In the last several years, especially as the pandemic disrupted normal life, many travelers ditched the comforts of hotels and resorts, finding the joy of escaping crowds in a tent or RV.
In the five-year stretch ending in 2020, data from Recreation.gov shows camping reservations increased 68 percent across the nation on U.S. public lands.
While those numbers are telling, the online platform Hipcamp, which is similar to Airbnb, has seen even more explosive growth.
“Overall, we’ve seen over 450 percent more people getting outside this past year than in 2019,” Hipcamp CEO Alyssa Ravasio said. “The Recreation.gov data is interesting, but it doesn’t capture the growth in the camping market because all of those campsites have been full for years.”
Part of Hipcamp’s mission is to provide more campsites as the number of people going outdoors skyrockets.
“What we realized after a few years of banging our head against the wall was there are not enough campsites,” Ravasio said. “We got this idea to partner with landowners to create new campsites. … We do lots of glamping and places with structures.”
Another online booking platform, Glamping Hub, experienced a surge in 2020 with an average annual increase of 109 percent for booking requests inspired by the desire to safely get away.
A report compiled by Outdoorsy, using the Recreation.gov data, shows California had the most number of reservations on U.S. public land in 2020, tallying more than 600,000 with Yosemite National Park proving the most popular destination. States that saw the biggest total increases in reservations between 2015-20 included Indiana, Nevada, South Dakota, Michigan and Wyoming.
Outdoorsy attributes the surge in camping to trends such as “vanlife” and “glamping,” as well as increased availability of Wi-Fi and cellphone service at campgrounds. These are among factors attracting younger generations to the great outdoors, as Gen Z and Millennials represent 48 percent of all campers in North America.
The data from Hipcamp and Recreation.gov each provide a small piece of a much bigger trend. The 2021 North American Camping Report, sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, estimates in 2020, there were more than 94 million camping households throughout North America. Last year, in the U.S., 48 million households camped at least once and 10.1 million camped for the first time.
As outdoor overnights grow in popularity, camping is attracting more diverse demographics. Some 60 percent of first-time campers in 2020 were from nonwhite groups. Couples with children are also among groups driving new interest in camping.
RV usage and ownership has grown in recent years, helping campers keep some of the comforts of home on the road. The number of RVing households grew from 11.3 million to more than 13 million between 2019-20.
Though remote work and pandemic-inspired precautions have helped fuel the rise in camping, this trend may prove lasting as more families make investments in RVs and equipment.
Meanwhile, emerging platforms such as Hipcamp are making it their mission to help new campers recreate responsibly by sharing “Leave No Trace” principles and helping guests respect the land they’re using. Through supporting farmers, ranchers and others who host overnight visitors on their land, Hipcamp also helps to aid in land conservation.
“There’s a lot of development across Florida. When we look at these farms that have 20 acres, 30 acres or 40 acres. That’s not just a farm, that’s critical habitat for pollinators, for amphibians, for all sorts of wildlife,” Ravasio said. “By opening up for recreation, farmers and ranchers are generating the income they need to keep that land undeveloped.”