Grab your planner and pocketbook, as spots at these four family-favorite camps fill up quickly.
By Heidi Gollub, Photos courtesy of ATX Kids Club, Zach Theatre and Earth Native Wilderness School
For many parents, the pages of summer months looming on the calendar can feel like an endless sea of dates in desperate need of a plan. Kids are out of school for a long time in the summer, and camps are an ideal way to keep them active and happy, and to help those summer days fly by. Luckily, there are plenty of unique camp offerings in Austin. Here are a few favorites, shared with us by local families who love them.
Literary camps hosted by BookPeople are serious business. At Camp Half-Blood, young fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series become demigods for a week, delving into the fantasy world of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Kids practice ancient Greek battle strategy, hone their archery skills and craft protective talismans. A letter from Percy Jackson on the camp website warns incoming campers, “If you’re reading this, I’m really sorry. It means you’ve found out you are half-bloods, and now you’re in for a world of trouble.”
Nicole Basham, the digital marketing coordinator at Full Funnel Marketing, sends her 11-year-old son, Will, every summer.
“My son complains about having to go to camp but begs me to enroll him in Camp Half-Blood,” she says. “Although the commute to and from camp each day is considerable (Thank goodness for carpooling!), the camp combines his love of books and adventure with active time outside.”
Will Basham adds that he’s a fan of interacting with his favorite Greek mythology characters and “getting to fight your friends with foam weapons.”
- Location: McKinney Falls State Park, 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway
- Time: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Ages: 9 to 17
- Cost: $550 per week
ATX Kids Club
Named Best Camp by ActivityHero three years in a row, ATX Kids Club takes small groups on daily excursions to get kids better acquainted with the Austin area. Campers hop on and off Capital Metro buses and delight in being urban explorers as they learn to appreciate local culture. In any given week, you might find these intrepid young Austinites hiking the Greenbelt, reading in the LBJ Presidential Library, learning about Texas history at the Capitol or frolicking in the family garden at Lady Bird Johnson Wild ower Center.
Erica Gordon, CEO of Austin Sunshine Camps, says her girls will definitely return to ATX Kids Club after their experience last summer.
“My 5 and 9-year-olds absolutely loved ATX Kids Club,” Gordon says. “They would come home at the end of each day and brag about their adventures. The amount they were able to teach me about each place they had visited blew me away.”
Gordon was so impressed with ATX Kids Club, she joined the nonprofit’s board of directors.
- Drop-off locations include Mueller Park, Pease Park, Garrison Park and Vic Mathias Shores.
- Ages: 4 to 15
- Staff-to-camper ratio: 1 to 6
- Cost: $300 per week if registering before March 14; $325 per week if registering after March 14
Zach Theatre Summer Camps
Zach Theatre offers a wide range of camps at two locations. All ages, from preschoolers to incoming high-school seniors, can try their hands at musical theater, improvisation, acting and dance.
Katie Cook, director of digital marketing for Visit Austin, took classes at Zach when she was in school and remembers them fondly.
“I love that my kids can take classes there too,” Cook says.
Her son, Ethan, says he likes the camp because “the teachers are really experienced and fun.”
“I took a comedy class last summer,” Ethan
Cook adds, “and on the final day, I got to perform stand-up comedy.”
- Locations: Zach Theatre main campus, 1510 Toomey Road; Zach Theatre north campus, 12129 RR 620
- Half-day and full-day camps are available.
- Ages: Preschoolers, or age 3 and a half, through 12th graders
- Cost: Starts at $175 per week
Earth Native Wilderness School Summer Camps
From nature-themed day camps at McKinney Falls State Park to overnight camps focused on building wilderness skills, Earth Native Wilderness School offers a variety of summer programming for young outdoor enthusiasts.
Dripping Springs, Texas, resident Melissa Drewitz sends her 11- and 13-year-old boys to Earth Native Wil- derness School because, as she says, “it is seriously the best.” Drewitz loves the idea of letting her kids be kids in the great outdoors.
“Kids are outside all day,” she says, “exploring, making things with sticks and dirt. They also get to wade and swim in the creeks and rivers. It is perfect. Kids come home tired, super dirty and, most of all, completely happy.”
- Locations include McKinney Falls State Park and Bastrop.
- Day-camp and overnight options are available.
- Ages: 3 and a half years old to 16
- Cost: starts at $265 per week.
Be a camp-planning pro
When mapping out your summer plans, be sure to ask for input from the parents of your children’s friends. Carpooling to the same camps can be a lifesaver, and kids often feel less apprehensive about a new camp when they know a friend will be there.
Haley Cihock, assistant news director at KXAN-TV, recommends rallying friends for a summer-camp strategy session.
“We brunch or happy hour and map out a game plan for the summer,” Cihock says. “We all bring a couple of ideas and sketch it out on a big calendar. For me, it’s a big win because I can make sure my only child gets a buddy at camp. For other parents with several children, it helps them juggle rides and pickups. It takes a village.”