by Kim Tschantre
The thought of summer sleepaway camp conjures up images of rustic wooden cabins lined with bunk beds, campfires, s’mores, laughter, swimming, sports, and last, but definitely not least – friendships. When dropping my kids off for summer camp in years’ past, I often found myself wishing I were a kid again and could join in the fun. I finally got my chance this summer at Camp Friendship in Palmyra, Virginia. For the first time ever, Camp Friendship, a sprawling 600-acre family-owned property located just one hour from Richmond in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is offering a summer cabin rental experience. It’s the perfect escape for family or friends, and it served as an awesome replacement for our annual beach house trip with friends that COVID-19 canceled this year.
Camp Friendship offered us the perfect opportunity to gather together four families, each in separate, adjoining cabins, for a fun getaway. With eight kids ranging in age from 11 to 16, there was something for everyone, and we were definitely not ready to leave after our tranquil but active two-night stay. With 600 acres of fields and forests, extensive hiking and biking trails, plus an entire equestrian center with more than seventy-five horses, we had plenty of space to roam and explore. Camp Friendship is taking great precautions to thoroughly clean the cabins and any shared spaces, and they have placed sanitation stations throughout the camp so visitors can access hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies while they are out on the property. The staff wears masks when they are in close proximity to visitors, and they have spaced out the available lodging to ensure everyone feels at ease (it was a bonus that we were the only group there for the second night, and there was just one other family in another part of the property the first night).
We appreciated having some structure in our day with designated times for canoeing, kayaking, and swimming in the lake. Guests can also bring their own equipment to enjoy fishing in the lake or in the Rivanna River that surrounds the property on three sides, as well as river tubing, hiking, volleyball, tennis, basketball, soccer, gaga ball, and more. Our 16-year-olds were thrilled to wade waist deep into the clear waters of the Rivanna River and catch a few smallmouth bass, while others caught fish and spotted turtles in the lake that the owner and some friends dug themselves when the camp was founded back in 1966.
Guests can add on extra activities such as trail rides, horseback lessons, hay rides, or tennis lessons. Some of our group added on a trail ride ($50 per person), and a few of the kids got quite a thrill out of mounting a horse for the very first time. These horses are accustomed to carrying kids around, so they were as docile as can be and were the perfect introduction to riding for our crew. The fun and friendly staff at the stables was patient and very knowledgeable, which put our minds at ease around these gentle giants. We got to see an amazing sunset and feed some beautiful horses on our evening hayride, while hearing more about the history of the camp from co-director, Sarah Ackenbom, who was a wonderful hostess during our stay.
Our cabin area provided the perfect gathering space for our group, with shady picnic tables, a fire pit, and lots of trees for our hammocks. Our cabins included electricity, simple wooden furniture, a bathroom with shower, and six bunk-style beds, plus a seventh single bed. My two biggest concerns going into the weekend were mosquitoes and sleeping in a non-air conditioned cabin, but I was delighted that I did not have one single bug bite during my stay, and for a 90-plus degree day and as someone who overheats easily, I never felt hot during my stay. But, if you absolutely need your AC for sleeping, check out the Overlook Lodge for options.
We loved the extra little touches in our cabin when we arrived: a vase of fresh wildflowers, a lantern, a handwritten birthday postcard for my son’s thirteenth birthday, a granola bar, and firewood ready to go at each fire pit. The complimentary bags of ice, available for pickup twice a day at the camp store, were a lifesaver to keep the contents of our coolers chilly.
We brought our own sheets, towels, fans, hammocks, fishing and sports equipment, toiletries, and food. Each cabin is equipped with hand soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. Although the cabins don’t include a kitchen, there are local restaurants nearby for dine in, carryout, or delivery, or you can stay on the serene property, roasting hot dogs and s’mores on the fire pit. That’s what we did since we just didn’t want to leave our cozy setup to venture back to the real world.
The staff at Camp Friendship goes above and beyond to make your stay extra special. Our wonderful little getaway was just what we needed to unplug and feel like life was back to normal, at least for a couple of days. And if you are encouraging your kids to try out a sleepaway camp in the future, this is the perfect opportunity to ease them into it by exploring the property as a family first. I have a feeling this trip may have inspired a few future Camp Friendship campers in our group.
Visit CampFriendship.com or call 434-589-8950 to book your stay, and be sure to tell them you found out about them through Richmond Family Magazine! 😉
(The author received a complimentary stay in exchange for sharing her thoughts with RFM readers.)