RECOMMENDED: Full guide to summer camps in NYC
City kids know all the best places to visit in New York and can navigate the subway system with ease, but your savvy urbanites will be happy to toss their Metrocard aside when given the chance to explore the great outdoors. Whether they're checking out the Bronx River wetlands at the New York Botanical Garden's day camps or packing up for out-of-town getaways at the area's best sleepaway camps, these adventure-packed, nature-focused programs will ensure that they return with a new sense of awareness about the world outside our concrete jungle.
The mission of this Brooklyn day camp is to give kids an old-school summer experience. No screens allowed here: Campers swim, run, play and explore the urban wilds of NYC all while making new pals. Highlights include strolling the Coney Island boardwalk, splish-splashing at Chelsea Waterside Park, riding Jane’s Carousel in Dumbo and cheering on the Mets at Citi Field during regular field trips. When summer temperatures climb, they’ll sprint through the sprinkler in Beansprouts’ private backyard or head inside to the air-conditioned playroom to beat the heat while trying their hands at pottery and woodworking, competing in talent shows and getting crafty with art supplies. Ages 3–10.
Boys go mountain boarding, flip out on the bungee trampoline and play zombie apocalypse at this sleepaway camp on Connecticut’s scenic Bantam Lake. Summers at Awosting are packed with the classic camp activities of yore, from swimming and sports to wilderness survival lessons and weekly campfire storytelling. Young dudes can sharpen their soccer skills in a special program or try something new, like fencing or martial arts. Regular activities with Camp Chinqueka—Awosting’s all-girls sister camp six miles away—like field games, dances and overnight camping trips, restore their sense of gender balance. Ages 6–16.
With everything from swimming, sailing, wakeboarding and sports to dance, drama and gymnastics on their agendas, campers at Awosting’s all-girls sister camp make the most of the sprawling Connecticut campus every action-packed day. Coed dances (complete with DJs), movie nights, an annual Fourth of July barbecue, and a four-day overnight camping trip to Cape Cod and Lake George give senior campers the opportunity to mix and mingle with boys. Ages 6–16.
Designed and run by early-education pros, this camp takes the concept of staycationing to the next level. Younger school-age campers might climb the stairs of the Empire State Building one day and visit the adorable sea lions at the Central Park Zoo the next, then sing songs, hear stories and create art projects inspired by their adventures. Ages 5–8.
Take advantage of one of the city’s biggest and best backyards, and send your kids out to explore the 250-acre wilds of the New York Botanical Garden. Weekly themes (Art in Nature, Forest Adventure and Wild Wetlands) inspire outdoor explorations and related indoor activities, like science experiments, games and crafts. Kids hike through the NYBG’s 50 acres of native forest on a scavenger hunt, find artistic inspiration in the gardens, and examine the unique wildlife that inhabits the wetlands of the nearby Bronx River. Ages 5–10.
After being cooped up all winter, city kids can run free on this New Jersey camp’s sprawling 30-acre campus. Outdoor facilities include a 40,000-square-foot heated-pool complex divided into five individual pools, a five-acre lake for fishing and boating, baseball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, a Go Kart track, a 500-foot zip line, a volleyball beach, a ropes course, a four-person bungee and four ball pits. Each day consists of seven periods: two athletic, two art and two swim (one instructional lesson and one that’s just for fun), plus lunch. There are also weekly special events, like carnivals, theme days and Olympic competitions, and trips for older kids, which last year included jaunts to Hershey Park and Medieval Times. Ages 3–15.
Have your kid surrender the tablet and skip town for some time in the great outdoors at the Nature Place. The littlest campers (ages 4 to 7) enjoy a structured daily schedule that includes swimming, exploring the garden and tending to chickens. Older kids (age 8 to 11) try archery and tree climbing and embark on overnight camping trips, while teens enjoy more advanced outdoor activities, like rock climbing, day hikes and multinight backpacking adventures. The noncompetitive philosophy at the Nature Place is paramount. Ages 4–16.
For young environmentalists looking to make a difference this summer, SALT is the perfect option. The week-long program allows teens to participate in environmental science field work, help restore the Jamaica Bay and Rockaway shoreline alongside various organizations and learn how to kayak and surf in their downtime. Ages 15–18.
If your kid pines for the ultimate sleepaway camp, this 125-year-old summer program maintains all its traditions through experiential outdoor programming: hiking, fishing and nightly powwows around a crackling campfire. The programs at Trail Blazers are based on the camp’s six core values—being a friend, being healthy, learning to learn, self-growth, being a steward and learning to survive—and they’re still fun! Small groups of eight to 10 campers vote on activities like archery, hiking, mountain biking and canoeing, so no two sessions are ever the same. City kids get tons of fresh air living in teepees with their fellow campers and cooking their meals alfresco. Ages 7–17 (some programs 12 and up).