According to Kampgrounds of America (KOA), the largest private chain of campgrounds in North America, campers are traveling farther than ever to reach their destinations, averaging 190 miles in 2015.
The Southern Tier and Steuben County in particular have become a haven for campers, with more options than ever before. A total of 17 public and private campgrounds located in Steuben County are advertised by Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes, the county’s Visitors Bureau.
“One of the big reasons is the landscape itself. We have such a gorgeous region with rolling hills, forests and access to water. It’s a great variety,” said Dave DeGolyer, communications director for Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes.
Camping trips can be centered around a number of outdoor recreational activities ranging from biking, boating, hiking, fishing, visiting historic sites, hunting and off-roading, among others.
The county Visitors Bureau's sales pitch beckons,“Bring the family to beautiful Finger Lakes Wine Country and relax in the outdoor wilderness along the shores of Keuka Lake. Set up camp in one of the rustic waterfront cabins, hook up your RV at Camp Bell Campground or bring the kids and pitch a tent at Stony Brook State Park. The Finger Lakes region offers outdoor adventure for the whole family. Get ready to hike the Finger Lakes Trail or catch trophy bass while fishing in Keuka Lake. Spend your days enjoying the world-class Finger Lakes wineries or discovering Tiffany glass, and your nights camping in Corning under the stars that twinkle high above Finger Lakes Wine Country."
“There’s a lot of other options that come with camping that give people the chance to be immersed in the outdoors,” DeGolyer said.
The Visitors Bureau is currently targeting people within a 3-5 hour driving range, which includes New York City, Philadelphia, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and in-state cities like Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.
The notion of having a diverse vacation experience is especially attractive to younger travelers.
“The millennial generation and emerging travelers are interested in compiling experiences. That’s why this region has such a draw. You can go camping, drive a couple of minutes and do the beer and wine tastings,” DeGolyer said. “It’s a great experience you don’t necessarily get in other places.”
While some vacationers are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of life in the city and unplug for a while, others want to remain connected.
According to the KOA report, 41 percent say that having free Wi-Fi influences their decision to stay at a campground. That figure skyrockets among campers under 25, who say they are likely to bring their cell phone on a camping trip. Locally, campgrounds have heard those demands and are also heeding requests for structured activity.
Hickory Hill Campground in Bath is the area’s largest private campground and resort, with 176 sites, and attractions like mini-golf, pedal cars, laser tag and pools that attract over 10,000 guests a year.
“Our peak is from now until after Labor Day,” said Hickory Hill Marketing Director Penny Carlton. However, they can accommodate short notice bookings for non-holiday stays.
The campground sees guests flock from around the country because of its ability to accommodate a wide variety of needs and requests.
“Most of our guests are not from the local area. We have a lot from the New York City area, Rochester, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Ohio,” Carlton said.
Other campgrounds, like Sun Valley Campground in Arkport, seek to offer a uniquely local, natural, and family friendly experiences.
“We sit on the Canaseraga Creek and have waterfalls within our campgrounds that are very popular for people to hike to,” said Debbie Gilman, a representative of Sun Valley.
According to Gilman, their repeat customer base is driven by two things.
“One of the biggest comments we get is on the cleanliness and family atmosphere we have here,” she said.
Maryann Swackhamer of Sunflower Acres in Addison, which has a pool, tennis courts, fishing pond and wagon and train rides, says the business of outdoor recreation is a growing one, and for a simple reason.
“The last couple of years more people are going back to camping. It’s something they can do with the kids. If they go to a (place) like Darien Lake the kids go in all different directions,” she said.
People come from far and wide to get away from it all with their families.
“We’ve had people from England, Germany and other places who come into New York City and use rental RVs,” she said.
There are also many public campgrounds. Across New York state, there are 113 campgrounds with more than 15,000 individual campsites. Close to home, Stony Brook and Keuka Lake State Parks have 131 and 150 campsites, respectively.
State and national parks attract the most campers by far, accounting for 38 percent of stays.
There are many online resources for checking out what area campgrounds and parks have to offer including corningfingerlakes.com for locations in Steuben County; nyparks.com for camping in state parks; and recreation.gov to research national trips.