Ernest Goes to Camp is a 1987 comedy film directed by John R. Cherry III and starring Jim Varney. It is the second film to feature the character of Ernest P. Worrell and was shot in Nashville, Tennessee and its suburbs. It was also the first Ernest film to be distributed by Touchstone Pictures, and Iron Eyes Cody's final appearance on screen.
A pow wow opening features a medicine man tossing a knife and tomahawk at a young brave warrior to test his faith in the Great One and true courage. He also shoots an arrow at him to test his purity of heart. Jim Varney reprises his role of Ernest P. Worrell, working as a maintenance man at Kamp Kikakee and hoping to become a counselor. With his typical enthusiasm, he pours himself into the role and quickly becomes a valuable addition to the staff, in particular for his passion at learning the specialized sign language used by Kikakee's owner, Chief St. Cloud (Iron Eyes Cody), who does not speak English.
Ernest gets his chance at counseling when he is assigned a small group of juvenile delinquents from Midstate Boys Detention Center that the regular counselors are hesitant to take on—primarily because the group hospitalized their first counselor, Ross Stennis (Eddy Schumacher), by pushing his lifeguard chair into the lake while he was sitting in it. Ernest quickly takes the side of the boys, due to his compassion and for having suffered his own abuse at the hands of the militant Counselor Stennis. However, the boys start to show a little respect during a campfire session when Nurse St. Cloud (Victoria Racimo) translates her grandfather's description of the warrior initiation ritual for his tribe. The initiate must hold still while a knife, a stone hatchet, and an arrow are thrown or shot at the target. It is implied that the courage of the young warrior actually alters the course of all three to prevent his death.
Meanwhile, an evil mining corporation run by the ruthless Sherman Krader (John Vernon) has its sights on Kikakee, a site rich with the fictional mineral petrocite. However, Chief St. Cloud refuses to sell. Krader manipulates Ernest, one of the few people who speaks the chief's language, into convincing St. Cloud to sign away the land, believing it to be a conservation petition. Using Ernest as an interpreter, St. Cloud signs the deed away. Nurse St. Cloud, tries to talk Ernest out of doing anything rash until she can get a lawyer. She firmly believes that they can win the case if they can get to court, but Ernest objects, knowing that by the time they can get to a hearing, Krader will already be tearing down the camp for a strip mine.
Ernest decides to fix the situation by storming into the construction site and picking a fight with the foreman (Lyle Alzado), though he mainly chooses to do this out of a sense of guilt for his mistake and the risk of disappointing the kids. Ernest is savagely beaten; he leaves the camp for a while to be alone. When Nurse St. Cloud overhears the kids verbally demeaning Ernest's effort, she chastises them and reveals that Ernest is the only person who has defended them, both to the authorities and to the camp staff mostly because he was the only one who really cared about them. When they learn about the sacrifices that Ernest has made on their behalf, they resolve to find him and apologize. In doing so, Ernest and the campers quickly mend their relationship through their newfound respect for him.
Even so, Krader is poised to demolish Kikakee, and when the regular staff and campers are sent home, the group decides to risk openly attacking the construction site to stall for time. Recruiting the Second Chancers, the two regular campers who usually picked on them and the chefs Jake and Eddie, Ernest plans a full-scale assault as the construction company begins to demolish Kikakee.
The group works feverishly to create a series of improvised, non-lethal weapons. Prior to the attack, Chief St. Cloud arrives to pass along a native blessing, though Nurse St. Cloud begs them not to go through with it. The assault quickly cripples the construction site's equipment. The campers take small revenge against the foreman by filling the back of Ernest's motorized maintenance cart with explosives (including Jake and Eddie's Eggs Erroneous) and rolling it into the bulldozer. Ernest then knocks out the foreman.
Krader then arrives at Kikakee and pulls out his high-powered hunting rifle, targeting Ernest. Echoing Kikakee's ancient testimonial pow wow, Ernest faces down Krader and apparently passes the age old test as Krader takes three shots at him, missing every time. Ernest then plugs Krader's hunting rifle with his finger and laughs in his face, signaling his defeat. The boys and Ernest succeed in protecting the land and Kamp Kikakee remains for young campers to enjoy—particularly when Nurse St. Cloud returns with a restraining order. Ernest remains a counselor, although he also still remains his clumsy, inept (yet good-hearted) self.
- Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell
- Victoria Racimo as Nurse St. Cloud
- John Vernon as Sherman Krader, the Head of the "Krader Mining Company"
- Iron Eyes Cody as Old Indian 'Chief St. Cloud'
- Lyle Alzado as Bronk Stinson, Krader's Foreman
- Gailard Sartain as Jake (Chef #1)
- Daniel Butler as Eddie (Chef #2)
- Patrick Day as Bobby Wayne
- Scott Menville as Crutchfield
- Danny Capri as Danny Simpson
- Jacob Vargas as Butch "Too Cool" Vargas
- Todd Loyd as Chip Ozgood
- Hakim Abdulsamad as Moustafa "Moose" Hakeem Jones
- Eddy Schumacher as Counselor Ross Stennis
- Richard Speight, Jr. as Brooks
- Andy Woodworth as Pennington
- Buck Ford as Attorney Elliott Diate
- Larry Black as Mr. Tipton, the Head Counselor of Kamp Kikikee
- Hugh Sinclair as Counselor Sparks
- Johnson West as Counselor Puckett
- Jean Wilson as State Supervisor
- Ivan Green as Mr. Stewart
- Christian Haas as Molly Stewart
- Brenda Haynes as Mrs. Stewart