Camping participation rises slightly, say latest reports

Camping has become slightly more popular in the past couple of years, but participation numbers are still relatively flat, and nowhere near historic peaks.

Camping has become a bit more popular over the past two years, but participation numbers remain relatively flat, according to the latest statistics from the Outdoor Foundation and the National Park Service.

Participation numbers for backyard camping and car camping edged upward, according to the Outdoor Foundation’s Special Report on Camping, which was released this week (

According to the report — derived from some 40,000 online interviews conducted during January and February 2010 — 34.3 million people participated in backyard camping and car camping in 2009, up from 33.7 million in 2008.

While a few more people camped in 2009, the duration of camping trips dropped off from the past. The report states, “The average camper went camping 13.2 days in 2009, down from 14.1 days in 2008.”

A couple of other interesting stats from the report: The median age of campers is 33, a figure that has risen since 2006, when the median age was 29. Also, when respondents were asked, “What keeps you from participating in the outdoors more often?” most (51.9 percent) said they didn’t have the time. Only about 18 percent said they “weren’t interested,” and only 1 percent said they “think it’s spooky in the outdoors.”

Camping stats for National Parks a mixed bag

As is the case with the Outdoor Foundation report, the latest statistics from the National Park Service (click here to browse NPS reports) show that general tent camping has seen slight gains in the past two-and-a-half years. However, NPS reports also show that backcountry camping continues to decline.

Consider these numbers for all National Parks:

For 2008

Tent camping rose 1.5 percent.

Backcountry camping dropped 5.5 percent.

For 2009

Tent camping rose 6 percent.

Backcountry camping dipped 0.8 percent.

Jan. – Aug. 2010

Tent camping rose 1.5 percent.

Backcountry camping dropped 8.6 percent.

In general, the number of tent campers in the National Parks has hovered around the 3 million mark since 2004. But in 1990, the number was over 4 million, and it has dropped steadily since then.

“Camping as a whole has been trending down for over 15 years,” Bob Miller, management assistant for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, told SNEWS. “In the Smokies, camping declined by 25 percent between 1995 and 2009.

“We can mostly just speculate that the drop is due to a behavioral shift by older, often more affluent baby boomers who used to camp more but can now afford more comfortable lodging,” said Miller.

In Yosemite National Park, the news regarding camping is mixed. From January to August of 2010, the number of tent campers in Yosemite National Park rose by 15,440 compared to the same period last year, but the number of backcountry campers has dropped by 18,798.

Out of 92 National Parks, tent camping is down in 46 of them for the period of January to August 2010, and backcountry camping is down in 52 of the National Parks for that period.

–Marcus Woolf