Who We Are


Our Mission is to share the Spirit of the Northwoods while preserving a paradise of beauty with youth, families, and their leaders through YMCA  programs that build healthy mind, body, and spirit for all.

Who We Are

Camp Olson YMCA is a resident summer camp for youth ages 5-17 and families.

As an independently chartered YMCA Camp, we’re proud to be a part of a broad and diverse network of YMCA Camps across the U.S. We are guided by our core values of caring, honesty, respect, responsibility, and equity.

Camp Olson YMCA is a 501(c)3 non-profit and accredited by the American Camping Association.

Our Reach

YMCA’s purpose is to strengthen communities, not just our own. Camp Olson serves youth and their families from around the world. Over recent years, we have served campers from more than 30 states, and 14 countries.

Our Impact

We drive change and strive to make a positive impact on individuals, families and communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

What We Do

Camp Olson was founded in 1954 “to preserve a paradise of forest beauty where youth and their leaders can find joy and inspiration in the years to come.” 

We accomplish this every summer by providing programs for youth and adults that develop life skills, cultivate leadership, and foster an ethic of land stewardship and environmental responsibility.

History of Camp Olson

We acknowledge that YMCA Camp Olson is located on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands taken from the Ojibwe people in the 19th century. We honor and respect those who were forcibly removed from and who are still connected to the land on which the camp is located. We will work to protect and honor this place, and to build relationships with all of the people who have called this place home.

Though Camp Olson YMCA was founded in 1954, the history of the land and the program has been rich before and since.

Formation of Geography

The Laurentide Ice Sheet advanced and receded over the land shaping the hills and leaving behind the lakes and glacial stones which now line our fire pits and can be found throughout the property.

Ice Age

Ancestral Land of the Dakota

In the 1600's, the Dakota Indians had communities in the area of Leech Lake, to the north of Little Boy Lake.

17th Century

Ancestral Land of the Ojibwe

The Ojibwe bands moved into the region during the mid-to-late 1700's. The Ojibwe people long lived within the rich ecology of the region. They moved according to a seasonal subsistence economy---fishing in the summer, harvesting manoomin (wild rice) in the fall, hunting, trapping, and ice fishing in the winter, and tapping maple syrup and spearfishing in the spring.  Their main building material, wiigwaas (birch bark), could be transported anywhere to make a wiigiwam (lodge shelter).

Read More18th & 19th Century

Fur Trade

The Dakota and Ojibwe were the primary trappers of fur-bearing animals in the Northwest Territory. In exchange for these furs, European traders provided goods such as blankets, firearms, cloth, and metal tools.

By the 1840s the fur trade had declined dramatically in the  region, partially due to changes in fashion tastes, the availability of less-expensive materials for hat-making, and because the US government reduced Dakota and Ojibwe hunting grounds through treaties. For many Dakota and Ojibwe people, who had by this time become increasingly dependent on the trade, exchanging land in order to pay off debts claimed by traders became a matter of survival.

Read More18th & 19th Century

The Treaty of Washington

In the Treaty of Washington the Ojibwe lost a large portion of their land to the US government. The treaty established the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Reservations.

Read MoreFeb 22, 1855

Area Logging

A 28 mile railroad was built to connect seven different logging camps and operated from 1890-1911, hauling logs to Cross Lake where they were floated to the Mississipi River and downsteam to lumber mills. In 1894, federal law granted the Northern Mississippi Railroad 50 feet of land along either side of the centerline of its route through the Leech Lake, Chippewa Indian, and Winnebagishish Reservations. This railroad ran right through what is now known as Camp Olson and is now referred to as the "Old Grade".


Early 20th Century

Forests to Fields

The town of Longville was established circa 1906 as a logging town. As loggers moved out, tourists moved in. Area logging created many open fields scattered through the forests, prime for farming and agriculture. The many lakes in the areas brought people north for recreation.


E.O. Olson Acquires Land

E.O. Olson, a poultry farmer from Worthington, MN purchased 1600 acres of farm and timberland property in the Longville area. The land is used for tree and poultry farming and recreation, which will eventually become Olson Farm YMCA Camp.


Olsons Gift Land to YMCA

E.O. and Bella Olson gave the now 1390 acre property to the YMCA hoping "to preserve a paradise of forest beauty where youth and their leaders can find joy and inspiration in the years to come."

October 12, 1953

Olson Farm YMCA Camp Established

Max Clowers of the North Central Area (NCA) YMCA is appointed as Founding Director. The Lower Cabin is built and grading begins for cabins and dining hall. The first campers from Minot, Worthington and Winona present in late summer.

See Detailed Timeline 1954-20211954

Name Change

Farming operations are discontinued and Olson Farm YMCA Camp officially opens on June 23rd with a staff to camper ratio of 1:1 and that fall changed its name to Olson YMCA Camp.


First Wilderness Trip

The first backcountry canoe trip was launched into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the summer of 1960: The start of Camp Olson's tripping and seed to the future leadership development program.


Change of Hands

NCA YMCA joins with West Central Area Council of YMCAs to form the Mid America Region of YMCAs. As a result, Camp Olson Committee disbanded and YMCA Camp Olson Board of Directors formed. Management was transferred to four YMCAs: Rochester, Winona, Austin and Worthington, each of whom furnished Board Members in proportion to their level of participation.


Cabins Changed Names

The cabins in camps were only known by numbers, until 1971 when cabins were re-named to that of prominent Voyageurs and European Explorers in the area.


Les Blacklock Visits

Les Blacklock, outdoorsman, photographer and writer spends one month at
Camp leading to an ecological model and inspiration for the future.


Homestead Project Begins

Per Les Blacklock's suggestion, a Pioneer Wilderness Cabin was erected by groups of campers using authentic tools and techniques of the time. Originally, the cabin was to be built at the south point of Lone Pine Field, but after a failed attempt, was built where it stands today. The Homestead Cabin was finally erected in 1991.


Independent Status

Camp Olson becomes an independent YMCA and starts coed sessions.


Saving Camp

There is serious financial strife and Camp sells 200+ acres of property. The Board of Directors vote to return camp to North Central YMCA. NCA responds with appointment of a committee to reorganize and with a loan to continue operation. Dave Rogers takes over as Camp Director and Dick Perkins as Chairman, together, they saved Camp Olson as we know it today.

Fall 1983

World Wide Web

Camp Olson gained it's first internet connection.


First Conservation Easement

Camp Olson was named Cass County's Conservationist of the Year after putting over 200 acres of land into a conservation easement.


Camp Seclusion

Camp Olson acquired Camp Seclusion, adding an additional 50 acres and 4,000 feet of shoreline on Cooper Lake to Camp's Property. This property became home to the Adventure Outpost and base camp to our tripping program.

Jan 6, 2000

The Lost Summer

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Camp Olson YMCA ceased summer operation for the 2021 season. This was the first summer since 1954 that camp was not filled with happy campers and their leaders.


103 Acres Donated to Camp

Carmen & Jim Campbell gifted 103 acres to camp, which borders the south side of the Shurds property. This property was named "Norrsken" which is Swedish for Northern Lights.

Read MoreAugust, 2020

Continue to Preserve Paradise

Over the last 3 years, Camp Olson has put over 700 acres and 20,000 feet of shoreline into conservation easement, “preserving a paradise of beauty for youth and their leaders for years to come”. In 2021, Camp Olson was named Minnesota Land Trust's Partner of the  Year.

Read MoreSep 8, 2021

Cabins Changed Names

Cabin names were updated to represent the names of native plants and trees.

Read MoreSpring 2022