If you love camping season, starting your own campground could be a dream come true, allowing you to live the camping experience every day. As with all businesses, it is best to approach this endeavor strategically, especially considering the laws that oversee the campground industry. You will want to attract a diverse range of customers and provide a great experience all while following the law to the letter.
The Basics of Starting Your Own Campground
To get the ball rolling, you will need to follow the same basic steps as any new business owner. Essentially, that means filling out paperwork, paying a few fees and meeting with some strategic advisers. To start, visit your local chamber of commerce to register your business so that there are no surprises come tax season and consider incorporating your business into an LLC as soon as possible to protect your personal assets. Be sure to also apply for your campsite operator license if required.
Next, you need to think about money. Open a separate business bank account for your campground business and talk to an accountant about helping you keep track of all income and expenses as you gear up for your first tax year as a business owner. Next, develop a tentative budget and research loans, sponsors or investors to help fill in financial gaps.
Also talk to an insurance agent. A lot of things can go wrong on a campsite, and having the right insurance can protect you and your company. Finally, it doesn't hurt to contact a lawyer to help you finalize your contracts and agreements.
Finding the Perfect Campground Location
Perhaps the most important part of starting your own campground business is having a location where people actually want to camp. You are probably interested in starting your own campground business because you already own some land that doesn't get used to its full potential. In this case, you have to think long and hard about whether you own land that truly has that campground vibe. If you are in the process of looking for a parcel of land to buy for this purpose, don't be afraid to be picky.
People generally like to go camping to get away from their city or suburban lives, so the scenery at your campground has to be top notch. There shouldn't be a neighborhood visible above the treeline, and you shouldn't be able to hear the roar of a freeway when stepping outside of your camper. Even if the campground isn't exactly in the middle of nowhere, it should feel cozy and out of the way. Unless you want to do some major excavation to level the land, a naturally flat topography is also ideal for a campground.
Also think about what the land naturally has to offer in terms of recreation. A campground in the middle of a forest is serene, but a campground next to a lake is many people's idea of heaven. Your campground might be conveniently located next to numerous trail heads or perhaps some rock climbing or caving opportunities. If all your campground has to offer is a place to hook up the camper and relax, that is OK too, but it gives you a narrower marketing pitch.
Installing Campground Infrastructure
Once you have a great location for the campground, you need to start planning the infrastructure. Remember that many people enjoy "glamping" or some less-rugged version of camping in which they can enjoy the great outdoors without having to give up amenities like fully functioning bathrooms and air conditioning. In order to attract a diverse population of campers, you will want to have space for camper hookups as well as spaces or platforms for people to pitch tents if they wish.
A bathroom that includes showers and flushing toilets is a must-have. Fire pits or grills represent other amenities that are standard at campgrounds, as are picnic tables and trash cans. Some campgrounds have a main office with supplies and food available for purchase and games or activities to rent. Having a variety of options means people can "choose their own adventure" and decide how rugged they would like to camp.
For people who want to camp with an RV, you will need to have even more infrastructure. A camper hookup should include electric, sewer and water utilities. You can also choose to offer cable TV and high-speed internet or WiFi. A general rule of thumb is to have no more than 10 hookups per acre, with each spot having its own fire pit and picnic table for added coziness and convenience.
Developing Your Campground Rules and Policies
It is easy to start your own campground business assuming that guests will be respectful and peaceful, but rules and policies will quickly become necessary. If you are not sure what kind of rules you will need, seek out some popular campgrounds and ask for a copy of their policies and procedures to help with your brainstorming.
For example, if your campground is in bear country, you will want to have signs posted with instructions about food storage to keep people (and their food) safe. Remind people about the importance of cleaning up their campsite before leaving and consider imposing a fine for lack of attention to this rule. More dire rules include those concerning fire and water safety.
In short, you will want to have a basic set of rules and policies in place before you start your own campground, but these will be living documents that you will undoubtedly update as you gain more experience. It is also wise to have guests sign a campground liability waiver that states that camping involves inherent risks for which the campground owners cannot be held liable. You will also want a basic campsite use agreement that states the check-in and check-out times for each particular guest and outlines all associated fees and expectation of payment.
Local, State and Federal Campground Laws
As you continue the process of starting your own campground, you will want to become familiar with the local, state and federal laws that govern campsites. For example, you may need to obtain a campground operator license and welcome regular inspections by the state health department. There are also environmental laws of which you will need to be aware. For example, your guests may or may not need fishing licenses based on the privacy of the waterway and the type of fishing performed.
It's not necessarily your job to enforce state and federal laws that you see being broken on your campground property, but it is your job to report each incident so the proper authorities can enforce those laws. It is also helpful for you to educate your guests about laws that they might accidentally break.
Remember that starting your own campground is meant to be fun for both yourself and your guests. Making a campground run like a well-oiled machine takes skill and foresight, but it is worth it when your guests have the time of their lives and come back season after season. Do your research and pay special attention to the planning and development stages of this endeavor in order to confidently open the campground of your dreams.