Camp can mean a number of things to queer folks. It’s a word that demands context. Is it John Muir lighting a fire or Liberace lighting up a stage? Is it Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or Shelley Long’s Troop Beverly Hills?
“Camp is the spirit of extravagance,” writes Susan Sontag in her famous 1964 essay on the subject. Camp is also the spirit of simplicity, as Henry David Thoreau outlines in the dreamy prose of Walden.
So which is it? Camp! or camp?
This year, it’s a little bit of both as queer American travelers are breaking down the binary by donning Patagonia drag, pitching tents, and shirking big cities for a new kind of vacation destination: LGBTQ campgrounds.
After a year of pandemic-induced cabin fever, it’s no wonder Americans are antsy to get campy. Outdoor escapes provide a much-needed cure. According to Kampgrounds of America’s annual North American Camping Report, over 10 million people camped for the first time in 2020, citing the health crisis as a critical factor in their decision-making process.
This year, camping is shaping up to be busier than ever. The e-commerce company Pattern, which tracks consumer behavior, found that demand for camping tents was up 97 percent compared to this time last year and up 85 percent from 2019. And as popularity booms, the demographics of who’s camping is starting to change, too.
“The average camper is evolving,” states the 2021 North American Camping Report, “and with it, we are seeing more people from backgrounds of all types finding their own space in the great outdoors.”
For LGBTQ travelers, the influx of curious campers has caused an increased demand for queer-centric tent retreats. Tickets to Honcho, a queer music festival where attendees spend the weekend roughing it in rural Pennsylvania, sold out within minutes of going on sale earlier this year. Weekend sites at The Woods Campground, a seasonal gay resort in the Poconos Mountains, went just as fast when bookings opened in March. The summer’s busiest weekends will draw roughly 2,000 visitors to the grounds.
This newfound camping craze coincides with a recent cultural shift away from iconic queer spaces like urban gayborhoods and gay bars. Camping, in many ways, is the antithesis of these places. At a queer campground, the honking horns of big cities are replaced with birdsong, and the blaring music of packed bars is swapped with the hum of crackling campfires. Campsites, often tucked into remote corners with spotty cell service, encourage disconnecting from digital devices and reconnecting with nature. It’s egalitarian in its affordability, too. Unlike Fire Island, where a one-night rental averages roughly $500, a two-night tent site at The Woods costs only about $140.
But LGBTQ campgrounds aren’t only about roughing it like Thoreau — people who go to these spaces know how to camp it up Sontag-style, too. Most of these spots host themed weekends like those in Provincetown, encourage wild costumes characteristic of Atlantis cruises, and leave plenty of room for DIY debauchery. Many offer on-site glamping options like temperature-controlled cabins, RV hookups, and sizable indoor communal spaces. Bathrooms and showers are par for the course, as are shops selling essentials like potable water, firewood, and food. Drag queens are as common as white-tailed deer. Andrew Christian is as ubiquitous as North Face. Queer campgrounds offer a diversity of options and amenities so visitors of varying backgrounds can choose an adventure that fits their desires.
If all this talk of pitching tents leaves you fantasizing about Brokeback Mountain cosplay, it’s time to consider visiting LGBTQ campgrounds. Here are some of the best US-based sites worth checking out.
1. Campit Outdoor Resort in Fennville, Michigan
Unlike many of these campgrounds that specify as gender-specific sites, Campit Outdoor Resort is an all-inclusive getaway that welcomes everyone from the LGBTQ community — including their friends and allies. The site also offers ADA-compliant spaces so disabled campers can enjoy the resort’s offerings.
Themed weekends like Trans Week, Leather Week, and Drag Fest bring a diverse group of campers to the 33-acre grounds from April to October, though visitors aren’t beholden to the social camp bubble. Located 10 minutes from Saugatuck, Michigan’s seasonal gay enclave, Campit offers a cost-efficient way to enjoy the summer destination without worrying about expensive in-town rentals.
Guests can choose between camping, RVing, renting one of the on-site log cabins or vintage trailers, or staying in a shared bunkhouse with five private bedrooms. Miles of woodland and creek-side trails wind from the tent sites to various amenities, including a heated pool, an outdoor recreation area, a clubhouse, a convenience store with camping essentials, and an adult toy store for sex-related goodies. With so much to enjoy, travelers may reconsider driving to Saugatuck at all.
2. The Woods Campground in Lehighton, Pennsylvania
This clothing-optional retreat, located two hours west of NYC and an hour and a half north of Philadelphia, is the inland antidote to pricey East Coast getaways like Fire Island. Inexpensive, unpretentious, and all-inclusive, The Woods Campground feels like an adults-only Neverland at the edge of civilization. The only problem is its popularity: Summer weekends usually sell out within minutes of going on sale.
Located on 161 acres of rolling hills replete with nature trails, babbling brooks, a four-acre lake, and an abundance of on-site amenities, The Woods gives visitors a good reason to stay put for their entire trip. In addition to a convenience store that sells everything from firewood to jockstraps, there’s a restaurant and poolside cabana that serves breakfast food and pub grub all weekend long. An in-ground pool and surrounding sun deck act as the ground’s midday meeting place. At night, crowds commune around a Burning Man-sized bonfire before heading to an indoor-outdoor dance floor that hosts themed parties every weekend.
Some people love The Woods so much that a mere weekend isn’t long enough. A ton of tiny homes and RVs owned by seasonal residents fill the spaces between rental sites for cabins, campers, and tents. This community-oriented contingency is The Woods’ greatest asset — it’s what makes everyone, visitors included, feel safe and secure while sleeping naked under the stars.
3. Roseland Resort and Campground in Proctor, West Virginia
John Denver’s iconic “Country Roads” has tried to convince us that West Virginia is “almost heaven” since 1971. Lucky for him, Roseland Resort and Campground corroborates his claim. This clothing-optional, gay-owned and -operated campground offers men a chance to leave their worries behind while frolicking freely on 222 acres thick with vegetation.
Guests can choose between camping in a tent, parking an RV, renting a cabin, or booking a hotel-style room with non-camping niceties. An on-site dining hall and bar keep visitors well-fed, while a convenience store hocks all the necessary camping items for those who choose to rough it. But roughing it is a far cry from what happens here. Between a heated pool, two hot tubs, a sauna and steam room, and professional massages offered on-site, camping at Roseland is synonymous with pampering yourself.
Men can choose to visit during themed weekends offered year-round, like a three-day leather festival in August, September’s Bear Fair, and Nude Years Eve — which gives new meaning to the term “ball drop.” Check their homepage for updated information. The themed parties aren’t always what make Roseland heaven, however. It’s hiking around the ground’s eleven miles of trails and lounging in a hammock that makes guests feel like Adam in Eden.
4. Vitambi Springs Resort and Campground in Clewiston, Florida
Vitambi Springs Resort and Campground is a primarily male resort and campground that welcomes both rugged tent-pitchers and fine-linen fairies. Guests can bring a tent, park an RV, or choose from on-site accommodations like rustic cabins, private homes, and a group military barracks.
The campground, located two-and-a-half hours northwest of Miami, stretches over 269 acres of South Florida’s tropical forests. Paved pathways snake through green groves of live oaks and palms, providing campers shade and privacy. There’s a clothing-optional pool, an indoor gym, and an air-conditioned entertainment center that offers yoga and dancing for those excited to socialize.
Themed weekends abound at Vitambi, including a leather weekend (July 23-25), a bear weekend (August 13-15), and a women-only weekend (October 1-3). Still, this doesn’t mean you’ll put up with rowdy all-night shenanigans: 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM are resort-sanctioned quiet hours for all guests.
Clewiston — a Lake Okeechobee town located thirty minutes north — is the closest you’ll get to a town, but guests won’t likely need to visit. Everything necessary to enjoy a short stay can be found on-site, including a store that carries camping essentials and a cafe and bar that serve food and drinks during the weekend.
5. Windover Women’s Resort in Owendale, Michigan
Windover Women’s Resort is a sapphic space located in Owendale, a sleepy hamlet in the thumb of Michigan’s mitten. The women-only campground is open from April through October and has everything from rustic tent sites to trailers equipped with heating, air conditioning, stoves, refrigerators, and a personal bathroom.
Guests will find tons of on-site amenities, like a heated swimming pool, a fully-stocked camp store, and a clubhouse outfitted with a pool table, TV, and games. Those looking to commune with nature will find a short forested path leading to Pigeon River — a gentle waterway hugging the ground’s outskirts.
Port Austin, a quiet village kissing the shores of Lake Huron, is only a half-hour away by car and a must-visit for kayakers. The aqua-marine landscape is akin to Lake Tahoe, with calm waters leading to dynamic rock formations. Caseville, another coastal town, hosts an annual Jimmy Buffett-style Cheeseburger Festival that’s worth its weight in kitsch. As for Windover, the site’s biggest weekend is always Music in the Valley — a three-day festival with live performances. This year’s shindig will take place from July 30 to August 1.
6. Rainbow Ranch in Groesbeck, Texas
The stars at night are big and bright on this LGBTQ campground centrally located midway between Dallas, Houston, and Austin. A far cry from the state’s urban areas, Rainbow Ranch offers nearly 700 acres where guests can hike, bike, swim, and fish under an endless expanse of Texas sky.
This all-are-welcome queer camp sees a fair amount of “perms,” or permanent residents, who set up residence in RV spots — some of which get a glow-up with additions like decks and patios. Visitors looking for a short stay can choose between tents, cabins equipped with creature comforts like heat and air conditioning, a 2800-square-foot house that sleeps 15, a fully-equipped apartment that sleeps five, and RV sites with water and electrical hookups.
The property includes a swimming pool, a large fire pit, and a pavilion with a pool table, DJ booth, and flat-screen televisions. Fisherfolk will appreciate its beachfront location on Lake Limestone, which is filled with largemouth bass and catfish.
Rainbow Ranch throws themed parties throughout the year, including multiple weekends solely for men or women. Be sure to check the schedule before booking your stay.
7. Triangle Recreation Camp — Granite Falls, Washington
If there’s one thing you can count on at Triangle Recreation Camp, it’s getting wet. The 80-acre site is surrounded by a patch of Pacific Northwest rainforest cross-hatched with waterways fed by the nearby Cascade Mountains.
The list of must-haves at TRC doesn’t end with waterproof clothing. This delightfully sparse site requires campers to bring everything they need. Granite Falls, the closest substantial town 30 minutes away, is the last place travelers will have cell service and be able to pick up food before setting up camp. That’s right: TRC is an off-grid location, so if you’re looking to disconnect, this is the place to do it.
Visitors can choose between tent or RV camping, and all must join the TRC community by signing up for the yearly membership to book their stay. The membership is worthwhile — TRC is renowned for throwing rowdy theme parties, like July’s hanky code weekend and August’s Summerween, which turn the old-growth forest into a midsummer night’s dream. There’s always a reason to return.
8. Jones Pond Campground and RV Park in Angelica, New York
It’s raining men at the clothing-optional Jones Pond Campground and RV Park that’s cloaked in the wilds of Western New York. Located on 117 acres in the Genesee Valley (an hour south of Rochester and five hours north of NYC) this remote site is a one-stop shop for adults hoping to escape the city hustle.
A series of nature trails give visitors private access to a serene stretch of deciduous forests, and an in-ground pool offers social butterflies a sunny spot to make new friends. There’s a full-service restaurant open on the weekends and an indoor lounge featuring a TV and pool table. Themed weekends draw various crowds from May to October, and guests should come prepared to dress accordingly. Whether you opt for Pirates of the Pond, Christmas in July, or Cowboy Weekend, you’ll find that Jones Pond regulars don’t hold back when it comes to costumes.
Aside from tent and RV sites, visitors can rent a three-bedroom guest house, log cabin, or shared bunkhouse for their stay. Opting for roof-covered lodging is wise if traveling outside of summer. New York’s weather is notoriously capricious in spring and fall, and a little extra coverage can do a body good — even at a naturist’s campsite.