A look into some unique summer camps in Boulder County
By Matt Maenpaa
When school lets out for the summer, kids of all ages heave a collective sigh of relief. A couple months of summer sun, splashing in pools and a reprieve from homework are the foundation of so many childhood memories. Parents, meanwhile, may sound an exasperated sigh and pull their hair at the thought of their wonderful children aimless and underfoot all summer.
Fear not, Boulder Magazine has you covered. We sought out just a handful of the coolest camps in the county, from arts and fashion to sports, science and the wild outdoors. With these half dozen camps, there is something for every kid, of any age. Some last all summer, some just a few weeks, but all are guaranteed to be amazing.
Slay the Runway, Fashion Design for Youth 12–18, Longmont & Boulder
Now in its fourth year, Slay the Runway is a collaborative program supported by CU Boulder and the Firehouse Art Center in Longmont, where 20 teens have the opportunity to learn sewing, construction and design to fashion their own identities. Slay focuses on LGBTQ+ youth, giving them space to explore identity and appearance in a two-week camp that culminates in a runway showcase for their friends and family.
“Slay the Runway cultivates self-expression and community connection for all youth, by providing an affirming and inclusive design space,” says Elaine Waterman, one of the program leads and executive director of the Firehouse Art Center.
Alongside co-lead Steven Frost, a Media Studies professor at CU Boulder and award-winning textile artist, and LeeLee James, Denver’s Twirling Tech Goddess, Slay is open to youth ages 12 to 18. Spaces are limited for this two-week intensive, with only 20 slots open.
Thanks to support from the Boulder Public Library, Community Foundation Boulder County, OASOS, CU’s Atlas Institute and other donors, Slay the Runway is fully funded and offered at no cost to participants or their parents.
Slay the Runway is open to sign-up now, while the camp will run from June 18–28, 2024.
For more information, visit firehouseart.org/slay-the-runway or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CU Science Discovery, STEM Camps for Grades K-12, CU Boulder Campus
With a wide variety of creative, hands-on STEM offerings, CU Science Discovery’s camps and high school classes make opportunities for higher learning accessible well before the Freshman experience. All classes and camps are taught by CU faculty, graduate and undergraduate scientists and engineers across many disciplines, according to program director Stacey Forsyth.
“Our STEM camps and high school classes inspire creativity and curiosity while allowing students to explore current STEM topics in a safe setting,” Forsyth says.
Programs run the gamut: From the ABCs of DNA, aerospace and astronaut, animation and video game design, there is sure to be a camp just perfect for your kid. High school and middle school students even have opportunities to study medicine with doctors and nurses at the CU Anschutz campus with Science Discovery’s Med School Experience.
Kids can spend their summer learning to play Quidditch in the Science of Harry Potter, plan a mission to Mars in Minecraft or even work on a mini golf course utilizing robotics with Boulder tech company Sphero. The possibilities with CU’s STEM camps are truly endless.
For more information, including camp lists, FAQs and a parent handbook, visit colorado.edu/sciencediscovery.
Got Game, Sports and Athletics for ages 5-13, Louisville & Erie
Originally founded in 2004 in Philadelphia by Coach Korey Kalman, Got Game expanded to Los Angeles and now Colorado. The camps are hosted at Louisville Elementary School and Aspen Ridge Prep School, offering up athletics and traditional team sports alongside creativity and sciences.
Youth get to curate their summer camp experience at Got Game, Kalman says, and it welcomes every kid, meeting them where they are.
“I think what makes our program really unique and special is that it’s geared toward all types of kids,” Kalman says. “We don’t care about how ‘good’ or ‘fast’ or how ‘anything’ a child is, we just care that they have a good attitude and show effort.”
Kalman and his dedicated staff help the kids learn how to win and lose while being kind humans and good friends, he adds. “We’re really passionate about what we do at camp, and it’s always so amazing to watch the confidence grow in our campers in such a short time.”
Spaces with Got Game fill up fast, but the schedule is flexible—parents can sign their kids up for one day, one week or the whole summer, whatever works best for them. Early bird specials are on offer through March and the program also offers a discount for siblings.
For more information, visit gotgamecamp.com.
Living Arts Camp, Youth-Oriented Folk School for ages 6-12, Boulder & Conifer
Now in its 10th year, the Living Arts Summer Camp is rooted in the folk school traditions of the past, where people can learn crafts and explore creativity in a natural environment like Boulder County’s splendid Front Range forests.
Program Director Elizabeth Baker calls it one of the county’s most curious and unique camps.
“[Living Arts] is a celebration of imagination and creativity, our campers are invited to step into mystical and magical worlds—full of forest creatures, fairies, folklore, feasts and even Bigfoot,” Baker says. “A dual folk arts/crafts and nature immersion curriculum allows us to weave our exploration of nature with fun making and doing.”
The invitingly named StarHouse in Boulder hosts weekly camps with varying themes, from building tiny homes and gardens for fairies to larger forts for clever children, working lessons on folklore, history, herbalism and cartography to engage and enrich the next generation of explorers and magicians.
The camp is hosted in the Foothills Community Park, near the Boulder Valley Waldorf School, where kids have supervised access to 65 acres of fields and trees to find creativity and wonder. Camps are scheduled weekly, beginning at the end of May and running through early August.
“We invite all curious children to join us in the woods at the StarHouse this summer, to build forts, carve magic wands and discover animal tracks and habitats,” Baker says.
For more information, visit livingartsschool.com.
Thorne Nature Experience, Environmental Stewardship and Exploration for ages 5-15, Boulder, Lafayette & Longmont
Founded in 1954 by Dr. Oakleigh Thorne II, the Thorne Nature Experience leads kids through hands-on environmental education, helping them build an emotional connection to nature and the place they live.
“In our 60-plus years of running camps, we see every summer that kids grow better in nature,” says Thorne’s marketing manager, Carrie Riesberg. “Thorne camps focus on outdoor exploration, survival skills, nature art, local flora and fauna and so much more.”
Immersing youth in the outdoors not only gives them plenty of fun in the sun over the summer, but encourages campers to follow their passions, build confidence and truly connect with nature, Riesberg adds.
New this year is a Longmont location, opening more possibilities and places for campers to explore. With a focus on inclusivity and providing access to nature programs for all youth in the county, Riesberg highlighted the scholarships available.
“Every summer we offer more than $300,000 in camp scholarships for low- to middle-income families to help ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in a Thorne summer camp.”
Thorne programs start at the end of May and operate through mid-August, with both standard sessions and opportunities for extended care for parents with busy schedules.
For more information, visit thornenature.org.
Colorado Mountain Ranch, Outdoor Adventure and Equestrian experiences for Grades 1-12, Gold Hill
At the Colorado Mountain Ranch, campers foray up to 8,500 ft, outside the historic town of Gold Hill, where they can learn archery, mountaineering and horseback riding in an idyllic mountain setting that dates back to 1924. Each week-long session can vary, giving youths tremendous experiences not found anywhere else in Boulder.
“The Colorado Mountain Ranch is Boulder’s original summer day camp,” says program manager Jojo Morrison. “We’ve been family owned and operated for over 75 years, offering kids the opportunity to escape to the mountains and have fun in nature.”
The Ranch offers mountain boarding, terrain parks and tree courses led by a dedicated team of counselors and instructors that all live on site throughout the camp season. Able to curate their experiences week by week, campers can choose between a rounded Explorer program, Mountaineers that focus on outdoor living and survival skills, while Western Riders will spend most of their time with animals, learning to both ride and care for them.
Programs at the ranch begin June 3 and end August 11. For parents concerned about making the trek up to Gold Hill twice a day, fret not. The Ranch provides pickup and drop off in Boulder every day.
For more information, visit coloradomountainranch.com.