Camps are designed in a variety of styles and formats and provide activities that vary to meet many interests. Most camps offer a general program of outdoor activities of hiking, swimming, sports and games, arts and crafts, and nature awareness. Some camps have special emphasis on programs such as horseback riding, water sports, music, or adventure challenge activities. While camps provide facilities and services for a broad range of children, youth, and adults, some camps provide services to special groups: There are programs for seniors, families, campers with cancer, gifted and talented children, youth at risk, diabetics, asthmatics, or persons with disabilities.

Types of Camps

Of the estimated 14,000 American camps, approximately 8,400 are resident camps and 5,600 are day camps. Resident camps are designed for campers staying at camp from several days to eight weeks. Campers sleep overnight in cabins, tents, tepees or other forms of shelter, and participate in a variety of supervised activities. Day camps offer sessions and age-appropriate programs similar to resident camps. Campers are often transported to camp by a bus or van, and return home each day in the late afternoon.

Other trends incorporate less traditional models for the camp experience. Trip camps provide programs where the participants transport themselves to different sites by backpacking, riding, or canoeing. Travel camps often transport campers by car or bus to geographic and topographic places of interest.

In addition to the increase of children with disabilities being mainstreamed into camps, many new camps have opened to provide specialized services to children with special medical needs.

Year-round use of camp facilities is a growing trend. Programs are evolving from spring and fall ancillary weekends to winterized full-service operations seven days a week. Many camps work with schools to provide environmental education during the school year, provide year-round program and food services, and have some year-round staff.

Camps can often be rented to other groups, such as school groups, wishing to provide camp programs to their constituents. With meeting rooms, sleeping, and eating accommodations readily available, many facilities are both camps and year-round conference or retreat centers.

Program Trends

In the 2013 ACA Emerging Issues survey, 54% of directors responded they had added a new activity or program in the past two years. The top three areas were adventure programs (challenge courses, zip lines, backpacking, mountain biking, etc.) (22%), family camps (19%), and new nature programs (17%). Other increases were seen in gardening (15%), cooking using camp garden foods (14%), wellness/fitness (12%) and STEM programs (12%).

Nearly half of camps surveyed report having community service or good deed programs incorporated into the camp curriculum. The top projects conducted at camps are:

  • Community clean-ups
  • Food drives
  • Recycling programs
  • Volunteering with senior citizens and hospital patients

(2011 ACA Sites, Facilities, Programs Report)