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The Most Unique Summer Camps in the US

Ah, summer camp. For many of us, those two words bring up memories of running around playing capture-the-flag or tug-of-war. Others might think of the times they spent whispering to each other after lights-out, gossiping about their crushes or coming up with plans to prank the kids in the cabin next door. For those of us lucky enough to grow up going to camp, those few weeks tested our independence, made us ditch our televisions and let us dive into a journey of growth, self-discovery and really hokey sing-alongs.

Maybe you were one of those kids too, and now you’re all grown up and sending your own kids off for a camp adventure of their own. Nowadays, the options can seem endless; kids have a vast variety of camp options tailored to their (sometimes super-specific) interests, from backpacking to glassblowing to building robots to shredding on the guitar.

Below, we’ve listed 12 of the most unique summer camps for kids guaranteed to satisfy every budding interest. Although registration for most of these is still open, you’ll want to choose fast. Summer’s almost here!

1. Cheley Colorado Camp, Colorado

Kids go river rafting with a counselor at Camp Cheley in Colorado.
Image: Cheley Colorado Camps/YouTube

Calling all explorers! Cheley Colorado Camps is a four- or eight-week adventure camp for kids ages 9 to 17 who are interested in having fun while getting their hands dirty. Activities at the camp include hiking, camping, archery, fishing, horseback riding, backpacking and rafting. Between the spectacular views of the Rocky Mountain National Park and the inevitable campsite forging of lifelong friendships, a summer at Cheley is one your kid will never forget.

If your child is interested in experiencing camp but isn’t ready to leave home for four weeks, Cheley offers a five-day family camp at the end of the summer season for parents and their kids.

2. Space Camp, Alabama

Kids give a thumbs up in front of a space craft at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
Image: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty Images

Is your kid’s head always in the stars? Then they’ll likely flip at the prospect of attending the U.S. Space & Rocket Center‘s camps for aspiring astronomers. These six-day out-of-this-world overnight camp experiences are broken down into a variety of groups — including Space Camp (ages 9 to 11), Space Academy (ages 12 to 14), Advanced Space Academy (15 to 18) and Adult Space Camp (18 and up) — and run all summer long.

Campers will learn about space exploration, embark on simulated voyages, test out gravity chairs and attend lectures from some of the top astronauts in the country. In addition to providing kids with an excellent end-of-summer story, Space Camp stimulates interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the long run. In fact, the majority of past campers reported they went on to study subjects like aerospace, energy and biotech after graduating from their summer programs.

A camp that’s as fun as it is educational? Sign us up.

3. Virginia State Parks Youth Conservation Corps, Virginia

Campers from the YCC program gather in front of a state park in Virginia.
Image: Virginia State Youth Conservation Corps

Why just camp in the outdoors when you could also help conserve some of its beauty? Virginia State Youth Conservation Corps is the perfect summer program for all budding conservationists ages 14 to 17. The three-week residential experience gives teens the opportunity to give back to their communities by working to revitalize state parks. Some projects include creating hiking trails and building campsites.

Of course, campers are allowed to have some fun too. Throughout their stay, teens will get the opportunity to go canoeing, horseback riding, caving and hiking. They’ll also get plenty of mental and physical exercise during the designated journaling time and workout time.

Oh, and did we mention campers receive a stipend at the end of the program? That’s right; someone will pay your teen to learn responsibility and teamwork. Score.

More: Summer Travel Is the Perfect Excuse to Sneak in Educational Activities

4. Buck’s Rock Performing & Creative Arts Camp, Connecticut

A group of campers at Buck's Rock & Creative Arts Camp perform a rock show on stage.
Image: Buck’s Rock Performing & Creative Arts Camp

Kids who are ready to rock (or dance or act or sing or paint or batik or blow glass… the list goes on): This camp is for you. Buck’s Rock Performing & Creative Arts Camp, located in New Milford, Connecticut, is an immersive summer program that allows campers to have a hands-on experience with the arts. At Buck’s Rock, campers aged 9 to 18 can delve into their passions and are given the freedom to create the kind of art that excites them most, whether they’re into music, theater, metalsmithing, sculpting, farming or glassblowing — and those are just a tiny slice of the programs the camp offers.

Campers can access 30 state-of-the-art studios during their stay to create their masterpieces or hone their skills. Most campers (ages 11 to 18) stay for eight weeks, though the camp also offers four- and six-week stays. Younger campers (9 to 10) can join Buck’s for a two-week stay. (Just don’t ask our senior parenting editor, who spent six summers at Buck’s Rock, about this camp unless you have hours to spare; she’ll never shut up about how great it is.)

5. ThrillCoaster Tours

Kids at Thrill Coaster Tours camp smile as they head out on a rollercoaster.
Image: Thrill Coaster Tours

This “camp” experience is not for the faint of heart… or weak of stomach. ThrillCoaster Tours is all about the rush. “Campers” from the tristate area (accommodations are available for out-of-state thrill-seekers too) spend just over two weeks exploring 12 different amusement parks with the opportunity to go on approximately 100 roller coasters. In between parks, campers travel by luxury bus and sleep at Marriott hotels.

But traveling at super-fast speeds isn’t all the campers get to do. Additionally, they’ll get the chance to go to a water park or watch a baseball game. For the true out-of-park experience, campers can also go white-water rafting.

6. Endless Summer Surf Camp, California & Costa Rica

Campers from Endless Summer Surf Camp pose in front of their surf boards on the beach.
Image: Endless Summer Surf Camp

Looking to catch some sun and some waves? Endless Summer Surf Camp is perfect for kids and teens who want to dive right into a seaside adventure. The overnight camp, located at the San Onofre State Park Campground in California, pairs surfers of all levels with some of the best instructors in the country. During their stay, campers will gain confidence as they try new tricks and meet new friends. Between catching waves, kids can play beach volleyball, watch a surf-themed flick and maybe even see a dolphin or two.

For those hoping to leave the country, Endless Summer Surf Camp also offers lessons in beautiful Costa Rica. Oh, and don’t think that kids get to have all of the fun. Endless Summer also hosts day and overnight adult surf camps.

Next: Camp Chief Ouray, Colorado

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