The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for the travel and tourism industry as a whole. Through much of 2020, shutdowns and public health restrictions to limit the spread of the virus led many travelers to cancel or postpone trips. Relaxations on these restrictions, the release of vaccines, and declining cases early in 2021 brought back many travelers, but the emergence of the Delta variant last summer and Omicron this winter again scrambled travelers’ plans.
Despite the general difficulties of the travel industry over the last two years, one segment that has fared well throughout the pandemic is outdoor recreation like camping and RVing. Because these activities take place outside and social distancing is easier, the risks of COVID exposure are low, which makes them an appealing alternative to airports, hotels, restaurants, and other locations where risk can be higher. The Outdoor Industry Association estimated that 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior.
New interest in outdoor recreation has forced related businesses to quickly scale up to meet demand. One example comes from the RV market. In February 2020—just before the pandemic began—the RV industry shipped a total of 37,113 units, according to data from the RV Industry Association. That number dropped to just 7,197 amid COVID shutdowns in April 2020, but ever since, demand for RVs has exploded. In October 2021, monthly RV shipments totaled 57,971, an increase of 56 percent from immediately before the pandemic.
Unlike the segments of the travel industry that have faced low demand, outdoor destinations like those popular with RV drivers are seeing more visitors than ever. Many national parks saw record visitation in the summer of 2021, introducing new systems to manage overcrowding and in some cases turning away visitors. But COVID accelerated a trend of increased visitation to public lands that has been taking place for several years. A recent report from the Center for Western Priorities found a 39 percent increase in the occupancy of reservable campsites on public lands during peak seasons between 2014 and 2020.
States in the western U.S. are seeing the boom and its effects most directly. States like Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are home to some of the U.S.’s most famous national parks and forests. These features make those states top destinations for camping, RVing, and other forms of outdoor recreation, with visitors and residents alike seeking to take advantage of the states’ natural attractions.
While western states experience some of the highest levels of visitation, the effects of stronger interest in camping and RVing can be felt in every state with public lands. For example, some of the top national forest destinations for RV travelers are found in locations like Florida, Minnesota, and North Carolina in addition to western states like California and Colorado.
The data used in this analysis is from Recreation.gov. To identify the most popular national forests for RV campers, researchers at Outdoorsy calculated the total number of RV nights booked in 2020. In the event of a tie, the national forest with the greater number of total RV reservations in 2020 was ranked higher. It’s important to note that these statistics only reflect reservations made on campgrounds managed by federal agencies, such as the National Forest Service.
The analysis found that Sequoia National Forest in California had 10,482 RV nights booked in 2020 from a total of 3,979 reservations. Overall, Sequoia National Forest was the most popular national forest for RVing in the United States. Here is a summary of the data for Sequoia National Forest:
Total number of RV nights booked in 2020: 10,482
Total number of RV reservations in 2020: 3,979
Most common home state of out-of-state visitors: Arizona
For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Outdoorsy’s website: https://www.outdoorsy.com/blog/popular-national-forests-rv-camping