Youngsters discover tiny wildlife in a session at the Boardman River Nature Center.


When I was a kid, summer camp was a major undertaking that lasted several weeks. It gave many of us our first experience of being away from home for an extended period of time -- and I’m sure it gave our parents a welcome break from listening to us whine about how bored we were. Once the homesickness receded, camp was a wonderful opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills and see ourselves in a slightly new light.

There are still a lot of those traditional camps around the Traverse City area – from the scout operations at Camp Greilick and Camp Sakakawea, the YMCA’s camps Hayo-Went-Ha and Arbutus, church camps like Lake Ann and, of course, the national Music Camp at Interlochen. But that traditional overnight camp style doesn’t always work for families (especially visitors to the area) who want their youngsters to have a taste of the “camp experience.” Fortunately, there are lot of other options – actually, I was surprised how many!

First off, there’s the  Boardman River Nature Center on Cass Road, just south of town, which has a wonderful Nature Day Camp of  week-long nature-themed programs that runs until the end of August. The sessions are age appropriate, with separate groups for kids 4-10, 6-8, 8-10 and 10-14 that teach youngsters about the natural world through lots of fun indoor & outdoor activities. Space is limited; to register or learn more, call 231-941-0960 or check out their website at

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum, on West Bay Shore Drive in Greilickville, has a series of one and two-day camps for toddlers during July and August, as well as a full slate of afternoon “mad science Mondays” where older youngsters can learn about rocks, water, robots and other scientific stuff.  Want to learn more? Call 231-932-4526 or go to

Just a mile or two farther up the road  is another day camp that’s been around for years, operated by The Pathfinder School. Pathfinder’s day camp also features brief sessions – usually five days – organized by age (as young as three for children accompanied by parents) and grouped around art and nature themes. To learn more or to register, you can call 231-995-3800 or go to

Speaking of art, the Traverse City has several day camps for young artists. Blackbird Arts on Barlow Street has “drop-in camps” for kids 5-11, afternoon programs for teens, adults & families, Family Art Nights, open studio sessions, and adult programs in everything from drawing, clay modeling and metalsmithing to filmmaking and dance. For more information, you can call 231-421-8085 or go to

Also the KidzArt Studio at 129 E. State St. has a series of morning art/adventure camps during the summer – from a preschool camp (age 4-6) and an elementary art camp (grades 1-5) to a Teenz Art Camp (grade 6 and older). To learn more, call 231-421-1222 or go to

Camp should be about getting outdoors, and one of the area’s best-known day camps is theTraverse Area Community Sailing Camp held each summer in Hull Park at the north end of Boardman Lake, where kids from 8 to 17 – and adults, too – can learn how to handle sailboats confidently during a series of sessions that meet three times a week for a couple of weeks. To fuind howe more, go to

A new entry in the water-baby category of outdoor camps is the first-ever SBX Waterman Camp that’ll be held July 23-27 on the public beach in the village of Empire by the folks from Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak. A unique camp designed & taught by water enthusiasts to create water enthusiasts, it’s recommended for youngsters 13 and up and features a new skill each day: surfing, skimming, stand-up paddling, snorkeling and kayaking. For more info, call 231-326-9283 or go

And if you ever wanted to take advantage of vacation to learn tennis, the Traverse City Central High School Tennis Center runs a series of two-week Grand Traverse Tennis Camps during July, ranging from a “quick start program for boys and girls age 4-6, a beginner/intermediate program for ages 7-16, and four adult camps (separate for men and women). To learn more, call 231-218-9608 or go