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OC Summer Camps with Outdoor Themes

OC Summer Camps with Outdoor Themes

2022 Orange County summer camps offerings will be much more varied than in the past few years. Camp providers in Orange County offer a number of OC summer camps with outdoor themes for families looking to enroll their kids in options to keep them active and learning outdoors this summer.

Scroll through the list and descriptions below to see which ones fit your family:

  1. Inside the Outdoors Summer Day Camp at Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach
  2. Environmental Nature Center Summer Nature Camp in Newport Beach AND Environmental Nature Center at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon
  3. Camp Pinniped at Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Canyon
  4. Sea & Sage Audubon Center Summer Nature Camps at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine
  5. Starr Ranch Junior Biologists Summer Camp near Coto de Caza
  6. O.A.K.S. Day Camp at Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim Hills
  7. Earthroots Field School Summer Camps at Big Oak Canyon in Trabuco Canyon
  8. Ocean Institute Summer Camps in Dana Point
  9. Camp Discovery at the Cube in Santa Ana
  10. Camp James at Newport Dunes in Newport Beach
  11. Camp Coastal Wild at Crystal Cove State Park in between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach
  12. Camp Newport in Newport Beach
  13. YMCA Summer Day Camps and even overnight sleepaway camps (multiple locations)
  14. Junior Gardeners Summer Camp at Sherman Library & Gardens in Newport Beach
  15. Adventure & Discovery Camps in the City of Aliso Viejo
  16. Summer Day Camps at Los Cerritos Rancho in Long Beach
  17. KG Beach Camps at Dana Point Harbor in Dana Point
  18. Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve Summer Day Camp
  19. Bolsa Chica Conservancy Summer Wetland Explorers
  20. Art & Wilderness Institute Adventure Weeks
  21. Links to various sailing and watersports camps

Most camps are for school-age children from ages 6 to 18. I’ve updated my list of summer nature camps for kids with themes like science, animals, the ocean, engineering, birding, and even water sports. Please go ahead and email me if you know of camps I might have missed.

If you value OUTDOOR SUMMER CAMPS, please make sure you sign up for this special time outdoors. Your kids will make memories for a lifetime and the organizers will continue to offer the camps as long as there is a demand.

Orange County Outdoor Summer Camps

#1 – Inside the Outdoors* , part of the Orange County Department of Education, offering an in-person classic Summer Day Camp experience each week in July at Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach. 2022 Camp Themes: Campology, Adventures in the Wild, No Place Like Space, and Camp Castaway.

Experience unique activities that incorporate science, fun, learning, and being outdoors​.  Summer Day Camp is geared toward campers age 6 to 11 years old, with leadership and camp opportunities for campers age 12-17.

Each week of summer camp will have themed daily activities that are science/nature based that also include a daily nature journal prompt and a take-home craft.  

I love these people and I’m so glad summer camp is back!

*Disclosure: I work for them managing their social media and content strategy during the school year.

#2 – Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach – Camps are split into different age groups. Little Naturalists Camp is for preschoolers age 4. Summer Nature Adventure Camp is for ages 5-8 and campers ages 9-13 get Science Explorer Camp. This year’s themes are: Nature Detectives, Water Wonders, California Adventures, Amazing Animals, Planet Protectors, Nature Creativity, Plant Power, and When I Grow Up. They advise to make sure you read their health & safety info before registering.

The Environmental Nature Center also has a new campus in Modjeska Canyon at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. They are offering Nature Camps from that location, as well! Get all the information about Tucker Nature Camps here. It’s only for kids ages 6-9 years old with similar camp themes as above.

#3 – Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Canyon. Camps are in June, July, and August. Camp Pinniped In-Person for 8 to 12 year olds is held at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center on Laguna Canyon Road for M-Th and then Fridays are at an off-site location. “Campers learn how our animal care team rehabilitates our seal and sea lion patients through a series of mock activities including weighing fish, preparing fish smoothies, cleaning pens and learning the art of marine mammal rescue.”

Virtual option is called Camp Pinniped at Home (from Pacific Marine Mammal Center) and it’s only offered the last two weeks of June. It is also for 8 to 12 year olds. Online camp will run 9am to 11:30am M-F.

The program for 15-17 year olds is a Marine Mammal Rehabilitation and Research Lab that runs M-F from 8am-2pm.

#4- Sea and Sage Audubon Summer Nature Day Camps at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (Registration opens May 1st!) – These camps sell out quickly! These very popular camps are for the 7-9 year olds in Beginning Bird Camp and 10-12 year olds in Coastal Bird Camp.  Older campers (13-15 year olds) will be able to take Advanced Bird Camp I and Advanced Bird Camp II. Check the dates to make sure they work with your schedule and the sign-up is through the Eventbrite links.

#5 – Starr Ranch Junior Biologists Summer Camp for kids ages 8 to 16 researching wild animals and their habitats. There is an email address listed to contact for more information.

#6 – O.A.K.S. Day Camp at Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim– “Campers will have the opportunity to experience themed art, nature, Native American traditions, games, and more. Participants must bring their own snacks and lunch.” Online registration link for “Day Camp” for 5-12 year olds is on the information page. Camps are listed as “O.A.K.S. Day Camp” Day camps have themes like: Diggin’ Up Dinosaurs, Harry Potter, Mad Science, Pirate Adventure, Radical Reptiles, Shark Week, Star Wars, Super Sleuth — and Wild, Wild, West.

The city also offers “Wilderness Survival Camp” for 12-14 year olds. “Teams will work together to build shelters, hone their archery skills, and learn basic first aid in these weeks of survival fun!” The Wilderness Survival Camps have themes with Wilderness Survival as the focus in these different environments: Desert Terrain, Jungle Terrain, Mountain Terrain, Plain Terrain, and Swamp & Wetland Terrain.

#7 – Earthroots Field School is offering a number of 2022 Summer Camps including:

  • Fairy Quest (5-10 year olds)
  • Puppet Making and Theatre (5-14 year olds)
  • Nature Art Camp (6-11 year olds)
  • Return to Nature Camp (7-12 year olds)
  • Forest Kindergarten Camp (3-5 year olds)

And they also have a number of events planned during the summer, as well. All the info on the Earthroots Field School website!

#8 – Ocean Institute has incredible camps for ages 5-17 which include time on boats and lots of marine science and research. Also options for high school students to be Camp Counselors in Training. Registration discount for Ocean Institute members. Registration already began in March.

Ocean Institute crab

#9 – Camp Discovery at the Cube is offering science-themed summer camps for kids in two age groups:

  • K-2 (Curious About Creatures, Camp Cosmic-SOLD OUT)
  • Grades 3-5 (World of Motion, California STEAMin’)

Members pay slightly less for summer camps.

#10 – Camp James at Newport Dunes for children ages 4-13 runs from 9am-4pm. The website describes it as: “a traditional style day camp offered in a natural, outdoor environment. Our goal is to expose children to a wide variety of activities as well as provide abundant opportunities for campers to increase their skill development each year they return for another summer session.” Here is a list of all the activities at Camp James. They are American Camp Association (ACA) Accredited and have an Open House video on their website. The home page has a text section that reads: “Group Availability as of April 12, 2022.” Click on that link to see the weeks and programs that still have room!

#11 – Camp Coastal Wild at Crystal Cove State ParkCamp Coastal Wild will happen June 20-24th this year. It’s for one week during the summer. Camp is usually only one week at the start of summer where Crystal Cove State Park Naturalists and Lifeguards run a one week unique summer camp that blends the backcountry and the coastal areas of the park. Children ages 7-11 spend 2+ hours engaged in nature activities including: hikes, bird walks, and nature games. After lunch, campers enjoy 2 hours of coastal activities with park lifeguards (could include: volleyball, boogie boards, kayaks.)  It’s $175 per camper. Call 949-497-7647 for registration information. Crystal Cove State Park also has Online Summer Activities that you can view and take part in on your own schedule.

#12 – Camp Newport offers a summer day camp at Marina Park which has all activities listed as FULL at this point (April 2022). However, they have some open spots at the Community Youth Center camp where campers walk to Corona Del Mar Beach. It’s for campers entering grades 1-7. Website description says: “Camp fee includes a weekly guest visit, show or exciting event, and daily walking excursions to the beach. CYC Campers will take a .75 mile walk to CDM State Beach on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.”

#13 – YMCA of Orange County has all sorts of camps. The Day Camp is called Adventures in Time Travel. There are also sleepaway camps called Camp E.L.K. (Wrightwood) and Camp Oakes (Big Bear) with lots of outdoor activities in our local mountains.

#14 – Sherman Library and Gardens is offering a Junior Gardeners Summer Camp for kids ages 8-11 years old for two separate weeks this summer. The website describes the camp: “During this practical camp for 8-11 year olds, kids learn to care for plants and understand how the choices they make affect the natural world. Topics include carnivorous plants, growing food, worm composting and creating a wildlife friendly garden. Our Junior Gardeners go behind the scenes, meet our Sherman Horticulturists and find out how we create our beautiful garden. This STEAM based camp will develop skills of observation, design and scientific exploration. Each session involves activities in the garden and a fun planting or creative craft project to take home.”  

#15 – Aliso Viejo is offering a City Day Camp at the ranch for kids ages 5-12 years old with lots of outdoor activities along with some Adventure & Discovery Camps. Check the summer camp brochure.

#16Summer Day Camps at Rancho Los Cerritos in Long Beach (not officially in Orange County, but very near north OC cities). There are 3 camps designed for kids 6-10 years old with the following themes: Time-Travelers Camp, Nature Camp, and Vaquero Camp. There is one camp for older kids ages 11-13 called Unplugged Camp.

#17KG Beach Camps at Dana Point Harbor – Half day camps for kids ages 4-6 called Mini-Minnows. All day camp Beach Safari Camp (6-9 years old) and H2O Adventure Camp (9-13 years old) all at the harbor with: tidepool walks, beach games, crafts, swimming, whale watching, and more.

#18 – Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve Summer Day Camp – Runs for 3 weeks in June (June 13-17, June 20-24, June 27-July 1). The camp day goes from 9am to 2pm for 6-11 year olds. Camps run weekly with themes like: Amazing Animal Adaptations, Time Travelers, Survive the Wild.

#19 – Bolsa Chica Conservancy Summer Wetlands Explorer – This science-based camp is only three weeks out of the summer (one for each age group). One week for K-3rd graders (Summer Wetland Explorers) and another week for those scientists going into 4th through 7th grade (Junior Summer Wetland Explorers). There are even opportunities for Senior Summer Wetland Explorers and a beach day. There are flyers on the website to explain more about the programs!

#20 – Art & Wilderness Institute Adventure Weeks – There are almost too many programs to list here — please click over to the website to explore. They also have school year programs. If you are into the idea of stewardship + nature these camps will be a good match for you. They happen in parks all over Orange County. [As an aside, if you are a homeschooling family you will find tons of resources on their website, as well.]

#21 – For sailing and watersports, we have OC summer camps in Dana Point Harbor and Newport Harbor. Try Westwind Sailing or Dana West Youth Sailing in Dana Point Harbor and Newport Sea Base or Orange Coast College’s School of Sailing and Seamanship in Newport Harbor. Pirate Sports Paddle also offers a kids camp in Newport Dunes (offering private group option). Children must be able to pass a swim test to participate in these programs.


  • Take the Bus!  OCTA Youth Ride Free* (Distributed starting March 2022 for kids ages 6-18)
  • Surf Camp
  • Junior Lifeguards
  • Camp Build-a-Fort for Laguna Hills residents (Registration opens in May for 2 separate sessions running for Summer 2022)
outdoor summer camps pin

*Disclosure: I should disclose that I personally know many of the organizers of the other camps from my history of writing about outdoors in Orange County.  I contract to do social media for Inside the Outdoors Foundation for the 2017-18, 2018-2019, 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022 school years. Also my husband is an employee of OCTA (but I’ve always had that bus pass info posted!). And a family member often works as a camp counselor for Westwind Sailing. As always, my opinions are all my own and you shouldn’t take my word as an endorsement of any organization. I’m just providing info and you can make your own choices! 

Originally posted in March 2012.


Friday 3rd of March 2017

Ohh, to be a kid again!!!!!


Wednesday 18th of June 2014

My six-year-old is loving Oak Canyon Nature Center's Camp O.A.K.S. day camp. They have week-long sessions throughout the summer with various nature themes to choose from. It is very popular and the sessions tend to fill up quickly so early registration is recommended.

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