More Travelers Get Cozy With Glamping, Even Amid High Costs

Enjoying the great outdoors can get expensive when you're trying to avoid the great outdoors.
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Written by Sally French
Lead Writer/Spokesperson
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Assistant assigning editor at large
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Camping can be one of the cheapest ways to travel. Yet a relatively new style of camping is proliferating — by some metrics — and it’s glamping.

Glamping fuses luxury with nature. Tents are filled with plush pillows, and some even have private bathrooms with heated, running water. Campgrounds typically are outfitted with fast Wi-Fi, and such camping activities as pitching a tent and starting a fire are already done for you. But the blend of outdoor glamor with hotel comfort commands prices more expensive than those of high-end hotels. It’s also a sharp contrast to what traditional campers spend.

U.S. national park visitors in 2021 spent, on average, $351 daily per group on traditional lodging outside the parks, such as hotels or bed-and-breakfast establishments. Parties who camped spent just $149, according to a Department of the Interior 2021 visitor spending report. That’s a 58% discount for visitors willing to exchange concrete for canvas. But canvas doesn’t always connote cost savings. That is, if you’re glamping.

For example, you might pay $650 per night after taxes and resort fees at Under Canvas Zion as part of a glamping trip to Utah’s Zion National Park this fall. Situated about 30 minutes from the park’s entrance, the resort’s accommodations include safari-inspired tents with beds, bathrooms, hot showers and wood-burning stoves. There’s no electricity, but guests can borrow USB battery packs to keep devices charged. The resort fee covers all-you-can-roast s’mores, live music and yoga classes.

That $650 covers the entry-level tent, which accommodates two adults via a king bed. The suite tent, which includes a queen sofa bed in addition to the king bed (thus better for families) can run nearly $850 per night on autumn weekends.

(Photo courtesy of Under Canvas)

Under Canvas is among the biggest glamping operators. Another is AutoCamp, which offers canvas tents as well as other accommodations including Airstream trailers. A weekend stay at AutoCamp Zion this fall can cost about $570 per night after taxes and fees. A larger campsite with an Airstream and tent (large enough for six) can cost nearly $900 nightly. Yet such prices aren’t turning off travelers; glamping is exploding in popularity.

In 2022, an estimated 10.5 million households went glamping, up from an estimated 7.7 million households in 2020. That’s according to the 2023 North American Camping & Outdoor Hospitality Report from Kampgrounds of America (KOA), which runs more than 500 campgrounds across the United States. and Canada.

Camping cools down

Camping of all kinds took off at the beginning of the pandemic.

In 2019, 23.5 million North American households said they camped in traditional tents, a figure that ballooned 31% to 30.8 million in 2020, according to KOA’s survey. By 2021, that had grown by an even sharper 50.2% compared with 2019, to 35.3 million.

In 2022, traditional camping enthusiasts dropped off to levels lower than 2020’s numbers, back to about 30.4 million households.

Camping of all kinds accounted for 40% of all North American vacations in 2021 but dropped to 32% in 2022. Some people might have gotten over camping, but that’s only if your definition of camping means pitching your own tent and starting your own fire.

Glamping heats up — despite high costs

If you’re willing to consider glamping as a form of camping, then North America’s enthusiasm for camping is just getting started. While KOA said this is the first time it has seen a drop in the number of tent-camping households since it started tracking data in 2014, interest in glamping is growing — so much that the overall rate of camping of all kinds is at a record high.

In 2020, 4.8 million North American camping households said they’d choose cabins or glamping as their primary accommodation style, according to KOA’s survey. That figure grew to 5.1 million by 2021 before more than doubling to 12.3 million in 2022. That’s all despite the high costs of glamping, which can often exceed traditional hotel prices.

KOA analyzed average daily traveler expenditures in 2022 and found that glampers spent roughly 18% ($61) more than traditional campers. Glampers also spent more than traditional hotel guests by about 3% ($12).

About 63% of respondents said they like glamping to get an experience that blends the benefits of staying at a resort and the outdoors, according to KOA’s report. At AutoCamp Zion’s Airstream Suite, you’ll sleep on a luxurious mattress and relax in a walk-in rain shower. At AutoCamp’s outpost along Northern California’s Russian River, some suites have private, wood-fired hot tubs.

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There's such high traveler demand for glamping that travel providers are looking for ways to increase supply. In August 2023, Outdoorsy — which is primarily known as an RV rental marketplace — announced a $30 million dollar initiative called the Oasis Fund. With the fund, hosts on the site (which functions somewhat as an Airbnb for RV rentals and campsites) can apply for financial assistance in building — and ultimately renting out — glamping tents on their own campgrounds.

“The higher nightly rate of glamping doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for guests seeking modern, comfort-first amenities that allow them to stay close to nature,” Outdoorsy CEO Jeff Cavins said in an email. “The high demand, and high profit margins, of this industry aren’t fading anytime soon, which means there’s never been a better time to invest in the glamping market.” 

All-inclusive glamping trips

Then there are the glamping trips that are even more expensive — and that's given their all-inclusive nature.

All-inclusives can make sense for travelers, particular those who hate feeling nickel and dimed throughout the stay.

“If a guest is frequently reaching for their wallet, they are constantly being reminded that their stay is transactional,” says Ben Martin, general manager of Colorado’s Vista Verde Guest Ranch. “It changes the dynamic of our relationship with them.”

Vista Verde Guest Ranch is among the more glamorous of the all-inclusive glamping trips you can book. The Colorado dude ranch offers an intimate experience with just 12 cabins and three lodge rooms. Campers are treated to chef-prepared meals and wine tastings. During the day, they get active with unique activities like fly fishing and paddle boarding in the summer, and ice fishing and snow shoeing in the winter. Guests who prefer relaxation to activity can partake in activities like photo workshops and sleigh rides.

At Vista Verde Guest Ranch, three-night stays start at $2,695 during the off-season or about $900 per night (though per-night costs decrease the longer you stay).

That said, not all all-inclusive glamping trips are that expensive. For example, stays at Minnesota’s family-oriented Fair Hills Resort, start at about $200 per adult, per night, and $121 per kid, per night, depending on your stay length.

Unsurprisingly though, their cabins are modest and the food resembles what you ate at summer camp. Still though, meals and activities — such as golf lessons, pickleball, and s’mores — are included in most packages. Still though, $200 per person is far higher than the $149 per group average that the Department of the Interior says average campers spend. Of course, their figure doesn't include potential activities that travelers might spend money on, yet are wrapped into the cost when you book all-inclusives.

And despite glamping’s higher price tag, the amenities seem to seduce noncampers — 33% of KOA survey respondents say they glamp because they want an outdoor experience without actually having to go camping.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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