How to Start a Campground

May 3, 2023

The campground industry is booming. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry. It’s a great choice for entrepreneurs looking for business ideas related to the outdoors. That’s because campground owners can start small, with just a few scattered rustic tent sites.

As the campground small business grows, the number of campsites can evolve along with the business. The successful campground owner can add a small RV park and/or cabins.

Consumer demand for all types of camping is growing. Your target market? People who want a peaceful getaway destination.

A Campground Business Story

Weary of company politics, Mike and Andrea Steele bought a dilapidated former campground in Sigel, Pennsylvania. They started with 24 rustic campsites and in just a few years, grew to more than 100 sites. You can read about their adventure with how to start a campground.

Step 1 – Location

The Steele’s bought a former campground. That’s an option. There are other options, such as purchasing vacant land or making use of the land you already own.

As always, before purchase, check with local government officials to find out if your proposed campground is allowed use of the land. Zoning laws may restrict land uses such as RV parks. Also perform due diligence by doing a market analysis, including local attractions and other businesses that may draw potential customers to you. Examples of other attractions could be vineyards or art shows.

Step 2 – Infrastructure

The Steele’s had some basics in place, such as electricity to the site. As they established their Camper’s Paradise small business, they also had to navigate requirements from state agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection, to establish water and septic infrastructure.

Step 3 – Lodging

The least expensive way to start a campground business is to offer rustic tent sites, where people camp and bring their own tents.

You can upgrade from there. Maybe you’d add a “glamping” tent, such as a yurt. Next, you may add RV hookups for water, electricity and sewer, and/or cabins. You may add campground service buildings, such as a bathhouse, laundromat and camp store.

Remember that you’ll need a construction permit for buildings, and permits for water and sewer projects.

Remember the Details

There are many ways that your campground can stand out from others. For example, guests cite “a quality restroom” as their most important feature at campgrounds.

You can create a dog walk area and/or dog park, and if you have room, hiking trails. Guests also like community fire pits, a recreation room, laundry areas, a swimming pool, offices and playgrounds.

If you have a pond, add a boat ramp and rental kayaks. Of course, there are significant costs involved in adding such amenities.

Reap the Rewards

The average cost for a rustic, no-frills tent site is from $30-50 per night. Remember that many small businesses grow slowly. Establishing the infrastructure needed for growth – while obtaining the proper permits – may take more than a year.

Why You Should Consider a Campground Business

Are you a good fit to own and run a campground? Here are some considerations:

In your personal life, when you’re not at your current job, you love to be outdoors.
You like interacting with people.
Campgrounds can be a good use of substandard lands, such as land that is not suitable for farming. If you’re already searching for vacant land business ideas, a campground could be the perfect fit.
If you start with rustic tent sites, you’ll have little prep work other than keeping the area mowed and tidy.
There are growth opportunities for campground businesses as Airbnb competitors, and the ability to earn money in the meantime.

If a campground isn’t the best fit for you, check out this list of 398 great business ideas for other options.

How to Open a Campground Business

Campgrounds are booming businesses and campers are waiting for new ones to open. If you’re consdering a campground in your top list of small business ideas, here’s how to get started:

1. Find Land

You’ll need acreage in a location that doesn’t impose restrictions on campground development. As you research opportunities for campgrounds, make sure you are thoroughly checking into existing local ordinances and zoning laws for the property.

Prospective new owners may want to meet with the local zoning board in the county or city, to learn more.

2. Property Permits

Two of your most important needs will be water supply and septic systems. Each of those will require permits.

Even for a simple campground design, you will be required to provide a place for campers that is a restroom facility. This doesn’t fall under the “amenities” category – it is a necessity.

You’ll also need a permit to provide fresh water to campers via water connections. You can do this with a single centrally-located hydrant. Before campers use the water, it should be tested.

If you’re going to add structures such as cabins or an office, or even tiny homes, you’ll need to check local building codes and any other permits which may be needed for your business.

3. Buy Insurance

As a minimum, you’ll need general business liability insurance and business property insurance. You’ll need business property insurance for your residence if the campground office is part of your house.

If you add a pool, you’ll need to increase your amount of liability insurance.

4. Develop a Business Plan

Start with a mission statement, followed by a business executive summary. In the summary, you’ll describe how you plan to start and grow.

Next, you’ll get into business financials. You’ll estimate expenditures and income, as well as capital expenditure budgets, with categories for costs such as electrical maintenance, wastewater treatment, and road maintenance.

You’ll choose a business structure, which for campgrounds is most often the Limited Liability Corporation or LLC.

5. Begin Site Prep Work

Once you’ve got the location and the permit, start installing the services your guests will need. At a minimum, campers expect bathroom facilities and the availability of fresh water.

6. Market Your Campground

Use social media sites and local radio. Keep specific audiences interested by announcing upcoming events at your location, or offering camping specials in connection with nearby local events.

Writing a Campground Business Plan

Here are helpful tips for writing a campground business plan:

Remember that the plan is not etched in stone. You can adapt it at any time. Don’t get bogged down trying to write your final comprehensive plan.
Remember that this business plan is one of the documents people present when seeking small business loans.
Make it a point to list your expansion plans in phases. For example, many campgrounds start by operating seasonally but become year-round campgrounds when they add services such as bathhouses and laundry. Bathhouses and laundries help attract customers who are working in a nearby city and are seeking a long-term place to stay.

Financing a Campground Business

Of course, financing options vary especially depending on whether or not you already own the land. Here are financing options to consider:

Use rustic site income to fund gradual improvements
Apply to commercial lenders
Apply for a Small Business Administration 7 (a) loan. The SBA 7 (a) loans can be used to purchase land and make land upgrades. Typically there’s a low downpayment and long repayment terms.

Grants for Starting a Campground

You may be surprised to learn that there are grants available for starting a campground business:

USDA – The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Services has grants available.
National Recreation and Park Association – The NRPA has grants for applicants who seek to help visitors develop a greater appreciation of the outdoors.

Marketing a Campground

There are numerous websites on the internet that cater to campers or specifically RV travelers. You can list your campground on these sites.

You can market by holding educational events, such as “How To’s” for outdoor skills. You can invite guest speakers who can teach campers how to cook over an open fire or use a map and compass, for example.

Of course, operate a FB page as part of your marketing plans. Keep it up to date as far as campsite availability and special events.

Create a one-page marketing plan that details the specific strategies you’ll use to grow your campground. Then refer back to it and update it periodically.

What’s the difference between a campground and an RV park?

Both of these fall under the category of rental business ideas. However, campground may offer tent sites and glamping tents. An RV park offers hookups for electricity, water and sewer at each site.

How much does it cost to start a campground?

The cost to create a campground can vary from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on land, and infrastructure needs. A septic system can cost $40,000.

How much money can you make as a campground business owner?

The average campground business owner makes $75,000 annually.

How many acres do you need for a campground?

The number of acres needed depends on local zoning laws. For example, local zoning may have a required minimum size for a campground, such as ten acres or more.

Is it hard to run a campsite?

The hardest part is getting established while navigating the paperwork and requirements for all the permitting that is required. Use this business startup checklist to make sure all the details are covered. Once the campground is established, the difficulty of running it depends on its size and type of amenities.

For example, with rustic sites the owner is responsible for mowing and general site maintenance. Add a bathhouse, and the owner is responsible for plumbing and electrical work, as well as cleaning.

Image: Envato Elements

This article, “How to Start a Campground” was first published on Small Business Trends



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