Picture this: a weeklong vacation that takes you straight back to childhood. No, not the part fraught with angst and awkwardness, but the carefree blissed-out days of youth devoid of responsibility and tinged with the nostalgic scent of bonfire baked into your jeans. This is adult summer camp, a growing travel trend that lets grown-ups relive the life-changing experiences that only camp can offer — but with craft cocktails in place of Kool-Aid.
We know what you’re thinking. Sure, camp was fun, but I’m more of a Frette-linens-and-sommelier-curated-wine-list kind of person these days. Fear not. The adult version of this summer holiday manages to seamlessly marry the breezy back-in-the-day tomfoolery with a hefty dose of high-end amenities. But you can forget Europe for such a sojourn and instead set your sights on Wisconsin, a hotbed for adult summer camps.
Once a prohibition speakeasy for thirsty Chicagoans, Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn looks like something out of a Ralph Lauren ad campaign. Owners David Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt have used their design chops to renovate his beloved childhood destination.
Here, mornings begin with a wake-up bugle call — or Johnny Cash over the scratchy PA system — beckoning well-rested guests over to the canteen for coffee and pastries. Afternoons are for activities like shuffleboard, tennis, basketball, volleyball, canoeing, hiking, archery or perhaps hatchet throwing. Leisure seekers, meanwhile, can fill their thermos with chardonnay and hit the craft cabin for some pottery or weaving.
Self-care is big at camp and takes many forms, from meditation to high-end wine tastings to deep conversations around the fire. Evenings at Wandawega commence at dusk for s’mores by the bonfire or beers on the beach. Dinner is taken in the high-end dining hall, then camp goers cap off the evening with a night hike or stargazing workshop.
Sleepaway camp traditionally folds into a poignant time in our lives, when we’re discovering ourselves, testing the limits and enjoying a newfound sense of freedom. The adult version acts as a time machine back to that age, before we started whittling away our time on Zoom meetings and social media feeds. For writer Tracy Block, her first adult camper experience provided a much-needed departure from the daily grind: “It was a wonderful distraction from the stressors and hustle I face behind the computer every day,” she explains. “Being unplugged, outside and in nature was a great respite for me.”
Sure enough, busting out of our tired grown-up routines and ruts is a common theme. Campowerment, which hosts retreats in Ojai, California, and the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, challenges guests to embrace their identity outside of their occupation. The chichi camp appeals to powerful women with luxury digs and curated offerings — think private hotel-style rooms, yoga classes, leadership sessions and wine-drenched happy hours. But perhaps the biggest attraction is one of its cardinal rules: For the first 24 hours, you can’t tell anyone what you do for a living.
It sounds trite, but life-changing experiences — and relationships — aren’t relegated to childhood. “Some of my best memories are from when I was a camper, so why stop making those memories when you’re old enough to have some real fun?” asks Drew Griswold, director of Camp Halcyon, an adults-only summer camp in Wautoma, Wisconsin. He explains that guests range in age from 21 to 71 and include both groups and solo attendees, adding, “And just like at kids’ summer camp, they always leave with a new best friend.”
Yes, as the endless social media memes tell us, adulting is hard (see: working, parenting, aging, having it all, etc.). But luckily for us, there is an escape. At adult summer camp, you can turn back time to your most magical moments — even if just for a long weekend.