Not just for kids anymore: Family camps are fun for the whole crowd

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2013 - 10:24 AM

Don’t let the kids have all the fun this summer! Join them at one of the spots that welcomes the whole crowd.

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Family activities at Camp du Nord, near Ely, Minn., include kayaking and other outdoor adventures.

Photo: Provided by Camp du Nord ,

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It can be bittersweet to send your children to summer camp — you know you will miss them, sure, but you might also wish that you were the one who was going to be enjoying a fun-filled week outdoors with sunshine, swimming and s’mores by the fire. Here are a few Minnesota family camp options where camp isn’t just for kids — it’s an opportunity for the entire clan, from babies to grandparents, to enjoy everything summer camp has to offer.

Concordia Language Villages

Family camp at Concordia Language Villages, a program of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., started about 12 years ago at the request of parents who had been sending their kids to the immersion language camps, but wanted the chance to experience the variety of languages and cultures for themselves. Currently, family camp offers 15 languages including French, Finnish, Korean, Swedish, German and Chinese.

“Some families are interested in experiencing our camps together before sending their child off to camp on their own,” said Carl-Martin Nelson, director of marketing and communications for Concordia Language Villages and past dean of the German Language Village. “It’s a little bit of a trial run.”

That’s what Dawn Ridgway of Burnsville had in mind when she and son Jack first attended the Chinese family camp in 2008 when he was in first grade. They enjoyed it so much that they returned together for several summers in a row, honing their language skills, participating in cultural activities and even learning to cook some Chinese delicacies.

“Last year, Jack went to Chinese camp by himself for the first time for a week, and this summer, he’ll be going for two weeks,” said Ridgway. “Every once in a while, we’ll sing one of the Chinese songs we learned at camp, and I’ll get kind of teary because I know I’m missing out on the fun now that he’s so comfortable there.”

Families who have traveled internationally or plan to live abroad find the Concordia Language Villages a valuable place to learn the language and customs of a particular country; one family attended the Chinese camp before leaving for a two-year work assignment in China. No prior language experience is required, said Nelson, adding that “everyone learns so much so quickly once they are here.”

Camps Lincoln and Lake Hubert

Camp Lincoln-Camp Lake Hubert (one is a girls’ camp and the other is for boys) launched their family camp at the Camp Lake Hubert site near Nisswa, Minn., in 1972. Since that time, they have discovered that many families have established a solid tradition of returning year after year. Second-generation family campers are starting to participate in the annual week-long experience from Aug. 11 to 16, which features sailing, horseback riding, archery, crafts and the popular “county fair” night.

A recent addition to the Camp Lake Hubert family camp is the kids’ club, which allows parents to leave napping infants or toddlers in the care of staff members so they can spend time with their older kids. The camp’s log cabins are spacious enough to accommodate larger or even extended families, said camp director Laura Nolan. Many grandparents attend with their families.

As a way to encourage parents to fully embrace the leisurely spirit of the week, the camp asks parents to refrain from using cellphones in the camp’s public spaces.

“We realize that a lot of parents do need to conduct business while they are here, and we have a computer and space for them to do that,” said Ruggs Cote, executive director. “But sometimes by the end of the week, we find that people are doing that less and less.”

Camp du Nord

Now a YMCA camp, Camp du Nord was founded outside of Ely, Minn., in 1930 by three female teachers who wanted to create a camp in northern Minnesota especially for parents and children to enjoy together.

Now with the fourth generation of several families arriving every summer, about a quarter of the families are new to Camp du Nord each year, said executive director Niki Roussopoulos Geisler. For some parents and children, this is their first real exposure to a weeklong outdoor camp adventure.

“We appeal to all levels of comfort with the wilderness,” she said. “We offer everything from tent sites where families will bring their own gear to fully equipped cabins.” With programs for all ages and activities including crafts, hiking, the “Blueberry Jam” where staff members play music, canoeing and more, she said, “the best way for parents to get a child to spend time outside is to go out there with them.”

Camp du Nord is open year round and also offers family camp weekends, a shorter version of the weeklong program that Geisler said often appeals to newcomers.

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