Summer camp is a great way to keep education rolling by offering kids lessons in social skills, encouraging them to develop new interests and interact with the world outside the classroom.
If you’re interested in pushing your kids’ learning beyond the four walls of a building, we’ve rounded up a few nature camps to get you started. Spending time in nature can inspire your kiddos’ creativity, boost their health and gift them with a lifetime of fun memories.
Note: You’ll find many of the area’s top summer camps listed at LAParent.com. To find your best summer camp experience, click on the Summer Camp Directory button in the upper-left corner and sort by camp and location.
Here are eight nature-focused camps, most of which are located in the greater Los Angeles area.
With 127 acres of plants, natural landscapes and animal life to check out, The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden’s Nature Camp in Arcadia is ideal for outdoor adventuring. Director of Education Brooke Applegate explains that each week of camp introduces a different theme. “It’s a chance for campers to engage with nature in an unstructured way, and they have the most magical time,” Applegate says.
Campers ages 5-10 can choose from activities such as fort building, reading under the trees or creating art with the nature around them. Kids love playing in meaningful ways outside and parents love the balance between the choice of play and the structured educational experiences the camp provides. Exploring the natural world creates respect and care for the environment. “We’re changing these kids’ lives and putting them on a trajectory of empathy,” Applegate says. Camp runs June 5 through Aug. 4.
For more than 15 years, RootDown LA, located in South L.A., has been offering educational programs that teach kids of all ages about food sustainability, healthy eating and agriculture. “Our mission is to empower youth through healthy food adventures,” says Executive Director Karen Ramirez.
Kids who visit RootDown LA learn to care for the environment by weeding, composting, tree pruning and helping out with other gardening maintenance. “We also provide access to food justice lessons and supply produce to the community,” Ramirez says.
RootDown LA’s monthly garden workdays invite kids, parents and caregivers to stop by at 9 a.m., meet new friends and get their hands dirty. Studies show playing in the dirt can help boost immune systems and that spending time in the garden inspires a child’s curiosity. At RootDown LA, campers enjoy playing with worms and learning together about food systems. “It’s a huge relief for some students to be able to be in a safe green space,” Ramirez says. “And it’s good to stop and smell the roses.” To learn more, visit RootDownLA on Instagram.
Looking for a nature camp focused on how to survive in nature? Camp Manu Kids Survival Camp (designed for ages 6-13) is an immersive camp experience intent on building a more intimate relationship with nature.
Dropoff for this day camp is at Griffith Park Recreation Center in L.A., and campers get to explore various national and recreational parks, where they gain a deeper understanding of the local plant and animal life. Discussions that bring awareness to geology, conservation and environmental protection all start in these inspiring outdoor spaces. “The entire camp helps prepare children to be outdoors,” says the camp’s founder, Manu Toigo.
Encourage your kids to take it to the next level and grab their sleeping bags for Camp Manu’s weeklong Survival Sleep Away Camp. Toigo says this camp is survival-oriented and teaches kids basic skills including how to build survival tents, look for water and keep up a safe campground. “No child is going to feel left out,” Toigo says. Through the activities and discussions in both the day camp and sleep-away camp, campers can build confidence within themselves and become better stewards of the environment. Choose from several camp options beginning the week of June 12.
Unplug on the Beach
The Catalina Island Camps program invites campers to unplug, connect and discover. “When campers are outdoors, they unplug from their busy lives at home filled with schedules, screens and responsibilities,” says Executive Director Tom Horner.
This unplugging gives kids an opportunity to connect with other campers, adult leaders and the nature that surrounds them. All these positive connections provide kids with healthy opportunities to discover more about themselves as they build social skills, independence and critical-thinking skills, Horner says.
Activities include archery, gardening, sailing and other ocean and waterfront activities. Campers (ranging from grades 1-10) learn skills that will last long after the summer sun sets. Campers can choose from one-, two- or four-week sleep-away sessions that kick off June 12.
A camp that reminds us that the Earth is the source of everything is one of the many goals of Camp Journeys at Moonwater Farm in Compton. “When kids come into the space, they grow and change and love every part of it,” says Camp Journeys’ founder, Andrea Collins. For those kids who dream of spending their days on a farm, make their dreams a reality by feeding chickens and tending to rabbits, all while taking part in weekly themes ranging from science and technology to urban agriculture.
“There’s an elevation of ecological consciousness we’re trying to feed into the awareness of generations to follow,” says Kathleen Blakistone, co-creator of Moonwater Farm. The camp achieves this every summer when kids, ages 5-13, enter this community-focused natural space. “It really is a small urban farm in a residential backyard,” Blakistone says. Time on the farm allows campers to step out of their comfort zones and build lasting friendships and cultivate a deep respect for the land. Camp runs throughout July.
If you’ve been searching for a child-led nature camp, your search is over. EverWild — with camps in Malibu, Santa Clarita, Pasadena, Topanga Canyon and elsewhere — focuses on creating a safe environment where kids can express themselves in a natural space. “The basis of camp is learning through exploration and freedom to play,” says Lindsay Carron, program manager. “This means children are able to bring their passions to the program.” Child-led play supports imaginative thinking and helps kids learn about risk-taking skills.
Mentors help guide playtime, exploration and activities that inspire curiosity. Days open and close with “circles of gratitude.” In this secure space, campers discover new interests and interact with plants and animals. This creates room for a deeper kind of awareness — inside and out. “Kids have the opportunity to engage in deep topics and not even realize it,” Carron says. Weekly camps run daily June 26 through Aug. 11, and ages start at 3 years old for some camps and go up to 12.
Play with purpose
With a guiding theme in place, Summer Camp at Nature School LA, held mostly at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, emphasizes play, relationship building and exposure to the natural world — grounded in educational support. “Our greatest emphasis is for the children to be outside,” says Biljana Milasin, founder and director of Nature School LA. Raising the campers’ environmental awareness, showing kids ages 3-11 the science inherent in all nature and reading stories make up a part of a typical camp day.
“Parents love that their children are outside exploring and spending quality time in nature,” Milasin says. “It’s so grounding being in the earth.”
Weekly options run June 24 through July 15.
Traditional sleepaway camp
With 54 years of experience, River Way Ranch Camp, located in Sanger and serving ages 7-16, supports campers’ individual interests in a traditional sleepaway-camp setting. “While being outdoors, campers gain confidence as they try new activities such as the high-ropes challenge course or learning to waterski for the first time,” Camp Director Ashley Grother says.
Camp favorites include a giant inflatable obstacle course that floats atop a private lake, water-skiing and inner-tube rides. Choose from one or two-week camp sessions beginning June 18.
Tonilyn Hornung is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, son and many furry friends.