The Best Camps


This is a selective list of traditional summer camps based on interviews with campers, parents, staff, directors, and others who have personal knowledge of camp facilities and programs, and a guide to free area referral services that can help you find the right camp for your child. Many of these camps encourage visits from prospective campers and their families in the summer while they are in session.

Overnight Camps

The Aloha Foundation

Okay, we don't get the whole Hawaii motif either, but these three Vermont camps emphasize helping children succeed in an environment that includes traditional camp activities close to nature and surrounded by music and humor. Some of the campers are fifth-generation, and the unusual campus includes 19th-century buildings, a life-sized replica of a medieval castle, and a working Viking sailing ship. [Fairlee, VT, 802-333-3400, www.alohafoundation.org. Founded 1915, 1905, 1922; Aloha Hive: girls, ages 7-12; Aloha Camp: girls, ages 12-17; Lanakila: boys, ages 8-14; 120 campers per camp; 2.5 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $6,400 for full season.]

Birch Rock Camp

Birch Rock's size allows it to focus a lot of individual attention on each boy. Table etiquette and the proper way to make a bed are taught side by side with wilderness hiking, which takes campers to places like the St. Croix International Waterway at the boundary with Canada. [Waterford, ME, 207-583-4478 (summer), 207-741-2930 (winter), www.birchrock.org. Founded 1926; boys, ages 7-15; 72 campers; 3 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $4,800 for full season.]

Camp Caribou

Caribou has been run by the same family since 1968, and some things (like archery, waterfront activities, and top-notch coaching) haven't changed. There's also a new, 10,000-square-foot gym and facilities for virtually every kind of sport. [Winslow, ME, 207-872-9313 (summer), 508-358-5050 (winter), www.campcaribou.com. Founded 1922; boys, ages 7-15; 225 campers; 3 campers per adult; 70 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,150 for full season.]

Camp Cedar

Six basketball courts, a nine-hole golf course, and a full-sized, lighted soccer and lacrosse field make Jack a busy boy. Structured, but with some opportunity for choice. Clean, new facilities and, most important of all, involved, hands-on directors. [Casco, ME, 207-627-4266 (summer), 617-277-8080 (winter), www.campcedar.com. Founded 1954; boys, ages 8-15; 290 campers; 2 campers per adult; 95 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,800.]

Chewonki

On a midcoastal tidal bay, campers learn navigation skills and participate in wilderness trips to the more desolate regions of Maine. Camping skills and appreciation for nature are emphasized. [Wiscasset, ME, 207-882-7323, www.chewonki.org. Founded 1915; boys, ages 8-15; 140 campers; 3 campers per adult; 65 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $5,400 for full season.]

Camp Cobbossee

A classic Maine sports camp with a heart, not to mention premier facilities, including a 30-foot climbing wall and indoor bouldering cave. Cobbossee's structured day leaves plenty of room for free time. Campers can choose to participate in intercamp sports, but teamwork and improvement are considered more important than beating a rival camp at baseball. [Winthrop, ME, 800-473-6104, www.campcobbossee.com. Founded 1902; boys, ages 7-15; 220 campers; 3 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,450 for full season.]

Camp Emerson

For the independent, mature child, there may be no better place to spend a summer. Step Beyond classes offer in-depth instruction in science, moviemaking, board game development, and wilderness survival. But, as the directors are fond of saying, it's summer! So after using their noggins all morning, children can spend their afternoons rejuvenating in the private, six-acre lake. [Hinsdale, 413-655-8123 (summer), 203-894-9663 (winter), www.campemerson.com. Founded 1968; coed, ages 8-15; 220 campers; 2 campers per adult; 95 percent return rate; four weeks; $4,300.]

Camp Fernwood

A close-knit uniform camp with structure, but also a variety of electives, and, for older campers, white-water canoeing, mountain hiking, and rock climbing. A typical Maine camping experience with a mature staff, friendly atmosphere, and one of the best sandy beaches in the Northeast. [Poland, ME, 207-998-4346 (summer), 610-695-0169 (winter), www.campfernwood.com. Founded 1921; girls, ages 8-15; 180 campers; 1.5 campers per adult; 98 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $7,700.]

Camp Greylock

Top-notch sports instruction for the competitive boy, with facilities to back it up, including 5 baseball fields, 16 tennis courts, 4 soccer fields, and a hockey rink, on 400 acres. [Becket, 413-623-8921 (summer), 212-582-1042 (winter), www.campgreylock.com. Founded 1916; boys, ages 6-16; 350 campers; 2 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,950.]

Hidden Valley Camp

If we had to send an intellectually curious, animal-loving 10-year-old gourmand to camp, this would be the one. Hidden Valley keeps its own llama herd and a barnyard full of rabbits, pigs, and lambs. Four stained-glass studios are only the beginning of the arts and crafts options. The food is among the best in camping. [Freedom, ME, 800-922-6737, www.hiddenvalleycamp.com. Founded 1947; coed, ages 8-13; 280 campers; 3 campers per adult; 68 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $6,190 for full season.]

Indian Acres and Forest Acres

These brother and sister camps should get more attention than they do: Both are great examples of traditional Maine camping. They're also small and nurturing, for the first-time camper who needs a little more attention. Facilities include a full-sized indoor basketball court, an Olympic-sized pool, a driving range, and a 23-horse stable. [Fryeburg, ME, 207-935-2300 (summer), 954-385-3545 (winter), www.indianacres.com. Founded 1924 and 1927; Indian Acres: boys, ages 7-16; Forest Acres: girls, ages 6-16; 150 campers per camp; 2.5 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,200.]

Kenwood and Evergreen

Unique adjacent brother-sister overnight camps. Boys and girls spend most evening activities and weekend events together, and the two camps share facilities including the dining hall. But each has its own style and traditions, and daily activities are divided by gender. This gives kids both a coed experience and the separate camaraderie of a single-sex camp. [Potter Place, NH, 603-735-5189 (summer), 781-793-0091 (winter), www.kenwood-evergreen.com. Founded 1930; Kenwood: boys, ages 7-15; Evergreen: girls, ages 7-15; 300 campers; 2 adults per camper; 95 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,200.]

Kingsley Pines Camp

Originally a resort for Boston women, this is now a sports and arts camp with plenty of unstructured free time for the independent-minded; the only mandatory activity is swimming. High marks in our book for a population not imported from Manhattan and Long Island. [Raymond, ME, 800-480-1533, www.kingsleypines.com. Founded 1983; coed, ages 8-15; 200 campers; 3 campers per adult; 60 percent return rate; two, three, five, and six weeks; $5,998 for six weeks.]

Camp Laurel South

Laurel South strives to fit a full summer into four weeks. All the kids arrive and leave together, preventing cliques from forming before the second-session kids arrive. New facilities and down-to-earth, hands-on directors. Arts, sports, and a little something for every camper. [Casco, ME, 207-627-4334 (summer), 800-327-3506 (winter), www.camplaurelsouth.com. Founded 1921; coed, ages 7-15; 320 campers; 3 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; four weeks; $4,750.]

Lochearn Camp for Girls

With dozens of activities, a manicured lakefront, and ancient traditions, Lochearn is just plain fun. An eclectic mix of children from around the country and, for the little girl in everyone, a full 16-horse stable run by the former equestrian director at Smith and Dartmouth. [Post Mills, VT, 877-649-4151, www.camplochearn.com. Founded 1916; girls, ages 7-16; 175 campers; 4 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $7,800 for full season.]

Camp Mah-Kee-Nac

Sports and specialty programs including tennis, soccer, sailing, and swimming in the two-mile-wide lake and Olympic-sized pool, but also drama, photography, a radio station, and a wood shop. A structured program for younger kids, and lots of choice for the older ones. [Lenox, 413-637-0781 (summer), 800-309-4332 (winter), www.campmkn.com. Founded 1929; boys, ages 8-15; 375 campers; 3 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,700.]

Maine Teen Camp

Designed for the older child who didn't have the traditional camping experience at seven or eight, this camp is anything but traditional in practice. A mature staff caters to a crowd of independent thinkers (all free-choice scheduling here). The whole place is geared toward the campers and what they want out of their summers. This shouldn't be unique, but it is. [Porter, ME, 800-752-2267, www .teencamp.com. Founded 1984; coed, ages 13-17; 250 campers; 3 campers per adult; 35 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $5,495 for full season.]

Camp Manitou for Boys

With a lighted, Little League-sized replica of Fenway Park and a Claymation studio, how could you go wrong? A camp for just about any boy with any set of interests, Manitou has a private island, a 450-seat theater with its own costume shop, a driving range and miniature golf course, and a 50-foot climbing tower, among other facilities. Competitive, but not merciless. [Oakland, ME, 800-326-1916, www.campmanitou.com. Founded 1947; boys, ages 7-15; 300 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,450 for full season.]

Camp Matoaka

The second-generation owners emphasize participation in sports and teamwork, but Matoaka works equally hard for competitive and not-so-competitive girls on a campus that stretches along a mile of lakefront. Individually tailored schedules can be modified every week and viewed by parents on the website. [Smithfield, ME, 207-362-2500 (summer), 800-628-6252 (winter), www.matoaka.com. Founded 1951; girls, ages 8-15; 285 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 88 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,675 for full season.]

Med-o-lark

The founder of OMNI Camp, Maine Teen Camp, and Hidden Valley Camp has made an effort here to capture the best of each and add something a little different. The result is a camp that feels like an artist colony in the backwoods with options ranging from batik to calligraphy to cooking and an all-free-choice schedule. There are lots of the traditional Maine camp sports, too, for when your child wants to put the easel away for the afternoon. [Washington, ME, 800-292-7757, www.medolark.com. Founded 1967; coed, ages 11-15; 250 campers; 3 campers per adult; 50 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $5,995 for full season.]

Omni Camp

At the former Samantha Smith World Peace Camp are workshops on such topics as environmental awareness, diversity, world issues, and community service. But there's also plenty of hiking, water-skiing, and high ropes to almost convince you that you're at a run-of-the-mill New England summer camp. A great place for open-minded, mature kids. [Poland Springs, ME, 207-998-4777 (summer), 888-417-6664 (winter), www.omnicamp.com. Founded 1989; coed, ages 9-15; 200 campers; 3 campers per adult; 50 percent return rate; two, four, six, and eight weeks; $6,000 for full season.]

Camp Pinecliffe

Girls travel from all over the world to participate in Pinecliffe's mostly elective program in which younger girls are given greater structure, but older ones explore on their own. The fourth-generation director emphasizes tradition, something helped by a low turnover among key staff. [Harrison, ME, 207-583-2201 (summer), 614-236-5698 (winter), www.pinecliffe.com. Founded 1917; girls, ages 8-15; 200 campers; 2.2 campers per adult; 95 percent return rate; seven weeks; $8,100.]

Camp Skylemar

With its location on a three-mile-long lake, you might expect that swimming, water-skiing, canoeing, snorkeling, and kayaking would be a big part of life at Skylemar. But most campers remember more about the atmosphere: friendly, nurturing, and, yes, a bit insular. The six-hole golf course and view of Mount Washington brought L. L. Bean here to shoot a catalog. [Naples, ME, 207-693-6414 (summer), 410-329-3775 (winter), www.campskylemar.com. Founded 1949; boys, ages 7-15; 170 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $8,050 for full season.]

Camp Takajo

There's not much turnover here, and the consistency shows. Takajo focuses on providing a values-oriented education for boys, a philosophy set before a backdrop of one of the most lavishly equipped camps in New England. So elite is its clientele that Takajo made it into a script of the Fox TV hit The O.C. [Naples, ME, 207-693-6675 (summer), 914-273-5020 (winter), www.takajo.com. Founded 1947; boys, ages 7-15; 400 campers; 3 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven weeks; $8,100.]

Tripp Lake Camp

Tripp Lake's emphasis on tradition attracts third- and fourth-generation campers by the droves. But even if your great-grandmother didn't attend, there are plenty of reasons to start a new legacy here, including a friendly staff and a pine lodge that screams New England summer camp. [Poland, ME, 207-998-4347 (summer), 914-273-4065 (winter), www.tripplakecamp.com. Founded 1911; girls, ages 8-16; 350 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 98 percent return rate; seven weeks; $8,200.]

Camp Vega

All-around sumptuous facilities (12 tennis courts, a sparkling lakefront, state-of-the-art theater and arts buildings) have kept Vega in demand, but it's the high level of instruction that keeps the campers coming back. A former Rockette, for instance, teaches dance. [Kents Hill, ME, 207-685-3707 (summer), 781-934-6536 (winter), www.campvega.com. Founded 1936; girls, ages 7-15; 325 campers; 3 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $8,400.]

Camp Walden

If this camp looks familiar, that's because you saw it in Disney's remake of The Parent Trap, whose producer and director modeled the sets after it (their daughters went here). From rustic but comfortable cabins, girls operate a minidemocracy in the woods, with their own honor system. General camp activities (trips, hiking, theater, riding, tennis) with a real feeling of camaraderie. [Denmark, ME, 207-452-2901 (summer), 434-293-3730 (winter), www.campwalden.com. Founded 1916; girls, ages 9-15; 150 campers; 3 campers per adult; 94 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $7,000.]

Camp Walt Whitman

Children choose a weekly special interest from among such choices as cooking, photography, or a particular sport. In addition to a mature staff, this camp has excellent coaching; the tennis instructor, for example, is head coach at Brigham Young University. [Piermont, NH, 603-764-5521 (summer), 800-657-8282 (winter), www.campwalt.com. Founded 1948; coed, ages 7.5-15; 390 campers; 2 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; three, four, and seven weeks; $7,500-$7,900 for full season, depending on the child's age.]

Camp Watitoh

This camp has been in the same family for two generations, and while the facilities have been updated, the philosophy is unchanged: to provide a comfortable place for down-to-earth kids with spirit and an interest (but not necessarily a proficiency) in sports. [Becket, 413-623-8951 (summer), 914-428-1894 (winter), www.campwatitoh.com. Founded 1937; coed, ages 7-16; 200 campers; 4 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $5,600.]

Camp Wicosuta

In its variety of offerings and the enthusiasm of its staff, this camp is more like a vacation with horses, ice-skating, and watersports than a stodgy home-away-from-home for the elite. It's low pressure all around, with plenty of opportunity to try new things: Older girls have complete choice in scheduling their days. [Hebron, NH, 800-846-9426, www.campwicosuta.com. Founded 1920; girls, ages 6-15; 270 campers first session, 175 second session; 3 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; four weeks; $4,750.]

Camp Winaukee

The same family has run Winaukee, on Lake Winnipesaukee, since 1934. Older boys spend their time on the camp's private island, but no matter what side of the lake you're on, this much is clear: Winaukee is one of the premier New England summer camps for boys, something reinforced by recent renovations. [Center Harbor, NH, 603-253-9272 (summer), 800-487-9157 (winter), www.winaukee.com. Founded 1920; boys, ages 7-15; 370 campers; 3 campers per adult; 70 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,900.]

Camp Winnebago

Winnebago emphasizes the kinder, gentler side of team sports: values, sportsmanship, and skill-building. A diverse population, a variety of water-sports, and New England's best camp library add to typical activities including archery, photography, and, of course, swimming. [Fayette, ME, 800-932-1646, www.campwinnebago.com. Founded 1919; boys, ages 8-15; 160 campers; 3 campers per adult; 85 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $8,000 for full season.]

Day Camps

Beaver Summer Programs

Beaver Summer emphasizes breadth and depth, with many activities and quality instruction. In addition to a traditional day camp, Beaver offers one-week specialty programs in sports, nature, and the visual arts. [Chestnut Hill, 617-738-2750, www.beavercds.org/summer/programs. Founded 1920; coed, ages 3-15; 650 campers; 4 campers per adult; 65 percent return rate; one, two, four, six, or eight weeks; $2,800-$3,250 for eight weeks, depending on the child's age.]

Brooks School Day Camp

Brooks School Day Camp fills up fast, just like the private school on whose grounds it's located. Entertainers, carnivals, and visits from rainforest reptiles add to the fun of two swimming pools, a lake, five squash courts, and an arts, music, and drama center. [North Andover, 978-725-6253, www.brooksschool.org/pages/summer.cfm. Founded 1971; coed, ages 4-12; 385 campers; 4 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; two, four, six, and eight weeks; $2,190 for eight weeks.]

Cambridge School of Weston Summer Day Camp

Weston gets high marks for its talented and enthusiastic staff. A college graduate, a college student, and a high school student lead each group of campers, while experts in their fields teach art and drama. [Weston, 781-642-8666, www.csw.org/summer. Founded 1951; coed, ages 4.5-14; 250 campers; 6 campers per adult for older children, 2 for younger; 60 percent return rate; two, four, six, or eight weeks; $2,960 for eight weeks.]

Concord Academy Summer Camp

All of the traditional day camp balance between sports and arts, but with a focus on building self-esteem and lots of choices for the older kids. [Concord, 978-402-2284, www.concordacademysummercamp.org. Founded 1970; coed, ages 3.5-14; 250 campers; 3 campers per adult; 65 percent return rate; one to eight weeks; $3,500 for eight weeks.]

Fessenden Day Camp

The Fessenden School's 13 tennis courts, hockey rink, and 41 acres support the day camp and its offshoots, which include an art camp and a baseball camp. [West Newton, 617-630-2373, www.fessenden.org/summer/index.asp. Founded 1947; coed, ages 4-12; 350+ campers; 3.5 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $2,650 for eight weeks.]

Camp Sewataro

Only 20 miles from Boston, Sewataro feels like an overnight camp, but without the separation pangs. Four swimming pools give mandatory swim a little variety. Popular events include scavenger hunts, Olympic games, and carnivals. A good place for kids not ready for overnight camp. [Sudbury, 978-443-3100, www.sewataro.com. Founded 1960; coed, ages 4-13; 550 campers; 4 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $4,000 for eight weeks.]

Tenacre Day Camp

Tenacre has a little of everything for any age, thanks to the amenities at Tenacre Country Day School. A tidal pool gives older kids a chance to study ecology, while the younger campers practice archery, climbing, and swimming in two heated pools and a wading pool. Excellent art and music facilities. [Wellesley, 781-235-3238, www.tenacrecds.org. Founded 1960; coed, ages 4-12; 600 campers; 5 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; two, four, six, and eight weeks; $3,265 for eight weeks.]

Camp Consultants

American Camping Association of New England

A membership association that includes many day and overnight camps. [214 North Main St., Natick, 508-647-2267, www.acane-camps.org.]

The Camp Experts

Represents more than 700 camps, academic programs, and teen travel. [35 Guzzlebrook Dr., Sudbury, 978-443-9778, www.campexperts.com.]

CampSource

Represents more than 500 camps and other summer programs. [92 Deborah Rd., Newton, 617-244-3316, www.campsourcenet.com.]

Student Camp & Trip Advisors

Represents more than 700 camps and other summer programs. [181 Wells Ave., Newton Centre, 617-558-7005, www.campadvisors.com.]

Summer Camp & Trip Resources

Represents more than 300 camps and other summer programs. [ 45 Sloane Dr., Framingham, 508-877-3648, www.summercampsandtrips.com.]

ADVERTISMENT

  • Valerie L

    This past summer 2012 was my third summer at Maine Teen Camp (MTC), but this year was a little different. I went as an LT (Leader in Training) and I get to spend 2 months in the Beautiful State of Maine. MTC is more than a summer camp, is my home now. And not being able to come back next summer is killing me. Being 18 has its missadvantages. But, on the brightside. I can’t wait to go back as a counselor 2014. So, don’t doubt about sending your kids to MTC. They will have the BEST summer of their lives. ”There’s no place like camp.”

  • Katherine Dayton

    I might also add a nod to Visions Service Adventures. Visions is 25-year old organization that runs cross-cultural community service programs in the U.S. and overseas.

  • Catherine Touloukian

    Not sure I understand. How and why are these camps the “best”?