Family Nature Summit- Fun and Education in the Great Outdoors

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I didn’t go to summer camp as a kid, but I somehow grew up with an appreciation for nature and enjoying it with family and friends.  Family Nature Summit is an annual natural exploration borne from the tradition of the National Wildlife Federation’s “Conservation Summit” of 1970.  Each year, it takes countless volunteer hours to put together room, board, and nature excursions for a huge array of families from all over the U.S.  Some families are regulars who’ve been meeting together at Summits for generations, while others are newbies who are welcomed with warm smiles and lots of great advice on how to navigate a week at the Summit.

Intrigued by the idea?  Here’s a great snapshot of what our family experienced at the 2010 Family Nature Summit in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains (Lake Tahoe).  Our preschooler was in classes with the BEST teacher for her Early Discovery class from 8am-Noon.  She got to build fairy houses by the creek, wade in the river, learn about gardening and worms, make forts, play outside, and build new friendships.

Our son transformed into a Junior Naturalist from 8am-3:30pm.  We saw him at lunch a few of the days, but he had so much fun that he couldn’t wait to get back to the class and learn more.  Here’s his Top Ten list of favorite activities from the week:

  1. Kayaking from Baldwin Beach
  2. Going to the Tahoe Environmental Center and learning about plates and fissures
  3. Seeing Macinaw trout at Fanny Bridge
  4. Making a collage artwork of Emerald Bay
  5. Hiking to Eagle Falls
  6. Getting ice cream at a road stop
  7. Playing camouflage by hiding behind trees and bushes
  8. Playing a tracking game
  9. Water quality studies at the UC Davis Research Center
  10. Throwing an atlatl (Washoe hunting weapon) with an archaeologist

My husband and I were able to do things we’ve never done before. We went birding in the wee hours of the morning to hear the chickadees and spot woodpeckers, kayaked Emerald Bay, hiked in the alpine ecosystem, practiced orienteering in the woods, learned about the ecology of Lake Tahoe and bear safety.  Summit offers every outdoor activity imaginable on the range from very active hiking and climbing to peaceful nature craft making.  My favorite was the Service Learning Project where we put in some volunteer time to help build a Discovery Trail in the forest.

Watch this video of the Family Nature Summit Discovery Trail

It was one of those trips that have a profound effect on the way you move forward in life.  My kids had an absolute blast!  Their classroom moved outdoors where the learning became hands-on.  The people we met were incredible – and incredibly knowledgeable – which made every day an educational experience.  I know accommodations vary by location, but our stay at the Granlibakken Resort was very comfortable. It was like getting all the benefits of camping, but with nice bathrooms, warm beds, excellent catering, and a pool.

There are even more reasons to attend the 2011 Family Nature Summit at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  Sign up for their newsletter list to get registration information. Also, please read more about the naturalist Craig Tufts and consider donating to the very worthy fund building in his name.

*Michele Whiteaker blogs at where she promotes play and encourages family outdoor time.  Her son placed as runner-up in an essay contest to attend the 2010 Summit for which he was awarded free registration for himself and ONE parent. They paid all travel expenses for the family, plus registration for Michele and her daughter. In other words, no compensation was received for this post!

About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 10-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.
3 Responses
  1. Barbara

    This seems like it would be an amazing place to visit with the family. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. Andreas

    This does look like a ton of fun!

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