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Overnight camp 2021: How’s it going to work?

Camp will be about the same, but with a lot more masking.

Summer is on the horizon, and families are deciding whether or not to send their kids to overnight camps.

Vaccinations are becoming more widespread for adults, and will soon be available for ages 16 and up. However, kids under 16 will remain unvaccinated, at least for most of the summer. 

Check the Seattle’s Child Summer Camps Directory to find overnight camps in Washington 

Kids are certainly ready to get outdoors with other kids, and local summer overnight camps are gearing up for an active season. We decided to investigate how things will go this year at two popular overnight camps: Hidden Valley Camp near Granite Falls and the YMCA’s Camp Orkila on Orcas Island. Neither of them ran traditional overnight summer camp sessions for kids in 2020. 

At Hidden Valley Camp, director Todd McKinlay says it’s hard to predict how things will be by summer: “Will things look different? Yes. But we can do things differently and still have camp feel like camp.”

He adds, “We already follow a lot of the guidelines that will need to be in place, such as outdoor dining, activities done in small groups, cohorts, etc.”

He thinks the biggest difference may be that everyone will be required to wear a mask. “But, we have all gotten used to this over the past year,” he says.  

At both camps, kids will be staying within cohort groups for activities, eating and sleeping.

“Facial coverings are required to be worn at all times by all staff and campers, and anyone else present at the camp, except for when eating, drinking, brushing teeth, or sleeping,” says Haley Cruz Winchell, senior program director of education and family programs at Camp Orkila.

 Both camps will be run fully masked and at lower than normal capacity this year, to be aligned with the rules for phase 3 of the COVID recovery plan. 

“We’ll be doing many of the same activities as most of our camp is outdoors,” says Winchell of Camp Orkila, where kids will also be staying in small groups and avoiding large gatherings.


McKinlay says that sleeping arrangements at the overnight camp will remain the same as usual, since there will be lower numbers of kids at the camp, ensuring distancing.

And Winchell points out that sleeping is the only extended indoor activity that will be taking place, and that campers will be arranged head to toe with at least 6 feet of distance. 


Eating won’t be too different at Hidden Valley, since kids have already traditionally eaten at a covered outdoor dining hall. Kids will eat with their cohort groups. 

“We will probably need to eat in shifts,” notes McKinlay.

“We’ll be serving hot meals in a to-go style,” says Winchell.  “A representative from each cabin will come pick up food and bring it back to their cabin area, where they will eat outdoors.”

She adds that if the weather gets too bad to eat outside, the groups will move indoors and the eating facilities will be limited to 50 percent capacity with distancing between kids from different cabins — with a lot of ventilation.  

Camp activities

“The same distancing we have all been used to will be in place, especially if there is crossover between cohorts in an activity,” says McKinlay.

When it comes to masks, there are some exceptions with activities, says Winchell. “Exceptions are allowed for specific outdoor activities, such as sporting activities, outdoor recreation, and water recreation. In these cases, we will follow Washington State COVID-19 guidance for the specific area.”

What are kids’ favorites at camps, and will they be available? “It’s hard to pick a favorite … but horseback riding comes to mind,” says McKinlay. “This will happen this summer. We are still waiting to hear specific guidelines for our water activities.”  

Most activities will be done in cabin groups or activity groups,” says Winchell, which is the model that Hidden Valley operates on too. “Programmed activities will occur in outdoor or open-air settings and campers will remain with consistent cohorts.” 

Some of the favorite activities at the camp, she says, include archery, swimming and challenge courses.

“Most of our activities will be able to happen because the majority are outside,” says McKinlay. “Things will be adjusted as needed as far as distancing [and] cleaning protocols.”

Both camp officials say they foresee some brainstorming to keep all the fun of camp — safely. “We are excited to get our summer staff onboarded as we are sure they will have many creative ideas for new games and activities that are covid compliant,” says Winchell.

Vaccination and testing requirements

“We are going to strongly encourage our staff to be vaccinated before camp,” says McKinlay. “If they aren’t vaccinated, they will be tested upon arrival.”

“All campers and staff must do one of the following before arriving at camp:

One, be fully vaccinated, or, two, receive a negative COVID-19 test no more than three days prior to arrival and remain in quarantine between the test and start of camp,” says Winchell.

She adds: “Anyone unable to meet one of these two conditions is not allowed to participate in camp.” 

Orkila will have the usual number of medical staff present since there will be fewer campers this year. And at Hidden Valley, there will be lower numbers too, plus one additional person on the health care team.

Originally published on April 3, 2021.

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About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.