The Best Summer Camps in TV and Movie History - Best of Summer Week


By: Molly Freeman and Gabi Kalter

Photo courtesy of Hunter Desportes.

Whether you went to camp and had the best time of your life, totally hated camp, or sat at home over the summer missing your friends who were away, everyone has some sort of childhood camp-related memory.

For decades, Hollywood has cashed in on these cherished memories in the form of popular movies and television shows. Since the 1970s, there have been dozens of movies either focusing on the experiences had at camp like Little Darlings and Camp Cucamonga, or taking place only partially at a summer camp such as Addams Family Values and The Parent Trap. Then of course, there were television shows like Salute Your Shorts about the childhood staple.

Of course, I’m sure many kids dreamed of going to one of these Hollywood summer camps because they seemed so much more fun than actual camps. Personally, I wanted to be on Wild & Crazy Kids, but I would have settled for packing up and heading to Camp Anawanna with the Salute Your Shorts gang as well.

Keeping in mind most of these movies were filmed at real camps—Fun fact: Friday the 13th was actually shot at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, NJ, less than an hour away from where I grew up—we’re taking a look at the best fictional summer camps from movies and television.

Camp Callaway (It Takes Two, 1995)

From one of the many ’90s movies starring pint-sized Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Camp Callaway acts as the backdrop in It Takes Two while the twins act out a modern retelling of The Prince and the Pauper.

Amanda Lemmon is an orphan who attends Camp Callaway, and Alyssa Callaway is the daughter of the man who owns the camp. When the two girls literally run into each other in the woods, they get the chance to change places. It Takes Two also borrows aspects of The Parent Trap since Amanda and Alyssa plot to set up Mr. Callaway with Amanda’s caseworker, Diane.

As the girls schemed, they also spend their summer at Camp Callaway playing sports with the other campers, enjoying the lake, and getting into one fun-looking food fight in the mess hall. Camp Callaway resembles most summer camps, but with the added Hollywood charm. Plus, who didn’t want to pal around with Amanda and Alyssa as they tried to play matchmaker?

Camp Chippewa (Addams Family Values, 1993)

Out of all the camps on this list, Camp Chippewa is the one summer camp that only seemed enjoyable during the events of the movie it comes from: Addams Family Values. The camp counselors, Gary Granger and Becky Martin-Granger, are excessively chipper and tend to favor the blonde, blue-eyed children, especially over Wednesday and Pugsley Addams.

However, the Addams children, along with their friend Joel played by David Krumholtz, and some of the other Camp Chippewa outcasts wrecked havoc on the camp’s production of the first Thanksgiving. The misfit children — who were all cast as the Native Americans in the production — took over the play and made it perhaps a little more historically accurate, though a bit violent. I certainly wouldn’t want to attend Camp Chippewa on a regular basis, but befriending Wednesday and Pugsley Addams is totally on my childhood bucket list.

Camp Walden (The Parent Trap, 1998)

Although very little of The Parent Trap takes place at Camp Walden, it’s still memorable for one very important reason: it is the twist of fate that brought Hallie Parker and Annie James together. Played by Lindsay Lohan, Hallie and Annie are sisters separated at birth and each raised by one of their biological parents. The two girls don’t get along at first, and are sent to solitary after a slew of pranks-gone-wrong, which is where they finally discover why they look so much alike.

The rest of the movie is about the girls switching places and scheming to bring their parents back together, but the part of the movie that takes place at Camp Walden makes it look like a fun time. Even the solitary cabin, which is meant to be a punishment, doesn’t seem so bad. I definitely would have gone to Camp Walden as a kid.

Camp Rock (Camp Rock!, 2008)

If you have a knee-jerk reaction to dislike anything the Disney Channel has released in the past few years, I beg to differ, at least in the case of Camp Rock!. Despite the cattiness between the girls, the camp seems really fun. It’s a musical performance camp focusing on instruments, vocals, and dance.

The camp holds a couple “Jams” during the summer where the campers can show off their talents. Camp Rock even enlists the help of pop star Shane Gray, played by Joe Jonas.Even though I have not musical ability whatsoever, I would certainly attend Camp Rock for a summer to at least give it a shot.

Camp Ovation (Camp, 2003)

A drama camp in every sense of the word, Camp Ovation provided a place for aspiring stars. This cult classic theatre camp is a creative mesh of actors, singers, dancers, directors, etc., who come together to put on a new, original, end-of-summer production.

Run by a washed up Broadway songwriter, Bert Hanley, Camp Ovation was a place for the outcasts to congregate in their artistic effort of conquering show business. Chock full of quirky characters and drama queens, the camp’s eccentric community make for a never-dull summer.

Vlad goes to camp with a blossoming love of guitar, and even though he realizes he’s one of the only straight guys in attendance, the air of tolerance, acceptance, and shameless originality that color Camp Ovation allow the limited labels of sexual orientation to fade.

Camp Ovation may be a little dramatic for some, but who wouldn’t want to go to camp where being your authentic, embarrassing, genuine self is integral to the production? As they say in the biz, the show must go on, and these weirdos at Camp Ovation are determined to see that it does. That passion alone is enough to make you give these kids some props – not to mention that they might need actual props for the show.

Camp Nowhere (Camp Nowhere, 1994)

Four kids—Mud, Gaby, Zach, and Trish—who are tired of going to horrible camps— computer camp, fat camp, military camp and theater camp—scam their parents and rent their own campsite for a summer of adult-free, rule-free fun. Who wouldn’t want to take a break from all the responsibilities of being a kid? Left to their own devices, the kids of Camp Nowhere could have turned it into a Lord of the Flies type scenario, but they managed to have the best summer of their lives. And they almost pulled off one of the greatest scams in movie history, rivaling Accepted (a collegiate version of Camp Nowhere,) and even Ocean’s 11. Sign me up.

Camp Waziyatah (Bug Juice, 1998)

When Bug Juice premiered on Disney Channel in 1998, I was instantly intrigued by this reality show of sorts that would feature real-life teens attending sleepaway camp in Maine. And although each summer brought a new season, which took place at a new camp, that first summer at Camp Waziyatah is one for the books.

It was a fairly regular camp, but that’s precisely what made it so magical. Regular kids with regular drama and regular situations confessing their inner thoughts to a cameraman hired by Disney Channel who follows them around all summer.

The bonfires, the talent shows, the hikes (not to mention to hiking injuries) and the awkward dances that took place on the basketball court – it was all so classic. Camp Waziyatah is pretty much what I think of when I think of your run of the mill, perfect sleepaway camp. You know a camp is epic and amazing when the end of summer brings endless tears.

These campers would hysterically weep as if the world was coming to an end. And, in a way, it was. They had to say goodbye to their world of Camp Waziyatah, their summer home, and not only did they cry, but I know us audiences at home were experiencing the water works as well. The camp was that good.

Camp Hope (Heavyweights, 1995)

Although you might be hesitant about going to a “Fat Camp,” especially one run by a crazed Ben Stiller (in a role unintentionally—or completely intentionally—foreshadowing his character from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,) Camp Hope after the events of Heavyweights sounds like it would be pretty fun.

Little Gerry (Aaron Schwartz) is reluctant as he heads off to Camp Hope in this ’90s classic, but he makes some friends and they all band together in order to escape the health-nut regime of Stiller’s character, Tony Perkis. Besides, this camp has everything a kid could want to make for a truly great summer: go karts, The Blob, good friends and good snacks (healthy, that is.) Plus, the camp promotes embracing who you are and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What parent could be opposed to that?

Camp Anawanna (Salute Your Shorts, 1991-1992)

Who wouldn’t want to attend camp in “the happiest place in the universe?” The spunky gang from the classic Nickelodeon favorite, Salute Your Shorts, brought the fun to our television screens, making us want to join in the fun.

The seven campers saw many a great adventure at Camp Anawana, oh – how we hold you in our hearts! With names like Budnick and Donkeylips, there’s just no way this gang could ever have a dull summer. They made lasting friendships, played epic pranks, and endlessly tortured their camp counselor, Kevin “Ug” Lee. And with a camp director named Dr. Kahn who is seemingly never around, torturing your goofy counselor who wears a thick layer of sunscreen on the bridge of his nose is undeniable.

Also, I’m down to attend any camp whose theme song lends itself well for a good fart parody. “Camp Anawana, we hold you in our hearts, and when we think about you, it makes me wanna fart!” Good old potty humor. I don’t know if it gets more summer camp than that.

Camp Firewood (Wet Hot American Summer, 2001)

Although Wet Hot American Summer is just as much, if not more, about the counselors than the campers, if I ever were a camp counselor I would want to work at Camp Firewood. From the hysterically funny cook, Gene, played by Christopher Meloni, to the overly-intense Susie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Bradley Cooper), to dedicated Beth (Janeane Garofalo) and heartthrob Andy (Paul Rudd,) the cast of characters at Camp Firewood led by McKinley (Michael Ian Black) has made this movie a cult classic.

Wet Hot American Summer takes place on the last day of camp in the summer of 1981 as both campers and counselors alike try to resolve all their unfinished business before heading back to the real world. With all the adventures and hijinks the counselors pull in a single day, just imagine how fun it must have been to spend an entire summer at Camp Firewood. Although I think it would have been more fun to be a counselor than a camper, either way I’d love to go. When do we leave?