by Mary Jo David
At the height of summer, campers and trailers abound on Michigan highways and byways, not to mention vehicles with tents packed away in trunks and car-top carriers.
Some assume the rising popularity of camping can be attributed directly to the COVID pandemic. It’s true, the pandemic resulted in more people pursuing outdoor activities and preferring their own homes and accommodations over staying at hotels, motels, and resorts. But it’s also true that camping’s popularity has been on the rise since well before the pandemic.
Statistics cited in the 2022 North American Camping Report sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, Inc. show that the number of camping households have steadily increased from 2014 through 2021—from more than 32 million in 2014 to almost 57 million in 2021. The study’s projections for 2022 indicate that trend will continue.
Michigan is a great state for camping, from primitive camping to glamping. Armed with information from recreation.gov, researchers at outdoorsy.com compiled a list, published on the site’s blog in December 2021, of the top 15 states where camping has grown the most since 2015. Fourth on the list was Michigan; camping reservations in the Mitten State have increased a whopping 229.1% from 2015 to 2020.
What is it about camping that appeals to the masses? Rather than poring through published statistics, this author can write from experience. Beginning with childhood, as one of seven children, camping was the only way my parents likely afforded to take us on vacations and those vacations led to special memories. My earliest camping recollections involved camping in a little “army tent on wheels” that the neighbor had previously rolled into a ditch and was ready to junk. My father, the welder, saw plenty of potential and the little camper was resuscitated. No kitchen. No cupboards. No porta-potty. Just circa World War II canvas snapped around a frame that fit on top of a wooden box. I think back to how much work that must have been for my mom, but to us kids—it was always an adventure.
A few years later, when dad brought home an actual travel trailer, we thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Never mind that the little Winnebago was, at most, a 12-footer. That didn’t bother us at all. Come nighttime, a couple of us slept out in a tent and the rest squeezed into the wee Winny. I often think back to what we must have looked like pulling into the campground in a station wagon jammed with kids and towing that little tiny trailer. But campers don’t judge—and if they did, we didn’t care!
Speaking of memories: you haven’t lived until you spend a week in a 12-foot Winnebago after one of your siblings knocks over your mom’s full bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. To this day, if I catch the scent of Youth Dew, I promptly excuse myself and head to the nearest restroom where I’m likely to be ill!
Fast forward to adulthood and venturing out of Michigan to honeymoon in a tent in Maine at Acadia National Park. Our fondest memories of that special time include riding our bikes almost daily to a small roadside stand where we’d feast on fresh lobster caught that same day and boiled in a net bag with a fresh ear of corn. Never since have we had lobster that delicious.
Returning to Michigan, we began camping again when our youngest child was a toddler. Before long we progressed from tent camping to a 17-foot pop-up with not just one axle but two—take my word for it, you didn’t see many of those in the campground. But our kids would never know the joy of being crammed in like sardines, and for that, they really should thank us.
Back then, we had a system. I’d pack the kids’ swimsuits, towels, and sand toys right inside the pop-up door. When we arrived at the campground, I’d grab the kids and take them to change into their swimsuits, and we’d head down to the beach while devoted husband/dad set up the camper. We’d come back hours later—the kids would be exhausted from hours in the sun and sand and dad would be napping in a lawn chair with the camper and campsite all set up. In retrospect, I definitely think I got the better end of that deal.
If I had to pick the best common denominator between my childhood camping experiences, those with my husband and our children, and now just the two of us, I’d have to say it is the wonderful people we’ve met along the way. For the most part, campers are just fun, friendly folks. And one of the best aspects of camping is how quickly you can forge friendships. That’s true whether you’re 7 years old and looking for someone to ride bikes or swim with or 60 years old inviting others to join you for roasting marshmallows or playing cards at your picnic table.
When you’re camping—especially in the Mitten State—life doesn’t get any better.
- 2022 North American Camping Report sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, Inc.
- Outdoorsy, Inc. (outdoorsy.com/blog/most-popular-states-camping)