Overnight Camps

A Week of Epic Adventure Awaits!

Outdoor leadership, personal development & wilderness survival skills for ages 11-15 in the Finger Lakes

Experience a week of immersive nature-based skills training, inspiring challenges, and outrageously fun activities under the guidance of seasoned wilderness instructors.


"Thank you!!!! My kids are so excited to be in Ithaca for the summer, in part because of your awesome camp offerings!" - Christine P., Wyoming


Our camps are designed to build confidence, friendships and outdoor skills – and offer some of the most positive formative experiences in a young person’s life. Overnight Camps are a perfect opportunity for kids to safely put their skills to the test. What your kids learn with us are truly helpful life skills that will travel with them far beyond the camp experience.

Building Relationships

Increasingly, the only adults in a child’s life are their parents and teachers. At Overnight Camp kids have the opportunity to form a true friendship with an adult who sees your child as a learner and builder of things, ideas and choices. This kind of mentoring relationship allows kids to learn and grow and we believe it is an essential part of a healthy learning community.

Increased Self-Reliance

Camp builds resilience and pushes kids out of their comfort zone as they get to take appropriate risks, make judgment calls on their own and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Overnight Camp is a safe first step toward self-reliance and independence. If they struggled with the discomfort of homesickness, long hikes, insect stings, and shoes filled with mud, they know that they got through it — either on their own or with support from their friends and instructors.

Digital Detox

Overnight Camp with Primitive Pursuits is a tech break kids and teens today desperately need from the daily digital realm. The chance to unplug, connect with new friends and with the natural world allows for direct experiences that bring insights and inspirations. These friendships and kinship bonds with nature often stay with kids long after they leave summer camp.

Registration Details

Ages 11-15
1pm Sunday - 11am Friday
6 days/5 nights
$675, includes all meals and camping
Location – Arnot Forest, Van Etten, NY

*This program was made possible by a grant from the Tompkins County Tourism Program

    • Bear Camp - at home in the forest!
      Overnight Camp (Ages 11-15)
    • Jun 25 - Jun 30, 2017
      Arnot Forest
    • Jul 09 - Jul 14, 2017
      Arnot Forest
    • Jul 30 - Aug 04, 2017
      Arnot Forest
    • Join us for a week of thriving and surviving at Bear Camp. Together with your fellow adventurers you will build fire from friction, craft and use tools from stone and wood, identify and harvest edible plants, cook over open fires, sleep in a rain-proof shelter you build yourself...and more!
    • Learn More
    • Fox Camp - the art of stealth
      Overnight Camp (Ages 11-15)
    • Jul 16 - Jul 21, 2017
      Arnot Forest
    • ​Become the eyes and ears of the forest at Fox Camp as you learn confidence through the skills of the scout. Discover how to blend into the landscape through the arts of camouflage, navigation without compass or map, and stealthy movement.
    • Learn More
    • Archer Camp - primitive skill immersion
      Overnight Camp (Ages 11-15)
    • Jul 23 - Jul 28, 2017
      Arnot Forest
    • Jul 02 - Jul 07, 2017
      Arnot Forest
    • The focus of this week is on the fine art of bows, arrows and shooting. Make and bring home a primitive archery set as well as the fundamental skills of aiming, shooting, safety and sports etiquette. Join our senior bowyers and archers in mastering shooting form, camouflage and strategy. This camp is for all skill levels. Build your strength and confidence as you discover the power of taking aim!
    • Learn More

Sample Day (& Night) Schedule

  • 8:00am – Breakfast outside, birdsong nearby, and “animal forms” yoga.
  • 9:00am – Activity groups: choose your own adventure and practice a variety of skills — make fire, build shelters, identify wild edible plants, practice camouflage, etc.
  • Noon – Lunch in the field, by the stream, or next to a massive old tree watching local critters.
  • 1:00pm – Small group activities: make a survival bow, successfully navigate through the woods without map & compass, create baskets from natural fibers, and more.
  • 5:00pm – Dinner: help prepare and cook your dinner over a fire built by your group.
  • 7:00pm – Share stories of the day and prepare for a nighttime activity.
  • 8:00pm – Move silently and confidently in activities that allow us to see and hear more wildlife.
  • 10:00pm – Sleep peacefully and dream of the next amazing day in your week.

Our instructional team features:

  • 1:8 staff-student ratio
  • On-site director and volunteers who offer additional instructor support
  • Educators who encourage each students’ respect for self, others and nature
  • Experienced First Aid and CPR certified professionals

Woodland Campground

Cornell’s Arnot Forest Campus, a 4200 acre property featuring hardwood forest, grasslands, ponds and streams serves as our outdoor classroom.

Since the 1910’s this property has had a rich history of serving Cornell University and the surrounding region. It provides an ideal place for extended overnight camps, trainings, and exploration.

Justin Sutera

Lead Instructor

Justin has spent the last 9 years of his life passionately dedicated to primitive living skills and naturalist studies. It all started for him when he read The Tracker after an inspirational backpacking trip, and the day he got home picked up a roadkill deer. He spent months tanning that first hide, insisting on figuring out a better way, and failing over and over. Hide tanning led to bow making, bow making led to flintknapping, and ultimately all manner of survival and primitive living skills.

While studying Conservation Biology at S.U.N.Y College of Environmental Science and Forestry Justin started a club teaching primitive skills and got connected with the staff at Primitive Pursuits for the first time.

After college Justin studied at Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, and was an instructor at The Children of the Earth Foundation for three years before joining Primitive Pursuits in 2012.

Wherever Justin goes he enjoys inspiring and teaching those around him. His determination and passion for primitive skills have led him towards a deep understanding and opened up doors to fantastic mentors along the way. A strong foundation in the physical skills helped lead him towards an in-depth journey into tracking and bird language.

Justin will tell you he is just a beginner at all of these skills, but that’s because he’s been following this journey towards awareness long enough to know what he doesn’t know. Constantly humbled by lessons learned from survival experiences, hunting, and time in nature, nothing excites him more than inspiring people and guiding them along this path.

Watch a short video of Justin telling how he got here:

Sean Cornell

Team Leader

Sean traces his love of the outdoors to a series of moments in his childhood starting with a day when he and his friends spotted a pair of hawks circling above a hill in the southern end of Syracuse. They marveled at the hawk’s ability to keep afloat without once flapping their wings. He and his friends tracked the hawks movement for hours, so engrossed in their flight patterns they didn’t want to miss a movement.

Family outings identifying wild ramps and leeks encouraged Sean to critically notice the abundance of his natural surroundings, and made him eager to broaden his knowledge of plant identification. Sean attended the Tracker School at 18, followed by a Bachelor's of Science in conservation biology at The College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. With this background of interests, Sean pursued his fascination with outdoor education, and primitive skills through books and videos, teaching himself bow carving, and tracking.

Sean’s number one interest is archery and bow-making. Sean finds that the process of bow-making allows students to connect more deeply and fully to the materials and their surrounding environment.

“If you struggle with a skill for a while, you invest a lot of emotion...and at some point you start to love the materials for their own sake.”

He deeply believes that the process and practice of creating your own tools; choosing, carving, and shaping the wood creates a deep love for the tree, and the environment that nurtured the tree. Each object created by an individual, with materials they harvested, and hours of their own time spent crafting, are an personal interpretation of themselves and the natural materials they are using.

Sean has been an instructor at Primitive Pursuits for a number of years. During academic terms he is a regular with our homeschool, preschool, and adult programs. During summer camps he can generally be found at our specialty camps, guiding a knife over wood during Bow-making, or helping students learn proper form in Forest Archer.

Sean lives in Ithaca with his wife and daughter and continues to share his love of carving and wilderness education with everyone around him.

Danielle Prizzi

Field Staff

Danielle Prizzi is a plant loving enthusiast, who spends much of her time studying and practicing herbal medicine, wild foraging, and farming. She lives in constant wonder, gratitude and presence with the natural world. Formally, she graduated from Ithaca College with her education being focused on integrating alternative medicine and healing, sustainable living, and plant studies to begin to understand the human-nature innate connection. Since college, she's spent her time apprenticing with herbalists, primitive skills enthusiasts, naturalists, and healers -- specifically Tammi Sweet and Kris Miller at Heartstone Herbalism school, Rosemary Gladstar, and Aviva Romm. When she isn’t out in the woods, she nestles in the deep woods of Connecticut Hill working to establish an off-the-grid homestead and a medicinal herb farm.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What technology are campers allowed to bring and use?

Watches are fine, but besides that we will collect cellphones, ipods, etc. at check-in, and return them on Friday morning.

What is your philosophy around special needs and what accommodations are possible?

We are very open to working with campers who have special needs, and have had great learning experiences for students and staff alike. As each camper is an individual, we ask for communication with families in advance of registration in our programs to ensure that we are able to provide a great experience for your child at our camps.

How do you divide groups in summer camp?

Typically we divide campers into small groups with 2-3 instructors per group. We like to keep our groups small so that the projects and activities can be tailored to meet the groups' needs, interests, and abilities. That said, all the groups meet together in the morning for an opening circle, and often in the afternoon for choice activities or a big group activity. This way the campers can interact with other groups and other instructors as well.

Who are the instructors and what kind of training do they have?

Our instructors are seasoned outdoor educators who encourage each students’ respect for self, others and nature. They are all First Aid and CPR certified professionals, and look forward to being at overnight camps with your kids!

Read About Our Staff

How often can campers communicate with their parents? How about sending mail or packages to campers?

Phone calls home are things we try to minimize to allow campers to really have “their” experience during the week. Some exceptions to this would be family emergencies and birthdays. All phone calls in or out are done via our main phone line. If mailing packages please do not include food or candy.

Health and Safety

How do you ensure the health and safety of campers?

We have a fully trained medical professional onsite at all times, and an infirmary available as needed. In addition, all lead instructors have New York state required medical certifications.

If a camper has a medication, it will be checked-in and kept in the infirmary, being administered as needed. For exceptions such as epipens or if we will be away from our infirmary, instructors for each group will carry medications. In case of emergency, there are two hospitals within 30 minutes from camp.

What is the size of the camp? What are the staff-to-student ratios?

Our overnight camps are intended for a small group of 16 to 20 campers each week. Our staff to student ratio is 1:8 with a full-time onsite director and volunteers who offer additional instructor support.

What is the plan during adverse weather?

We love being outside, but in times of truly adverse weather we have a lodge, cabins and emergency vehicles ready.

Is swimming allowed?

Swimming is not permitted at our camps, though campers will have a chance to get wet to cool down in nearby streams during hot days.

Food and Lodging

What are the accommodations for bathrooms and showers?

Bathrooms and showers are available in camp, and when we journey further away we will teach safe procedures for using “nature bathrooms”.

Where do campers sleep?

Campers will sleep in cabins, tents, under tarps or in primitive-built shelters as we build them. Sleeping groups will be separated by gender with instructors nearby at all times. We encourage campers to bring their own tent to share with others, and we also have a small supply of tents to loan.

What dietary restrictions will you accommodate? Can campers bring their own food?

Our menus will accommodate vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free diets. Campers should not bring their own food except for medical dietary restrictions not covered in our accommodations.

What is the facility like?

Our overnight camps are located at Cornell University’s Arnot Forest in Van Etten, NY. A 20-acre campus with cabins and a lodge are surrounded by 4,000 acres of forestland, ponds, and streams. Campers are onsite throughout the week at this large natural area.

What will meals be like?

Food at camp will be nutritious, tasty, and using local ingredients whenever possible. We will have a cook on-site to prepare group sit-down meals, on-the-go meals for in the field on days we venture further from camp, and also meals that involves campers in learning methods of outdoor cooking.

Registration Details

What scholarships are available?

All our scholarships are generated from the sliding scale-fees of our programs. So, anyone who pays over the minimum fee for a program is making a donation to our scholarship fund.

We approve scholarships in the order that we receive the requests. We ask that scholarship applicants include their annual household income.

What is your cancellation and refund policy?

We refund all payments for enrollments cancelled by us, for any reason. Typically, we do not cancel programs due to inclement weather; however, we reserve the right to do so if roads are closed due to hazardous conditions. Program fees for individual programs that are canceled due to inclement weather will not be refunded. If you are cancelling an enrollment for any reason our refund policy is as follows:

  • 30 or more days prior to the program starting date; you are entitled to a full refund, minus the deposit.
  • Between 10 - 30 days prior to the program starting date; Primitive Pursuits will retain half the program tuition.
  • Fewer than 10 days prior to the program starting date and once the program has begun; there will be no refunds.

Travel and Logistics

What are the logistics for drop off and pickup days?

For our Sunday start-of-camp we ask that you arrive between 12:30p and 1:00p. For Friday pickup, we ask that you arrive at 11:00am to join our closing circle which begins at 11:15.

Getting to Camp: What travel options are available?

You can drive to camp, or we also have bus, train and airport pickups available (see below). Our camps are in Van Etten, NY – 4 hours away from New York City and Philadelphia, 2 hours from Rochester, 90 minutes from Syracuse, and 30 minutes south of Ithaca.

Airport/Train Pickup
We have airport shuttles from Syracuse and Ithaca. We require that all flights arrive no later than 11:30am. For return trips, we require flights scheduled no earlier than 2pm for Ithaca and 3pm for Syracuse. We will also pickup from the Syracuse Amtrak station, and require all trains to arrive no later than 11:30am, and leave no earlier 3pm on the return trip.

Travel to Ithaca by Bus
Please let us know if you are planning a bus arrival so our shuttle can bring you to camp. We require that all buses arrive no later than 12 noon to Ithaca. For return trips, we require buses scheduled no earlier than 1pm from Ithaca.

Greyhound Bus Lines
(800) 229-9424
Greyhound Lines, Inc. is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation, serving more than 2,300 destinations with 13,000 daily departures across North America.

Shortline Bus
(800) 631-8405
Shortline provides regional service within New York State, Long Island, and New Jersey, and into New York City at economical fares, with stops in downtown Ithaca.

Need a trail guide?

We’re happy to help you navigate. Give us a call at the office (607) 272-2292 ext. 195 or use the link below

Get In Touch

Don't miss a beat, add yourself to our list to get all the latest details.