A Voyageur's Odyssey

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The journey of a child at summer camp in Minnesota is a transformative experience that evolves as kids age. The progression–from the bright-eyed 10-year-olds, eager for their longest sleepaway adventure, to the seasoned 18-year-olds contemplating roles as Voyageur counselors-in-training (CITs)–is underlined by a narrative of growth, camaraderie, and self-discovery. Over my last 9 years working at Camp, I’ve noted distinct tendencies and developing interests that depict each age group’s experience to better help parents, kids, and staff prepare for the overnight summer camp experience at Camp Voyageur.

Summer Camp for 10-12 Year Olds

10-year-olds at summer camp are typically enthusiastic and anxious to embark on their first long sleepaway adventure. They make friends quickly which helps them get through occasional bouts of homesickness. They enjoy learning tripping fundamentals like paddling and fire building, but most young campers prefer in-camp activities over physically demanding wilderness trips. They love to play sports and their favorite camp activities are usually swimming, gaga ball, crafts, evening programs, and large activities like Clue and Klondike. Counselors find them very coachable.

11-year-olds typically have a preference for in-camp activities but also enjoy exploring islands, campsites, and rocks on wilderness camping trips. They particularly delight in being part of fun evening programs and engaging activities like basketball, soccer, and capture the flag. Returners are eager to share their knowledge of Voyageur’s routines and assist new campers when acclimating to the camp routine.

Summer camps for 12-year-olds usher in a group eager to prove themselves. They enjoy both in-camp and wilderness travel, forming strong friendships on the longer trips. They typically seek to reach recognized goals, like writing for the Camp newspaper and earning their name on a plaque for catching the biggest fish or swimming to nearby islands. Even at 12, some may learn to carry and stern canoes, though physical size limits them. Some bring a favorite book series to enjoy in their cabin or hammock. They discover the magic of rushing between the sauna and the cool waters of Farm Lake. By age 12 or 13, kids are usually strong enough to embark on their first hiking trips, expanding their outdoor experiences.

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Summer Camp for Teens

As teens, most campers readily embrace the challenge of summer wilderness travel. For veteran campers, reaching age 14 means they might embark on Advanced Trips, beginning with the 10-day paddle to Grand Portage. They become interested in keenly observing the natural world, often reading the works of naturalists like Sigurd Olson. They relish sharing trip stories in the sauna, recounting their heroic tales of wilderness adventures. 13-year-olds at Camp become increasingly focused on their personal gear, honing their packing system, and often debate which brand is best. Teens at summer camp commonly begin weight lifting and building muscle.

14-year-olds at Camp Voyageur relish trips with their friends. Veteran campers request 10-day Advanced Trips to destinations such as Isle Royale, the Quetico Provincial Park, and kayaking the Apostle Islands. At Voyageur base camp, they play pickleball every chance they can, followed by sitting in the sauna and swimming with their buddies. During rest periods, some begin to actually nap and enjoy the downtime. After camp, they return home in great shape and with a refreshed outlook, eager to share their camp experiences with friends and family.

15-year-olds at Camp seek challenging trips that test their mettle. Some aspire to become leaders both on trips and within the camp community. They may step up to become Bushwhackers at Voyageur, taking on the responsibilities of carrying and sterning a canoe, and Big Men by assisting counselors in leading trips, navigating, and cooking meals over a fire. This age group often undergoes significant personal transformations, like packing on muscle. Veterans have their eyes on trip destinations and want to spend as much time with their friends as possible.

Summer Camps for 16-18 Year Olds

At 16 years old, campers want to test their fortitude on the athletic fields, hang out with their friends, assist counselors in leading camp activities and trips, and simply enjoy time at “their second home at camp.” 16-18 year olds need a lot of sleep so they have a strong affinity for napping and actually relaxing during rest periods. At this age, boys enjoy the company of the adults in camp and volunteer to help without being prompted. They are comfortable in the camp setting and appreciate the Camp culture. Some take the role of assisting counselors in leading trips. Trips of choice include kayaking the Apostle Islands and exploring the vast Quetico wilderness.

17-year-olds take on formal leadership roles in camp and on the trail, including positions on the Kitchen Crew (K-Crew) and becoming a Big Man. While some seek more of our camp experience, others want to adventure out further on big trips to places like the Quetico Provincial Park in Canada or paddling from International Falls to Lake Superior and eventually taking an Expedition in Canada or the Rockies with Camp friends. They need time to relax in their cabins, play sports, pickleball, and chat with adults. They may help out in the kitchen though they need a little prodding to ensure they clean up for daily cabin inspections.

18-year-olds may consider working as Voyageur CITs if they’ve graduated from high school. They have a desire to give back to Camp by helping in the kitchen, Trip Hut, or leading evening programs. They enjoy leadership opportunities, responsibility, and leading campers in games and activities. They appreciate the freedom of being unplugged at Camp, especially on wilderness trips and during rest periods, to contemplate what to do with the rest of their lives.

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Over 70% of campers return each year to Camp Voyageur, so I’ve worked at Camp long enough to witness the journey of many kids from when they first move into cabin one, to when they step up to serve Camp as CITs and counselors. Their commonalities reveal a pattern of personal growth, strong friendships, and lifelong memories. There is no better place for a boy to spend their summer than at Camp Voyageur.

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