite National Park 
  • Camp Concord,South Lake Tahoe 
  • Camp Sacramento, Twin Bridges 
  • Cazadero Performing Arts Camp, Cazadero 
  • Emandal Farm, Willits 707/459-5439, 
  • Feather River Camp, Quincy 
  • Forest Home, Forest Falls 
  • Lair of the Golden Bear, Pinecrest $1,900, 510/642-0221, 
  • Lark camp, Mendocino 
  • Montecito-Sequoia lodge, Kings Canyon National Park 800/227-9900, 
  • Silver Lake Camp, Silver Lake 
  • Skylake Yosemite Camp, Wishon 559/642-3720, 
  • Wonder Valley Family Camp, Sanger 

Good luck finding an ideal location! Stephanie 

Try Lake Siskyio Camp ground by Monte Shasta. We have gone there for 17 years with our children, now 8 and 19 yr. This is from Oakland about 4-5 hour drive but it is worth it. The campground allows dogs. You can rent cabins, trailers, bring your own trailer or tent for camping. It also has an arcade, out door movies every night, store for last minute things, beach with canoes, tire tubes, and other floating devices. It is a great place to hike, ride bikes, and explore. The town near by offers great stores, restaurants, etc. for kids and adults. My kids favorite place in the town is (I believe to be a ''Christian'') restaurant that has several games for all ages (ping pong table, chess, etc.). From the campground you can drive short distances to other areas to explore waterfalls and other gorgeous lakes. narniaph

Family Camp as a single parent?

Feb 2007

Our family enjoys the outdoors and I love the idea of going to one of the local family camps. My partner doesn't get much time off and I'm wondering if attending alone with two kids would be fun or a lot of work? Has anyone been in that situation before and what was it like? Is it easy to meet others? Which camp did you go to? Advice appreciated! East Bay Mom

Dear East Bay Mom, Family camp can be hard work as a single parent. When looking around ask places if they can offer additional help since you are a single parent or if they have a single parent family camp. Camp Tawonga used to offer a single parent family camp, but I think now they offer additional assistance at their normal family camp. They are worth looking into. Good luck! Kenna

I took my kids (then 4.5 and 1) by myself to Camp Tawonga family weekend last summer. There were very few single parents there, and none except me had small kids. It is certainly doable, but how challenging it will be for you depends on how old your kids are and what kind of support/structure the camp offers. Tawonga puts each kid into an activity group (the babies are the 'Acorns'!), and in principle the parents have a few hours free each day. I found that I needed that time to shower and relax, so I didn't get to go hiking and swimming like the other parents. Eventually I asked for some extra help--a counselor to help me out at bedtime, take the older one while the baby napped, and so forth. I highly recommend asking for such assistance in advance. The kids had a great time, I found it fun but exhausting. This year I'm asking my dad to come with us-- maybe you have a grandparent to bring along? You may email me for more info. Karen

I am a single mom with only one kid (age 3) not two, but I have found that family camp is the single best way for me to get a break. I have also vacationed with my kid with my older adult relatives (on a cruise) and with a friend (flew to Hawaii). What is great about camp is that there are wonderful outdoor planned kid activities, there are other kids to play with and it is safe so they can roam around in packs, there are other friendly adults that you can relate to (and who will help keep an eye on the pack of kids), and all meals are prepared for you and are casual. Parents happy + kids happy = heaven!

I spent several summers in week-long stays at Berkeley Family Camp. The setting is wonderful, and there are lots of activities for kids of all ages, so you can spend a lot of time with your kids, or not, depending on their ages and your desires. There are also some activities for adults only. The food is decent, and the accomodations are rustic but charming. I found there were other single parents there every time I went. Sometimes I felt a little left out, as people do go as families or have reunions and aren't as interested in meeting new people as they could be, but there were others who were friendly and inclusive. The best times were when I went with another single parent/kid, when my kid was pretty young, so we could take turns being responsible for the kids and really have some free time. As my kid got older, I let him be on his own around camp or in the organized activities (with small kids you have to be somewhat careful, as a river runs right through the camp). I'd be happy to answer any questions if you want to email me. You have to apply soon, as spaces fill up very early. Linda

For several years, my family (husband, daughter and I) stayed at Berkeley Tuolumne Camp. We always made plans to go at the same time as friends. After awhile, my husband was no longer interested but my daughter still wanted to go. For a couple of years I would take her, and another mom and her daughter would come at the same time (we had separate tents, although the girls would sleep together in the same tent). Then, a few times I took my daughter and a friend. By this time, the girls were older and quite self sufficient, so I can't give you any advice about it being a lot of work. I have to say that it was a bit lonely for me at times. Even though I knew some of the other campers, it just wasn't as much fun. I would recommend that you find a friend in similar circumstances and plan to be there at the same time. camper mom

Strong personality dominating family camp

Nov 2005

As we prepare our application for Camp this year I am wondering if anyone can suggest how/whether to address the following issue: The past few years at family camp we've found ourselves sharing the week with a parent who really seems to need to dominate the atmosphere of the entire camp. The parent behaves as if the camp is a giant fraternity party, including conspicuous heavy drinking. I find that camp is too small to disregard this un-camplike behavior (un- camplike in that it is so loud and hyper and attention-demanding) and it feels a bit like being back in eighth grade and it interferes with my ability to just relax and get to know our neighbors and friends better. I have a teenage son and a preteen daughter and at the risk of sounding prudey I'd rather not have them associate camp with this kind of behavior. It feels impossible and equally un-camplike to say something or to try and legislate other people's vacation behavior. Yet it does wear on me and make me question whether it is worth the (ever increasing) fee to go this year. Any thoughts welcome. anonymous

Can you talk to the directors of the camp? Seems like the kind of behavior that would bother a lot of folks. And if it's really a family camp, I bet a lot of people are bothered by excessive drinking. Maybe a set of behavior standards could be set, and violators given warnings or asked to leave.
Likes it Quiet Too

Call or write to the director and ask them if they can tell you when/if this person is going so you can go at a different time. That will be a subtle way of also letting the director know that it bothers you. Some people like a raucous vacation and some don't. You should be able to enjoy your vacation quietly if that is what you prefer. It is good to let the director know because it might be bothering other people too, but the director might assume that everyone is fine with it because no one has complained.

It appears you have two easy options:

1) Since you have gone the same time as this person in the past, seems likely you can change to a different time and not cross paths with that person.

2) Save your money and don't go at all.

Lookin' Forward to Camp

Grandparent-Friendly Family Camp

Jan 2003

Greetings - We're looking for a multi-generational family camp that would provide a reasonable amount of comfort for my parents while still being lots of fun for our 9 and 7 year-old kids. Have checked the archives but would really appreciate more current and complete recommendations. They live in South Pasadena and are willing to do some traveling (as are we). I'd say comfort is the big issue for them (not fancy but certainly not too rustic - like their own private room with bath, and the like). Many thanks, Deborah Deborah


  • Dude Ranches
  • Feather River Camp
  • Montecito-Sequoia Family Camp


    Family Week Music and Dance Camp

    From: Andrea (5/99)

    I attended a wonderful camp Family Week Music and Dance Camp last summer with my daughter and husband and just heard that there are still a few openings for this year - thought some other UCB Parents might be interested. What I particularly liked about this camp, besides the glorious setting, friendly, funny, and very talented staff, great music, and inclusivity of all ages, was that this camp is designed not only to be fun for children from toddlers to teenagers, but also for their parents/ grandparents/ adults. The roving babysitters in the evening check on all children every 10 minutes in the cabins, allowing many parents to spend the evenings dancing and listening to music in the great old lodge with the other adults and older kids. The spirit of this camp is one of welcome and inclusion of everyone, regardless of age, skill level etc. And there is a delightful dose of silliness evidenced in the costume parade to the bar-b-que, the Teddy Bear's Picnic, etc. Please see the announcement of this year's camp and contact information below if interested.


    The 8th Annual BACDS Family Week, July 3rd to 10th, 1999, is a music and dance camp for families of all sizes as well as for singles and couples who like the lively vitality of a child-inclusive community. Sponsored by the non-profit Bay Area Country Dance Society, the setting is a Sierra mountain camp at the 4000 foot level about ten miles outside Kings Canyon National Park, 50 miles east of Fresno, CA, with beautiful vistas and a lake for swimming and canoeing. The camp offers a full program of classes for each age group of children, and adult dance classes in contradance, square dance, clogging, English Country dance, English longsword, Balkan dance, as well as fiddle and dance band, folk crafts, woodworking, and clay. Twice a day the whole camp community gets together for singing, dancing, concerts, skits, jokes and stories.

    In the evening the under-10 children are paraded and sung to bed, and roving babysitters check on each cabin every ten minutes so that parents can go enjoy the evening dancing.

    The housing is in wooden cabins with electricity and there is a bathhouse nearby with hot showers. The food is catered by our own chef; three meals a day plus snacks. The staff includes professional fiddlers, pianists, guitarists, accordionists, dance callers and children's teachers from all over the United States.

    A pdf version of the brochure may be viewed at the BACDS website, at For registration or more information, call Emily Flouton at (707) 765-6559 or email emjer [at]