Before dawn even breaks, a troop of kids can often be found in a 13-foot Boston Whaler, out on glassy Medomak Lake, fishing for white perch and trout. Soon, other intrepid guests at Medomak Family Camp will shed their bathrobes in piles by the shore's edge to strike out on the half-mile swim to a small, rocky island, accompanied by a lifeguard quietly paddling a kayak. More sensible campers at this idyllic 260-acre spot in Washington, Maine, spend the early-morning hours in their pine cabins (each of the 12 has hot and cold running water, queen and twin beds, a writing table, a rocking chair, and its own name—such as Big Dipper or Little Dipper).
Founded in 1902 as a boys' camp designed to teach city kids to appreciate the wilderness, Medomak turned coed in the sixties. After a church purchased it in the early eighties, the property fell into disrepair. When Holly Stone, who'd been a camper here, heard it was on the market again, she put in a last-minute bid and bought the place. Stone restored what she could of the original buildings and constructed new cabins, transforming Medomak into one of the country's few camps that welcome families all summer long (see sidebar for others).
Each of the one-week sessions (eight in all) hosts about 50 campers of all ages—some from as far away as England and Bolivia. It's not unusual for those who were Medomak campers 30 or 40 years ago to find themselves back, joining in as their children learn to build a lean-to and collect firewood (birch bark is best, but it should never be pulled from a live tree).
Stone insists that Medomak "truly is a camp, not a resort." You bring your own linens, blankets, and towels, and everyone helps bus dishes. Most meals are served in the farmhouse dining hall, where each of the round tables seats 10 and is piled with an abundance of local fare—vegetables and edible flowers from the camp garden, goat cheese from a nearby farm, lobster from the coast, and, depending on camper skill and fortune, the occasional fish from the lake. One evening in the barn children might sample Maine root beer while the adults taste 14 beers from Maine microbreweries. Medomak offers arts and crafts—mask-making, tie-dyeing, whittling, photography, printmaking—as well as plenty of games and sports, including baseball, basketball, tennis, and archery. There are also talks by local astronomers ("What Is a Meteor?" was especially popular during the Perseid meteor shower).
And the camp has a summer book club. Last year kids raced through the 1978 adventure Lost on a Mountain in Maine; adults selected The Secret Life of Lobsters. The casual book discussions—afternoons spent lakeside, chairs pulled into a lopsided circle—are always held at the end of the week, to give campers time to attend to their reading. But with acres of wild blueberries to pick, Sunfish to sail, soapstone to carve, and canoes to paddle, anyone who actually finishes the book is considered something of a hero.
MEDOMAK FAMILY CAMP, 178 Liberty Rd., Washington, Maine; 866/633-6625; www.medomakcamp.com; weeklong sessions June 25August 19; adults $850, children 2 to 4 $400, children 5 to 12 $750, including all meals and activities.
Four more places where clans can be happy campers
Owned and operated by the city of San Francisco, Camp Mather is 180 miles east of the Bay
Area, and 15 miles from Yosemite. Nearby gold-rush towns include Angels Camp, home of Mark
Twain's famous Calaveras County frog-jumping contest.
Activities Swimming in Birch Lake, mountain biking and hiking on trails in the High Sierra, and kids-only horseback-riding trips. There's a huge tie-dye party and a jam session for tots every week. Plus: Bingo, campfires, and s'mores.
Accommodations Ninety-five cabins for two to six people, with electricity but no bathrooms—think communal washhouse. Twenty tent sites are also available.
Dates June 10August 12, plus two long weekends in September.
Rates $1,350 per week for a San Francisco family of four, $1,480 for nonresidents. 415/831-2715; www.sfgov.org.
Year after year, the same families have been coming to this 115-acre camp that dates to 1897.
Especially popular: the Monday-night capture the flag game, the 5K run/walk on Thursdays,
and the big square dance on Fridays.
Activities Hiking, softball, tennis, boating—and daily organized events such as "wacky" canoe races. Supervised playgroup for three- to five-year-olds. Teen boat trips and rock climbing.
Accommodations Sixty cottages and two lodges overlooking Big Squam Lake, where On Golden Pond was filmed. Each cottage has a private dock, screened-in porch, and vintage icebox—ice harvested from the lake over the winter is delivered daily.
Dates June 2September 15.
Rates $4,285 per week for a cottage that sleeps four.603/968-3313; www.rdcsquam.com.
No coercion here—parents can spend their days reading and napping while the kids head
off on a supervised hike or just go jump in the lake.
Activities Swimming and windsurfing at Indian Lake, hiking hundreds of trails. Plus, the usual camp suspects: canoeing, sailing, tennis, horseback riding, and archery.
Accommodations Cabins, many with private bathrooms, none with electricity.
Dates June 24September 18.
Rates Adults $172 per day, $1,029 per week for a cabin with bathroom; children $76$128 per day, $454$770 per week.518/648-5494; www.timberlock.com.
YMCA Camp du Nord
A year-round schedule of programs includes bird-watching, dogsledding, and cross-country
Activities Canoeing, sailing, kayaking, and fishing on Burntside Lake, plus cookouts, campfires, and a talent show.
Accommodations Seven cabins built in 2000 have full kitchens and indoor bathrooms; 24 older units range from one-room hand- hewn log cabins with wood-burning stoves to lodges that sleep 16. There are also platform tents and pitch- your-own tent sites.
Dates June 17September 2.
Rates From $395 per week for a tent site to $2,995 for a lodge that sleeps 14.651/645-6605; www.dunord.org.
Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp
Stanislaus National Forest, California
Located just outside Yosemite National Park and operated by the city of Berkeley since 1922, the camp is open to all comers, though Berkeley residents get reduced rates and a first crack at reservations.
Activities: Volleyball, basketball, badminton, horseshoes, Ping-Pong, archery, hiking, swimming, fishing, and arts and crafts.
Accommodations: 78 platform tents with decks; communal bathhouses.
Dates: June 24-August 27
Rates: Nonresident rate for adults $86 per night, kids 11 to 15 $62, seven to 10 $57, two to six $44; 510/981-5140; www.berkeleycamps.com.
Montecito-Sequoia Summer Family Camp
Giant Sequoia National Forest, 65 miles east of Fresno, CA
While kids join daylong programs (for two- to six-year-olds, seven- to 17-year-olds, and 18-plus), parents attend their own adult camp. But all offerings are optional: there are no forced marches. Activities: Horseback riding both English and Western f is the main draw, with 20 horses, two riding arenas, and several trails, one of which leads to the Great Divide. There's also waterskiing, canoeing, paddleboating, sailing, fishing, swimming, riflery, archery, tennis, rock climbing, mountain biking, and arts and crafts (for adults, too).
Accommodations: 13 lake- or mountain-view cabins that sleep three to eight, plus 36 lodge rooms. Note that lodge rooms have private bathrooms; cabins don't.
Dates: June 19-September 4
Rates: Adults from $545 for four nights, teens $515, children two to 12 $475, infants $75; 510/981-5140; www.berkeleycamps.com.
Built in 1894, Quimby was a men's fishing camp before becoming a family resort. When it was put up for sale in 1965, guests banded together to buy it, thus preserving such traditions as the Friday-night lobster cookout on the lake.
Activities: Tennis, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, fishing, kayaking, square dancing, and talent shows. Supervised activities such as hikes, softball, and volleyball. Weekly sleepovers for kids.
Accommodations: 20 cottages border Forest Lake; each has a woodstove and a rocking chair equipped porch.
Rates: Adults $169 per night, kids nine to 16 $108, three to eight $80 during the peak summer season, July 9-August 26; 802/822-5533; www.quimbycountry.com.