Summer Camp Market Overview

Summer Camp Market Overview, by Daniel Zenkel,

The summer camp market, defined loosely to include any summer program that provides supervised services beyond mere childcare, is estimated to generate between $10 billion and $12 billion annually. According to the American Camp Association (“ACA“), approximately 12,000 camps of all kinds operate in the United States.


The universe of 12,000 camps is comprised of literally hundreds of different types of camps. We believe that the vast majority of camps fit into one or more of 16 basic camp types – resident camps and day camps; traditional camps and non-traditional camps; general camps and specialty camps; for-profit and not-for-profit camps; accredited and non-accredited camps; special population camps and general population camps; and religious and non-sectarian camps.

Resident v. Day Camps
According to the ACA, approximately 7,000 of the 12,000 camps are resident camps. The balance is day camps. Campers who attend resident camp sleep at the camp for the length of the program, typically from one to seven weeks. Tuition can range from $200 to $1,500 per week. Resident camps vary in size from 20 to 2,000 campers and may be single sex or co-ed. Resident camps are often located in rural areas. Campers who attend day camp commute to and from camp each day. Day camps are generally geared to younger children and are typically located in or near metropolitan areas. Children who attend day camp often go on to attend resident camp.

Traditional v. Non-Traditional Camps
We define “traditional” camps to be those resident and day camps that operate at a location whose primary use is as a summer camp. The vast majority of traditional resident camps were founded in the first half of the 20th century, typically in remote woodland areas near a lake or river. Traditional day camps are a somewhat more recent phenomenon, most having been founded from 1930 to 1980. Most owners and operators of traditional resident and day camps operate on land that they own. However, some traditional camp operators lease their facilities.

We define non-traditional camps as those that operate at facilities whose primary purpose is something other than a summer camp. At such locations, summer camp is a secondary use. Non-traditional camp locations include public and private schools, YMCA’s, JCC’s, public parks, private homes, childcare centers and private recreational facilities.

General v. Specialty Camps
Both resident and day camps can also be categorized as general or specialty camps. General camps typically offer a wide range of activities and do not focus on developing a particular skill or addressing a particular developmental need. General camps may have a particular area of focus, for example, sports, arts or outdoor activities but do not focus on a single activity. Instead, they offer a variety of activities in team sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer, individual sports such as tennis, and waterfront activities such as swimming and sailing, as well as outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing.

Specialty camps address a multitude of interests, including specific sports, arts, drama, business, computers, weight loss and health. Specialty camps typically last for shorter periods of time than general camps. The typical specialty camp runs from three days to two weeks. In comparison, the typical general camp runs four weeks. However, some specialty camps last as long as eight weeks, and session lengths at many general camps have shortened considerably in recent years.

For-Profit v. Not-For-Profit Camps
Camps operate as both for-profit and not-for-profit entities. We define not-for-profit camps as those that are qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Company considers all camps that are not so qualified to be “for profit” regardless of whether they generate income or loss. According to the ACA, approximately one-third of the 12,000 summer camps operating in the United States are for-profit camps. Many not-for-profit camps operate under the umbrella of national organizations such as the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Campfire Girls, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Jewish Community Centers and various church denominations. Not-for-profit camps are also operated by smaller, less well-known charitable organizations and by private foundations. Many “foundation camps” originated as for-profit camps that were purchased by alumni groups upon the owner/founder’s death or retirement in order to perpetuate the camp’s traditions and to prevent its transformation into a real estate development.

Accredited v. Non-Accredited Camps
The ACA is the largest camp association in the world. Membership in the ACA is open to camps of every variety. The ACA provides professional development, educational and networking opportunities for camps and camp professionals. It also promulgates standards for the accreditation of camps.

ACA accreditation is granted to camps that demonstrate substantial compliance with approximately 300 industry-accepted standards for facility maintenance, safety, staff training, program quality, administrative procedures, food service, emergency preparedness and transportation. The standards are frequently updated to reflect changing laws and regulations and the changing needs of camps and camp consumers. At least once every three years, a team of trained professionals makes an in-session visit to each accredited camp to verify compliance.

Although any summer camp can seek ACA accreditation, only 2,340 of the estimated 12,000 summer camps are ACA accredited. Traditional day and resident camps constitute the overwhelming majority of ACA accredited camps. Although some premium camps choose to remain unaccredited, the majority of unaccredited camps choose to remain so because they lack either the resources or the ability to obtain ACA accreditation. Of the 2,340 ACA accredited camps, approximately 25% are for-profit and 75% are not-for-profit.

Special Populations v. General Populations
Many special population camps serve children suffering from a common illness or a physical or mental disability. Paul Newman’s “Hole-in-the-Wall” camps and Don Imus’s “Imus Ranch” fit this profile. Other special population camps serve children who share a common and, often devastating, life experience. America’s Camp, which was established by CampGroup to provide a summer camp experience to children who lost a parent in the horrific events of September 11, 2001, fits this profile. Most special population camps operate as not-for-profit entities, but some do not.

Religious v. Non-Sectarian
Religious camps cater to children that share a common religious heritage. These include Christian bible and evangelical camps and Jewish-centric camps. Most religious camps operate as not-for-profit; however, a large number operate as for-profit entities. Many religious camps are affiliated with a religious organization such as the United Methodist Church or the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Many Christian camps choose to affiliate with Christian Camping International, as an umbrella camp organization.

Premium Camps
We define “premium camps” as those that have well-maintained and equipped facilities, experienced adult staff, trained counselors, a focus on safety and supervision, quality programming, good, nutritional food and on-site health care. Most premium camps are operated as for-profit entities. Premium resident camps typically charge at least $900 per week, but not all, and premium day camps typically charge at least $350 per week. The premium market segment includes every variety of camp, including day camps, resident camps, trip camps, travel camps and affinity camps. Most premium camps are situated in the Northeastern United States; however, premium camps are located throughout the country.

Other Types of Camps
Certain camp programs do not fit neatly within the categories noted above that define most summer camps. These include trip camps, travel camps and family camps. Participants in trip camps transport themselves to different sites by backpacking, bicycling, canoeing, rafting or kayaking. These programs are generally aimed at teenagers and adults and may last from a few days up to several months. Travel camps range from traditional teen tours that transport campers by coach bus to places of interest such as historical landmarks and national parks to tours of Europe and South Africa. Most travel camps market themselves to children 12 or older. Family camps, nearly all of which are residential, offer programs geared to the entire family. Some of these camps are operated by universities, such as Stanford University and the University of Michigan, at traditional camp facilities. Many resorts, such as Club Med and Marriott, also offer family camp programs.


Summer camps are a national phenomenon. Resident summer camps accredited by the ACA are located in all 50 states with the largest concentrations in California, New York and Pennsylvania.

Day camps are also spread throughout the country. Most ACA accredited day camps are located in states with large metropolitan areas such as California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and New Jersey.