Best Outdoor and Nature Overnight Summer Camps in Michigan

Instead of spending the summer perfecting the art of being a couch potato, overnight summer camps in Michigan give kids the opportunity to try out new activities — think archery, kayaking, rock-climbing, hiking and more.

Plus, there’s the opportunity to make new friends from across the state while enjoying all the fun that the outdoors can offer. The skills and memories campers will gain often stick with them for years to come, too — among the many other benefits of camp.

Try these awesome picks in southeast Michigan, west Michigan, northern Michigan and the Thumb area. Remember, when it’s cold outside — January through March or April — that’s the perfect time to register. And be aware: Many of these camps will fill up fast.

A few good tips to keep in mind when looking for overnight summer camps in Michigan:

  • Register early. Again, camps fill up fast. Act fast to secure a spot.
  • Dates vary. Typically, camps are broken into multi-day sessions (though you can often register for several). Visit the websites for precise breakdowns.
  • Call for costs. Most camps listed have a range; usually, lower amounts are for day camps. Price points rise for longer/overnight experiences.

Black River Farm and Ranch

  • Region: Thumb area
  • Address: 5040 Sheridan Line Road, Croswell
  • Phone: 810-679-2505
  • 2021 dates and costs: Six sessions between June 20 and Aug. 15. $855/starter camp; $1,700/one week, $2,720/two weeks, $4,420/four weeks; all sessions also require a refundable $500 deposit at the time of registration; sibling discount of $50 is available

Described as “paradise at the end of a dirt road,” this overnight camp for girls ages 6-16 focuses on horsemanship and includes riding lessons with the horses each morning. It’s been family owned and operated since 1962.

“We also have swimming, boating, field activities, crafts and night programs,” says camp director and parent liaison Katy Scott. “We are an all-girls program and our campers move on to be staff, which creates a really fun and traditional camp feel.”

In 2021, campers can anticipate many changes to dropoff and pickup, daily routines and capacity limits. Campers will operate mostly in small groups — to be called “herds” — and masks will be required when herds are comingling.

Camp Carvela

Note: Affiliated with Camp Lookout and Crystalaire Adventures

  • Region: Northern Michigan
  • Address: 33 Bass Lake Rd, Traverse City
  • Phone: 231-299-0005
  • 2021 dates and costs: Sessions available for ages 7-17 and range $250- $2,300; some trips can be extended for an additional $450; all sessions run June 21-Aug. 13

This co-ed camp prides itself for being “unplugged.” The outdoor adventures range from scavenger hunts to real-life fort building in the woods to Voyageur canoe rides, paddle boarding, lake games, bird watching and bonfires. Kids get a chance to create and lead activities too.

In the summer 2021, the camp will be following all state and federal recommended COVID-19 guidelines for campers.

Camp Lookout

Note: Affiliated with Camp Carvela and Crystalaire Adventures

  • Region: Northern Michigan
  • Address: 1310 Beuna Road, Frankfort
  • Phone: 231-299-0005
  • 2021 dates and costs: Day camps: Camper for a Day June 8 and Day Camp July 5-6 (both sessions free); Overnight: Sessions available for ages 7-17 and range $580- $2,300; some trips can be extended for an additional $450; all sessions run June 13-Aug. 13

Heavily wooded and set on a hilly peninsula, this retreat is a true Up-North gem – there’s not even vehicle access (you’ll arrive by pontoon).

Aimed at ages 7-17, this spot strives to empower young people to co-create a supportive, playful and imaginative environment, whether camping on the beach of Lake Michigan or staking out a primitive site in the woods. Be sure to book early for this popular option, says owner and camp director Curtis McFall.

In the summer 2021, the camp will be following all state and federal recommended COVID-19 guidelines for overnight camps.

Crystalaire Adventures

Note: Affiliated with Camp Carvela and Camp Lookout

  • Region: Northern Michigan
  • Address: 33 Bass Lake Rd, Traverse City
  • Phone: 231-299-0005
  • 2021 dates and costs: Three-day sessions for ages 10-12 ($450), six-day sessions for ages 12-14 ($960-$1,300), 14-day sessions for ages 14-16 ($2,400), one 12-day trip for 16-17-year-olds ($2,160); all sessions run June 18-Aug. 15

Got older kids? Here, teens ages 13-18 learn to live and work together — and get a better sense of who they are. They’ll explore caverns, backpack North Manitou, basecamp at South Manitou and more. Ask about custom programs, too.

In the summer 2021, the camp will be following all state and federal recommended COVID-19 guidelines for overnight camps.

Camp Mirage

Hello, huge mud pits! This day camp for ages 4-13 has that, along with bonfires, water activities — and more than 40 total themed camps, from “Animal Planet” to Pokemon, all with flexible schedules that are great for working parents. In 2021, the camp is opening a second location in Plymouth to allow for more inside space plus a new slip-n-slide and an extra wooded area.

“We are unique because we offer the feel, excitement and camaraderie of an overnight camp experience in a day-camp setting,” says camp director Cara Trost. “Our kids are outside playing hard all day long. We send them home exhausted, dirty and happy!”

Campers in 2021 will notice changes to dropoff and pickup routines, including staggered times. Face masks will be required based on the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health for camps. Check out the camp’s COVID-19 response plan to help answer questions.

Camp Sancta Maria

  • Region: Northern Michigan
  • Address: 5361 W. M-32, Gaylord
  • Phone: 248-822-8199
  • 2021 dates and costs: June 20-Aug. 7, $485-$750, sibling discount $40-$60; parent-child weekend activities have been suspended in 2021

This residential, Christian-based summer camp was founded in 1933 and offers 96 acres of natural wooded areas and single-gender stays so that campers get the most out of their experience.

Find horseback riding, archery, swimming and canoeing in addition to games, campfires, treats, crafts and other traditional camping fun.

In 2021, campers will fill out daily online screenings two weeks prior to arriving to camp and COVID-19 tests are encouraged within 10 days of the start of each camper’s session. While at camp, cabin capacities have been reduced, daily temperature checks will be taken and masks will be required, except at inappropriate times (sleeping and eating).

Camp Walden

  • Region: Northern Michigan
  • Address: 5607 S. River Road, Cheboygan
  • Phone: 231-625-2050
  • 2021 dates and costs: One three-night mini session and six two-to-seven week options June 21-Aug. 7. $600-$8,600

When campers are ready for that overnight trek, this up-north destination delivers with “150 acres of virgin forest, sparkling waterfront, meadows, rolling hills and trails.” Campers ages 7-16 go water skiing, tubing, sailing and paddle boarding on spring-fed Long Lake. Horseback riding and other athletics are also featured.

“There’s a great deal of focus on making camp work for every kid, no matter what their interests or their abilities,” says co-owner/director Liz Stevens, who adds she and husband Scott Ruthart work directly with each family and answer calls. “It’s a very warm, family-like atmosphere. We know every kid and family.” Select sessions offer charter bus rides from Farmington Hills.

A detailed COVID-19 plan will be available to all registered families, including information about PCR testing, mask use and requests that families limit social activities prior to the start of camp.

Leslie Science & Nature Center Summer Camps

  • Region: Southeast Michigan
  • Address: 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor (call for camp locations)
  • Phone: 734-531-6052
  • 2021 dates and costs: A variety of themed programs for ages 4-15 run June 14-Aug. 20; $275-$380

This science-centric spot offers themes like “Nature’s Supervillians,” “Digging for Dinos,” “Care of Magical Creatures” and 10 other fun weeks. Plus, find activities from hiking, campfire-building and animal tracking to hanging out with the center’s resident raptors (birds of prey) and critters who call Black Pond home.

There’s even a session for middle schoolers who want to learn about science technology engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

“This is the place where a lot of kids eat outside for the first time, walk in the woods for the first time, touch a snake for the first time,” says Etta Heisler, camp and public programs director. “They have a lot of firsts here.”

K-5 campers can pick three max sessions; there are some overnight options, too. Love nature and music? Ask about the “Camp Cool Down” extended day care option.

Summer 2021 includes a Camp At Home option for $40, for kids in K-5 grades. Each kit will include activities that can be done each day and videos to help facilitate the activities.

Van Buren Youth Camp

Opened in 1950, this overnight camp for grades 1-12 features traditional activities like riflery, archery, canoeing, kayaking, a low-ropes course, crafts and more.

“We focus on relationships and building citizenship and encouraging kids to get involved and find their voice,” says Dottie Myers-Hill, executive camp director.

The partial-week “Little Bear” program gives the youngest campers — ages 6-8 — a shorter stay to help them get used to the experience. This camp also offers leadership training for teens and has a financial assistance program available.

Van Buren was open in the summer of 2020 for a limited number of campers and the lessons learned last summer will be used in 2021. Meals will be held in rotation to limit exposure during dining, and more information will be available to registered families later in the spring.

Willoway Day Camp

  • Region: Southeast Michigan
  • Address: 4654 Old Plank Road, Milford
  • Phone: 248-932-2123
  • 2021 dates and costs: June 14-Aug. 13. $565-$1,225; discounts available for siblings attending same sessions and campers attending multiple sessions

Campers ages 5-14 enjoy swimming instruction each morning, checking out nature trails and the animal farm, go-karting, sports, drama and more at this day camp that offers some overnights. Transportation, complete with spirited songs, is provided.

“It’s a varied program with wonderful activities,” says co-owner Lorraine Fisher, noting the staff-to-camper ratio is 1 to 6. “Many of our staff grew up as campers at Willoway, and many of our staff stay with us. We’re a family operation.”

Willoway was open during the summer of 2020 and preparations for 2021 will rely on updated information and the summer draws closer.

YMCA Camp Copneconic

  • Region: Southeast Michigan
  • Address: 10407 N. Fenton Road, Fenton
  • Phone: 810-629-9622
  • 2021 dates and costs: June 21-Aug. 20. $650-$700 per week overnight; $250-$300 per week day camps

Fantastic campfire songs are just the start, offering day and overnight camps with programs for ages 4 to high school seniors. Campers take action-packed field trips, go ziplining, tubing, kayaking, canoeing and sailing, plus enjoy weekly themes like searching for gold or building a time machine.

Maggie Mitchell, overnight camp and team-building programs director, says programs are “laced with intentionality focusing on character development, age progressive goals, outdoor enrichment and fostering a sense of community.”

Some program changes have been made for Summer 2021 to activities that bring groups together (like swimming). Parents can anticipate additional enhanced protocols, like health screenings and daily temperature checks as well as social distancing, masking and increased cleaning in common areas.

Note: Camp Tall Tree, set on the grounds of Camp Copneconic, is a traditional summer experience for kids ages 7-18 with special needs like autism — plus skill-building for ages 13 to mid-20s, and a program for siblings of people with autism. There’s swimming, boating, archery and more. Check the camp’s website for more information about sessions in 2021. 

YMCA Camp Ohiyesa

  • Region: Southeast Michigan
  • Address: 7300 Hickory Ridge Road, Holly
  • Phone: 248-887-4533
  • 2021 dates and costs: Day camp (ages 4-16), overnight camp (ages 7-16) and inclusion camp for campers with special needs ages (6-16); June 15-Aug. 29. $269-$1,199; additional costs may be added for specialty camps, day camp bus fee or additional care in the morning or evening.

Camp Ohiyesa mixes tradition and innovation. With staff from all over the world, the experience includes plenty of fun and a strong emphasis on character building and cultural awareness. It’s close enough for southeast Michigan families but far enough removed from the city to have space to explore 300 acres of fields, forest, wetlands and lakes.

“We have what we feel is the premier day camp in Oakland County,” says Ryan Mertz, executive director. “Our campers gain independence, make new friends, challenge their limits, explore the natural world and create lifelong habits of healthy living in a safe environment.”

Verify camp information for parents for changes and regulations for 2021. YMCA successfully held camps during Summer 2020 and is following ACA and CDC guidelines for camp provisions.

This post is updated regularly.

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