Children relax on the dock at Camp Sancta Maria, where fathers and sons, mothers and daughters can spend  a weekend at the camp together.

Children relax on the dock at Camp Sancta Maria, where fathers and sons, mothers and daughters can spend a weekend at the camp together.

Photo provided by Camp Sancta Maria

All in the family: Summer camp isn’t just for kids

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published March 6, 2019

 Campers check out the animals  at Camp Sancta Maria in Gaylord.

Campers check out the animals at Camp Sancta Maria in Gaylord.

Photo provided by Camp Sancta Maria

Cabins, swimming in the lake, crafts and outdoor adventures are summertime traditions for some children.

Thousands of parents help pack trunks, allay fears and happily ship their children off to summer sleepaway camps along lakes and forested areas across the state, giving them a dose of independence and the great outdoors.

Some parents, however, pack up and go with their children to experience the mess hall, the ropes courses, horseback riding and more offered at camps across Michigan that host family camps.

“It’s a really great place to bring your family, just to do a really nice, wholesome time,” said Tim McKendrick, the camp director at YMCA Hayo-Went-Ha Camp on Torch Lake. “You’re in this beautiful environment and have access to all these activities you normally wouldn’t have access to.”

He compared family camp to a kid-friendly resort, “just a lot more rustic and goofier.”

Family camp is typically offered at the end of the summer residential camp season for boys and girls. Instead of kids bunking with new friends, cabins are filled with moms, dads, sons and daughters. At Camp Hayo-Went-Ha, the family camp offers programs filled with fun, adventure and a relaxed atmosphere. There’s even space for families to pitch their tents or park a camper if all cabins are reserved.

“There’s always something going on for both the parents and the kids,” McKendrick said. 

While youth residential campers typically follow counselors around to scheduled activities, things are more laid-back at the YMCA family camp, he said. The ropes course, the climbing tower, the riflery range, the zipline and the waterfront beach on Torch Lake are open and staffed for use, but families can come and go as they please. 

The camp includes three meals a day and a cabin to stay in, plus any activities that families choose to partake in. There’s also a kids club, where parents can drop off their children and have staff members take them around to games, face painting and other activities. 

“Everything is completely voluntary if you want to join,” McKendrick said. “You could come here and just sit on the beach, or you can get involved and do a bunch of activities.”

Another take on camps for parents and children are  the mother/daughter and father/son camp weekends offered at Camp Sancta Maria in Gaylord. 

“This is a great opportunity for parents to spend some dedicated time with their child to build memories that will last a lifetime,” Jan Klemm, the director of operations and development for Camp Sancta Maria, said in an email interview. “It’s also a great way for a child to get comfortable with (Camp Sancta Maria) — with the security of having Mom or Dad at their side — before coming to camp on their own for a one-week or two-week session.”

At Camp Sancta Maria, campers participate in crafts, swimming, a waterslide, canoeing and more on the waterfront, plus horseback riding, games, a trash bag fashion show for mothers and daughters, and campfires with s’mores, along with Mass and evening prayer.

The weekends have activities scheduled, but there is time for rest and relaxation too.

“Many families have been coming for years and make it an annual trip with friends,” Klemm said. 

McKendrick agreed, saying that family camp doesn’t just bring parents and children together — it also creates lifelong friendships between families that wouldn’t otherwise meet. 

“You end up coming back here year after year, and the same people are here,” he said. “Imagine if, going to a resort, and every time you went there, it was the same people you saw last year. You look forward to seeing the people as much as coming back to the place. You’ve got all the food and the accommodations and all the activities.”

YMCA Camp Hayo-Went-Ha is located at 919 Northeast Torch Lake Drive in Central Lake, Michigan. To learn more, visit

Camp Sancta Maria is located at 5361 W. M-32 in Gaylord, Michigan. For more information, call (248) 822-8199 or visit