We know how important it is to gather all the information you can to make an educated decision in finding the right summer camp, but first, you must define “right.” Start by asking – what do you want your camper to gain from their experience? You send them to school for an education, to soccer practice to be a better goalie, or to piano lessons to learn how to read music. Summer camp is no different! Understanding the range of options is key to finding the right fit. Asking these questions will help make your selection process easier.
Deciding on Summer Camp
Why should children go to summer camp?
Now more than ever, camp is an essential place for enrichment! As camp professionals, we have the unique ability to fill in the blanks left by teachers, coaches, and even parents. We know that over the past few years, children have faced incredible challenges. Experts agree that the mental health benefits of summer camp are more critical than ever before. Summer camps strive to give youth time to slow down, relax, open up, and explore. “One of the best things camp does is forcing, in the best possible way, children to navigate not only the wonderful aspects of friendships but also to have to hang in there when the going gets tough,” shares Catherine Steiner-Adair, a child psychologist and summer camp expert. Without an academic curriculum, campers can develop important social, emotional, and (non)cognitive skills–like emotional intelligence, 21st-century skills, and character–no matter where their interests lay. Best of all, children create memories and friendships that last a lifetime. A summer at camp gives children the chance to disconnect from technology and reintroduce the skills they need to navigate life’s ups and downs.
Is there a right age to start overnight camp?
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer: there isn’t a “right age” nor a wrong age to start going to an overnight camp. Rather, it is a decision that depends on you, your parenting style, and your child’s temperament. We have found that children find success at camp at all ages. One simple way to gauge your child’s readiness is to look at how they approach sleepovers: if your child is comfortable spending the night out, they are likely ready for an overnight camp. Typically, the earliest we recommend starting a multi-week overnight experience is nine. Campers six-to-eight years old do better in shorter weeklong programs. At Cheley, we aim to provide both: a 27-day camp experience beginning at nine years old in Lower Ski Hi or Lower Chipeta and a five-night introductory experience for seven-to-ten-year-olds with Quarter B-4. It’s also never too late for your child to experience summer camp! While our younger units have a higher percentage of first-time campers (typically more than 50%), we have first-time campers in our middle and senior units as well. Still, on average each summer 30% of our campers are first-time Cheley campers.
Should my child help decide if they go to camp?
Yes! Youth need to have a say in the decision to attend camp. By involving your child in the decision of going to summer camp, you are setting them up for success. Making this decision together gives your child a healthy sense of self-direction, and purpose, and will help them feel more excited about their upcoming camp experience. Their seat at the table may also lessen any anxiety they may have about attending camp. We recommend making it a family decision! So much of it is parents reading their children properly: knowing where their true interests will be met, while gently guiding them to try something new. Having them help in the decision will also decrease your anxiety because you know your child will be having a happy fun-filled summer where they helped choose to be.
Am I (the parent) ready to send my children to camp?
For many parents, sending a child to camp is difficult. Sometimes, “my child’s not ready for camp” actually means you’re not ready. Psychologists confirm that a parent who decides that their child is not ready for an overnight camp experience is often the one who might not be ready to let go. It’s a big step to let your child experience something like summer camp independently since realizing that they will be okay without you is hard. The thing is, it’s quite natural on “drop off” day for everyone–yes, you and your children–to be a little bit tearful; however, your child will never forget their camp experience! And for you as a parent, your children’s joy will be the confirmation you need to know that it was the right decision. Frankly, they might even joke about being “camp sick” (the opposite of homesick) when they’re home. Remember, you are an incredible parent for looking into the camp experience for your children!
Evaluating Summer Camp
What are the qualifications of Cheley's directors?
Jeff Cheley and Brooke Cheley-Klebe, the co-directors of Cheley Colorado Camps, work in partnership as fourth-generation owners of the family business. This brother-sister team combines their talents and strengths to bring a greater pool of skills and insight into camp guidance with their great-grandfather, Frank Cheley’s, vision and values remaining their compass point. Spending a term each summer at camp as children, the siblings had the opportunity to shadow their grandparents who were important role models for the expertise they would need to manage camp. Jeff and Brooke also benefited from working closely with father and stepmother, Don and Carole, learning the business for many years. With that, it is in their DNA to provide a positive experience for their campers, their camp families, their seasonal staff, and their year-round staff.
For more information, please visitOur Leadership.
How is Cheley different than others?
The Cheley Experience has withstood the test of time. Frank H. Cheley believed in the positive nurturing of young people when he opened Cheley Colorado Camps in 1921 and originated Fun Plus®. A century later, our commitment to the development of youth remains steadfast. Fun Plus® conveys the value we place on having fun while learning how to live life fully and know and understand ourselves more completely. The Rocky Mountains are our playground for our free-choice program. Each day, our campers head out on hikes, backpacks, horseback rides, mountain bikes, and technical climbs. Or they choose to slow down as they raft on the Poudre River, stand up paddleboard at Union Reservoir, create something in the crafts shop, or spend a few days camping. These are the vehicle for teaching children the values and ideals necessary to establish their path toward becoming thriving young adults.
The Cheley Experience offers children the opportunity for unstructured play, to meet people from all over the world and country, to form strong relationships within a supportive community, to unplug from technology, gain independence, and to have fun. Four weeks at camp might sound like a long time, but once you are at Cheley you realize that it takes time to settle into the camp schedule, get in shape, and commit to the camp community. Our campers often say they feel more alive, more connected, and their best selves at Cheley. Whether they are standing on a summit high in the Rockies, cantering around the riding ring, or cheering a fellow mountain biker up the hill, they feel as if they learn skills and values to help them succeed in our ever-changing world.
We begin every term with the development of a Code of Living in each camp unit. The Code of Living is a compilation of traits–suggested by the campers in each unit–that the campers strive to uphold throughout the term. These ideals, which often include those such as responsibility, integrity, trust, and empathy, are interwoven into camp life. Our campers wear Blue Kerchiefs on special occasions as a symbol of their commitment to the Code of Living and refer back to the Code as they continue to hold each other to these strong ideals. We know our challenge as leaders in youth development is to protect and preserve the rugged, rustic character of their experience while providing opportunities for growth, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. This is what makes Cheley Colorado Camps a top-rated and internationally renowned summer camp and we challenge ourselves to improve the camp experience every summer.
What type of child is successful at Cheley?
We’re proud that Cheley is made up of campers and staff from every walk of life and that camp provides such a welcoming, affirming, and inclusive environment. As such, we aim to partner with parents in raising their children by their definition of success. It is paralleled in our mission: “We build the lasting character and resiliency of young people, creating unique life experiences in a challenging and nurturing natural environment.” That said, there is not one single type of child who is successful at Cheley, nor is there a type of child who is unsuccessful. Prior to a camper’s arrival to Cheley, we ask our camp families to complete a form that covers camper and family information, camper mental health and wellbeing, parent outcomes, and camper outcomes. This form identifies a parent’s individual and mutual expectations for their camper and helps to communicate other necessary information (including, their nerves or excitements, bedwetting/sleepwalking, and any family concerns or issues at school). Staff are given these forms at the start of each term; therefore, the information provided is invaluable for setting the stage for a positive camp experience and helping us to understand each individual camper more clearly. Campers in their first summer are also asked to submit two letters of introduction from non-family members (e.g., coaches, teachers, mentors, etc.), which help give prereferral information about each camper.
We have found that by the end of the summer, all of our campers find successes big and small. With our free-choice program system and range of activities, our campers are more easily able to find their niche without feeling constrained to one single choice. We are also incredibly intentional about building community and living up to the Code of Living. Each day at Cheley also includes structured time and unstructured “free” time, creating a balance for campers and allowing them to find what they need at any given moment.
How does Cheley address the functional needs of campers with a specific condition or disability, including ADD and ADHD?
Cheley Colorado Camps welcomes youth with disabilities and will make reasonable accommodations for campers with various diagnoses and capabilities. We hope to provide support for and remove any barriers that may exist for youth with disabilities (assuming the disability permits safe participation in Cheley activities) or a chronic health condition. Nevertheless, we want camp to be the right fit for every young person and recognize that we cannot cater the Cheley Experience to every possible need. Some of the medical conditions we have served include (but are not limited to) ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Asthma, Depression, Diabetes, and Epilepsy. We are unable to accommodate campers who require personal care assistants, paraeducators, or CPAP machines.
To best support your camper, we will need a complete and honest understanding of who your camper is and the level of support they require. To provide your camper with any necessary accommodations, we ask that you be as specific as possible with the information you provide us, including a copy of your camper’s IEP or 504 plans and/or their action plan for a medical emergency (if applicable). If you have a specific question regarding your camper, please contact us prior to enrollment to make sure Cheley would be a good fit.
How are campers grouped in cabins?
At Land O’Peaks, there are 4 to 6 cabins in every unit, which sleep 10-15 campers and two or three staff members. We place new and returning campers together and do our best to create cabin groups with a diverse group of campers of different ages (within the unit, of course) and from a variety of cities, states, and even countries! At Boys’ Trail’s End, there are 16 wagons whereas, at Girls’ Trail’s End, there are 17 wagons. Each wagon sleeps four campers. Each wagon has a Wagon Mama/Papa – a staff member, who is responsible for those campers and sleeps in nearby cabins. Again, we do our best to group wagons with a diverse group of four, typically aligning wagons with age groups. In other words, within a wagon, we do not group 17-year-olds with 12-year-olds.
Campers may make ONE cabin/wagon request per summer – they do not carry over from previous summers. The request must be mutual: the other camper’s parents must make the request as well. If you suspect some “divergence of opinion” between your camper’s preferences (or yours) and someone else, please call the other camper’s parents to resolve this before you send us your requests! If that doesn’t work, give us as much insight as you can. To make a cabin request, please contact our office.
Will my child be okay going to camp without a friend?
When choosing an overnight camp for the first time, many parents contemplate whether or not they should send their child to camp with a friend; nevertheless, it is much less important than you might think. Going to camp without a friend from home has incredible benefits! Without “school friends,” there is a greater opportunity for a clean slate since no pre-existing dynamics can trickle into the camp experience from home. Additionally, one of the best ways to help your child expand their horizons and explore identities outside of school is without a having crutch–that’s not to say this cannot happen when friends go to camp together. Oftentimes, attending camp with a friend from home provides the necessary comfort and confidence for a child to go to camp in the first place. Fortunately, there are other ways to accomplish the same effect and set your child up for a successful summer without a friend. It’s important to know that at Cheley, we only grant one mutual cabin request. If you believe the camp experience will be positive for both campers, then we welcome them both! We are not trying to deter you from sending them to camp together. Instead, we are advocating that you choose the right camp for you and your family, not based solely on where your child’s friends are going. Ultimately, one of the greatest gifts of camp is the new friendships that flourish.
How do you help new campers integrate into the Cheley community?
We welcome our new campers with open arms! With the help of our leadership team, counselors, and returning campers, we make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. During the first week of camp, everyone is expected to wear their nametag, allowing campers and staff to more easily learn names and taking a little pressure off of asking. Our returning campers also love reaching out to their new cabinmates and fellow campers. Cheley counselors often pair returning and new campers so that they can make a new friend quickly, as well as have a peer answer any questions they have about camp. Every camper also receives a “go-to” counselor who is extremely diligent about checking in with their campers to ensure they feel comfortable at camp, are making friends, and are enjoying activities.
To further help integrate new campers, nightly campfires ensure that all of our campers are having a fantastic experience. The first few campfires consist of outstanding “get-to-know-you-games” and various ice breakers for campers and staff to come together, bond, and learn more about each other. Units also form their Code of Living during the first week of camp and receive their Blue Kerchief on the first Saturday, symbolizing the camaraderie of a unit. Upon arrival, campers in every unit also participate in an orientation to learn about each activity and program sign-ups. Once your child gets to camp, they will realize that everyone wants them to feel comfortable, and their nervousness will melt away. Everyone–from fellow campers to our counselors and directing staff, support staff, and year-round team–is ready to make your camper feel at home at a moment’s notice.
How do you handle homesickness?
First let us mention that homesickness is not a sickness at all, but rather a normal and natural feeling; therefore, the Cheley Experience is designed to anticipate the immediate and core issue–transition–within the first few hours of arrival. It is not unusual for children, especially younger ones and those away for the first time, to feel homesick. Most feelings of homesickness are not problematic! Rather the concern remains with the degree and duration of a camper’s behaviors. Knowing that homesickness is dynamic and has an end, we aim to meet it head-on. We strive to acknowledge and validate campers’ feelings: in today’s world, children need a comfortable place and permission to express their emotions. Our staff instill confidence by encouraging campers to take it one day at a time, and if needed, form an individualized action plan with the camper to get them through their homesick moments. Homesickness rarely persists past the first few days, but if it does, we will communicate with you as needed and determine the appropriate next steps together. Year after year, we find that the occasional homesick tears on night one are far outweighed by the flood of emotion during Final Weekend when campers realize their summer together must come to an end.
How does Cheley recruit, screen, and train its staff, including their qualifications and certifications?
We invest a lot of energy in recruiting staff who will serve as excellent role models. We take pride in providing professionally trained, mature, fun, and motivated “Youth Development Professionals.” In annual evaluations, our staff consistently receive high marks from campers and parents. Staff members must submit an application, complete an interview, undergo a criminal background check, and complete multiple pieces of training (e.g., sexual abuse training) prior to arriving at camp for our ten-day staff training. Possessing character and integrity, staff members must also have three excellent references and a willingness to dedicate their summer to the care and supervision of our campers. During our staff training we cover safety and risk management issues; team building; counseling, programming, and teaching skills; van training; and more. Most of our counseling staff are nineteen while our support staff are typically at least eighteen. We are incredibly proud of the fact that over half of our staff return to camp the following summer. This continuity encourages greater expertise and furthers the development of skills and knowledge related to the Cheley Experience. Many staff members were also Cheley campers, in turn giving them a valuable perspective as counselors. From cooks to camp directors, our staff spend their summer residing at camp, creating a vital, close-knit camp community.
What is the ratio of counselors to campers?
Our low 1:4 camper/staff ratio is vital to the individual attention we provide, which is why we hire ~220 full-time staff members each summer. Each counselor is assigned campers for whom they are responsible. They are their campers’ mentors, advocates, and “go-to” throughout the term. This means the counselor is checking in with them daily to see how their experience is progressing, getting to know them (what excites/scares them), and writing their weekly reports. Because of a counselor’s relationship with their “go-tos,” they can tell when things are going well and when they need extra attention. At LOP, there are at least two counselors in every cabin, while at the TEs counselors sleep in cabins directly next to the wagon yard. We protect the quality of the Cheley Experience by limiting the number of campers in each unit and limiting the number of campers who can sign up for a specific activity. In smaller, more intimate groups, campers are able to bond better and counselors are able to better manage the experience. Regarding activities, in-camp programs have at least one counselor whereas out-of-camp programs have at least two.
What are the transportation options to camp? And what is the most popular method?
Campers may arrive to Cheley by car or may meet us at Denver International Airport (DEN), where coach bus transportation is provided. While ~55% of our campers arrive by car, the rest arrive to DEN via plane or meet us at “home base” near the baggage claim. For those flying, Cheley counselors and staff–dressed in red shirts and blue kerchiefs–welcome campers at their gate and escort them through the airport. Meanwhile, our baggage crew collect and load their gear on the bus for the two-hour ride to camp.
For more information, please visiting Getting to Camp.
What are the accommodations like?
Six units (age groups) are located at Land O’Peaks (LOP) where campers and staff sleep in cabins. While the arrangements differ, each unit has multiple cabins that sleep ten to sixteen campers and two or three counselors. At the Trail’s End Ranches for Boys and for Girls (BTE and GTE), campers sleep in rustic Conestoga wagons with neighboring staff cabins. Unlike the cabins at LOP, wagons sleep four campers.
In all camper accommodations, each individual has dresser drawers to keep their stuff in, limited hanging space, a bunk to make their own, and personal space adjacent to or under their bunk. There is also space in the middle to play games or just hang out with wagon/cabinmates.
Campers are randomly assigned a bed (and in cabins, a top or bottom bunk). Across from the cabins and wagon yard is the unit’s “boathouse”– a communal bathhouse with electric lights, flushing toilets, individual showers, and individual cubbies for a camper’s toiletries and towels. Only in Ski Hi does each cabin have its own bathroom. No unit has heat so extra blankets are advised.
Every day, there is a scheduled time for campers to clean their cabins. This includes making beds, tidying up belongings, emptying the trash, and sweeping. There are also times when campers clean their unit areas (e.g., the boathouse, basketball court, etc.).
What are the facilities and amenities like? Is it clean and well maintained?
Cheley Colorado Camps consists of more than 1,400 acres of majestic mountain landscape at three primary locations (LOP, BTE, and GTE) and eight woodland camping sites. Many of the handsome lodges and cabins that give Cheley’s facilities its legendary personality were built in the 1920s. At Cheley, we are diligent in maintaining the heritage and integrity of our facilities by preserving their richness for years to come. In fact, our facilities and maintenance team work year-round to improve camp. Additionally, camp is dependent on individual responsibility. We ask all of our campers and staff to do certain tasks so that everything can run smoothly: specifically, they remain responsible for their surroundings, including the cleanliness and organization of their spaces and unit. This often results in a friendly competition between cabins/wagons during inspection. A wide array of facilities, equipment, activity rooms, and natural beauty are also available. Some of the amenities include eight lodges with a piano and ping-pong/foosball tables; Four dining halls and kitchens; Five western horseback riding rings; a climbing wall, low ropes course, and high ropes course (with 30ft and 40ft obstacles, a zip line, and a leap of faith); Multiple outdoor technical climbing slabs and a private Via Ferrata; Basketball and sports courts; Five riflery ranges and seven archery ranges; Fleet of fifty mountain bikes; Eight strings of horses (one per unit) with almost 150 in total; Six arts & crafts studios, a ceramics studio, and woodshop; Grass amphitheater and sound stage; Three Chapels and multiple Vespers sites; Soccer field beside an aspen grove; Outdoor pavilion for cookouts; Frisbee golf course; Fishing pond and streams; And more.
For more information, please visit Our Setting.
What are the meals like at Cheley?
Meals are meant to be fun, well-organized, and representative of camp fellowship served, of course, with excellent food! In annual evaluations, our meals consistently draw compliments from our campers and staff with 85% rating the food as “very good” or “great.” At the beginning of the term, all campers and staff participate in meal orientation to learn the ins and outs of family-style dining. Mealtimes remain relaxed: Manners and polite conversation are encouraged, and singing and laughter are welcomed. During breakfast, campers enjoy cereal before the morning’s hot items–favorites include cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches, and French toast–and dessert is served at every dinner with favorites such as taco night, spaghetti, and chicken pesto. For Sunday breakfast, we serve homemade granola, fruit, and yogurt, followed by a hearty lunch after Chapel and an evening cookout before campfire.
For more information, please visit Nutrition.
Can Cheley accommodate food allergies, special diets, and other dietary restrictions?
We strive to offer options that accommodate the dietary preferences and/or allergies of all campers and staff. For every meal that has a meat-based main dish, we provide a vegetarian and vegan option. At every meal, a dairy-free option is available and gluten-free food items (e.g., gluten-free bread, pasta, tortillas, bagels, etc.) are available upon request. For those who prefer or require a milk substitute (whether for your cereal, coffee, or glass to drink), soy, almond, and oat milk are always available. While we are Nut Aware, we are not a Nut-Free camp: we serve peanut butter, granola bars, and some candies, snacks, and desserts that contain nuts or have been manufactured in a factory where nuts are present. Other than the options we already offer, we are rarely able to accommodate extreme dietary decisions and changes mid-summer.
What are Cheley's communication policies?
Everybody loves to get mail! As such, we welcome cards and letters, but ask that you limit care packages to one per camper per term. For safety reasons, we prohibit food, including mints, gum, and small candies, in care packages. You are also able to send one-way emails. Mail and emails are distributed every day (except Sunday) at varying times depending on the unit.
We post photos on the Cheley Connection daily. In the Connection, you will also receive a weekly report from your camper’s “go-to” counselor three times per term.
On the second night of camp, every camper will write a postcard home. These postcards are a Cheley tradition! We realize that writing a postcard on the second night does not provide much time for descriptive events to have happened nor sufficient space to say everything, but the purpose is to give you a little insight into your camper’s first few days at camp. We provide these pre-addressed and stamped Cheley postcards to every camper.
Every Sunday, campers are also required to write a letter “home.” We do not provide these letters. Campers must bring stationary, envelopes, and stamps, or purchase them from the Camp Store.
Except in emergency circumstances, campers are not allowed to make phone calls. If you need to get an immediate message to your child, we ask that you call our office and leave a message for their unit director. They will check with your camper and then call you back with your camper’s response.
For more information, please visit Contact Your Camper.
Is Cheley religious or political?
Cheley is a non-religious camp; We welcome all faiths at Cheley and expect that all faiths be honored. Our Chapel service is meant to be inspirational without reflecting any particular religion. Chapel provides an inspirational message, music, and a time for quiet reflection. We focus on the Code of Living in addition to the basic values of character development.
Aside from an increased awareness of universal values like kindness, respect, and acceptance of others, campers should leave Cheley with the same general belief system they arrived with. All viewpoints that respect the humanity of others are welcome.
What about Cheley's visiting policies?
Almost 90% of families visit during Final Saturday and depart with their camper from camp on final Sunday. We do not allow families to visit at other times during the summer as it is disruptive to the Cheley Experience. Our experience has also shown us that it is overwhelming for campers to have too many people visit on Final Saturday.
No pets please.
For more information, please visit Final Saturday Schedule 2023.
What are birthdays like at Cheley?
Birthdays at Cheley are fun and exciting! When a camper has a birthday, we aim to make it a special day for them. Throughout the day, campers and staff sing renditions of “Happy Birthday!” In the dining hall during dinner, we cheer for their birthday and make a birthday cake to be shared with their table.
Where can I find information on your Sessions, Enrollment, and Tuition?
Please visit Dates and Tuition.
Campers Want to Know
Is every day the same? Do we get to choose our activities?
There’s a routine to camp life (wake-up, meals, evening campfires) that starts to feel familiar after a few days. But what you do during the day, and the people you’re with will vary depending on the activity. We call it our free-choice program. Every Sunday, you’ll choose your activities for the coming week. And all the choices at Cheley are great so you will have plenty to choose from each week. No matter what you choose, we’ll encourage you to try everything.
What time do we get up?
Your weekday starts with wake-up at 6:45, followed by breakfast in the dining hall at 7:30. Of course, if you sign up for a spectacular hike to catch the sunrise on a mountain peak, you’ll be up in the middle of the night. But that’s rare, and only if you choose. Sundays are sleep-in days. Until 7:30, that is.
Can I bring my electronics?
Camp is fun without all the electronic stuff we have in our daily lives. Most of our campers comment that they feel more relaxed without the pressure of social media. When you come to camp you unplug the electronics! You heard that right – you will turn in your iPhone, AirPods, Nintendo Switch, and anything else you may have brought for safekeeping.
You might miss them for a couple of days. Then you’ll notice you have more time and feel more relaxed without them. You won’t spend endless hours scrolling on TikTok, won’t keep your SnapChat streaks, and won’t be getting the BeReal notification. Instead, you’ll be spending each day outside in the Rocky Mountains with lifelong friends!
You may bring a digital camera or GoPro, but you will not be able to download photos/or videos throughout the term.
For more information, please visit Packing for Camp.
Will I have my own bathroom?
At camp, you share the bathroom with lots of people. It’s in a separate building called a boathouse, walking distance from your cabin or wagon. Don’t worry – it’s only 15 to 20ft away and you can see it from your bed! It’s not fancy but it’s clean with electric lights, flushing toilets, individual showers, and individual cubbies for your toiletries and towels. If you’re in Ski Hi, you’re in luck as each cabin has its own bathroom! Have to go to the bathroom at night? Bring your flashlight and a friend along for the short walk to the boathouse!
Is it dark at night in my cabin?
When it’s lights out at camp, it’s dark, although billions of stars twinkle overhead. But remember, you’re not alone. You’ve got counselors and friends and you’re all snuggled down peacefully in a cozy cabin or wagon. You get to keep a flashlight in your bed, so you can always find your way. Moonlit nights at camp are extra special, like a bonus at the end of your day.