Camping was steadily growing in popularity prior to 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated growth as Americans sought outdoor vacations away from crowds.
In fact, according to a research report by the Kampgrounds of America (KOA), over 10 million households camped for the first time in 2020, accounting for one-fifth of all camping households.
Data from Recreation.gov—a trip planning and reservation portal for U.S. public lands—showed that camping reservations numbered nearly 3.3 million in 2020, up by about one-third from 2019 and by more than two-thirds from five years prior.
The increased popularity of camping has been fueled by a combination of long-term trends and more immediate factors related to the pandemic. Over the past several years, camping trends such as ‘vanlife’ and ‘glamping’ as well as the increased availability of Wi-Fi and better cell phone service at campgrounds, have helped attract new campers and offered seasoned campers new ways to enjoy the outdoors.
In particular, Gen Zers and Millennials are camping in greater numbers and account for an increasing share of all campers. In 2015, members of these groups accounted for 34% of all campers according to KOA. By 2020, this number climbed to 48%.
In addition to these longer-term factors, changes resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic—such as safety concerns, travel restrictions, and business closures—encouraged a flood of first-time campers.
According to KOA, the majority of first-time campers in 2020 decided to do so for reasons directly tied to the pandemic. In addition, campers that year ventured further from home than in past years, suggesting that Americans increasingly chose to travel by car and camp than travel by airplane and stay in a hotel.
Compared to 2015, the percentage of campers who traveled more than 200 miles to camp increased from 17% to nearly 30%.
In 2020, California led the country in camping reservations according to Recreation.gov. California camping reservations totaled 634,000 for the year, accounting for 19% of the nearly 3.3 million total camping reservations on U.S. public lands.
Some of the most popular destinations in California were Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and several national forests in and around the Sierras. Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Texas rounded out the top five states with the most camping reservations on public lands in 2020.
To find the states where camping has grown in popularity the most over the past five years, researchers at Outdoorsy analyzed data from Recreation.gov. The researchers ranked states according to each location’s percentage change in camping reservations from 2015 to 2020.
Researchers also calculated the total increase in camping reservations from 2015 to 2020, total camping reservations in 2020, and the public land (national park, national forest, lake, etc.) with the most camping reservations in 2020.