Camp trends

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Camp has been an American tradition for more than 150 years. Some things at camp — forming friendships, having fun, practicing new skills and summer learning gains — will never change. However, trends do.

Who goes to camp?

In 2013, American Camp Association (ACA) estimated that approximately 12,000 traditional, organized camps are in the United States. Each year, more than 11.5 million children, youth and adults attend camp. The ACA visions that by the year 2020, more than 20 million youth will attend camp each year.

What types of camps are most popular?

Of the estimated 12,000 American camps, approximately 7,000 are resident camps and 5,000 are day camps. Resident camps are designed for campers staying at camp from several days to eight weeks. Traditional camps are still popular — maybe more popular today than a decade ago — because young people are concerned about the environment, global awareness, mentorship and getting along with one another. The camp community embraces those values. As camps adapt to meet the changing needs of families, specialty camps, day camps and family camps are experiencing a rise in the popularity.

What activities and programs are popular?

In the 2013 ACA Emerging Issues survey, 54 percent of directors responded they had added a new activity or program in the past two years. The top three areas were adventure programs (challenge courses, zip lines, backpacking, mountain biking, etc.) (22 percent), family camps (19 percent) and new nature programs (17 percent). Other increases were seen in gardening (15 percent), cooking using camp garden foods (14 percent), wellness/fitness (12 percent) and STEM programs (12 percent). Nearly half of camps surveyed report having community service or good-deed programs incorporated into the camp curriculum. The top projects conducted at camps are: community cleanups, food drives, recycling programs and volunteering with senior citizens and hospital patients.

The most popular activities at camps today are swimming, arts/crafts, challenge/ropes course, archery and aquatic activities. In addition, ACA research shows 52 percent of day camps and 50 percent of resident camps offered one or more academic/science and technology programs in 2013. More than four out of five ACA-accredited residential camps offer at least one environmental education program for campers. Whatever the activity, camp gets kids moving. While at camp, campers are typically active three to five hours per day. This exceeds the recommended daily amount of physical activity from the CDC (one hour per day).


Some camps provide programs to special groups: seniors, families, campers with cancer, gifted and talented children, youth at risk, diabetics, asthmatics or persons with disabilities. In addition to the increase of children with disabilities being mainstreamed into camps, many new camps have opened to provide specialized services to children with special medical needs.

Other trends incorporate less traditional models for the camp experience. Trip camps provide programs where the participants transport themselves to different sites by backpacking, riding or canoeing. Travel camps often transport campers by car or bus to geographic and topographic places of interest.

Year-round use of camp facilities is a growing trend. Programs are evolving from spring and fall ancillary weekends to winterized full-service operations seven days a week. Many camps work with schools to provide environmental education during the school year.


Specialty camp experiences with a sports focus can offer campers a community and friendships with peers and role models with similar interests. They are able to concentrate on and gain confidence in the sport they love. Ten percent of ACA-accredited camps offered a targeted sports focus in 2013. In 2004, only 3 percent of ACA camps offered a targeted sport focus. According to an ACA report, 98 percent of responding ACA camps reported offering at least one sport even if sports were not a targeted focus. The top five sports activities offered are recreational swimming (87 percent), aquatic activities (76 percent), basketball (72 percent), archery (71 percent) and camping skills (67 percent). Unique offerings include fencing, lacrosse, SCUBA diving and windsurfing.

Search for the perfect camp experience on ACA’s Find a Camp database ( This resource allows families to search for camp programs based on location, price, session length and activities. Families can also search by intensity level: recreational, instructional or intense/competitive.

Information provided by the American Camp Association