From the moment a camper arrives on the Camp Voyageur peninsula, there is something to do. An average day in camp entails activities such as sports on Pine Stadium and on the basketball court, swimming at the dock, crafts such as painting or beadwork in the Craft Shop, and theatrical programming on the Mess Hall stage in the evening. In between all that, there are group meals (more on this below), canoeing and kayaking instruction, musical performances, and other creative opportunities. In fact, camp always makes a point to evolve according to the dynamics of its particular session group. For example, if there are a lot of campers who enjoy writing, camp will make a point to incorporate more writing into the programming; if there are a lot of campers who enjoy—or express an interest in—playing the piano, musical lessons and jam sessions will likely be arranged for anyone who wants to join in.
A big part of camp’s programming since its inception has been the belief that campers have different interests. The fun of camp comes in finding ways to make all the eclectic interests part of the camp whole. There is room for quite literally any talent at Voyageur. And if a camper does not have (or is not aware of) any particular interest, the programming is designed to offer a sampling of everything: sports, theater, literature, music, and of course, wilderness adventure.
The foundation of camp is the idea that an individual camper becomes a better global citizen by interacting and contributing to a group. This is layered atop the non-stop action of activities: nearly every activity at Voyageur is done in a group context. At a base level, this means that a camper lives in cabin with half a dozen other campers or travels on the trail as part of a small group. At a larger level, this means that every session’s roster starts to feel cohesive, like a big “camp family.”
But the focus is never solely on a camper simply being part of group. More than that, every camper plays an active part in any given collective. On the trail, this might mean that some campers collect firewood while others prepare the meal. In camp, this might mean that some campers write stage material while others perform it. This dynamic is quite different from the passive roles that many kids must adopt during the rest of the year, sitting quietly in a classroom…part of a group, per se, but not necessarily contributing to it.
Indeed, when most alumni think back on their experiences at Voyageur, the memories of the wilderness scenery and fun activities are inseparable from memories of other campers or staff who were part of it all.
You cannot make a list of reasons to choose Voyageur without specifically citing the wilderness. Camp Voyageur is located just minutes from the entrance of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and just miles from the Canadian border (and Quetico Provincial Park)—some of the most pristine forested landscapes and lakescapes in the entire world. Also within traveling distance from camp are world-famous outdoors destinations like the Superior Hiking Trail and Isle Royale National Park. Camp Voyageur also occasionally offers various trips to parts of Lake Superior (such as the Apostle Islands).
Access to all of these various wild places comes in many forms. Camp Voyageur was started in the 1950s as a canoeing camp—and canoeing is still a big focus. But over the decades Voyageur has also adopted hiking, kayaking, and sailing as potential modes of travel through the backcountry. In recent years, campers have been sent on rock climbing excursions under the supervision of certified guides through the University of Minnesota Duluth.
And while in the backcountry, the recreational activities are endless: fishing, swimming, exploring, photographing…even gourmet campfire cooking. Of course, no prior experience is necessary for backcountry adventure at Voyageur, but even the most experienced campers typically reference “the trail” as one of the chief reasons for returning to camp year after year.
In popular culture, camp food seems to have a negative reputation. To some, the words “camp food” conjures up images of cheap mass-produced slop and flavorless meals. This could not be further from the truth at Camp Voyageur.
Since its inception, Voyageur has made an effort to give its campers meals that are healthy, diverse, and delicious. Erase any preconceived notions of slop and instead think of fresh fruit offered daily, homemade bacon and cheese quiche for breakfast, garden vegetable soup served with fresh dinner rolls (also homemade) for lunch, made-from-scratch pizza offered for dinner (with hand-whipped custard for dessert). Think of homemade donuts as a way to culminate each session, or a banquet meal with real roast beef to celebrate the summer. Think of hamburgers and hotdogs cooked over an open flame at the Fire Circle, or submarine sandwiches stacked high with a variety of meats and cheeses.
And if campers are vegetarians, that is not a problem, as camp meals often include fresh garden salads and other vegetable entrees. Veggie-burgers can be cooked at the Fire Circle too.
Over the years, camp has drawn on some of the top chefs to contribute to its meals…chefs that have been profiled in newspapers and magazines or been experienced restaurateurs. It is not an exaggeration to say that many campers and staff admit that they eat better (and healthier) at camp in the summer than they do at home during the rest of the year. It has always been camp’s maxim that good meals are necessary to fuel the rest of a good, productive day.
In the scheme of things, a summer at Camp Voyageur (or even a single session) is not a long time. A few weeks goes by extremely quickly when the days are active and fun-filled. But the aim of camp has always been—and will always be—to give kids memories and skills in the summer that they can then apply to their lives during the rest of the year: The non-stop action of camp will hopefully inspire them to live each day to its fullest. The experience with group dynamics at camp will be applicable to social situations at school or on sports teams or recreational clubs. The backcountry adventure will give them a knowledge and appreciation of the environment and its fragility. The good food at camp will inform their decisions and preferences about food wherever they go.
When added together, these components foster a skill set and a social foundation that kids can apply to every part of their lives—forever. Also, friendships made at camp tend to be enduring because there is no social fluff—there are no grades, no exclusive cliques, no ageist separations. Camp is inclusive and communal above all else. For those who have been there, it is hard to imagine it being any other way.