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How to Start a Campground Business in (2024): Step-by-Step Guide

13 Min Read

how to start campground business
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Fast Facts

  • Startup costs: $180,100-$462,000
  • Industry trend: Growing
  • Difficulty: Moderately difficult
  • Profitability: 10-30%
  • Time to build: 8-18 months
  • Commitment: Full-time

If the idea of starting a campground excites you, it is perhaps the perfect time to start your entrepreneurial journey now.

The camping industry has seen a prolific growth after COVID 19 and it is expected to grow even more in the upcoming years. It’s safe to say that the camping craze has spread to all age cohorts, even the elderly population.

Whether you plan to start a glamping site, RV park, or primitive tent site; all you need is proper guidance and a roadmap to succeed in this thriving marketplace.

Wondering where and how to start a campground business? Well, you have landed at a perfect spot. Immerse yourself in this informative read and know exactly what steps to take to set up your business.

Gear up and get started.

Recreational Trends and Market Growth

Before you kickstart your planning for a campground business, have a look at the industry trends ruling the campground market.

  • Camping popularity: There are nearly 80 million campers in the US of which 15.5 million campers experienced camping for the first time in the last 2 years.
  • Camping types: RV is the most popular choice for camping in 2023 followed by tents and camper vans. Nearly 44.8% of total campers preferred RV camping making it a vibrant marketplace for business enthusiasts.
  • Pet-friendly camping: This is your sign to start a pet-friendly campsite. Nearly 91% of campers camp with their dogs and 6.8% bought cats on camping.
  • Customer challenges: There is a 5 times increase in the percentage of campers facing trouble finding a campsite in 2023. Nearly 58.4% of campers had difficulty finding a perfect location to camp.
  • Role of external factors: Wildfires and natural disasters are the leading reasons for canceling camping plans in 2023.

The number of avid campers across the states is increasing. Consider adding technologies and amenities to your camping experience to attract specific audiences.

Now, let’s see if starting a business in the campground industry is advantageous or not.

Pros and Cons of Starting a Campground

Having your own campground business can be pretty exciting. However, like every business, this one also has its own pros and cons.

Pros

  • Rewarding returns: Campgrounds offer 10-30% returns on investment.
  • Growing marketplace: A surge in demand for camping experiences.
  • Potential for expansion: Can scale the business by making it a franchise model.

Cons

  • High startup costs: Startup costs span between $100,000- $2 million and more.
  • Heavy regulations: Regulated by a variety of state, local, and federal regulations.
  • Seasonal challenges: Campgrounds can experience months with no businesses at all.

Now that you are aware of the pros and cons of opening a campground, let’s move further and discuss the detailed steps of starting one.

Opening a campground requires varying types of considerations. From choosing an ideal location to designing, branding, and marketing, this guide covers every detail to help you start a campground business.

1. Research and Design Your Campground

Good quality market research sets the foundation of a successful campground business.

Now, you might have a rough idea regarding what type of campground you want to start. However, now you will work on granular details perfecting the design and concept of your campground.

Don’t focus on being everything to everyone. It’s better to pick a niche and serve a peculiar market than to target everyone.

Here are a few questions that can help you get clarity on the niche and concept:

  • Who will be your target market? Do you want the campground to serve families, solo travelers, or kids?
  • Will you offer a rustic traditional camping experience or will you offer luxury camping with amenities?
  • Will the campground have tents, a luxury lodge, or perform as an RV park?
  • Will the campground generate seasonal business or operate like year-round campgrounds?
  • What will be the USP elements of your campground business? For instance, camping and outdoor activities, open theatres, dog walk areas, luxury jacuzzis, star gazing, canoe boards, etc.
  • Will the campsites oversee natural attractions like lakes, mountains, forests, or a river?
  • How much will you charge for a camp stay? Do you want to position the ground as an affordable choice or a luxury stay?

Once the concept gets clarity, drill it further down by scrutinizing every detail.

Visit the campgrounds similar to your concept and thoroughly screen their layout and designs. Implement what you find impressive and improvise where you can.

Engage in conversation with different campground owners and understand the intricate details of running your own campground business.

Make your market research as comprehensive and detailed as possible. This will help you get your park off the ground easily in a driven direction.

2. Create a Business Plan

Hundreds of campground businesses take off every year. However, very few can sustain this ever-evolving marketplace.

As an aspiring campground business owner, don’t undermine the power of having an actionable business plan that details your unique campground idea.

A business plan prepares a roadmap for you to follow by taking into account every minute detail that goes into starting and running a campground business.

Wondering what you should include in your campground business plan? Let’s check:

  • Executive Summary
  • Campground Overview
  • Campground industry and market analysis
  • Campground services
  • Campground layout and design
  • Management team
  • Marketing and sales plan
  • Financial plan

Writing your own plan is indeed rewarding. However, it’s taxing and time-consuming requiring extreme attention to detail.

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3. Calculate Startup Costs and Obtain Funding

The ROI on campgrounds is pretty impressive. However, setting up a campground and making it a legally compliant business is expensive, as well.

Sit to get some real work done and calculate the cost to start a campground business. While calculating your costs, determine your capital expenditure budgets and also account for operational costs for the first few months.

Here are a few considerations that will greatly influence your startup costs:

  • Are you buying an existing campground or building a new one?
  • Are you going to buy land or get a lease rental contract?
  • How many tent sites or campsites will the campground have?
  • Where will the campground be located?
  • What will be the cost of building campground service buildings? For example, set up for outdoor movie nights, hiking trails, game zones, restrooms, fire pits, recreation rooms, cafeterias, and other attractions.

Depending on your choices, building one campsite can take anywhere between $10,000-$30,000. However, purchasing a ready campground with infrastructure can cost between $100,000- $2 million and more.

Now, analyze your monetary position and determine the funding sources to fulfill your capital requirements. Apart from personal savings, here are a few sources to consider:

  • Bank loans
  • SBA small business loans
  • Angel investors
  • Venture Capital firms
  • Friends and family
  • Crowdfunding

4. Find the Right Location for your Campground

Location is your hero element when starting an RV park or a campground. Analyze the successful campgrounds and you will see how a favorable location factors in their success.

Firstly, determine how many acres of land will you require to build a proposed campground. Now look for a suitable location based on your concept.

For instance, a lakeside location is essential if you claim to offer lakeside views.

Apart from these, here are a few considerations that will help you pick the ideal location:

  • The state of the tourism industry in your desired state and province.
  • Consider the local and state laws for campgrounds in your selected region.
  • Look for places that are secluded yet easily accessible.
  • Check out the places that can be easily scaled in the future.
  • Consider the access to water and other essential amenities in the area.

Long-term leases are easily available on campground sites. However, if you are going with the lease option, ensure that the contract favors your business.

5. Design your campground

It’s now time to turn your concept into a reality. Start by designing the layout of your campground.

Depending on the type of campsites and amenities you plan to offer, create a feasible and functional layout of the campsites.

Get in touch with project managers and designers to help you figure out the layout and design of the campground.

However, here are a few helpful tips or suggestions that can help you bring together a vision:

  • Ensure enough space between tent sites to offer privacy to your customers.
  • Place the bathroom facilities, recreation room, game center, swimming pool, and other amenities strategically to allow every customer easy access.
  • Consider local zoning laws while starting construction on the site.
  • Design roads and pathways for an efficient flow of camp vehicles and pedestrians to avoid congestion.
  • Preserve the scenic views. Find a way to undertake construction without damaging the trees, water bodies, and natural views around.
  • Also consider the construction of septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, drainage, water supply, and electrical systems within the campground.

6. Register Your Campground Business

Business registration will give your business a legal existence. Register your campground with the state in the following steps:

Select a business entity

To register your business, you first need to determine your business entity or business structure. The entity you choose will determine your taxes, state laws, liabilities, and other business aspects.

As a campground owner, you can choose between the following business structures:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • Partnership
  • LLC
  • Corporation

LLCs and Corporations are the most suitable forms of registering a business since they protect your personal assets against liabilities.

Apply for tax registration & business EIN

Before you start a campground, you have to register for state and federal taxes.

To register for the taxes, you will require an EIN. Get your unique EIN (Employer Identification Number) from an IRS portal.

In a quick gist, EIN is essential to open a business bank account, apply for credit cards, file taxes, and generate payroll. In short, you need to get one.

7. Get Necessary Licences and Permits

Identify the federal business licensing requirements for your campground and acquire proper permits to make your business legally compliant.

Generally, you must consider getting the following licenses:

  • Building permits: Get a construction permit for undertaking construction at the campground. Follow local building codes to ensure total compliance.
  • Zoning permits: Get a permit to build a campground in a particular area from the local and state governments.
  • Environmental permits: This is required if the campground is built in an environmentally sensitive region.
  • Signage permits: You need a permit to display signs and navigational boards en route.
  • Operational permits: Depending on the campground operations, you may require permits for noise, waste disposal, group activities, etc.

Get the paperwork submitted ASAP. The licenses can take up to 6 months to get clearance.

8. Get Business Insurance

Don’t skip this aspect, at all. Campgrounds operate in an open unpredictable environment. The extent of external risk factors is high and having your business insured is definitely a wise move.

Consider getting the following insurance to get full coverage for your business:

  • General liability insurance
  • Property insurance
  • Worker’s compensation insurance
  • Equipment breakdown insurance

Depending on the location and nature of your business you can get coverage in special areas. For instance, flood insurance if the campground is located near a heavily flowing river.

9. Partner with Local Organizations

Grow your network and visibility of the campground by partnering with local organizations.

Participate in upcoming events in your local region. Also, be a part of local trade shows and events, organize local events, and host community events.

Start networking with related businesses or businesses that can complement your business offerings. This will help you spread the word of your existence pretty quickly.

10. Market and Advertise Your Campground

Wear your creative hats and market your campground in a way as unique as your campground idea.

While you are free to explore myriads of marketing plans, here are the ones that pretty much work:

  • Get the most gorgeous pictures of your campground. After all, pictures do speak a million words, especially in the tourism industry.
  • Register the domain for your website and build an impressive site. You need to invest a few thousand bucks in making a stellar visible web presence.
  • Boast the great outdoors and events of your campground on social media platforms.
  • Focus on amenities and local attractions to attract potential customers to your campground.
  • Start running ads on Google and Facebook. After all, the better the reach, the better the chances of conversions.
  • Gather as many reviews as possible and flaunt them like your exquisite campground.
  • Get travel influencers on board to promote the camping experience at your ground.
  • Generate tons of video content and use it resourcefully across multiple platforms.

And this will pretty much get you started.

The Things You Need to Consider Before Starting a Campground

How is a Campground different from an RV park?

The difference between campgrounds and RV parks lies in their structure, concept, and the type of amenities offered by each. While campgrounds focus on camping-related amenities, RV parks focus mainly on structured facilities such as power hookups, laundry, pools, and hot tubs.

What is the potential income of campground owners?

The average campground owner in the US makes anywhere between $30,000-$75,000. The earning potential from a campground is largely influenced by factors such as location, size, popularity, occupancy rate, and operating expenses. Considering that the campground is always booked at its maximum occupancy rate, the large and established campground owners could make up to $1 million.

How much money do you need to start a campground?

The cost of opening a mid-scale campground can range anywhere between $180,000-$450,000. However, these costs can increase significantly as you add luxury amenities and structure to your business.

On the other hand, buying a fully equipped campground can cost you anywhere between $100,000- $2 million and more. Make detailed financial projections for your unique business and determine the exact funding requirements to get started.

What is the required amount of land for a campground?

At least, 6-8 acres of land is essential to start a campground with mid-scale operations. However, you would require more land to accommodate amenities such as a swimming pool, fire pits, movie theatre, common recreational room, shared bathroom facilities, and camp store. Calculate your land requirements considering the space required for different amenities at your campground.

Conclusion

Ready to kickstart your campground business? Well, take the first step and write your business plan with Upmetrics. Our business planning tool allows you to build different versions of the plan effortlessly while its AI assistance feature will help you write effectively for the plan.

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About the Author

Matthew                                                       
            Khalili

Matthew Khalili

Matthew Khalili is an experienced business planning expert and the founder of The Plan Writers. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has helped numerous entrepreneurs in creating investor-ready pitch decks and business plans. Matt has enabled 5000+ startups to raise over $1 billion through his business plan, market research, and financial modeling services. Read more

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