If "camp" conjures up fond memories of musty bunks and noisy camaraderie, many places will help you return to that youthful nirvana—no matter how old you are. You'll find adult camps for dance, cooking, scholarly discourse, wilderness survival, and more, all within a day's drive of Baltimore. Pick grapes at a vineyard in Virginia, ride the trails on an all-women's cowboy retreat in Delaware, test your mettle at a wilderness survival school, nosh with fellow foodies at the elite Greenbrier in West Virginia, or sleep in a dorm room designed by none other than Thomas Jefferson.
"In the past few years, there has been much more growth in 'alternative vacationing,' and our inventory has been more robust," says Nancy LaPook Diamond, founder of GrownUpCamps.com. People especially want to develop skills and hobbies and to seek all kinds of self-improvement, she says. So take your pick; there are plenty of fun respites for the kid—or adult—in you. And, this time, you probably won't even be homesick.
Air Combat USA Dogfighting School
The program: Spend a morning or a weekend learning to fly a combat mission in a high-performance SIAI Marchetti SF260 aerobatic prop plane. Ground school prepares amateur pilots (no license or experience necessary) for their flight with an instructor, girded with helmet and parachute. Two guest pilots are pitted against each other in a dogfight, where electronic "weapons" track hits and smoke issues from "damaged" aircraft. Critique your mission with a souvenir video. "It is so exhilarating," says Denise Jennings, Air Combat USA marketing director. "[Pilots] feel like they've run a marathon." Who should go: Anyone who watches the movie Top Gun over and over again, or those who just like knot-in-the-stomach thrills. Highlights: G-forces, adrenalin, cutthroat competition. "Everything is real…except the bullets," says founder Mike Blackstone.
Where: Suffolk Executive Airport, near Norfolk, Virginia. (Other locations are offered nationwide.) When: April 24-26, Nov. 20-22. Cost: $1,395 to $2,095, program only. There are a dozen chain hotels in the area and Norfolk is just a half-hour drive from the airport. More information: aircombatusa.com, 800-522-7590.
Greenbrier Cooking School
The program: Learn new kitchen techniques from chefs at The Greenbrier's Culinary Arts Center and other notable cooking experts while relaxing at this acclaimed West Virginia resort during three-day programs. "Greenbrier Gourmet" has a class size of 12; "BBQ Mastery," taught by Ray ("Dr. BBQ") Lampe and pit master Chris Lilly, can accommodate 50 smoke-cooking aficionados. Who should go: Cooks looking for their inner Martha or Emeril, or anyone who enjoys food, wine, and chatting up fellow foodies. Highlights: Morning, hands-on classes, daily lunch tasting, kitchen and hotel tour; 250-year-old luxury resort on 6,500 landscaped acres. Where: The Greenbrier resort, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. When: "Greenbrier Gourmet," April 26-29, May 10-13; "BBQ Mastery," May 31-June 3, June 28-July 1, Aug. 9-12. Cost: From $2,380, includes three nights' accommodation. More information: greenbrier.com, 800-228-5049.
The program: "Jefferson's America, America's Jefferson." Deep in the Virginia roots of Thomas Jefferson, join scholars and fellow history buffs to explore the man and his times through lectures that examine Jefferson's blueprint for a new world. Listen, eat, and sleep on the historic campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, punctuated by private tours of Monticello, the Jeffersonian documents in the campus's Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, and the newly restored octagonal brick villa Jefferson built at nearby Poplar Forest, Virginia. Who should go: History nerds who enjoy literate socializing in a gorgeous setting. Highlights: Hear four leading Jefferson scholars, including Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the bestseller The Hemingses of Monticello; sleep in one of the university's original, Jefferson-designed student rooms; after hours, see rooms in Jefferson's homes not open to the public. When: June 10-14.Where: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Cost: $1,630 to $1,685 per person, lodging and meals included. More information:Virginia.edu/travelandlearn, 800-346-3882.
Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School
The program: Ever wonder how you'd cope with a plane crash, terrifying natural disaster, or collapse of civilized society? Two-day and four-day courses taught in the woods by former Air Force survival instructors or Air Force survival-school grads show how to find shelter, food, water, and first aid in the most extreme conditions. Founder Reggie Bennett says he gets clients from Scout troops to Wall Street workers. "I'm not here to put my students through some vision quest," Bennett says. "I want to empower them with information and hands-on training. Anybody can be stuck in a hurricane or a snowstorm." Who should go: Outdoorsy types who actually like camping in the wild, or those who want to be prepared when disaster strikes. Highlights: Making fires, signaling for help, how to use knots, maps, and compasses. "Hidden Pursuit" course teaches how to survive while evading an aggressor. Where: George Washington and Jefferson National Forest near Lynchburg, Virginia. When: Courses run year-round. Cost: $295 to $550; private and group courses available. More information: mountainshepherd.com, 434-238-3718.
Nike Parent/Child Golf Camp
The program: Golf-loving families can enjoy a weekend of professional instruction and play on The Links at Lighthouse Sound, one of the country's top courses near Ocean City. "They call it the Pebble Beach of the East," says golf-school director Bob Affelder. The camp is a good value at this course where greens fees are $179 per game, he says, and participants enjoy a ratio of one teacher to every four students. Players ages 7 and older and their parents receive evaluations and small-group lessons; then, after lunch, play nine holes with a pro. They can golf the back nine on their own. Who should go: Tiger Woods devotees or families who won't mind playing a lot of golf. Highlights: Handsome, 1,000-acre waterfront course overlooks Ocean City; Nike logo balls, hats, and T-shirts; videos help analyze and improve swings. Where: The Links at Lighthouse Sound, Bishopville. When: July 18-19, July 25-26. Cost: $565 per person includes daily lunch, accommodations not included. More information: ussportscamps.com.
Sun King Dance Camp
The program: Indulge your passion for ballet with a week of half-day or full-day classes that culminate in a performance. "We've built upon what dancers want," says Sun King director Heidi Winton-Stahle. "Technique, pointe class, and pro stuff. [Campers] go back with renewed purpose and energy," she says. "We have lots of repeats." It offers four levels of instruction. Who should go: Serious dancers who have studied for at least two years and are fit enough to dance continuously for a week. Highlights: Take classes in the studios of the Richmond Ballet; learn and perform a piece from a famous ballet such as Giselle, Swan Lake, or Sleeping Beauty. Where: Richmond, Virginia. When: June 14-20, Aug. 2-8, Aug. 16-22, Aug. 31-Sept. 4. Cost: Half-day courses, $425-465; full-day, $645-715; accommodations not included but neighboring Crowne Plaza Hotel offers a special rate for campers. More information: sunkingdance.com.
Veramar Vineyard Wine Camp
The program: Join the workforce at a vineyard that carries on Virginia's 400-year-old winemaking tradition. Depending on the time of year, guests help cultivate, harvest, or crush grapes, and bottle the year's vintage. Labor is eased by two good nights' sleep in the family home of owners Jim and Della Bogaty. "We got to hand-press a bin of pinot noir destined for port," says camper Debbie Schlicht. "And you eat and drink very well." Who should go: Wine fans who want to learn about the grape from picking to crushing to drinking. Highlights: Smell, taste, and touch Virginia terroir in an intimate group (maximum six per weekend), Saturday picnic lunch and six-course dinner with wine pairing, Sunday gourmet breakfast. Where: Veramar Vineyard, Berryville, Virginia. When: May 29-31, June 24-26, Aug. 21-23, Sept. 11-12, Oct. 16-18. Cost: $950 for two people, includes accommodation and meals. More information: veramar.com, 540-955-5510.
Women's Ranch Retreat
The program: Who cares if you get a little sore riding the trails or taking on the mechanical bull at the Wicked R Ranch when your camp tuition includes a massage? Get your cowgirl on while learning to toss a rope, drive cattle, and tie up a mechanical calf. Then, show off your skills in a rodeo. No matter if you're not a rider: "We have horses that will babysit anybody," says owner Randy Ridgely. Who should go: Female City Slickers should apply as well as veteran horse riders who like a good time. Highlights: Sleep in a bunkhouse with a group of 12 women primed for action and fun. ("Let cowboys dote on your every need," touts the Wicked R.) A Saturday-night gourmet cookout features a bonfire and country-western singer. Where: Wicked R Ranch, Wyoming, Delaware. When:May 17-18, Aug. 23-24. Cost: $300 per person, $250 if you bring your own horse. More information: wickedr.com, 302-492-3327.