Outdoors

Suspended cliff-hugging camp pads, underwater cabins and city-top tents feature in futuristic campgrounds

The mountain campground might just be the most dramatic of the series
The mountain campground might just be the most dramatic of the series
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Open-sided shelters deliver some reprieve from the hot desert sun while also harvesting solar energy with rooftop panels
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Open-sided shelters deliver some reprieve from the hot desert sun while also harvesting solar energy with rooftop panels
Desert campsites would include manmade pools and water features designed to blend naturally into the environment
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Desert campsites would include manmade pools and water features designed to blend naturally into the environment
That's a glass-walled building, but at first we thought it was a 360-degree mist system, which would also come in handy at a sizzling desert campsite
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That's a glass-walled building, but at first we thought it was a 360-degree mist system, which would also come in handy at a sizzling desert campsite
That sombrero-like pavilion offers a community gathering space, shade from the sun and solar power harvesting
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That sombrero-like pavilion offers a community gathering space, shade from the sun and solar power harvesting
Beyond simple pools, KOA imagines bringing desert campgrounds to life with waterpark-style amenities
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Beyond simple pools, KOA imagines bringing desert campgrounds to life with waterpark-style amenities
KOA's research indicates that millennials have the largest camping group size, over 10 people, so part of its vision is to provide community firepits, game areas and amphitheaters where groups can enjoy socialization and activities
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KOA's research indicates that millennials have the largest camping group size, over 10 people, so part of its vision is to provide community firepits, game areas and amphitheaters where groups can enjoy socialization and activities
One of the more interesting ideas in the Campground of the Future project is the suspended boardwalks that meander through the trees of the forest campground
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One of the more interesting ideas in the Campground of the Future project is the suspended boardwalks that meander through the trees of the forest campground
A community picnic and entertainment pavilion in the forest
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A community picnic and entertainment pavilion in the forest
The mountain campground might just be the most dramatic of the series
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The mountain campground might just be the most dramatic of the series
Camping on a manmade ledge sticking out from sheer rock may not be for everyone, but the views are hard to beat, something you can particularly appreciate if you've spent time mountain camping in campsites buried in the trees, with little to no view of the surrounding mountains
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Camping on a manmade ledge sticking out from sheer rock may not be for everyone, but the views are hard to beat, something you can particularly appreciate if you've spent time mountain camping in campsites buried in the trees, with little to no view of the surrounding mountains
The commute might be a little slow and harrowing, but the camping experience will be unforgettable
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The commute might be a little slow and harrowing, but the camping experience will be unforgettable
Beyond the cliffside campgrounds, KOA also imagines integrating community areas into the mountain rock
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Beyond the cliffside campgrounds, KOA also imagines integrating community areas into the mountain rock
Mountain campgrounds could include both open sites and shelters like cabins; retractable cabin roofs are also a part of KOA's vision
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Mountain campgrounds could include both open sites and shelters like cabins; retractable cabin roofs are also a part of KOA's vision
A simple cabin interior connected intimately with the outdoors around
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A simple cabin interior connected intimately with the outdoors around
Information stations could use the latest tech tools 
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Information stations could use the latest tech tools 
Just as it brings hiking and camping into the trees in the forest campground, KOA brings them onto the water in the coastal campground
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Just as it brings hiking and camping into the trees in the forest campground, KOA brings them onto the water in the coastal campground
Causeways would allow people to hike, bike and camp directly atop the water at KOA's coastal campgrounds of the future
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Causeways would allow people to hike, bike and camp directly atop the water at KOA's coastal campgrounds of the future
Undersurface cabins could provide views straight out to sea, the type of rare experience you'd otherwise expect only from a high-priced hotel or resort
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Undersurface cabins could provide views straight out to sea, the type of rare experience you'd otherwise expect only from a high-priced hotel or resort
Waterfront coastal campground
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Waterfront coastal campground
A bird's eye view of a coastal campground causeway
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A bird's eye view of a coastal campground causeway
A different kind of campground view
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A different kind of campground view
Electric vehicle charging wasn't as prominent as we expected, but it was still a part of the vision
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Electric vehicle charging wasn't as prominent as we expected, but it was still a part of the vision
KOA's urban campground vision ties together park space, enhanced recreational attractions and building roofs into a functional campground
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KOA's urban campground vision ties together park space, enhanced recreational attractions and building roofs into a functional campground
Perhaps even trailer or motorhome camping in the city ...
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Perhaps even trailer or motorhome camping in the city ...
Another highlight of the forest campground: treehouse-like cabins
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Another highlight of the forest campground: treehouse-like cabins
City campgrounds could bring some great outdoor-style attractions via amenities like zip lines, bike trails and climbing walls
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City campgrounds could bring some great outdoor-style attractions via amenities like zip lines, bike trails and climbing walls
KOA campgrounds would continue to incorporate child play areas and pet zones
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KOA campgrounds would continue to incorporate child play areas and pet zones
Movie night at the forest campground
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Movie night at the forest campground
Urban campgrounds might not be as pretty or natural as the others, but they would be more accessible for millions of people
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Urban campgrounds might not be as pretty or natural as the others, but they would be more accessible for millions of people
Rooftop tent platforms create a camping experience quite unique to urban environments
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Rooftop tent platforms create a camping experience quite unique to urban environments
A teepee at the Ventura Ranch, California KOA campground
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A teepee at the Ventura Ranch, California KOA campground
KOA has a widespread network of member campgrounds across the US
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KOA has a widespread network of member campgrounds across the US
KOAs may not all feature community amphitheaters just yet, but they do already have activities like movie nights, as shown here at the Port Huron, Michigan KOA
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KOAs may not all feature community amphitheaters just yet, but they do already have activities like movie nights, as shown here at the Port Huron, Michigan KOA
2015 rendering of the Tucson/Lazydays solar parasol
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2015 rendering of the Tucson/Lazydays solar parasol

We were expecting last week's RVX show to host the debut of a concept travel trailer, motorhome or two. We weren't expecting to see an entire series of concept campgrounds. But Kampgrounds of America (KOA) rocketed ahead to the year 2030, showing a futuristic vision of tent, RV and cabin camping. Much more than just campground-wide Wi-Fi, solar panels and electric vehicle charging, its "Campground of the Future" project looks to bring people closer to nature than ever, in ways that mimic some of today's most stunning architecture.

The future begins now

The current outlook is quite encouraging for the future of camping, as outlined in KOA's annual North American Camping Report, which served as the basis of the Campground of the Future project. The latest findings will be issued in the 2019 report next month, but the 2018 report showed American camping experiencing participation growth of 6 million households since 2014 and a more diverse set of participants pursuing the activity — half of all new campers in 2017 were non-white, with Asians the fastest-growing participant group.

Millennials, the largest generational group in the US, may be best recognized as the digital generation, but they've also been driving a camping and RVing renaissance. In fact, contrary to the idea that technology keeps people behind closed doors, KOA's research suggests that digital tools like social media have helped to attract new visitors to its campgrounds.

That's all very good news for companies with bottom lines that depend on camping enthusiasts, including KOA, a franchising network of independently owned, publicly available campgrounds. It doesn't mean that those companies can simply rest on their laurels, however. With demographic growth and change comes changing preferences and demands.

KOA has a widespread network of member campgrounds across the US
KOA has a widespread network of member campgrounds across the US

On the RV side, we've seen camping vehicles getting smaller and more efficient to reflect the preferences of younger participants. Even companies with decades of experience designing massive Class A motorhomes and fifth-wheel toy haulers are expanding their horizons with teardrop trailer and Class B motorhome (camper van) offerings. On the campground side, new technologies and amenities have found their way into once-spartan destinations as campground managers seek to create camping experiences that attract younger campers and keep them coming back.

KOA's Campground of the Future looks at how its member campgrounds could mold current trends and preferences into future camping experiences. The project is currently just a series of rough renderings and virtual reality presentations, but it does include some interesting ideas that extend far beyond Wi-Fi routers, vehicle charging stations or indoor lounges. Those types of additions combine with more dramatic new designs as KOA rethinks exactly what a campground is and how it can evolve to attract new users without losing established ones.

"With the increase in camping popularity comes a greater need to ensure the longevity of camping through smart design and preservation of nature," says newly-named KOA CEO Toby O'Rourke. "We believe that thoughtful use of technology and devotion to sustainably growing camping offerings will meet the increased expectations of campers while further enhancing that connection with nature that camping provides."

KOA breaks its futuristic campground down into a series of distinctive designs specific to the places people tend to camp — forests, mountains, deserts and coastlines — and one that many campers probably overlook — the city. Each design capitalizes on the distinctive resources available in its individual environment, becoming an extension of its surroundings.

Causeways would allow people to hike, bike and camp directly atop the water at KOA's coastal campgrounds of the future
Causeways would allow people to hike, bike and camp directly atop the water at KOA's coastal campgrounds of the future

Some of the themes interwoven through two or more of the individual campground experiences hinge on technology, including solar power, automated check-in procedures, and voice-activated services like firewood delivery. But many involve enhancing the traditional outdoor experiences of each environment through smart, focused campground design. KOA integrates popular recreational activities, like hiking and water sports, into the campgrounds themselves, creates more community gathering spaces for social activities, and immerses campers in nature with new and stunning accommodations and amenities.

Unique campgrounds for unique environments

Forest

One of the more interesting ideas in the Campground of the Future project is the suspended boardwalks that meander through the trees of the forest campground
One of the more interesting ideas in the Campground of the Future project is the suspended boardwalks that meander through the trees of the forest campground

KOA's forest campground of the future pulls visitors up into the surrounding trees, offering both accommodations and activities in the canopy. Elevated boardwalks twist through leaves and needles, while treehouses let campers climb high above ground before settling in for a cozy night's sleep.

Mountain

Camping on a manmade ledge sticking out from sheer rock may not be for everyone, but the views are hard to beat, something you can particularly appreciate if you've spent time mountain camping in campsites buried in the trees, with little to no view of the surrounding mountains
Camping on a manmade ledge sticking out from sheer rock may not be for everyone, but the views are hard to beat, something you can particularly appreciate if you've spent time mountain camping in campsites buried in the trees, with little to no view of the surrounding mountains

Instead of simply enjoying a view of the mountains from a distance, why not camp on the side of one? Like today's spectacular cliffside houses, cantilevered campsites jut out from sheer rock in KOA's futuristic mountain camps, accessed via cliff-hugging switchback roads. Spectacular views are afforded to tent, vehicle and cabin campers, alike, and even community gaming and gathering areas hover high above the valley floor.

Coastal

Undersurface cabins could provide views straight out to sea, the type of rare experience you'd otherwise expect only from a high-priced hotel or resort
Undersurface cabins could provide views straight out to sea, the type of rare experience you'd otherwise expect only from a high-priced hotel or resort

KOA imagines capitalizing on water in ways usually reserved for expensive resorts and theme parks. Rather than merely plopping campers at water's edge, the futuristic coastal campground drops them into the water with undersurface cabins that look out into the subaquatic environment. Campers would also recreate and sleep atop the water on purpose-built causeways.

Desert

Desert campsites would include manmade pools and water features designed to blend naturally into the environment
Desert campsites would include manmade pools and water features designed to blend naturally into the environment

When there's no water to be found in arid surroundings, KOA brings its own ... and not simply with the pump across from your campsite. Its desert concept campground tames the hot, unshaded sun with manmade pools built to mimic natural lakes and pavilions topped with solar panels. Fixtures are built in such a way as to afford magnificent views of the sun-soaked landscape.

Urban

KOA campgrounds would continue to incorporate child play areas and pet zones
KOA campgrounds would continue to incorporate child play areas and pet zones

KOA's urban campground vision repurposes city space into open space. Whether in a city park, atop a building or a vast combination of both, this style of campground delivers a quick natural escape for the harried city masses. Natural starlight may be largely devoured by urban light pollution, but tents stacked on building-top platforms offer sweeping views of towering buildings and glimmering city lights.

Pie in the sky or on the way?

Those campgrounds may seem unfathomable to backpackers, primitive campers and others who much prefer fully unplugging and enjoying the quiet, serene experience of bare nature. But KOA's network of privately owned campgrounds and resorts already includes modern amenities like cabins, playgrounds, Wi-Fi, swimming pools and game rooms, so these futuristic layouts aren't such a stretch within that framework. In fact, some of the ideas presented are already being implemented today.

2015 rendering of the Tucson/Lazydays solar parasol
2015 rendering of the Tucson/Lazydays solar parasol

"We have a massive solar parasol structure that covers two acres of RV sites at our Tucson/Lazydays KOA Resort in Arizona," explains O'Rourke. "That structure supplies more than enough power for the campground while providing partial cooling shade for the RVs parked beneath it."

We don't see any evidence that KOA counts underwater cabins or lodges built into cliffs among its reservable sites, but its campground network does include locations with treehouses, teepees and yurts. The company even has special "unique lodging" search tools.

A teepee at the Ventura Ranch, California KOA campground
A teepee at the Ventura Ranch, California KOA campground

Jump to the gallery for a fuller look at KOA's ideas, and let us know what you think in the comments. Will this style of campground resonate with current and would-be campers, or will camping take a different turn, perhaps no turn at all?

If a virtual reality tour is more your style, you'll find it on the "Camp the Future" website linked below.

Source: KOA Camp the Future

3 comments
Wolf0579
I'm surprised they are even still around. The KOA near me went decrepit a decade and a half ago, and is largely surrounded by built up areas and swampland.
bullfrog84
Trying to generate buy-in again? This started out as great concept a long time ago, but generations of people just didn't take care of them and they slowly become lower standard camping grounds or even trailer parks, like Wolf0579 mentioned...
ljaques
Many of those would be uninsurable, preventing their existence.