28 Best Summer Camps



Life gets away from even the best-prepared parents. One minute you're wrapping Christmas presents and the next minute you're filing your taxes and realize that your child's summer is still a void of empty days - days you just know will be filled with Xbox battles and other pursuits straight from the devil's workshop. Before you book a stay at Camp Procrastinating Parent, we investigated a few options in both sleepaway and day camps. All will accept campers until the camp is full and the session starts. So pull up a sit-upon; here's the lowdown.

1 She loves to play games…

CAMP MIRAGE

Camp is a blast, but not every child is ready to pack up a duffel bag and get on the bus. Camp Mirage, with locations in Royal Oak and Plymouth, tries for a hybrid - a day-camp experience that feels more like the sleepaway variety. "We start each day with a bonfire," says director Cara Gray. The rest of the day is filled with traditional summer-camp activities that stress team-building and cooperative fellowship. A big plus for the campers: At least one day is devoted to re-creating Nickelodeon's popular Double Dare show - slime and all. There's the chance to do short sleepaways and, for older kids, a field trip to a surfing camp in San Diego. campmirage.com; 248-549-4867 (Royal Oak), 734-420-4655 (Plymouth).

2 He's a Renaissance kid…

YWCA DAY CAMPS

For long-term commitment to entertaining children of all ages and walks of life, no one brings more to the table than the nation's Y's, which have been making it simple and affordable for parents for decades. This summer, the YWCAs of metro Detroit are holding day camps at three locations - Wyandotte, Oakland County and Redford Township. It's a structured program with a full complement of summer-camp fun - swimming, field trips, arts and crafts and the like. Spokeswoman Debbie Vargas offers two watchwords: "quality" and "affordable." ywcadetroit.org; or call the nearest location, Downriver (734-284-9030), Oakland (248-435-9100) or Northwest (313-537-8500).

3 She's into everything…

SUMMER IMPRESSIONS

The camp version of First Impressions, a preschool, this summer program in West Bloomfield welcomes children up to age 10 for a "well-rounded program" of warm-weather fun, says co-director Laura Barron. They do the usual assortment of activities - arts and crafts, drama, swimming, sports, science - along with a few unique ones. Such as? "Ga-ga," which Barron describes as dodgeball with far softer missiles. The school also has its own moonwalk. Older children can choose their favorite activities, while younger ones get a more structured mix. summerimpressions.com; 248-661-3630.

4 He can't stop drawing…

CRANBROOK SUMMER DAY CAMPS

The name is a brand in southeast Michigan, and the people who run Cranbrook's day-camp program in Bloomfield Hills know it. So the educational community's summer program makes use of the "wonderful elements" of the Cranbrook grounds, says camp director Sue Griffin - the art museum, sculpture garden and others. Campers can take a class in Japanese watercolor techniques in the Japanese garden, which isn't Kyoto, but close. But arts and culture share the stage with fun activities, too - orienteering with a decades-old campus map to find the "abandoned gold mine," even a search for Bigfoot. schools.cranbrook.edu/programs/day; 248-645-3678.

5 She's bound for Harvard…

ROEPER SUMMER DAY CAMP

The Bloomfield Hills school for gifted children opens its doors to everyone during the summer, with a day camp designed to give campers maximum control over how they spend their days. Older children (it's open to kids 3-11) have five options for each time period, including indoor and outdoor activities. The fun is in the approach - kids don't learn photography, they learn spy photography. It's not just singing, it's "Roeper Idol." "The relationships are what we stress," says spokesman Carri Hammers. "We want kids to really be excited about seeing their counselor." roeper.org; 248-203-7370.

6 He needs fun and culture…

JCC DAY CAMP

After 70 years, it's safe to say Oakland County's Jewish Community Center has day camp figured out. Camp director Andy Roisman says the program steers children through a variety of summer fun, including canoeing and fishing on the center's stocked pond. A large spread - 250 acres in West Bloomfield - gives everybody lots of room to "have fun and try new things." Special features include a ropes course and the mainstreaming of special-needs campers with the rest of the group. Roisman describes the atmosphere as "Jewish Lite," in which children of all faiths should feel welcome. Two counselors are Israeli, there to have an immersive cultural experience themselves. jccdet.org; 248-432-5458.

7 She's the next Bill Gates…

ID TECH CAMPS

Parents tend to stress over finding activities for young children, but older ones can be just as problematic. ID Tech Camps - which are not, they want you to know, "nerd" camps - have something for everyone, particularly teens. Open to kids 7-17, it offers a hands-on technology learning experience at 40 college campuses across the country, including the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Campers learn digital video, Web site development, robotics or other skills while producing a project in the same discipline. Courses are one week, but many stay longer, and yes, campers get outside for activities, too, to keep the atmosphere light and the eyes focusing on something other than a computer screen. internaldrive.com; 408-871-2227.

8 He's the next Barry Sanders…

DETROIT LIONS FOOTBALL CAMPS

Football is an autumn sport, but football camp - sweaty and raucous as it is - was made for summer. Of the 11 Lions camps held around the state, four are nearby: Plymouth, Howell, Lake Orion and Detroit. The camps introduce boys and girls ages 6-14 to the joys of tackling, blocking and running pass patterns. And yes, we mean joys: "Our No. 1 goal is that it be fun," says Chris Fritzsching, aka "Coach Chris." Every position is taught and practiced and Lions players visit each camp. Lucky kids at the Detroit camp get to play at Ford Field. If a football-mad kid can ask for more, we don't know what it might be. detroitlions.com; 313-262-2248.

9 She'd rather be outdoors…

CAMP WILLOWAY

For 38 years, Lorraine and Arnie Fisher have been opening Camp Willoway in West Bloomfield to children in search of a fun day-camp experience, and are now on their second generation of campers ages 5-14. "It's our baby," says Lorraine, who is proud of the full course of activities, which she describes as "fun, non-competitive and outdoor." Add abundant - Lorraine estimates that 25 different activities are going on at any given time during the day. Staffing is generous, with a 1:6 counselor-camper ratio, the better to enjoy the pond, lake, cookouts and other fun. Call now, because this one tends to fill early. willowaydaycamp.com; 248-932-2123.

10 He talks and talks and…

THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

Cock an ear to the conversations in any public place these days, and the truth becomes clear: The world is growing smaller, and not everyone in it speaks English. What's more, the door to learning a second language is open widest in childhood, when human brains are hard-wired for the task. Which seems as good a reason as any to choose a foreign-language immersion day camp in French, Spanish or German. At the International School in Farmington Hills, native speakers teach morning classes while afternoons are given over to play. "The Midwest has traditionally been the repository of the mono-linguist," says school director Jack Faxon. He means to change the ratio a bit. theinternationalschool.org; 248-851-7372.

11 She could be president…

EXPERIENCIA

A camp as good as its name, Experiencia offers an immersive learning environment in two settings - city and "habitat," both housed in a 20,000-square-foot building in Taylor. Day campers ages 11-16 spend a week in one or the other - or both if they choose to come for a second week. On the city side, they'll be residents of Experiencia City, and will learn entrepreneurship, business skills, how to run a government and other grown-up ideas, on a smaller scale. And on the habitat side? We've been asked to keep the secret, but here's a hint: It's out of this world. And because this is camp, not SAT prep, there's also outside play, tie-dying, songs and other activities. experiencia.org; 734-287-8696.

12 He's a water bug…

UNIVERSITY LIGGETT SCHOOL

This private school in Grosse Pointe Woods turns down the academic flame during the summer and opens its doors to all, offering a day camp along with several separate, sports-focused camps for boys and girls ages 3-12. Director Michelle Hicks says the goal is to get everyone outside every day for swimming, archery, tennis, arts and crafts and other activities. The big lure is the canoeing and sailing, for fourth-graders and up, held at the Woods' Lakefront Park. "We're pretty laid-back," Hicks says. "The focus is on having fun and trying lots of new things." 313-884-4444.

13 She's an environmentalist…

YMCA CAMP OHIYESA

You know you're in the hands of people who want you to have an authentic outdoor experience when a camp's management touts both its lake and its "bog." That's not a swamp, but a real peat bog, one of six in southeast Michigan, says camp director Paul Bryant, and if it's not coughing up dinosaur skeletons, it's still a great place to have environmental education. Camp Ohiyesa takes up to 200 kids at a time for swimming, canoeing, climbing, drama, outdoor cooking and outdoor living skills on its 300-acre facility near Holly. ycampingservices.org; 248-887-4533.

14 He'd like to be Daniel Boone…

PINE FOREST DAY CAMP

For those who think of day camps as an experience less authentic than the rustic-cabin-in-the-woods variety, Pine Forest means to change your mind. This nondenominational camp draws children from the Clarkston/Ortonville/Holly area and takes place on the 1,500-acre Camp Maas campus. What that means, says director Debbie Landau, is "you'd never know you were anywhere near a city," what with all the woods, water and beach close at hand. Pine Forest offers a full complement of activities for children in grades 1-8 that won't look anything like school. "It's just the beauty of it," Landau says. "That's what's special." tamarackcamps.com; 248-647-1101.

15 Northern Exposure

CAMP MAPLEHURST
Kewadin (25 miles north of Traverse City) and owned by the same family for 50 years, this is summer camp the way everyone pictures it - piney woods and crisp, Up North air. Founded by a teacher and now run by his son, Laurence Cohn, a college professor, the camp aims to offer traditional fun in a no-hassle environment. That means "no hazing, no bullying, no picking on each other. And cooperation," says Cohn. He also builds a lot of free choice into the schedule, so that campers feel in control of their experience. And all that Torch Lake waterfront doesn't hurt, either. campmaplehurst.com; 248-647-2646.

16 Remote Control

CRYSTALAIRE CAMP & LOOKOUT

If your child has spent so much time indoors this winter that his or her skin is green, these sister camps in Frankfort, both coed, will put some color in those cheeks. It's a "nostalgic, romantic idea of going to camp," that the two facilities deliver, says camp director Dave Reid. It's "very north woods" with screen-sided cabins and lots of outdoor activities, particularly on the Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan waterfront. (Camp Lookout, with no road access, is accessible only by boat.) General-interest sessions are staggered with specialty weeks for sailing, leadership and other skill development. "Camping is becoming more institutional," Reid says. "We're not." crystalairecamp.com and lookoutsummer.com; 231-352-7589.

17 Adventures Up North

CAMP HAYO-WENT-HA & CAMP ARBUTUS HAYO-WENT-HA

So your young adventurer isn't interested in braiding lanyards this summer? These single-gender YMCA camps (Arbutus is the girls' facility) offers that magic word - adventure. All campers venture from the Torch Lake home base for extended field trips to places like the Porcupine Mountains and Isle Royale. "We build on the cabin group," says Steve Springsdorf, executive director. "They learn to do things together and work as a team." They also learn to get away from it all, including electricity. "This is a little oasis for a kid," says Springsdorf. Financial aid is offered. hayowentha.org; 231-544-5915 (boys), 231-946-8589 (girls).

18 Leaders of the Pack

SHERMAN LAKE YMCA CAMP

Based in Augusta (near Battle Creek), this is a classic traditional camp that also offers specialty programs in aviation, rocketry, golf, piano, climbing and high adventure. Older campers leave for off-site field trips - caving in southern Indiana, for example, or backpacking. It's all part of a leadership-development program, open to "highly motivated" teens who must apply for admission, with recommendations and a required interview. The field trips help them establish trusting friendships, says camp director Lorrie Syverson. shermanlakeymca.org; 269-731-3000.

19  Faith and Fun

CAMP SANCTA MARIA

Many camps owned by religious organizations strive to be secular, but this Gaylord-based camp is proud to put photos of its chapel on the cover of its brochure. Open to Catholic boys, Sancta Maria offers an Up North getaway with horses, archery, sports, fishing and other activities. It also holds a daily Mass and prayer sessions. Boys typically come for two-week sessions, but one-week sessions designed for time-starved or budget-minded Catholic families were recently added. campsanctamaria.org; 248-822-8199.

20 Inspiring Adventures

CAMP MINIWANCA

The camp's motto sounds like something Oprah Winfrey might come up with - "My own self, at my very best, all the time" - but the directors of this American Youth Foundation-run camp north of Muskegon say they're serious about teaching fourth- through 12th-graders leadership skills through outdoor experiences on the camp's mile of Lake Michigan waterfront. There are separate camps for boys and girls. All do the usual activities, but with a group-based, team-building, values-aware approach. This means, for instance, that sailing is encouraged, because it requires cooperation, but there's "no water-skiing," says spokeswoman Karen Bushous. ayf.com; 231-861-2262.

21 Training Camp

CAMP HENRY

So you want your children to have the summer-camp experience you did, but maybe they're still a little clingy? This Presbyterian-run camp in Newaygo (north of Grand Rapids) may have the solution - mini sessions for 7-12-year-olds, three-night getaways that aren't quite so scary for novice campers. In business for 70 years, Camp Henry draws campers from 15 states with lots of legacies - children whose parents went there years before, says Chris McClain, business manager. The camp takes up to 200 kids per one-week session, and houses them in a variety of accommodations for all the traditional camp fun. The camp gives $100,000 in "camperships" (financial aid) per summer. camphenry.org; 616-459-2267.

22 Camper Sampler

CAMP TIMBERS

The YMCA provides summer-camp experiences for children all over the country; what makes this one - run by the Saginaw Y in West Branch - unique? Director Steve Meyer says it's the small-group philosophy. Campers stick with their cabin mates throughout the one-week session and rotate between activities. "Everybody tries everything," Meyer says. "Everyone gets a chance to shine." They can shine at swimming, arts and crafts, mountain biking, riding and the usual camp activities. The 300-acre wooded setting with a private lake - "storybook," Meyer says - helps everyone do their best. camptimbers.org; 989-753-7721.

23 Communal Camping

HABONIM DROR CAMP TAVOR

You don't hear the word "socialist" batted around in a non-pejorative sense much, so it's refreshing to hear it from the proprietors of this secular Jewish camp in Three Rivers, based on principles of historic Zionism - work, cooperation, community service. Run like a kibbutz, campers work every day, taking care of the camp's animals and garden before breaking for other activities. They make decisions collectively and do service to the Three Rivers community - helping build a Habitat for Humanity house, for instance. Director Shelley Goldwater says the camp is all about youth empowerment and leadership and being "an active participant in your community." camptavor.com; 262-334-0399.

24 Horsing Around

CEDAR LODGE

If anything goes together like a horse and carriage, it's a horse and a little girl. And while this camp in Lawrence (between Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor), based at a hunter-jumper stable, is open to boys and girls, the sessions are usually lopsided in favor of the gender that loves to comb out long, silky manes. "A general-interest camp with a strong riding program" is how director Amy Edwards describes it. Campers get two lessons with their regular fee; add $115 and they can ride nearly every day, although Cedar Lodge also has waterfront, sports, archery, drama, and arts and crafts. Family-run since 1964, "80 percent come for the riding program," Edwards says. cedarlodge.com; 269-674-8071.

25 Sailing and Skating

CAMP NISSOKONE

This YMCA camp, affiliated with Camp Ohiyesa, takes kids from "all walks of life and economic backgrounds" and puts them in the country near Oscoda for some serious outdoor fun, says camp director Paul Bryant. The emphasis is on having a blast, with such traditional activities as canoeing (but in a huge, 10-person, voyageur-style vessel) and such untraditional ones as skating in the camp's skate park. There's a "bouldering grotto," where kids can practice rock-climbing without having to get more than 2 feet off the ground, and "a lot of sailing" on VanEttan Lake. Campers come from all over the city and suburbs, Bryant says. ycampingservices.org; 248-887-4533.

26 Into the Wild

LINCOLN BAY SKILLS CAMP

The next time you read a news story about the dwindling number of Michigan sportsmen, rest assured Lincoln Bay is doing its best to turn things around. The camp, in only its second year, seeks to teach youngsters the skills to hunt, fish and camp around its base in Alpena. Twelve children at a time stay for a week and learn to use a map and compass, build a survival shelter and other things they don't teach in school, like hunting and stalking crayfish. Campers live outdoors on the camp's 170 acres along Lake Huron. Although the camp is open to girls, so far all participants have had XY chromosomes. lincolnbaycamp.com; 989-358-0404 (September-May); 989-358-0404 (June-August).

27 No Boys Allowed

CAMP SEA-GULL [CLOSED]

This small, girls-only camp in Charlevoix has been in the same family for half a century, serving up a "very traditional" summer of land and water sports, creative arts and horseback riding in two-, four- and six-week sessions. The longer sessions and 3:1 staff ratio are designed to build friendships, says Bill Schulman, co-director. Fewer than 100 girls will pass through Sea-Gull in the course of a summer. "That's what makes us unique," he says. campseagull.com; 231-547-6556.

28  Camp, Unplugged

CYO CAMP

The "C" stands for Catholic, but the CYO camp in Port Sanilac (30 miles north of Port Huron) is, like many camps run by a religious organization, open and welcoming to all; in fact, half the campers in any given summer are not Catholic, says Caroline Krucker, camp director. The "friends, frogs and fun" philosophy appeals to parents who want their children to get away from life's technological buzz, she says. "We have no video games, no cell phones, no laptops. We get back to nature." Boys and girls are in separate camps, sorted into cabins by age; most stay for one week. cyocamps.org; 313-963-7172.

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