Day trip!

“It’s a ’60s party from a ’60s movie!” yelled a group of YMCA Day Camp Manitou counselors. 

“See the surfers on their surfboards? Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na!” 

Hundreds of day campers — from the “wee backpackers” at age 4 to high schoolers volunteering as junior counselors — echoed back the tune, mimicking a surfing stance, arms outstretched and knees bobbing as they rode imaginary waves.

Soon their voices filled the giant outdoor amphitheater with the kind of joyous, discordant harmony only boisterous, large groups seem capable of creating. Their reverberations echoed off the wooden benches and even the lush greenery of the woods at the YMCA’s newly revamped Day Camp Manitou.

What’s new?

In 2016, this Monticello-area camp moved to a new, private location within Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park.

Though all of the traditional features of the camp are still in place — swimming, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, cookouts, archery, arts and crafts, and even singalongs — the camps newest features are decidedly modern: Manitou’s new facilities include a large, heated, outdoor pool with a slide and splash pad, plus a new space for arts and crafts, two archery ranges, gaga pits and 9-square courts. There’s also a new high-ropes village, featuring a two-level ropes course, a zip line, climbing walls and more. 

And, the good news is, families don’t have to live near Monticello to take advantage of the new venue. 

More than 20 YMCA bus stop locations in the west-metro area bring kids here. And parents who need all-day activities for their kids in summer can add before-and-after-care options as well. 

In fact, Manitou is one of many YMCA day camps serving the Twin Cities that offer traditional camp programming for children as young as 4, but without the stress of sleeping overnight. 

However, kids at Day Camp Manitou aren’t just passing their days away while their parents work. It’s a special experience, said Devin Hanson, the day camp’s and outreach program director.

“We’re not daycare,” she said. “We’re day camp. The kids don’t get to do this all summer, every day. So we want them to have a great time, just playing and having fun.”

General or specialty

Located four miles west of Monticello, the 12-acre camp features trails, open prairies and access to Lake Bertram and Long Lake.

Despite the new heated pool, most water activities still occur in the clear, clean waters of Lake Bertram, which boasts and a 50-foot stretch of sandy beach. 

While there are common denominators for every YMCA camp — such as opening and closing ceremonies and traditional activities offered to all campers — specialty programs at Day Camp Manitou allow campers to create more personalized experiences. 

Kids can sign up for overview camps or they can choose camps that offer extra time (about two hours each day) for focusing on specific activities such as water safety, climbing/ropes, stand-up paddle boarding, science, fishing, arts, photography, Spanish (new) or leadership. Other options include themes such as pirates, super heroes and princesses/fairies/dragons. 

Teen specialty camps, meanwhile, help kids develop leadership qualities through a variety of service projects, hands-on activities and team-building exercises. 

Adventure camps — for kids going into middle school — tackle hiking, outdoor cooking, campfires and swimming with three-day field trips to destinations such as Minnesota state parks and the North Shore.

All campers come together for at least one camp cookout. Everyone pitches in an ingredient for the campfire-roasted meal, and rare is the person who leaves without munching on Day Camp Manitou’s signature s’mores — peanut butter, chocolate chips and bananas, all snuggled up in a tortilla wrap. 

Home-grown values

Caring, honesty, respect and responsibility are four words that make up the core values of every YMCA program, including Day Camp Manitou. 

Forgot sunscreen? Campers learn how to share to help someone else. 

Left your lunch for the day at home? Staff will gladly provide food, and then they’ll talk about how campers can think ahead and work on self-care skills.   

While these values may seem weighty, the campers appear to soak them in effortlessly as they strap on plastic blue helmets for the rope course, help clean up during arts and crafts or race into the water during beach time. 

Along the way, campers often discover self-reliance, a love of nature and even leadership skills. 

“My favorite part is getting to know the kids, seeing them grow year after year, becoming better people,” Hanson said. “The YMCA can be an extended home for them.”

Lianna Matt is a Twin Cities journalist who loves traveling and meeting people on the job — even if she is a bit directionally challenged.


YMCA Day Camp Manitou

In 2016, this camp moved to a new, private location within Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park

Campers here engage in traditional overnight camp experiences — such as canoeing, crafts, cookouts and more — without having to stay the night. 

New features include a large, heated, outdoor pool (with a slide and splash pad), plus two archery ranges, gaga pits and 9-square courts. 

Day Camp Manitou also has a new high-ropes village, featuring a two-level ropes course, a zip line, climbing walls, a giant’s ladder and a pamper pole. Campers must sign up for specialty climbing camps to try out the course. 

Ages: 4–14 

Dates: Monday through Friday, June 12–Aug. 25

Hours: Day camp goes from 9:15 a.m.–3:45 p.m. with before/after care provided for $35 per week at the New Hope and Elk River YMCAs (and at Day Camp Manitou on select weeks).

Location: Four miles west of Monticello, which is about 40 miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis, with busing available from more than 20 west-metro locations

Weekly cost: Traditional day camps cost $215–$240. Teen specialty camps start at $250. Adventure camps with field trips start at $375.