How to Start a Campground Business

If some of your fondest memories include tents, roaring fires, star-filled nights and cricket-songs filling the night air, you already know the benefits of campground living. This article will help you pitch your first stake in the ground, a metaphorical reference to sitting down with a pen and paper to weigh the demands a campground business will have on life as you now know it. If your assessment concludes that “not enough mosquito repellant for a crowd” is the only negative, better start shopping for the directional signs you need to get campers to your place before summer begins.

1. Mark off the boundaries of your property to ascertain exactly how much land you’ll be working with to establish your campground business. Check with government authorities in that area to make certain no laws prohibit you from establishing a campground on your property and then obtain applications for licenses and/or permits.

2. Hire a soil specialist to evaluate the whole of your topography, check for water drainage issues and other natural barriers that could derail your campsite before the first tent is pitched. Once you’ve had the site evaluated, grade the property and install low-maintenance gravel driveways to portion off sections of the land for future campers. Arrange to have power lines run to the site or increase the available amount of power so campers can hook up appliances.

3. Determine your target camping audience. If you’re going to build a traditional camp for kids complete with cabins, mess hall, activity buildings and other amenities, expect to encounter a wide variety of building, certification, engineering, employee, insurance and legal hurdles. On the other hand, if your facility will consist of open terrain hospitable to campers, tents and other portable dwellings, your list of enhancements won’t be daunting.

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4. Evaluate your financial situation as you determine which luxuries you can afford to install at your site and which need to be tabled for future expansion. Among the enhancements you may want to consider are shower facilities, cable TV hookups, flush toilets, a waste station and a cabin office to house a caretaker. While you’re deciding how many upgrades you can afford, survey area campgrounds to find out what they charge for the same types of services you plan to offer campers so your menu is priced accordingly.

5. Affiliate with a professional organization like the American Camping Association. You’ll pay a fee to belong, but there are few questions about how to launch and maintain a profitable campsite that ACA staff can’t help you with. You’ll need a solid insurance package to protect your interests. You may decide to purchase an umbrella policy to cover catastrophic insurance claims or you may choose to form an LLC or a corporation to limit your liability and protect your personal assets.

6. Research typical rules and regulations associated with the type of campground you’ll be operating in order to provide campers with specific guidelines for their stay. You might wish to require only plastic kitchenware to avoid broken glass onsite. Alcohol consumption can lead to a number of dangerous situations. Your policy manual should address noise, littering and other matters that have the potential to harm others and/or make a stay at your campground a nightmare for other campers.

7. Determine the types and numbers of signs you’ll erect on your property (in accordance with insurance mandates) to warn people about potential injuries or death in high-risk areas of your property. Deep lakes and rivers, tides, currents and other water hazards will require warning signs as will wildlife, poisonous vegetation and other warnings appropriate to your neck of the woods.

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8. Advertise your camp. Publications come and go, but camping guides and maps continue to be great ways to advertise a new camping site. Contact everyone from Rand McNally to your state tourism board to review your options and make advertising decisions that best benefit your new business. Some will be free, but most won’t, so be certain your budget has a line item for advertising before you begin shopping.