Camp JaK

Outside the Bay Area
Editors' Notes: 
  • Located in Castaic, CA

Parent Reviews

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Archived Q&A and Reviews

Feb 2015

CampJAK is a great summer camp for ages 6 to teens. Our three kids, now ages 14, 10, and
almost-7, absolutely love it and would not consider missing a summer session at CampJAK. 

The directors are John Chakan and Kelly Marsten, Berkeley parents of three who have been
in the world of summer camp for decades and really know their stuff.

The thing you notice about CampJAK is how incredibly friendly and upbeat everyone is
there -- the whole point of camp is to make friends, have fun, feel included and learn
new things. From growing food to milking goats to running the ropes course to kayaking on
the lake, there are so many incredible skills to learn, all in an atmosphere of fun and
loving support. 

Our daughter especially just loves the horseback riding -- she lives for CampJAK and
trail rides! She also loves all the art and craft activities and always comes back with a
pile of beautiful things she has made. Our older son could play LARP and Capture-the-Flag
all day, every day, and he would be in heaven -- in fact he is, and he does. The littlest
one loves everything, especially the great food, and we suspect he has a future in
creating hysterical camp skits .... 

Leaving your kids at CampJAK for a 3-week stay feels about as fantastic as leaving them
with Grandma and Grandpa -- you just know they're going to be cared for as family and
come back asking, When can we go again?

Check it out at

If there are specific things you'd like to know about, feel free to give me a call. 


Nov 2014

Last summer my three kids (current ages are 6, 9, and 14) went to CampJaK. They all had such an incredibly good time that I wanted to share.

CampJaK is run by John Chackan and Kelly Marsten (John and Kelly = JaK), a wonderfully sweet couple who live in North Berkeley with their three young kids. Camp directing has been their dedication for a very long time, and they are masters at it.

For years John and Kelly were the directors of Plantation Farm Camp on the Sonoma coast. My children always loved their experiences here, the two older ones couldn't WAIT until they turned 8 and were thus old enough to go! It had a lot of great features, but I always felt that the best feature was the energy and spirit established by John and Kelly.

Now we have found that CampJaK is even better, because John and Kelly are able to really follow their vision and bring even more energy, enthusiasm and spirit to what they give the kids. CampJaK has farm animals and a vegetable garden, and a pool, but also a super-fun ropes course, climbing areas, and physical challenges for all ages. There is a large lake for canoeing and swimming, as well as horseback-riding, which especially delighted my daughter.

For everything you get, CampJaK is very affordable. There really isn't anywhere else I feel I can send my kids where I know they are going to eat healthy food, have a GREAT time in nature, learn responsibilities to care for themselves and other creatures and living things, be media-free essentially all summer long, and find a really safe, loving and respectful environment fostered among the children as well as the counselors and staff. We are so happy knowing that all three of our kids, spanning 8 years between them, find fun activities here as well as a safe and happy place to have fun and make new friends.

We tried out another camp one year that my son's friend was attending, but the energy there was more high-strung and felt a little aggressive. I know at CampJaK the social and emotional well-being of all the campers is held very closely by John and Kelly. The mood is fun but always very relaxed, no matter if they are doing tie-dye and crochet, or playing LARPS and Capture the Flag!

We love CampJaK! ~Happy Camp Mom

Oct 2014

Re: What sleep away camp did your child LOVE?

Our daughter, now 13, attended a wonderful camp this year and absolutely loved it: Camp JaK in Castaic (an hour north of LA). She went to a similar camp in previous years run by the same directors, John and Kelly, and has had a great time and blossomed as a result. Part of what we love so much about Camp JaK is the unplugging from our busy (digital) world and connecting as people doing things together, living in community, etc. Plus she's now into rock climbing and the ropes course from this year's experience, which is something we never expected! They go to the beach, to the nearby Lake Castaic, and hiking in the nearby hills, in addition to farm animal care chores, garden chores, art projects etc.... sleeping in small groups in tent cabins, all which foster a sense of independence we are thrilled to see evolve. I highly recommend it (, and am happy to chat about it further. Jocelyn

Oct 2014

Re: What sleep away camp did your child LOVE?

This summer, my Berkeley boy (11) went to two sessions of sleepaway camp at Camp Jak in southern California, for a total of 4 super fun weeks. He came home very happy, helpful, refreshed, thriving, centered, tan, and 100% sure he will go back next year.

He is sort of a shy and sweet boy who doesn't usually feel comfortable at school and has trouble fitting in, but he loves it at camp! Everybody was so good to him, he felt included, and there was always choice of activities so he could pick what sounded most fun to him. The most exciting things were the ziplines and ropes course, the opportunities to horseback ride, and creative versions of traditional camp fun like capture the flag and barn dances at night. There is archery and art and lots of sports available. The staff is a very experienced group who love what they do and bring real summer camp spirit to the kids. It's pure fun in a really safe and healthy environment, where kids get to grow and explore and realize how much they can do.

They have swimming every day in the pool and occasional trips to the beach. The kids help in chores each day, mostly that means caring for animals but also everybody takes turns serving or cleaning at meal times and doing other tasks around the camp or farm. The camp website is pretty good and every night you can log in to see new photos, so you can see how your camper is doing and you can write to them about those things. Of course, it's exciting when the kids write back, and the councelors will write you too about how your child is doing. They take kids ages 7-17 for 2 week sessions, there are 4 sessions available each summer, and for first-time campers there is a 1 week ''mini camp'' for ages 6-10.

the website is christine

April 2014

Re: 11 year old boy not interested in sleepaway camp

We had exactly the same problem with our anxious 11 year old. What we did was:

1) search out the most solid, caring Camp Directors we could find, i.e. those we thought most skilled and experienced at creating a warm and inclusive camp community (and who have a no-electronics policy). These Directors were John Chakan and Kelly Marston; they have been full-time professional summer sleep-away camp directors for 15 years or more. (They also have 3 children of their own) I did a few months of volunteer work for them to get to know them ahead of time and make sure that I trusted them with my children. I do,and after 5 years of summer camp with them, still have no reservations.! John and Kelly now run Camp JaK ( 8-16 year olds). My three kids have been with them for 5 Summers and rave about it the rest of every year.

2) made arrangements with John and Kelly for my highly anxious kid to have the option of coming home after a few days if she really wanted to. At the end of 3 days she had no interest in coming home and stayed happily for almost 4 weeks. The following Summer she begged to go to multiple sessions and went for almost 8 weeks!

Note: While John and Kelly were the Directors at Plantation Farm Camp for over a dozen years, this Summer they they have started their own camp . Since I believe that the leadership at a camp is the primary factor in the quality of children's experience, my kids are moving to the new Camp JaK with these wonderful [Berkeley-based] directors. Part of what I so admire about their mission as life-long summer camp leaders is their ability to simultaneously love kids unconditionally, while setting fair firm and consistent limits. I also have great respect for the values they bring to camp life - kindness, inclusivity, responsibility for community , the farm animals. and the environment. And the food is great! Wishing you all the best, Andrea