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Camping has been broadening its appeal, both nationally and regionally, leading to a boomlet in which nearly seven in 10 U.S. households now identify as campers, up from 58% in 2014. (Photo: Courtesy Boheme Retreats)

What’s Behind the Rise in Camping?

It's not just the Hudson Valley — camping rates are up nationally, and campsites are expanding all over. Here's what's drawing more people to "rough it" overnight outdoors.

by Joni Sweet
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Camping is experiencing a renaissance. Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. households now identify as campers — up from 58% in 2014 — per a 2023 report from Kampgrounds of America, the longtime U.S. franchise affectionately known to campers as KOA. And according to a report from the campsite review platform the Dyrt, 50% of camping properties across the country have added new sites to keep up with the demand.

Revamped RVs are among the expanded options available in the camping category. (Photo: Courtesy Boheme Retreats)

Local campgrounds show that this trend holds true in the Hudson Valley. While camping is not allowed in Scenic Hudson parks, it’s available and encouraged in a wide range of the area’s natural spaces with the staff and infrastructure to support it. Lazy River campground in Gardiner got approval to expand last year. Spacious Skies Campgrounds in Columbia County added new facilities for the 2023 season. Tentrr, which has an official partnership with New York State, also expanded glamping options to four state parks in the Hudson Valley in the last few years. 

So what’s driving more people to camp? Experts say it’s diversifying — both in styles available and the range of participants trying it.

Campfires are a near-constant in the camping experience — but new smokeless fire pits have modernized those, too. (Photo: Courtesy Outerthere)

Campers have more experiences to choose from

One reason more people are open to the idea of camping is that they have far more ways to try it than ever before, says Keva Niver, founder and chief executive officer of Boheme Retreats, a glamping site in Livingston Manor.

“There are lots of campgrounds diversifying what they offer, including tent camping, RV camping, cabin stays, and glamping, which has really increased since the pandemic,” says Niver. “That’s a big thing for people who have never considered camping. They’re able to try it without having to buy and store lots of equipment, and spend the night outdoors even if they don’t want to sleep on the ground.”

(Photo: The Dyrt camper Richard S.)

Even RV camping has become more accessible than ever before, notes Kevin Long, chief executive officer at the Dyrt, a campsite review platform and community. “People who’ve never driven a huge RV might not feel ready to do so. But now, on some RV rental sites, you can pay an extra fee to have the RV delivered and picked up at the campground,” he explains, adding that all you need to do is show up with your friends and family to enjoy your outdoor getaway.

Technology makes it easier to plan

Campgrounds have finally started catching up with hotels, airlines, and other travel operators when it comes to seamless online booking. Even just a few years ago, “a lot of these places didn’t even have a website — you had to call, and that was a huge turn- off,” says Niver. “There’s been a huge change within the industry in terms of offering technology in a way that appeals to a new generation of campers.”

Activities like fishing, kayaking, and beyond are on offer through many campgrounds. (Photo: Courtesy Boheme Retreats)

Online booking and review sites have not only streamlined the experience for first-time campers, but also have helped regular campers discover and book sites and related outdoor experiences they haven’t tried yet.

Hipcamp, founded in 2013, is one example. The modernized, Airbnb-style platform makes it easy for farmers and landowners to showcase what they can offer, and for potential campers to see and book exactly the level of camping they’re up for. That can range from bedding down in a sleeping bag on the ground to slumbering on a full mattress beneath a tent chandelier.

Online booking has added to the ease and appeal of camping over the past decade or so, advocates say. (Photo: The Dyrt camper Desiree N.)

“Twenty years ago, people would go to the same campground every single year,” says Long. “Now we’re seeing a lot of people try camping in state parks, go to national parks, try a glamping site, or sometimes go to an RV park. That comes down to the fact that it’s easier to do now.”

Social media makes it more welcoming

Historically, overnighting outdoors hasn’t always felt safe or inviting to women and people of color. Social media is changing that, though. You can now see people from every background share their outdoor experiences online.

“As a BIPOC camper myself, I saw no one who looked like me when I’d travel to these RV parks,” Niver says. “Our whole focus is to bring more diversity into the camping space.”(Photo: Courtesy Boheme Retreats)

“With social media, people are able to share their lived experiences and feel like they can picture themselves in these natural environments,” says Niver. “As a BIPOC camper myself, I saw no one who looked like me when I’d travel to these RV parks. Our whole focus is to bring more diversity into the camping space.”

Social media and online spaces also help people tap into communities of campers that make them feel safe, supported, and welcome. This is especially important for first-time campers from marginalized communities who didn’t grow up camping, says Al Berrios, an outdoor guide and founder of the outdoor discovery platform Outerthere.

New platforms like Outerthere aim to empower hosts of color — and help a diverse range of people who didn’t necessarily grow up camping to feel comfortable sleeping outdoors. (Photo: Courtesy Outerthere)

“About 90% of our audience is women, and 90% of that audience is women from diverse backgrounds. As a result, they don’t look at camping the same way as someone who was raised with it — they see it as a scary and potentially dangerous thing,” he says. “So when they find a community they vibe with, they’re very keen to make that reservation. They recognize that the value is in the safety of the community and the professionalism of the host.”

It’s too early to say how it’ll affect the environment

After all, campgrounds will have more people camping closer together and potentially creating more waste, and first-timers might not be familiar with practices like “Leave No Trace.” But experts are optimistic that the camping renaissance will ultimately be a net positive for the environment.

The biggest positive from the camping boomlet may be fostering greater appreciation for natural spaces. (Photo: Courtesy Outerthere)

“When landowners are able to make money by hosting campers, it’s a much better alternative for the environment than putting up a hotel or a warehouse,” Long says.

For her part, Niver notes that her glamping site is helping give new life to Airstreams and other vintage campers and keeping them from the landfill. “That’s a big deal when it comes to sustainability. We’re not buying brand-new campers — we’re using vintage campers that have been around since the 1960s,” she says.

But perhaps the biggest net gain camping can provide the environment is helping foster more reverence for natural spaces. The happy memories campers make with loved ones outdoors may encourage them to take steps to be more sustainable in their everyday lives and to advocate for protection of nature. “It’s incredible what camping does for people,” says Long. “Once people experience it, the outdoors become part of their lives and perspective, and that can only be a great thing for the environment.”

Saugerties native Joni Sweet writes about health and travel from her Beacon home. She’s the author of the National Geographic guidebook 48 Hours: New York, and her work has been published by Lonely Planet, Forbes, SELF, Health, and Real Simple. She loves hitting the Dutchess Rail Trail on her 4130 road bike from State Bicycle Co.

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