Unique Overnight Camp Experiences in North Carolina

Nearby overnight camp experiences that mix fun with out-of-the-ordinary learning experiences.

Looking for something different for your camper this summer? Parents know not all children fit into the formula of traditional overnight camps, and they may not find singing around a campfire or playing Capture the Flag appealing.

Several unusual camps around the Carolinas and Virginia offer an overnight experience unlike any other. This list highlights a few overnight camp experiences that mix fun with out-of-the-ordinary learning experiences. If your child is more likely to be interested in CSI or life at sea, then this is the list for you.

Shadow Hill’s Summer Camp for Kids and Their Dogs

Jackson Springs, N.C.

Kids can bring their best furry friends to camp with them at Shadow Hill Farm’s summer camp on its 134-acre property in Jackson Springs. Jane Hammett-Bright, who has decades of experience raising and showing Shelties, works with kids and their dogs on everything from agility courses to grooming. "Parents are floored that their child and the dog learned all that they did," she says. All dogs are welcome as long as they are kid- and dog-friendly. Dog-and-child pairs stay together in a large building that Hammett-Bright recently constructed using the proceeds from winning Fan Favorite on the television show "Survivor: Nicaragua." Campers are up early to work dogs on agility courses, and Hammett-Bright also takes them swimming and camping in the Uwharrie Mountains. She shares her "Survivor" experience by teaching campers how to build fires and constructing "Survivor"-inspired games. All meals are homemade from scratch, and if the timing is right, campers may get to see a litter of newborn puppies.

Appalachian State University Forensic Science Camp

Boone, N.C.


Forget campfires and s’mores. At Appalachian State University’s forensic science camp, campers may spend an evening detonating explosives or making a DNA necklace. Designed for high school students, the camp offers a real-life look at what happens to evidence after it’s collected from a crime scene. Students attend learn from forensic professionals from all areas of law enforcement, which could include talks from bomb squads or digital evidence examiners. CSI comes to life in the lab where students can look for clues trying out chemical development of latex fingerprints and basic blood typing. The university opens up its high-tech equipment for campers, allowing them to use scanning electron microscopes and polarized light microscopes to examine fusion methods of explosives such as TNT. The camp is staffed by ASU chemistry faculty members, and students stay on-campus (with staff supervision) at ASU for the three-and-one-half-day camp sessions.

RV Sea Lab Summer Camp

Wilmington, N.C.


Summer Camp hits the water at RV Sea Lab, where campers spend up to five days sailing a research vessel up and down the Intercoastal Waterway. Students have likened the trip to living on a Discovery Channel. "The kids get an adventure," says Matt Perkins, owner, founder and captain of RV Sea Lab. "We are overseeing them, but they live on the boat and crew it." Perkins packs in plenty of adventure, including exploring islands that only are accessible by boat, using an overboard camera to inventory ocean species and plenty of surfing. The camp is heavy on science that can benefit future chemistry and oceanography study, but Perkins says that many students come on board for the thrill and freedom of the trip. "It’s sort of like a literary experience, like they’re Tom Sawyer," he says. Popular stops include Beaufort and Shackleford Banks, where campers likely will encounter wild ponies.

Camp Motorsport

Clover, Va.


No driver’s license is needed at Camp Motorsport, where kids ages 9-16 can spend a week driving dirt karts, half-scale stock cars and racing go-karts. Campers get behind the wheel at least twice every day, taking a vehicle off-road or around a paved track. Drivers of all levels are welcome, from newbies to kids considering a career in motorsports. Teenagers who are closer to legal driving age can receive extra training in defensive driving and skills needed to get a learner’s permit or license. The Go Kart Racing Challenge offers a week of competitive go-kart racing. Between driving sessions, campers stay busy with paintball and daily swims. They come home with more than just improved driving skills — the camp’s activities teach kids math, science, technology and engineering related to motorsports.

Camp Woodie

Pinewood, S.C.


An evening at Camp Woodie could involve anything from tug-of-war over a tractor tire to learning how to navigate a night sky or shooting skeet. The weeklong camp, which was established in 1995 and is overseen by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association, mixes fun and games with hands-on education about wildlife, hunting and the outdoors. "(We teach kids) about how beautiful it is to step outside in God’s creation and to love, respect and use natural resources wisely," says Ed Paul, Camp Woodie camp director. Campers learn how to operate in the outdoors, whether they practicing hunting safety with firearms or figuring out where the best fishing is on a body of water. Outdoor survival classes teach campers everything from how to build a fire to how to navigate by the stars. Many campers arrive with little experience with the outdoors, and they leave with increased confidence and appreciation for nature, says Paul. "They learn just how small we are when we step outside, but also how large of a role we can have in keeping the outdoors a place for the next generation."

While specialty overnight camps can be expensive, costing up to $1,200 for five days, the experience can be life changing. Kids who follow-up with skills they learn at camp, whether it's marine biology or showing dogs, can earn everything from college scholarships to counselor jobs at the camp when they are older.

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. She has two elementary school age children.