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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Weekly Nature Themes

What you should know about Nature Day Camp, Nature Skills Camps, and True Nature Summer Camps...

Each version of camp has a slightly different focus - for the youngest campers we offer a shorter day and teach ecology mainly through play. For campers a bit older, we pair structured and unstructured activities so each day contains play, learning, and autonomy of choice. For our oldest campers we introduce skills and a different level of focus. For children who thrive in a very thoughtful yet connected environment, we offer a camp that helps build community and brings children into a deeper awareness and appreciation of nature. All the camps are fun, and all connect us to nature - but the various options allow us to meet the individual needs of each child who participates. Here's what you need to know about each one!

Information about PARTIAL-DAY NATURE CAMPS (Ages 4-6)
Information about NATURE DAY CAMP Themes (Ages 5-9)
Information about NATURE SKILLS CAMPS (Ages 9-12)
Information about TRUE NATURE CAMPS (Ages 5-8 and 9-12)


Nurture your child's sense of wonder and curiosity with activities that help them connect to nature! Sneak through the trees, pretend in a magical forest, explore for birds, insects, plants, and animals. Give your 'super sleuth' a chance to uncover the wonders of the natural world through play, exploration, games, and crafts! The Chickadees age group is lead by staff with specific training and experience working with younger children. 

As one of the Chickadees, your child can expect a smattering of walking, exploring, open-ended art, nature games, magical stories, and lots of unstructured nature play with the group! The camp day is shorter than the full-day program (ending at 2pm instead of 4pm). Each week is built around a simpler version of the Nature Day Camp theme, but the activities are just as engaging and are at an appropriate preschool level. 

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For the Flickers, Hawks, Ospreys, and Ravens Age Groups

Each week of Nature Day Camp has a different nature theme and ecological focus. We try to pair the theme with the location so children are learning about the actual plants, trees, animals, birds, and insects in their neighborhood. The daily rhythm includes structured activities based around the theme (think cooperative games that teach nature concepts, crafts, scavenger hunts, songs, stories, and science investigations using tools and equipment.) The middle of each day, however, is left for campers to travel the park on foot, exploring what is interesting to them, stopping to play silly games or a capture the flag game, etc. We believe wholeheartedly that both structured activities and unstructured play are needed to help children connect to the world around them. 

Every week of camp is a balance of science, wonder, discovery, and silliness! Pairing the intrigue of ecology with the awe and wonder of nature is our number one goal!


Backbone Not Required! What do insects, spiders, snails, and centipedes have in common? They’ve got no spine! It takes a strong outer shell and some wild adaptations to be a spine-less creature in the natural world. Join us for a week of investigation in decomposers, predator-prey relationships, and games that help us understand the strange characteristics of invertebrates.

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park (June 24-28)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Characteristics of Invertebrates; Exoskeleton; Social insects; Adaptations to avoid predators; Predators of invertebrates; How invertebrates move; Invertebrate homes (webs, holes, beetle chew); Definition of a decomposer; How invertebrates find their food (vision vs. vibration); Ancient invertebrates; Life cycles (Complete vs incomplete metamorphosis)

Branching Out! Tall trees, short trees, fallen trees, and snags – each one plays an important part in the forest ecosystem! During this week of bark, branches, twigs, and stumps, get to know the quiet giants of the forest through up-close examination, sensory learning, and stealth games. Come and explore with us and have a "tree-mendous" week!

Where this theme takes place…
Hoyt Arboretum (July 8-12)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Conifer vs Deciduous; Types of Forests; How animals use trees; Tree age; Leaf life cycle; How humans use trees; Tree diseases; Under the bark; Fruiting and edible trees; Plants that harm Trees; What trees need to succeed; Needles vs. Leaves; Root structure

Buzz & Flutter Unlike a caterpillar (who must liquify and digest itself before changing into a butterfly), YOU can transform painlessly into a pollinator during this week-long camp. From moths and butterflies to bees and wasps, join us to learn about the science— and the dancing— involved in pollinating.

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park (July 22-26)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Pollination and cross-pollination; Characteristics of pollinators; Importance of pollinators; Bee, wasp, butterfly, and moth identification; Life cycle; Adaptations of pollinators; Social insects; Nectar dances; Insect migration; UV light and nectar trails; Characteristics of flowering plants; Butterfly wing design; Moths vs butterflies;

Habitats are Hip How would you become invisible in your own backyard? Come think like an animal and discover the critters hiding in plain sight! Find out which species are on the prowl, which are clever in the way they escape, and how all the living things around us are connected.

Where this theme takes place…
Sellwood Park - Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (July 15-19)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Definition of a habitat; Different kinds of habitats; What an animal needs to survive; Communities; Web of life; Food chains; Animal homes; Carnivores vs herbivores vs omnivores; Cycles; Herd animals vs solitary animals; Predator-prey relationships;

Having a Blast with Chloroplasts! Turning sun into sugar is tricky business, but it is a full-time job for the ground plants, mosses, and ferns around us! Get down and dirty during this week of herbaceous investigation and discover how the plants at our feet become a source of water, shelter, food, or in some cases – delicious teas and medicine!

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park (Aug 19-23)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Parts of a plant; What a plant needs to survive; Native plants vs introduced plants vs invasive plants; Edible plant identification; Leaf structure; Root structure; Photosynthesis; Herbivores (animals who eat plants); Plant growth; Plant dyes; Crafting with plants; Competition;

Marvelous Mammals I am warm, fuzzy, and always on the lookout for food. What am I? During this week, you will learn the remarkable traits and adaptations that make mammals the masters of their environment. Become a crafty coyote, a restless rodent, or a burrowing bunny and try to survive the food chain.

Where this theme takes place…
Hoyt Arboretum (July 29-Aug 2)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Characteristics of Mammals; Predator vs Prey; Tracks and sign; Camouflage; Rodents; Mammal homes; Adaptations; Coyotes; Territory and habitat; Mammal babies; Canines and Felines; Warm blood, big appetites; Water based mammals; Resource competition; Food chains

Rock and Roll Lifestyle The molten lava of the distant past towered into tall columns, spread across the valley, and pushed up into tall buttes – just like Mt Tabor! Do you know what happened next? Spend this week of camp delving into the science of volcanoes, rocks, sand, and soil. Come and investigate for yourself!

Where this theme takes place…

Mt Tabor Park (July 1-3, no camps on July 4 or 5)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Geology of Oregon; Type of Volcanoes; Characteristics of Rock; Categorizing rocks; Sand and silt; Landslides; Layers of the Earth; Human uses of rock; Fossils; Comets vs. Asteroids vs. Meteors; Gems and crystals; How mountains form; Metals and minerals; Magnetism; Erosion

We Can Wing It -  Why doesn’t a woodpecker get a concussion? How can a falcon fly so fast? Could a hawk see an ant from the top of a 10-story building? Why do crows always bother predatory birds? Hone your “owl eyes” to find a new feathered friend during this week-long, winged adventure and find out what the birds might be telling us about the natural world!

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park (Aug 12-16)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Bird calls; Migration and winter adaptations; Raptors; Characteristics of Birds; Prehistoric birds; Nesting and hatchlings; Predators that hunt birds; Types of beaks; Songbirds; Owl pellets; Scavengers and opportunists; Eyesight vs Other senses; Male and female feathers; Corvids; Wing types

Wild Willamette Watersheds - All water goes downhill, but where does it end up, and how does it change the land? Investigate the ecology of the river, the upland forests, and the soggy wetlands that are home to many birds and animals. Come and experiment with sand and water and explore for predatory animals who depend on the water for food. (Water exploration is optional and takes place in shallow water.)

Where this theme takes place…

Sellwood Park – Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (Aug 5-9)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Characteristics of a watershed; Sand and silt composition; Erosion; Macroinvertebrates (Water Insects); Predatory birds and mammals; River habitat; Wetland habitat; Upland forest habitat; Water cycle; Frogs and Salamanders; Salmon life cycle  

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Swifts (Ages 9-12)

Nature Skills Camps (a.k.a. The Swifts) work to create a balance between nature exploration, science learning, and hands-on skills. Nature Skills camps are for older elementary children, and each week focuses the unstructured time in the middle of the day on a hands-on skill. This helps keep our older campers excited about the games and exploration of Nature Day Camp but also allows them to hone a skill like whittling or leather work that requires more fine motor coordination, responsibility, and focus. This is a good option for campers who have done three or more years of Nature Day Camp in the past and are ready to mix it up a little!


  • June 24-28 at Mt Tabor Park - Salve, Cordage, Plant dyes, Tool-making
  • July 1-3 at Mt Tabor Park - The Science of Rocks & Rock Collecting
  • July 22-25 at Mt Tabor Park - Whittling, Woodburning, Beads, and Bows
  • Aug 12-16 at Mt Tabor Park - Using Nature as Art, Media, and Tools

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True Nature Summer Camps

True Nature Summer Camps are mixed-aged camps that deliberately connect children to a very personal experience in the outdoors while also building a close community and finding a new appreciation for nature. This camp strives to support and mentor the natural curiosities, talents, and interests that each camper brings with them. True  Nature is inspired by the philosophy of 8 shields whose goal are to bring out attributes of connection- quiet mind, vitality, deep listening, empathy, being truly helpful, fully alive, love, compassion and forgiveness. This program is designed to develop a deeper awareness for the animals, people, and environment around us by paying attention, using our senses in different ways, making observations, telling and catching stories, and playing games that encourage us to experience the world as animals do. We learn the language of the birds because they are observing and alerting each other and other animals about what is happening in the environment. We practice moving quietly and slowly to not only observe more animals but to show respect for their routines. Our daily routine includes games, sit-spots, bird observation, storytelling, and group activities that promote being truly helpful, deep listening, cooperation, care for each other, and empathy for the world around us. These camps are great for campers who thrive in smaller groups of mixed-age children and are really intrigued by their connections to the world around them. (This camp does feel different than Nature Day Camp, as it contains a more deliberate focus on awareness, nature connection, and the gifts that each child brings to the group.)


  • July 1-3 at Mt Tabor Park (ages 5-8)
  • July 8-12 at Hoyt Arboretum (ages 9-12)
  • July 15-19 at Sellwood Park/Oaks Bottom (ages 9-12)
  • July 22-26 at Mt Tabor Park (ages 5-8)
  • July 29-Aug 2 at Hoyt Arboretum (ages 9-12)
  • Aug 5-9 at Sellwood Park/Oaks Bottom (ages 9-12)
  • Aug 12-16 at Mt Tabor Park (ages 5-8)
  • Aug 19-23 at Mt Tabor Park (ages 9-12)

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