There are two kinds of summer camp parents: The kind who work off a cross-referenced spreadsheets, hover over the computer at midnight to snatch up a spot at a hot camp as soon as it opens, and have the whole summer signed, sealed and delivered by early December—and everybody else.*
Assuming that you haven’t meticulously planned your child’s entire summer yet, circle Monday on the calendar. That’s when summer camps registration for Portland Parks and Recreation opens, at the relatively civilized hour of 12:30 p.m., allowing working parents on lunch break to get in there with a fighting shot.
The city-run camps are generally among the most budget conscious around, and get good reviews from parents in the know, particularly the full-day nature skills camps for elementary school-aged kids, at Mount Tabor, Oaks Bottom/Sellwood Park and Hoyt Arboretum. These come in at $275 for a full week, below average in a town where non municipal options routinely cost $300 and up.
(If you live in Washington County, you’ve got even more time to slack—registration for the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District’s summer camp offerings don’t open until April 18.)
It’s true that for some camps, it’s already too late to get your kid in (and in fact, was too late within hours of their registration opening online) Camp Westwind, a coastal sleepaway camp near Lincoln City, has been booked for months; so too has Girls Build, the power-tool heavy camp on the University of Portland campus with a devoted fan base.
But here’s a handful of others that have bucked the early-bird-gets-the-worm trend and still have spots open, or have yet to open registration. In no particular order:
Registration opens March 1 for Kids Community Learning Center, beloved by parents in Northwest Portland for its extended hours and packed schedules, including field trips and art projects.
Nature day camp registration is open—and early bird discounts are still in effect—at Friends of Tryon Creek, which offers scholarships and reduced rates for members.
For older kids who are budding cinephiles or animators, registration at the downtown NW Film Center camps opens on March 2. Or try fashion designer or superhero camp at one of Vibe of Portland’s two studios, in inner Southeast or St. Johns.
The underground cult of Northeast Portland’s Grace Art Camp continues—no advertising, just word of mouth, and yet half the kids in town somehow know their camp song by heart (“At Grace Art Camp I’m not a lamp/But wherever I go/I will glow!/At Grace Art Camp.”) Registration opens at 6 am on March 2; hover over your computer and be ready with your preferred dates.
*Full disclosure: This writer has a spreadsheet, and is mostly finished with booking summer camps, save for a pesky open week in July. Don’t judge!