Let’s face it: Convincing people to sleep outside isn’t always easy. If you’ve never done it before, you don’t know what to expect—and worst-case scenarios naturally creep into your mind. But you shouldn’t let that fear of the unknown stop you from enjoying all that the great outdoors has to offer. For those who are aren’t about to embrace the term “roughing it” when they take a trip, there is another option: KOA campgrounds, with more than 500 locations across the United States and Canada.
While you can, of course, do traditional tent camping at KOA campgrounds, they also have several less-rustic options for spending the night. From high-end glamping tents to yurts and cabins, you can get the outdoor experience while still sleeping well above the ground. And no matter the sleeping arrangements, there are lots of little things you can do to make the camping experience more comfortable and to your liking.
Let’s start with the basics: If you’re simply not a tent person, camping might still be in the cards for you. There are plenty of camping-adjacent tent alternatives, like cabins and yurts, that offer more comfortable sleeping options while still retaining the fun parts of camping. You can reserve a log-style Camping Cabins at most KOAs, which generally accommodate four to six people and feature electricity, full-size beds, and bunk beds. Most also have an outdoor barbecue and front porch (often with a swing) to gives you plenty of outdoor space. With a Deluxe Cabin, you’ll find even more modern amenities, like kitchens, private bathrooms and showers, and even cable TV. You’ll still have a fire pit, patio, and outdoor space to enjoy.
For something a little more rustic, consider a teepee or yurt. While not available at all KOAs, you will find these structures at many locations across the country. A traditional teepee is similar to tent camping, but it’s a permanent structure with more room than your portable tent. Most are equipped with beds, futons and even electricity! Kids love the idea of staying in a place that allows you to go back in time to the spirit of Native Americans and early settlers. Some KOAs even feature teepee villages, which is a lot of fun for a large group.
Another variation on the tent is a yurt, which has its origins in Central Asia. The circular structures have higher ceilings and are typically made of latticed wood, with a crown top which gives you plenty of space inside. Amenities vary, but they often feature comfortable beds. The walled tent (also called a safari tent) is another similar structure that provides enough room inside that it’s much closer to a cabin experience than traditional tent camping. The “glamping” experience you hear so much about now often involves these kinds of tents or structures that bring modern amenities and comfort to the outdoors.
Of course, the ultimate in glamour camping is staying in an RV. Some people choose to rent them for their trip, but another option is to stay at an Airstream trailer at a KOA campground. The iconic Airstream campers feature a rounded body with a polished aluminum finish. With an Airstream, you get the protection of a trailer-style RV without having to maneuver a full-sized RV to your destination. The retro-vibe of an Airstream—with modern amenities like a kitchen and bathroom–will undoubtedly appeal to many people who haven’t done traditional camping before or those who just aren’t fans of it.
Of course, sleeping is just one part of the camping experience. Most of the time, you’ll want to take advantage of the outdoor activities in the area. At many KOAs, you can enjoy hiking, fishing, boating, and other traditional camping activities. But that’s just the start of what’s available. Swimming pools, climbing walls, horseshoe pits, mini-golf, basketball courts, Jumping Pillows, and movie nights are found at KOAs across the country. You’ll never run out of things to do there.
KOAs also offer amenities that make the overall camping experience more relaxed. Leave something at home? Chances are you can find it at the KOA campground store. Enjoy the use of laundry facilities and clean bathrooms. Even if you’re sleeping in a traditional tent, your experience will be made easier at a KOA. That said, there are still things you can do to help your camping trip go more smoothly. Use these tips to help ensure a more fun time in the outdoors.
There’s nothing worse than pulling up to a campground in the dark and hoping there’s an open spot. Well, maybe having to unload your gear and pitch a tent after sunset is just as bad. A little planning goes a long way toward making a camping getaway feel less like a chore and more like an actual vacation. With KOA, you can book campsites or cabins in advance to eliminate the possibility of not finding anywhere to lay your head for the night. Use the KOA website to know exactly what you’re getting, which can help make it easier to pack and plan for your getaway.
The more you get your gear together ahead of your trip—including prepping meals, organizing your toiletries (so it’s not a hassle to walk to the bathroom), and labeling a box full of kitchen supplies—the more time you can spend sitting in a comfy chair around the fire. Pack your clothing so the coziest clothes are right at the top. That way they’ll be easy to access when the sun goes down or the weather turns colder.
Sure, there’s something primal about building a fire from scratch. But honestly, unless you’re experienced, it can take ages to get a proper fire going. Bring along a few fire starters (and, if you’re grilling, charcoal briquettes) to help nudge the process along. That’s not the only way to make things easier on yourself: Keep a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag to retain heat. Burn some sage around your campsite to keep bugs at bay. (Find other useful camping hacks here.) There’s no shame in spending more time enjoying your outing and less time fighting with fire.
Just because you’re cooking around a campfire doesn’t mean you’re stuck eating a can of beans for dinner. This is the perfect time to put those cooking skills to the test. Invest in a Dutch oven and start brushing up on your favorite recipes—there’s no reason you can’t have a gourmet meal in the outdoors. To maximize your cook time and minimize frustration, do as much prep as possible (chopping veggies or mixing up a packet of spices, for example) before you leave the house.
Even if you’re using a sleeping bag and tent, you can do lots of things to make the experience more comfortable. If your tent has the room, consider investing in an inflatable air mattress and bring along cozy bedding—it doesn’t even have to be a sleeping bag. (And, if you’re car camping, bring pillows; they make a world of difference.) Keep a battery-operated lantern near your bed in case you wake up in the night. Let the kids bring their favorite stuffed animals or blankets. One tip: Put them back in the car once morning comes to keep them from getting too dirty.
It’s no fun to spend the evening sitting on the ground. Bring along a few camp chairs—yes, the ones with cup holders in the armrests—and arrange a comfortable sitting area near the fire ring or picnic table. You can find small, inexpensive tables at most sporting goods stores, or use an empty milk crate to set down drinks and hors d’oeuvres, burn candles (citronella is excellent for repelling mosquitoes), or leave a vase filled with cheery flowers.
See, it’s not hard to eliminate the objections that most people have about camping. With a little planning—and the amenities you find at a KOA campground—you can forget about roughing it and instead spend your time enjoying the outdoors. You’ll be glad you did it.
Written by Emma Walker for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America.