Choosing an Overnight Summer Camp in the Bay Area: The Ultimate Guide

Summer camp is the source of endless fascination for kids of all ages. Adults look back on their days in the cabin with fond nostalgia and dream of giving their children the same fantastic experience. Today’s camp programs have developed far beyond arrowheads and lanyards, and they offer a wealth of opportunities for your child to learn social skills and develop varied interests. It’s only natural that you’d want to get involved in the process of choosing just the right camp where your child can flourish.

One problem with the popularity of summer camp programs is that there are now so many to choose from. In the Bay Area alone, there are a multitude of overnight summer camp options available, each offering a different combination of setting, activities, and quality. It can be overwhelming as a parent to start the search. However, by researching the logistical details of your ideal summer camp, discussing these possibilities with your child, and taking in-person visits to local camps, you can make a very well-informed decision and provide the perfect summer camp experience for your entire family.

Narrowing Down Your Summer Camp Choices

The search for your family’s perfect overnight summer camp starts with detailed research. There are so many fantastic camp programs available in the Bay Area, at all price points and with all kinds of activity options. It can be tough to know where to begin when there are so many attractive options available!

Before moving any further, we recommend identifying your preferences on each of the following elements: Safety, Location, Logistics, and Activities. Read on for more specific details on why these considerations are important, and how you can determine your best choice of summer camps from those that seem to have it all.

Finding Safety and Accessibility

Every parent’s first concern is for the safety and comfort of their child. Choosing a camp that’s been accredited by the American Camp Association is a surefire way to know that camper safety is the number one priority at this location. Only about 20% of all camps are accredited—finding one that is ensures that the camp has gone through the highest level of summer camp vetting. You can also read up on the camp’s health and safety policies and procedures and inquire as to how they would care for any specialized concerns your child may have. You may want to select a camp program that employs registered nurses around the clock, just in case.

Choosing Your Ideal Location

When you picture the ideal summer camp, you’re envisioning a stunningly beautiful setting, extensive grounds, beautiful facilities, and picture-perfect trails. However, choosing a camp based entirely on its location means taking other things into consideration. You’ll want to compare the distance of the camp from your home and how long it will take your family to travel there on a summer weekend. Are you interested in letting your child experience the woods, the beach, the mountains, or all three? The right program will include all of your desired location benefits.

Determining Logistical Details

While most Bay Area summer camps offer programs throughout the entire summer, it’s important for you to identify your ideal weeks that fit best with your family’s schedule. Older campers might prefer an early-summer camp stay to accommodate for the rehearsals and athletics practices that sometimes precede the start of secondary school. You’ll also want to decide what length of stay is right for your child. At Kennolyn, we offer programs ranging in length from a day-only camp to a two-week overnight stay. This is also the point at which you’ll want to determine your summer camp budget (if applicable), which will definitely help guide you in narrowing down your camp options. Some programs also offer certain discounts and special offers, which you will want to be aware of.

Discovering New Activities

Some summer camps are entirely specialized in one activity, and are great for kids who are intensely in love with their sport or art. Other camps are more traditional, with classically fun activities that all campers can enjoy. Even more camps are available at every stage in between—at Kennolyn, for instance, we offer a specialty activity program that lets campers experience a hybrid experience between their focus and the traditional fun of a really fantastic summer camp. Find out which activities you’d like to have available for your child according to their interests and abilities, and let those choices rule out overnight summer camp programs that don’t offer everything you’re hoping for.

Involving Your Child in the Summer Camp Discussion

Most often, kids are first drawn to the idea of a particular summer camp because they have heard about it from a friend or classmate. This can actually be a great starting place for parents in the camp-identification process, as long as the camp also meets all of your logistical needs.

After making these important logistical decisions about what you’d like in a summer camp experience for your family, it’s a good time to open the conversation to your campers-to-be. When you’re aware of their dreams, expectations, and fears related to summer camp, the summer camp planning process can be a collaborative effort. Your family is embarking on a journey that can last a lifetime, with the traditions, memories, and relationships made at camp lasting throughout your children’s lives. As former campers ourselves, we wholeheartedly believe in the importance of involving your children in this decision.

Depending on your child, a couple of thoughtful conversations may be the perfect way to connect and discuss the summer camp situation. Alternatively, other ideas for self-expression may work better for children who prefer to share their feelings in writing or by using the arts.

Conversation starters:

Discuss some of your child’s goals for their upcoming summer camp experience. What’s something they’re a little afraid to do that they would like to try? What skills would they like to improve?

Invite your child to share one of their fears or worries about summer camp. Brainstorm together strategies that might lessen the fear or make them feel more comfortable in that situation.

Together, come up with a list of “challenges” your child could strive toward during their camp stay. Perhaps they’d like to challenge themselves to try three new foods at camp, attempt the ropes course, or make two new friends!

Other expressive activities:

Ask your child to write or draw what their dream summer camp experience would look like. Encourage them to include as many details as they can.

Present your child with a list of possible summer camp activities and ask them to circle the options that excite them the most. Invite them to draw themselves doing that activity.

Help your child draft an encouraging letter to their future self, to be opened on their first night in the camp cabin. Have them address any fears they anticipate and give themselves positive and empowering messages.

You can expect your children to experience a wide range of emotions when preparing for summer camp and even arriving on that first day. At some point, they may even seem to change their minds and say, “I don’t want to go to camp!” This is often just nerves talking, and if you still feel like camp would be a positive experience, continue the process of talking things through with them--they’ll come around! These thoughtful interactions can help you both feel comfortable with the growing experiences to come, and are a great starting place for getting your child used to the idea of staying away from home for a little while. Take the insights you’ve gained from your child into account when narrowing down your top camp choices.

Visiting Summer Camps in the Bay Area

After you’ve made the important logistical decisions and discussed the possibilities with your child, you’re ready for the final—and most important—step in the camp selection process. Making a visit to your top camp or two will be the ultimate deciding factor that will help you make the right decision for your family.

Visiting an overnight summer camp means much more than just “getting a feel” for the location and seeing all of the prettiest spots on the property. As a parent, this is your primary chance to ask important questions and glean important information from the staff members who will be working closely with each camper during their stay. And being at a local camp in person gives your child an even clearer picture of what they will be excitedly signing up for. You never know which camp might feel the most like home for your child until you set foot there. Remember, if you feel welcome at a camp, your kids probably will, too!

Parents will likely have an entire host of questions to ask during a camp visit. However, it’s easy to get sidetracked and leave the camp property without all of your important points covered. We’ve prepared the following checklist of all the major elements you’ll want to go over during a visit to one of the Bay Area’s best camps. Click here for a free printable version of this checklist that you can bring with you on your visit.

The Informed Parent’s Summer Camp Visiting Checklist

Discuss your child’s expectations

Use the ideas above to discover what your child wants most out of their summer camp experience. Understanding their expectations and assumptions will help you dispel any myths surrounding the overnight camp experience when you make your visit together.

Step inside a cabin or campsite

This step might be most important to your child. They’ll want to see with their own eyes where they will be sleeping, spending free time, and taking care of bathroom business. Especially for kids who have never been to an overnight summer camp before, these questions are crucial!

Meet camp leaders and staff

It’s guaranteed that your visit to a camp in the Bay Area will be led by some kind of staff member. However, if possible, try to set up a meeting with the Camp Director or other leadership staff. This is your chance to pick their brains on what they find most important in the camp experience.

Visit special activity facilities

Take a tour of the horse stables, view the ropes course, peek in at the swimming pool, and see any other special activity areas that might interest your child. When they see these locations in person, they’ll have a much easier time deciding which activities they’d most like to sign up for later on in the registration process.

Speak with a current/former counselor

If possible, speak with a staff member who has worked directly as a counselor at this camp. Let your child listen to some of their favorite memories with campers, and they’ll have a more concrete idea of what to expect on their first day in their new temporary home. Counselors are the staff members who will have constant and immediate contact with your child, so these are the people you really want to meet!

Take a tour of the grounds

This is your chance to see the beauty of this camp—as well as to get a feel for the history of the grounds. Pay attention to how your child reacts to the settings you pass through to see if they are feeling comfortable, excited, and at home. Kennolyn’s beautiful redwoods and mountain views tend to make an impression on brand new campers as well as returning alumni from twenty years past—and that’s the kind of setting you want.

Ask about safety procedures

You’ll receive this information online and as part of your camp registration paperwork, but it definitely helps to hear about the camp’s safety policy from the staff members themselves. Voice any potential concerns you may have, and pay attention to how they are addressed.

Peruse the menu

Your child will be most interested in the variety of meals this camp serves. As a parent, you’ll want to check out any nutrition information or discuss food allergies with camp staff.

Reserve time for your child to ask questions

Even if your child is feeling shy, it’s a great idea to give them the chance to openly ask any questions they may have at the end of the camp visit. You might be surprised at what concerns them the most! While you as their guardian will be making the ultimate decision about their summer camp choice, it’s important that they feel some responsibility and ownership over this new chapter in their life. This is where they’ll be making lifelong memories, after all!

Debrief with your child

After the visit has wrapped up, perhaps as you are making your way home, discuss everything you’ve seen with your child. Discover what they liked best, what worried them, and what they didn’t really enjoy. These first impressions may help you make the choice between two camps that otherwise may seem fairly alike in your adult eyes.

It may only take one camp visit for your family to decide where they want to build their summer camp experience. That’s often the case with Kennolyn’s alumni—they set foot in the Santa Cruz mountains and were immediately convinced it was the perfect camp home for them. Scheduling a summer camp visit is especially easy when the camp in question is open for tours year-round. If you’re interested in scheduling your first camp visit with the Kennolyn team, check out our visiting information.

Making Your Summer Camp Decision

After you’ve done your research, discussed the options with your child, and gone to visit local Bay Area camps in person, you’ll be in a far better place to choose the perfect summer camp for your family. This part of California is full of stellar camps that offer a wide variety of choices for each child, and choosing your favorite may be a bit of a challenge. Through your collaborative efforts within your family and with camp staff, we hope that you’ll feel far more prepared to make this important decision.

If you’re interested in starting your search with one of the best overnight summer camps in the Santa Cruz Mountains, feel free to contact the Kennolyn office at any time. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about summer camp and to help you with every step in the camp choosing process. Or, if you’ve already decided that the summer camp programs we offer are your perfect fit, we encourage you to register your child online. Summer will be here before you know it, and it’s never too late to get your child involved in the lasting traditions of Kennolyn.

Photo Credits: All images courtesy of Kennolyn Camps’ Facebook and Instagram social media pages.


Kennolyn Camps

Kennolyn Camps