Summer's Hottest Nature Camps for City Kids

By Janet Upadhye on February 27, 2013 7:07am 

NEW YORK — Campouts and nature hikes aren't just for small-town kids.

While youngsters growing up in New York City may see the summer as a long stretch of sun-scorched sidewalks and sweltering subway stations, there are plenty of programs both in the city and beyond that give kids a more outdoorsy sense of the season.

At overnight and day camps, young New Yorkers can climb mountains, swim in lakes, milk cows, catch frogs, harvest vegetables and much more — all just a stone's throw from Manhattan.

And the time to start planning summer escapades is now. Space at most camps is limited and in high demand, and reserving a spot in advance both secures the adventure and may result in reduced early-bird costs.

DNAinfo.com New York rounded up some of the hottest summer camps for city kids that will satisfy the call of the wild.

The Nature Place

The Nature Place, located in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., is less than an hour's drive from Manhattan. Offering day camps for kids ages 4 to 16, the Nature Place provides 200 acres for children to swim, cook, farm, hike and look at lizards, turkey vultures, bald eagles, deer, coyotes and beavers.

There are two day camps that run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and include bus transportation to and from stops in Manhattan.

The Nature Place Day Camp lasts for six weeks and focuses on simple summer fun. The more specialized "Farm and Garden Days" take place in two-week sessions and focus on working with soil, composting, planting and harvesting, baking pizza in the outdoor clay oven, milking cows, holding chickens and collecting eggs.

Kids can also choose to do an overnight campout, where they have the opportunity to go canoeing and sleep in tents under the stars.

For more information and prices, visit The Nature Place website.

Old Stone House

Located in Park Slope, Old Stone House is a historical learning center focused on the Revolutionary War era. A day camp called “Garden Explorers” give kids the chance to plant seedlings, harvest fruits, vegetables and herbs, prepare food, compost, and study plants, flowers and insects.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily during two-week sessions, children hang out in the expansive gardens surrounding the house, which feels far from the city's bustle.

Each two-week session costs $600. For more information, visit the Old Stone House website.

The New York Botanical Garden

Located on 250 acres of gardens and forests, The New York Botanical Garden in The Bronx has 50 gardens, more than 1 million living plants and 30,000 mature trees. It also hosts summer camps daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Campers can choose from three themed sessions: Art in Nature, Wild Wetlands and Forest Adventure.

During Art in Nature, kids can wander the gardens with notebooks in hand as they explore the connections between art and the natural world. They will also learn to work with clay to create sculptures and learn about the art of medicinal plants. The camp culminates with a gallery show in which children can display their creations.

Wild Wetlands gives campers the chance to explore the marshes, ponds and rivers of the gardens. Daily activities include bird-watching, frog catching and riverbank bug collecting. Kids will have the opportunity to study what they find under the microscope, just like a wetland ecologist would.

Forest Adventure lets kids explore the trees, hidden forest life and tropics of the New York Botanical Garden.

Each camp lasts one week but can be extended for multiple weeks. Camps cost $250 per week for non-members. For more information, visit the website.

Belleayre Mountain Sleepaway Camp

Run by the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center, this camp gives kids a break from the city and an adventure into the wild.

“We try to get kids away from their computers and out into the world,” said camp director Bob Townley.

Designed for first-time campers or those who want to break away from larger groups, Belleayre has space for only 50 kids per one- or two-week session. During the week, kids get to sleep in cabins, hang out around an outdoor fire pit, hike trails, go swimming and play games in the Catskills just 125 miles north of the city.

One-week sessions cost $495 and two-week sessions cost $990. Tuition assistance is also available. Early-bird registration ends Feb. 28, so act fast.

Frost Valley YMCA Summer Camps

Located two hours north of New York City in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, Frost Valley YMCA hosts several overnight camping options for city kids. Camp Wawayanda (for kids in second through seventh grades) and Camp Henry Hird (kids in eighth to 10th grades) are two-week camps where kids sleep in villages and play sports, ride horses, swim in the lake, explore waterfalls and take nature hikes. At night, campfires and astronomy talks are just two options among a wide variety of activities available for campers.

For horse lovers, Horse Camp takes place in a serene valley and teaches campers horse care and riding skills, both in the arena and on the trails. And during Farm Camp kids learn to cultivate and harvest food while also getting to swim, boat and do arts and crafts.

Prices for one- to four-week camps range from $950 to $4,130.

Camp Echo

For a real summer escape, Camp Echo, located 90 minutes from New York City, offers seven-week summer adventures. Camp Echo also offers three- to four-week sessions with the possibility of extension.

Camper activities include zip lining, trapeze artistry, horseback riding, camping, rock climbing, sports, ceramics, woodworking and a petting zoo. Kids stay in newly renovated cabins near a private lake complete with a floating bridge.

Camp facilities also include a sports field, swimming pool, aqua park and gazebo.

Prices start at $3,850 for four-week sessions and $7,175 for seven weeks. Visit the Camp Echo website for more information.

The NYC Parks Experience Summer Day Camp

This affordable summer camp option gives kids the chance to explore New York City's parks, pools and museums. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with the option of extended hours), kids get all the fun of the outdoors, right in the middle of the city.

Day campers stay active with sports, fitness and many other outdoor adventures, but they can also exercise their minds with environmental and cultural education programs throughout the week.

Camps last seven weeks and cost $500 per child. Payment plans are available.

Registration begins at 9 a.m. March 9 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on March 12. The registration will be conducted through an online lottery. For more information visit the website.

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