Summer is fast approaching, and for many kids and teens that means it’s time to pack bags and head off to summer camp. If you’ve got young ones at home (or if you’re a kid yourself…), finding the perfect summer camp or program can be tricky. Summer programs nowadays offer far more than the standard Wet Hot American Summer experience (cabins by the lake, capture the flag games, and s’mores around a fire).
Meanwhile, rock climbing courses and trips have expanded far beyond the 20-foot plywood walls offered by summer camps in decades past. In addition to focusing on outdoor adventure, many summer programs offer a curriculum that focuses on ethical recreation, service work, and environmental sustainability, so your kid can build character while getting outside and enjoying some technical climbing.
Here are a few great options for kids and teens looking to get out into the wilderness and on the rock this summer.
Note: All of these outfitters are taking COVID-19 seriously, with various restrictions in place to keep everyone safe. We’ve placed links to each organization’s dedicated COVID-19 page below each entry.
Headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, nestled beneath some of the best alpine climbing in the country, VISIONS has run service-based programs around the world for 33 years, in locales from Peru to Cambodia to the Native American Blackfeet Reservation, and their new Teen Summer Farm Program in Bozeman is a particular gem. Here teens dive into farm and ranch life in the West, plying the fields and learning from local ranchers and conservationists while exploring sustainability and land use. They also partake in service work for local nonprofits like the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, as well as construction and homesteading projects, with a series of adventure activities (including rock climbing and backpacking in the Rockies) sprinkled in. The Summer Farm Program offers 15, 21, and 25-day sessions, with each incorporating 45, 75, and 90 hours of service, respectively.
Deer Hill Expeditions, which has operated wilderness excursions (including climbing) out of Colorado for over thirty years, offers youth a “blend of awe-inspiring wilderness adventures and meaningful cross-cultural service projects in the American Southwest.” They offer programs for ages from 13-14, 15-17, and 16-18 years old. Each of the expeditions, which range in length from 19 to 25 days, consist of a handful of service hours, as participants work towards completing a specific service project, in addition to adventure activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, and rafting. The 22-day “Southwest Journey” trip, for example, includes 36 service hours.
Kroka Expeditions, a 27-year-old outfit based out of New Hampshire, runs trips for kids as young as 9-years-old (up to age 18). Their expeditions include everything from climbing to paddling to mountain biking. “The rhythm of each day combines physically engaging work and travel through adventure sports, group decision making and problem-solving, song and celebration, and time for reflection.” The Sustainability Adventure is a particular highlight, with classes focused on Earth systems and regenerative practices, a low-footprint lifestyle, and a host of climbing and other adventure activities thrown in.
Summit Adventure is a long-running outdoor ministry program, active since 1973, with dozens of expeditions available for everyone from teens (12+) to the physically and/or mentally disabled to college students to parents. With programs ranging from a couple of days to sixteen weeks, there’s a lot here. Summit’s backcountry Youth Rock Climbing Adventure, however, is a standout example, with kids backpacking for three nights in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and learning a variety of climbing skills. There isn’t a “service” component in this particular trip, but many of Summit’s programs do include service work.
If your child suffers from ADHD or another learning disability, the SOAR Outdoor Adventure Summer Camp is a stellar summer program for them. With a history spanning 45 years, SOAR offers a specialized summer camp environment to accommodate the unique needs of children with ADHD and other learning disabilities. Programs are both domestic and international, and incorporate a wide variety of environmental learning and adventure activities (including rock climbing), but also place heavy emphasis on developing organizational skills, social skills, and life skills in general.