When Floridians Patrick and Megan Duffy head out to visit a national park for vacation, they typically pack up their tent to enjoy sleeping under the stars.
Every now and then, the self-avowed outdoors enthusiasts splurge on a park lodge or other special accommodations. Last year, they rented a pop-top Subaru camper for their trip to Denali National Park in Alaska through an RV rental company.
“Both of us have been going to national parks for a long time, even before we met,” says Patrick, an electrical engineer in Jacksonville. “When we go, we usually tent camp. When we’ve got a little extra money, we’ll upgrade to a really nice cabin or, like we did in Denali, a camping vehicle.”
Since the pandemic, camping and outdoor pursuits have grown. According to KOA’s annual North American Camping Report from 2020, more than 10 million households camped for the first time that year. The report showed one-third of these new campers considered it a safe way to travel and avoid crowds.
The report also found interest in recreational vehicles is at an all-time high and will continue to grow—with more people choosing RVs. Campers also say they will increase their trips in the coming year.
Glamping and ecotourism interest has risen in recent years, according to the American Glamping Association.
“Glamping—a way to enjoy overnights outdoors with the comforts of a hotel—is gaining in popularity,” says Nathan Self, co-CEO of Georgia-based Timberline Glamping, along with his wife, Rebeka.
The upscale outdoor accommodations feature semi-permanent furnished canvas-sided tent-like structures with beds, seating areas, accessories such as lamps and décor, and access to indoor plumbing.
“It is especially popular with people who have never camped and with older people who formerly enjoyed tent camping but now find it much more convenient to stay in a tent-like setting without all the setup and worries about what to bring,” Nathan says. “It’s a more convenient and comfortable way to connect with the outdoors.”
He says many younger families are glamping to unplug from technology and spend quality time together.
“When you’re out in the woods, the Wi-Fi may not be as accessible, so it’s a good time to get back to nature,” Nathan says. “We had one mom with a teenager tell us that she and her 17-year-old daughter actually played a game together and spent more time talking than in the past year.”
Another regular glamper—an 83-year-old widow from Florida—used to camp regularly with her husband.
“She comes to one of our facilities every year and spends 14 days, just by herself,” Nathan says. “She told us that this is her way to still stay connected with him and enjoy something that they did together for so many years. Glamping made it easier for her to relive these memories.”
Glamping is offered near many national parks, but few offer the option within.
“The National Park Service: Campground Industry Analysis 2020” reported glamping revenue has increased by double digits the past five years. It recommends the NPS consider diversifying its campsite options.
In 2020, national parks logged more than 8 million overnight stays. Those numbers most likely will increase as more people get outdoors as a safe form of recreation and travel.
Regular campers suggest booking early to find prime accommodations.
Patrick and Megan try to camp somewhere at least once a month, alternating between a trip close to home and a more extended vacation at a national park.
“Sites on our list include Joshua Tree and Glacier National Park, but sometimes it’s difficult for us to really plan far enough in advance,” Patrick says. “We’re getting better about it because there’s really nothing better than sleeping in the woods in nature in one of the country’s many national parks. They are such treasures, no matter how we stay there.”