As area campgrounds open for the summer season, many are finding they are at full — or nearly full — capacity.

This is in stark contrast to last year, where COVID-19 restrictions and many travelers’ general hesitancy made it so campsites had to be a little more spaced out, said Facility Supervisor at Three Rivers Parks District Bri Koch.

Even in comparison to a “normal” year, reservations this year have increased dramatically, Koch said.

At Three Rivers’ Baker Campground in Medina, there were 20 electric campsites booked on opening weekend at the end of April in 2019.

On the same weekend in 2021, all but one of the sites was booked, putting the campground at 99% capacity.

“Opening weekend it was not super nice weather, it was kind of crummy,” Koch said. “So, yes, we’ve definitely increased.”

Early bookings

Eric Paulson, who was staying at the Medina campground with his son, said they love the opportunity to get away in their camper as many weekends as they can throughout the summer, especially this year, even though they live in town.

This will be their second weekend camping this season — for some of their reservation dates, they had to book as early as fall of 2020.

“We do allow people to make reservations up to a year in advance,” said Koch.

In 2020, though, it wasn’t entirely predictable what restrictions would look like in terms of the need to space out individual campsites.

Now, Koch said restrictions have loosened significantly.

“We’re still encouraging social distancing and for people to be safe while out camping, but there’s no requirement of spacing between sites anymore,” Koch said.

Campground operators across the region are seeing similar trends of an uptick in both RV and tent-camping reservations.

Tom Brown, owner of the Minneapolis Southwest KOA Campground in Jordan, estimates reservations are up 20% over 2019.

“Of course we were down last year anyway, but this year we’re even above 90%,” Brown said.

Close to home

In a typical year, Brown said, the KOA sees a lot of national travelers, particularly in the months of June through August.

So far this year, though, a majority of campers have been from as local as Scott County, and they’ve still been very close to being sold out.

“The first two weekends we’ve had a lot of people from Jordan and Belle Plaine in particular,” Brown said. “We’re really grateful for the support from local people.”

The KOA also hosts a variety of group activities like hayrides, swimming and a fundraising weekend called “KOA Cares” which raises money to support kids undergoing cancer treatment.

Many of these activities were impossible to host safely during the height of the pandemic, but as more Minnesotans are vaccinated and restrictions begin to loosen, things are slowly getting back to normal.

Scoring a campsite

Even for those unable to book a site yet, there still may be a way to get away for a weekend, or during the week.

At the Minneapolis Southwest KOA, there are some sites available every weekend and throughout the week. After Memorial Day things begin to pick up seven days a week, Brown said, so it may be wise to make your reservations sooner rather than later.

Brown said there are often last-minute cancellations, so you should check back periodically to see if anything has opened up at the site you’re trying to go to.

For Koch, this summer is a welcomed opportunity for people to continue exploring the outdoors.

“We’re hoping to see people continue to come out and use the parks,” Koch said.