Picture this: After your self-driving, voice-controlled camper van is automatically checked in and guided to its campsite, you get out to take in the view while your vehicle sits atop a solar-powered charging pad. The campsite is cleverly tucked into a natural fold in the mountainside, with boulders on one side and a valley-facing deck on the other.
You climb onto the viewing deck and look around. You can barely make out your neighbors, who are partially hidden by trees and landscaping. A few puffs of smoke above their sites remind you that you forgot to bring wood. No problem. You tap your smartwatch and order the campground app to deliver firewood, s’mores and, heck, a six-pack to your site.
A few minutes later, a robot wagon arrives with the goods. No, let’s make it a drone. It hovers and drops a bundle of wood and the other items, then flies off, its light hum disappearing into the birdsong and breeze.
That scene was inspired by the predictions of Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in its “Campground of the Future” exhibit at “RVX: The RV Experience,” an industry show March 12-14 in Salt Lake City. KOA presented its vision for what campgrounds might look like in each of five zones: forest, coastal, desert, mountain and urban. (See them all here, including 360-degree views: campthefuture.com.)
KOA, which manages some 500 privately owned campgrounds nationwide — 27 of which are in Colorado — considered existing trends like drone deliveries, glamping, solar, self-driving, voice-command, etc., to come up with its vision of what camping might look like in 2030 and beyond.
“But that’s stupid,” says my 11-year-old contrarian daughter, as I describe the scene. “Then everyone will just be looking at their phones (and watches) instead of enjoying camping.”
“Ah,” I say, playing devil’s advocate, “but you just saved yourself a trip to the camp store, where you would have had to wait in line to pick out your things and pay, so your camping experience was actually less interrupted with the drone.” She mulls this over, but still makes a stink face.
“Maybe if there was a robot picking up trash,” she says. “And planting more flowers. Most campgrounds are just gravel and dirt. It’d be nice if they had more flowers.”
She was onto something. The KOA vision also considered environmental landscaping, i.e., integrating the campsites with the natural world and trying to afford more privacy when possible. I was encouraged to hear that this is a priority since the worst campgrounds I’ve been to are laid out like parking lots.
As for the tech piece, I spoke with KOA president Toby O’Rourke in a phone interview shortly after the Salt Lake City show.
“Disconnecting,” she said, doesn’t necessarily mean no tech. “The technology has to provide utility to the experience versus just being there. Tech is important to people, but the past couple years, it’s trending down.”
More people, she reported, say that “tech detracts from their experience. They want that break.”
I guess that includes my daughter.
O’Rourke also talked about “blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors” in the various accommodations that we’ll find at future campgrounds. “Glass turns from clear to opaque,” she said, and there will be “retractable roofs on cabins for stargazing, underwater cabins and treehouses.”
Janine Pettit, founder of GirlCamper.com, in an email listed other possible features we’ll see in 2030: “Larger sites landscaped for privacy; custom-built fireplaces as opposed to fire pits; furnished, shaded areas for seating and al fresco dining; upgraded technologies for seamless connectivity; local restaurant meals delivered to your site; luxury shower facilities; larger stores with more fresh local produce; massage, spa and beauty treatments; and, of, course expanded RV supplies and technical support at the campground.”
We already see such “glamping”-style accommodations and amenities — fancy wall tents, cabins, yurts and tepees — at campgrounds around the state. Echo Canyon Campground near Cañon City is one of these. There, enhanced tent sites and safari-style wall tents are upping the game for campers who have a few extra dollars to spend each night. (That describes many campers these days, especially millennials.) Their on-site luxury cabins have hangout spaces that flow between living room and patios, blurring those outdoor-indoor lines mentioned by O’Rourke.
Back at your future campsite, you build that fire, sit back and crack open a beer (manually, no app necessary). Then, just like humans have done for thousands of years, you kick back and watch the stars come out.
If you go
Check out KOA’s campgrounds of the future here: campthefuture.com.
Echo Canyon Campground: echocanyoncampground.com, 8 miles west of Cañon City, offers premium tent sites ($49), wall tents ($149-159), and luxury cabins (from $355/night). It also has an on-site restaurant and rafting company.