Have you made your summer vacation plans already? If not, you might want to consider family camp. It’s lots of fun and great for family bonding.
Family camps are becoming more popular and can be found in all sorts of different styles and price ranges. Some offer the traditional camp experience: sleeping in bunks, playing sports, eating meals in the camp dining hall, roasting marshmallows at campfires, etc. There are also family camps with specialty focus areas such as the arts or nature.
My family stumbled upon the camp we attended when I was searching online for a guest ranch in Colorado, but found the property had been sold. Determined to find an alternative mountain adventure, I discovered Cheley Camp. Cheley is a summer sleepaway camp that specializes in horseback riding, hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking on its stunning acreage outside of Estes Park. At the end of the camp season, Cheley opens its doors (or I should say its covered wagons!) to a small number of families looking to experience all that Cheley has to offer.
On arrival, camp more than met our expectations. After we found a way to cram our clothing into our small covered wagon, we headed down the hill to the main lodge where meals were held and where we were to gather for our camp orientation. Everyone was friendly. In several of the families, one or more of the parents had themselves attended Cheley as campers, and it was clear that camp held an important place in their hearts. Outside of the lodge, large poster boards held the schedule of activities for our stay and it was immediately apparent that we would not run out of things to do!
Each night the counselors presented the next day’s choices through lively skits or heartfelt pitches. There were usually at least two hikes and two trail rides offered each day at differing levels of intensity, as well as a host of other fun activities such as archery, arts and crafts, fishing, field sports, technical climbing, and special outings like the field trip to visit and groom the new colts at the main ranch and observe their training.
There were always special programs for the under eight-year-old crowd, but they could also join in any of the options as long as they were capable. At night, the wonderful counselors led us in camp songs or a themed activity such as skit night or a dance party.
Surprisingly tasty meals were served family style in the dining hall for breakfast and dinner. Most campers had lunch as part of an activity and that varied from picnic style sandwich offerings to hot meals cooked on a portable burner.
My family loved the ability to be together every evening with the option of branching off separately during the day. When we first attended Cheley, my son was nine and my daughter seven. My son loved his camp independence and deliberately filled his days with challenging full day horseback rides that he most enjoyed when experienced without parental accompaniment! My daughter preferred the companionship of mom or dad, but was perfectly willing to engage in activities such as the traditional mud fight and the cinnamon roll hike without either of us present. Because I love horses and my husband does not, he and I would sometimes hike or climb together, but also felt free to part ways and reconnect at dinner. My kids relished the freedom of running around camp with all the other children and making new friends. It was a perfect vacation for all of us (except for trips to the bathhouse/restroom during the cold nights!) and we went back for two more summers. Each year we reunited with returning family campers and made new friends from across the country.
My children still talk about Cheley and ask about returning, but they are old enough now to attend camp on their own, and we’re excited to see and do new things during our summer vacations. No matter where our future travels take us, the memories from those few weeks at Cheley will last with my family forever. I highly recommend the experience to others.
If you are interested in finding a family camp that suits your family’s tastes and budget, you can head to KidsCamps.com which lets you search for camps by state or take a look at 50 All-Star Family Camps, a helpful online article by BudgetTravel.com.