A Guide to Summer Camps at and Near the Grand Canyon


When I was growing up I lived in the rural Midwest for most of my life. My parents were great people, but they didn’t have a lot of money and neither one of them had an opportunity to travel much. They gave me a few incredible gifts.

A Love and Appreciation for Nature
Of all the values they instilled in me, they worked to shape my worldview when it comes to respect for living things, the environment and a love for the natural sciences. They gardened, canning and freezing more than half the food we ate each year. My dad came from a family business background in plants and trees. I don’t remember a day from spring to fall each year that my dad was not working with plants. They also taught me to respect animals. I was raised to work with nature not against it.

A Thirst for Knowledge and Experience
My parents instilled a passion for learning in me. This was an active choice. They wanted me to experience new things whenever I could. My childhood gifts were learning toys, microscopes, field guides, chemistry sets, sketch books, journals and books. And when I was old enough to start doing more things without them, they never held me back.

Why are summer camps so important for kids?

summercamp-innerenvironmentmemeA friend of mine, who was from a wealthier family than most of my classmates, spent summers at Harvard, Yale, Amherst, and Johns Hopkins.  She rocked out one academic camp after another. I remember finally confessing to her one day how envious I was of all of her opportunities. My parents would never have the money to send me to something like that. Then she informed me that there were several opportunities for financial help for camps like this, and that while my parents may not be able to ship me off to Harvard, that there were several places I could go that were closer to home.

The following summer I spent a week at a university 5 hours away from my hometown.  It was a biomedical camp. I was scared to death. My heart was racing when my parents pulled away. I stayed in a dorm room with three others who seemed to be so much more comfortable than me. They had more money than I did. They seemed more confident. Within 24 hours I had made new friends.  It was an amazing experience. We worked in science labs used by university students and faculty. We took a day trip to state park and hiked for hours while our guide filled us in on his research.  We walked through small waterfalls and climbed rocks and made our way through trails. I came back a different person. More confident. More alive. Aware that there was a whole world outside of my small town.

Diversity. I was a white kid in a mostly white, lower to middle class, school where most were of Christian faith. I met kids from all over the country, from various backgrounds. It was awesome and helped shape the person I am.

Social Skills. I was an introvert, a bit of an outcast academic. But at camp I was there with kids who were interested in the same things. I gained confidence in getting to know other people. I learned how to collaborate with others on a common goal.

grandcanyon-summercamp-flowersConnecting with Nature. Even though we spent a lot of time in labs, taking notes on college level lectures, and working with equipment, we also had a careful balance of outdoor experiences. It was invigorating.

Independence. This wasn’t my first camp experience. But it was my first time being the only one from my hometown. Being away from my parents, any friends from school, any other family members was scary at first. But I grew a lot in a short period of time. I conquered some anxieties and fears. I gained independence.

Academic Edge. These experiences, whether they are heavily focused on academics or outdoor living, will give a kid an academic edge. These camps help boost a drive for learning. In my case I also gained a great deal of knowledge in the natural sciences that appealed to me. I went back to school more determined than ever to really learn the material in my science classes and not just muddle through. Trust me, it didn’t hurt the college application either.

Summer camps at the Grand Canyon

grandcanyon-summercamps-hikingSo if you are convinced this may be a good time to plan a trip for your child, you may have a few questions about it. How old should my child be before I send her off to a camp on her own?  How much do these camps cost?  Is there financial assistance? How do I sign up? We worked hard to try and cover some of the basics here. Be sure to check out the wrap up at the end of this list and start planning a gift of opportunity.

The camps and programs

Grand Canyon Youth – Partners in Science (Individual)
What: A 9-10 day trip through rafting the Colorado River and hiking the canyon. Youth collect data with scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Who: Ages 15-19 and limited to 12 participants per trip
When: Trips are scheduled now for four different time slots from mid June until the end of July. Dates fill up fast so request the program info now.
Cost: $890- $990 and financial aid is available
For more info visit site
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Grand Canyon Youth – The Colorado River through Grand Canyon (Group Trip)
What: Youth spend 4+ days on the Colorado River on oar powered rafts and hiking in the canyon. This program also includes a unique service learning experience working along scientists.
Who: This experience is customized and the program works with groups from schools, non-profits, churches, at risk youth etc.
When: Custom programs available March through May. Be sure to contact prior to the September scheduling time for the following year.
Where: Depart and return to Flagstaff, Arizona.
Cost: Varies due to customized group planning ; financial aid available
For more info visit site
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Grand Canyon in Focus
grandcanyon-summercamps-photographyWhat: A 5-6 day program focusing on photography skills, basic outdoor skills, hiking, learning about nature and careers in conservation
Who: Ages 12 to 14 (grades 6-8). This program is for Arizona members of the Tuscon Boys & Girls Club
When: Annual, summer
Cost: Free to participants
For more info visit site
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Grand Canyon Expeditions – Indian Garden
What: A 6 day introductory backpacking trip for youth exploring South Rim, the Bright Angel Trail and camping at Indian Garden. Campers explore geology, ecology and the human history of the region. All backpacking gear and meals are included.
Who: Ages 12-14.  Good physical condition is required for this experience. Learn more about preparing .
When: Registration begins Feb 1st, 2016 for Expeditions 1 (July 5-11), 2 (August 4-10) and 3 (Aug 11-17)
Where: Your child is picked up in Flagstaff in the afternoon of the departure date for your program
Cost: 175$
For more info visit site
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Grand Canyon 15 – Bold Earth Teen Adventures
What: This 15 day summer leadership adventure kicks off near Zion National Park, involves rock climbing, water hikes, a community service project on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a hike into Havasu Canyon, and swimming and hiking to the Colorado River.
Who: This is for motivated and well adjusted teens age 14- 18.
When: Dates available for 2016 run in three sections from June 30 – August 15
Where: Campers are met on arrival at the Las Vegas Airport and head to first campsite in Utah.
Cost: $3,088 Financial aid and scholarship availability contact Bold Earth for more information
For more info visit site
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The Ute Route – American Wanderer Summer Camp
What: A two week session exploring 8 parks where your child stays in a “rolling cabin” so they enjoy the comforts of dining, sleeping and resting out of an rv. This trip explores the North Rim, Grand Canyon NP, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands.
Who: Kids ages 11-17
When: The Ute Route is Session II for 2016 and runs from July 5 – July 18
Cost: $1500 per week. Financial aid and scholarship availability
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Crow Canyon Middle and High School Archaeology Camps
What: These camps give kids an opportunity to work hands on along side of archaeologists in the field and lab in exploring the ancestral Pueblo Indians of the Mesa Verde area. 40 miles northeast of the Four Corners, this Colorado camp is ranked as one of the “10 best adventure camps for kids” by USA Today.
Who: Both middle school and high school camps available
When: Middle school June 19-25 and High school July 17- 23 2016
Cost: $1500 for members and $1625 for non-members.  Scholarships available
For more info visit site
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America’s Southwest Expedition – National Geographic Student Expeditions
What: This 14 day exploration of the National Parks takes participants through Zion, Grand Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands. Students will hike, mountain bike, raft, and camp. The student chooses to complete an on assignment project connected with photography or film and video.
Who: Motivated and mature students completing 9-12 grade; Applications are reviewed carefully
When: June 27 – July 10, or July 3 – July 16, 2016 Where: Day 1 orientation begins in Las Vegas and moves on from there
Cost: $5990; scholarships awarded annually
For more info visit site
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Utah, North America Unleashed – The Road Less Traveled
Note: There’s something special about the approach of The Road Less Traveled
What: A choice of two 15 day sessions for middle schoolers where they have the opportunity to experience outdoor adventures and and work in community service. Explore Lake Mead, volunteer in the Best Friends sanctuary- a refuge to 2000 homeless animals, explore wildlife, hike near the Colorado, explore Zion, Bryce, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, The International Dark-Sky Park, the Grand Canyon, and more. Hiking, swimming, and ziplining.
Who: Students completing grades 6 to 8
When: Limited Availability for June 25- July 9 and Available for July 12- 26, 2016
Where: Depart from Las Vegas, Nevada
Cost: $3995.
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A few more things to consider…

We listed a few opportunities here but be sure to check out the Grand Canyon Field Schools for your young artists and citizen scientists.  These programs from the Grand Canyon National Park’s educational arm or remarkably affordable.

Don’t count out a Grand Canyon adventure for your child if you live across the country. Going someplace completely new and different is part of the magic, and it may give you an opportunity to have your own vacation experience in the area if you want.

If you have a troubled or depressed teen in your life you may want to check out a few of these options and others like them:

Deva Healing Center

Open Sky Wilderness Therapy

Remember that in addition to scholarships, grants and financial aid opportunities through the individual programs, you can also help your child fund themselves locally.  Fundraising for a travel opportunity is a good experience for young people.  And if they work hard to get there, it will make the experience that much sweeter.

What other camp and program opportunities are near the Grand Canyon National Park and surrounding National Parks?  Tell us about your own program or personal experience as a camper or parent in the comments section.