Colorado families are no strangers to heading up to the mountains, tent and firewood in tow, to experience the outdoors. But sometimes after a busy workweek, the behind-the-scenes planning and packing that goes into camping can make getting out and enjoying it a challenge. If you love camping with the family but have trouble actually making it happen, family camp might be for you.
Last summer, for the first time, my family got to experience Camp Chief Ouray Family Camp at YMCA of the Rockies. If you’d like to venture to Fraser and try it out like we did, here’s what you can expect.
My husband, nine-year-old daughter, five-year-old son and I spent the weekend with more than 60 people—moms, dads, grandparents, and children ranging from babies to tweens. The group ate all meals together at cafeteria-style tables, alongside a friendly staff of young adult counselors. The same counselors and at least some members of the group were with us for different activities.
I loved that when my son got frustrated during archery, another mom jumped in to help him. There’s always another child around with whom your kids can kick a ball or fly a kite or an adult with whom you can visit. But lovers of solitude, don’t despair: The vast YMCA of the Rockies property makes it just as easy to go off on your own for long periods of time.
When we arrived, we received a printed schedule for our three-day weekend, with meal times and activity options for different time slots. Built into the schedule, though, was a lot of flexibility. For example, the first day’s morning activities, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., included tie-dying, archery, climbing-wall time, a hike, and cartoon drawing lessons. You could commit to one activity or check out several.
My husband and I would sometimes split up and take children in different directions. This worked great when my daughter wanted to participate in a make-your-own-earrings craft (one of the highlights for her), while my son wanted to hunt for sticks and rocks. Families not interested in the suggested activities could easily hike on their own or play board games in the common area. Certain activities, like canoeing and zip lining, required sign up, which was easy to do at every meal.
THERE ARE TRADITIONAL CAMP RITUALS
Anyone who went to sleepaway camp as a child is probably familiar with such things as singing and chanting at mealtimes, evening campfire gatherings, skits, and flag raising ceremonies. Camp Chief Ouray included these and many more, making it nostalgic for many of the families who come every year. For my husband who didn’t go to camp, these unknown rituals were a little uncomfortable. My suggestion for the non-chanting-types: Just sit back and watch. No one will make you stand in the spotlight, and you’ll probably find yourself laughing at the antics of others. (My husband would not have previously found humor in a skit about cooking beans—but he did. Camp spirit is truly contagious.)
YOU DON’T HAVE TO COOK
Cooking your own meals over a fire is usually a big part of camping, but at family camp, all you have to do is show up. This allows you much more time for activities as a family. Camp counselors prepare the meals, and there are always a wide variety of choices if your kids don’t like the main course. I was pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of milk choices for my lactose intolerant son, in addition to gluten-free and vegetarian options for other campers.
YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN OFF-SITE ACTIVITIES
Camp Chief Ouray is part of Snow Mountain Ranch, so families are encouraged to take advantage of all the property has to offer. My family got to play mini golf, go fishing at the reservoir, swim at the indoor pool and—the highlight for everyone—slide on the summer tubing hill.
THERE ARE OPTIONS FOR LODGING
Most family campers chose to stay in the “rustic” cabins, which have electricity but no heat or running water, near a centrally located bathhouse. A few cabins, reserved for those with special needs, have bathrooms inside.
For an additional cost, you can reserve a hotel-style room, complete with beds, linens, a bathroom, and wireless Internet. Several repeat campers told me you really need to stay in a rustic cabin to get the complete experience. However, the hotel rooms are great for families with very young babies or grandparents or just for those who don’t like to rough it.
THERE IS A LOT OF PLAY TIME
When I was a girl attending camp, a big portion of our day was spent completing camp chores. Not so at Camp Chief Ouray. The camp staff works really hard to make sure you have lots of quality time to play with your family. They ensure that whether you are a long-time camper or a newbie, you’ll leave having laughed and made tons of new memories.
Lydia Rueger is an Arvada-based freelance writer and mother of two.
More Colorado Family Camps
SKY RANCH FAMILY CAMP
Ute Trail. June though Aug., one week sessions.
CHELEY FAMILY SUMMER CAMP
Estes Park area. Aug., five-day session.
HORN CREEK CAMP
Westcliffe. Jan. through Dec., five- or six-day sessions.
CAMP SHADY BROOK
BEAR TRAP RANCH FAMILY CAMP
Colorado Springs. June.
Fraser, Estes Park, Denver, Golden. Mid-June through early Sept., three-day sessions.