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   National Survey on Campground Accessibility: Policies and Practices - Final Report

National Survey on Campground Accessibility: Policies and Practices

Final Report

National Center on Accessibility
February 2006

Note: The full report 25 pages with appendices is available through NCA for $20.

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The National Center on Accessibility

The National Center on Accessibility is a dynamic and innovative leader in the movement to include people with disabilities in recreation, parks, and tourism. Since its inception in 1992, professionals such as park superintendents, facility managers, architects and landscape architects, program coordinators, civil engineers, planners, interpreters and exhibit designers, accessibility coordinators, advocates and consumers have drawn on NCA as a valued resource. Through its comprehensive services: Research, Technical Assistance, and Education, NCA focuses on universal design and practical accessibility solutions creating inclusive recreation opportunities for people of all abilities. NCA’s innovative programs, comprehensive services, and experienced staff drive the development of knowledge, skills, and ultimately action, creating inclusive recreation opportunities for people of all abilities.

The National Center on Accessibility (NCA) responds to thousands of requests each year from agencies, organizations, and individuals regarding accessibility to recreation, park and tourism programs, and facilities. The NCA, in large measure, sets its annual priorities for education, technical assistance and research as a result of these inquires. As is shown by the diagram, the NCA annual work plan is developed from input that we receive from those requesting technical assistance and from the feedback that we receive from our training program participants. Our training programs spawn additional technical assistance questions and the technical assistance questions that we receive, sometimes result in the development of our research agenda. When we receive questions and discover gaps in the literature where there seemingly is a lack of information and lack of a knowledge base, we ultimately would like to find ways to answer those questions. NCA has a long history of seeking practical solutions to accessibility issues such as swimming pools, trails, golf, picnic areas, and campgrounds.


In 2001 NCA, through a subcontract with the University of Tennessee, Recreation and Tourism Management, Dept. of Consumer and Industry Services Management, conducted a study of Visitor Expectations and Perceptions of Program and Physical Accessibility in selected National Parks. Data were collected in the surrounding communities of the selected five national park units including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Shenandoah National Park, the Mammoth Cave National Park, and the Hot Spring National Park. The results and Executive Summary final report from that research can be found on the NCA website at http://ncaonline.org/outdoor-dev/expect.shtml. The full report is available by contacting NCA.

While the 2001 study did not focus solely on campgrounds, one of the findings showed that people with disabilities often go to these parks with the specific goal of using the park’s campgrounds. While doing so, they found a significant lack of accessibility.

The 2001 study along with many inquiries from people with disabilities and campground operators, provided the primary incentive for NCA to conduct a study focused on camp ground accessibility.


The purpose of this study was partly to identify existing policies and procedures common to accommodating people with disabilities in campgrounds and campsites throughout the country; and partly to determine the current level of accessibility in campground facilities throughout the nation. The intent of the data collection was to identify common policies, exemplary practices, and issues where clear policies were not available. The ultimate objective was to provide campground owners and operators with examples of principles and policies that might guide them in future efforts to make their facility both programmatically and physically accessible.


NCA staff determined that a web-based survey would be the instrument of choice. NCA staff went through a six month process of developing, revising and refining the questions to be included in the online survey. In addition, staff conducted an exhaustive search of campgrounds in the USA and in the end over 3,000 e-mail and mail addresses were identified,
primarily via the Internet and in consultation with major campground organizations such as KOA, Campgrounds USA and various federal and state government web sites. Additionally, the Accessibility Managers of the major federal agencies that operate campgrounds (National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were asked to circulate the study information to the campgrounds in their respective agency. Study information was also sent to the various state land managing and natural resources agencies. Finally, a presentation was made to the National Association of State Park Directors encouraging them to participate and trainees at an NCA training program in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park were also invited to participate.

Once the survey instrument was finalized, NCA partnered with the Indiana University Center for Policy and Planning Studies at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community to post the study and tabulate the results.


The survey consisted of 34 questions (see Appendix I). The questions were a combination of yes/no, multiple choice and fill in the blank. Respondents also had the opportunity to add comments for clarification purposes and/or to add information that needed further explanation specific to their campground operations. The survey was posted on the IU Center for Policy and Planning Studies Polling Place Web site in late July, 2005 and was available for completion through September of 2005. The survey took no longer than 30 minutes to complete and all submissions were via the Internet.


The raw data from the online survey were compiled by staff of the Center for Policy Studies and a report, complete with charts and graphs was submitted to NCA in December, 2005. Additionally, an Indiana University Doctoral student conducted further analysis and cross tabulations of the data.


Two hundred ten (210)) responses were receivedThis is a graph which displays the survey respondents by agency type.  80 respondents were from privately owned campgrounds.  65 were from federal properties.  43 were from state facilities, and 12 were from other locations.. Approximately 40% of the survey respondents were from privately owned campgrounds; 32% were campgrounds located on federal properties, e.g. US Forest Service, National Park Service, etc.; 21% were state facilities, e.g. State Parks and the remainder were locally operated campgrounds, e.g. county or city government. Geographically, the responses came from a total of 42 states. Surveys were largely submitted by owners and or facility managers/administrators. Clearly 72% of the total responses were completed by top level campground administrators.This is a graph which displays the campground types offered by survey respondents.  190 offered RV camping.  180 offered tent camping.  75 offered cabins, and 22 offered other types of sites. Of the 210 respondents to the question regarding types of camping offered, the vast majority include both tent and RV camping as the primary types. (80% and 84% respectively). Other types of sites offered included cabins, yurts, condos, trailers and backcountry.

Accessibility at Campgrounds

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) [1990] is civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. In other words, people with disabilities have the right to participate in and take full advantage of services provided, equal to the services provided to people without disabilities. The ADA specifically includes places of recreation as a covered activity. The American’s with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines [1991] did not provide adequate guidelines for campground owners and operators to understand exactly what their obligations were. In addition, while federal agencies had been covered by earlier legislation (the Architectural Barriers Act and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), these laws also did not provide specific guidance for making recreational venues, including campgrounds, accessible.

As a result the U. S. Access Board began developing guidelines for recreation areas, including campgrounds in the mid 1990’s. The final report of the Committee recommending campground accessibility guidelines were published in the fall of 1999. Currently, the guidelines are awaiting final approvals and enforcement authority from the U.S. Department of Justice. In the meantime most experts advise campground operators, whether federal, state or private, to use the proposed guidelines in designing accessible campsites, since even though final guidelines are not in place, entities are still required to insure the inclusion of people with disabilities in their campgrounds.

While making physical area and facilities accessible to and usable by people with disabilities is fairly straightforward, the development and implementation of policies and administrative practices that ensure ‘program’ access are sometimes less understood, but no less important. This study attempted to focus mostly on the policy and administrative practices that often affect the quality of the experience for people with disabilities, and in fact may well discriminate against them. The following findings provide a glimpse of the current policies and practices of U.S. campground owners and managers as they relate to people with disabilities.

Staff resources devoted to insuring access

The degree of accessibility in campgrounds across the United States is somewhat reflected in This is a graph which displays the percentage of campground types with staff assigned to accessibility.  48% of state campgrounds had staff with accessibility responsibilities.  46% of federal campgrounds had staff with accessibility responsibilities, and 14% of private campgrounds had staff assigned to accessibility.the lack of personnel who are assigned responsibilities to insure that people with disabilities have opportunities for accessible camping experiences. Of 198 responses, 60% had no staff resource with accessibility responsibilities. In all, only 10 respondents indicated that they had staff with full time responsibilities for accessibility and most of those were with State Government, where it could be assumed that the individual had accessibility oversight of all campgrounds statewide or that in addition to accessibility oversight, they also had oversight of all facilities, safety, etc. Privately owned campgrounds, as might be expected, had the lowest percentage (14%) of all agencies that designated a person having any level of accessibility responsibility (part-time or full-time). Eighty one percent (81%) of the agencies assigned staff do so as a collateral duty to their other responsibilities. From the comments received, it appears that many agencies indicating that staff was assigned to accessibility spent minimal time, or that the responsibilities were seen as the responsibility of the larger agency, e.g. centralized, government.

Campground Reservation Systems

Campgrounds used different procedures to accommodate their guests. Some campgrounds were available on a first come, first served based, while others used various types and methods of reserving campsites. The majority of respondents in this study indicated that they did not require reservations. The chart below shows the reservations methods by all types of facility and ownership.

This is a graph which displays the reservation methods by agency type.  Central reservation systems were used most by federally owned campgrounds and least by privately owned campgrounds. Internet/email was used most by privately owned campgrounds and least by local campgrounds.  The phone was used most by privately owned campgrounds and least by federally owned campgrounds.  A first come first serve method was used most by state owned campgrounds and least by local campgrounds.

State owned and operated campgrounds used a first come first serve approach to reservations (84%) much more than the others. Privately owned campgrounds used this approach the least of all types (32%). As will be discussed later, the reservation system(s) used by campgrounds can have major implications for accommodating visitors with disabilities.

Prevalence of Accessible Campsites

In response to a question regarding the availability of accessible campsites, over 80% of all respondents indicated that they had accessible sites. However, of the privately owned campgrounds, only 41% indicated that they had accessible sites. More specifically, the survey asked about the availability of different types of sites (tent, cabin, and RV). Interestingly, when asked about access in the specific types of sites, percentages dropped significantly in state and federal agency responses and increased significantly in private campground responses. The questions on specific types of sites (tent, cabin, RV) asked if the entity had the minimum number of spaces per a table based on the US Access Board’s Regulatory Negotiations Committee Final Report (1999). For example, when asked about having the minimum number of accessible tent camping spaces [of those agencies offering a tent camping option] only 49% of state owned sites and 54% of federal sites had the minimum number of recommended accessible spaces. Conversely, 83% of privately owned campgrounds who offered tent camping indicated that they had the minimum number of accessible spaces.

This is a graph which displays the percentage of campsite types that met the minimum accessibility requirements.  Of those facilities which offered tent camping, over 80% of privately owned, over 50% of federally owned, and almost 50% of state owned campgrounds provided the minimum number of accessible spaces. Of those facilities which offered cabins, over 60% of state campgrounds and over 30% of federally and privately owned campgrounds provided the minimum number of accessible cabins.  Finally, of those facilities which offered RV camping, almost 100% of privately owned and state owned campgrounds and over 80% of federally owned campgrounds provided the minimum number of accessible spots.

* Data from local agencies were not included because of lack of participation from local sites on these survey questions.
** Agencies often did not offer one or more of the camping types, and therefore data is based only on those offering the specific type of camping

The table above does not seem to match the results of the previous question that merely asked if the respondent had any accessible campsites. When asked if they met the minimum number of accessible spaces based on the proposed Access Board guidelines the percentages seems to vary widely. One explanation is that percentages could be skewed due to many respondents not offered one or more of the types of camping experiences. Another explanation may be a lack of understanding on ‘what the characteristics of an accessible space are”; and thirdly it may be that in many cases, there was not specifically “designed spaces” for accessibility and entities may well have “perceived” that they had the minimum number of accessible spaces. This would seem to be particularly true with the responses to the RV accessible space question, where 99% of the respondents from state agencies and 100% of all respondents from private campgrounds indicated that they met the minimum guideline for number of RV accessible spaces. While the requirements for accessible RV spaces are not considered by most to be onerous, it is important to note that an accessible RV space requires more than just a level space wide enough to park the vehicle. Any and/or all amenities at an accessible RV space must also be accessible in order for the area to be considered accessible. That would include an accessible route to

All amenities including the nearest restroom, grills, picnic tables, electrical hookups and discharge stations. Based on some of the additional comments provided by many respondents, it is likely that at least some did not have the knowledge on what makes up an accessible campsite.

Reservation Policies for Accessible Campsites

Reserving a campsite is a convenience for all campers. It can be even more important for individuals with disabilities where there may be a lack of accessible sites. As was discussed earlier, not all campground owners and operators used any type of a reservation system. This was particularly true at state owned facilities (state parks, DNR properties, etc.) where 84% of the survey respondents indicated that their campgrounds were only available on a first come, first served basis. All other types of campgrounds used this method much less often (only 30-39 percent used the first come option). The survey asked seven separate questions regarding campsite reservation policies as related the available accessible sites.

A large majority of the campgrounds did not have written reservation policies for their accessible campsites. Of the 160 sites responding to this question, only 44 (28%) indicated that they had a written policy. State owned facilities (68%) had the highest percentage of written reservation policies on accessible campsites and privately owned facilities had the lowest (12%). Of those indicating that they had a written policy, 84% indicated that the policy was readily available to the public.

This is a graph which displays the policies on holding accessible campsite.  41% of campgrounds did not hold accessible sites at all. 27% hold accessible sites until the published check-in time and 11% hold accessible sites exclusively for people with disabilities.When asked about their policy regarding holding accessible campsites for persons with disabilities, many campgrounds (41%) did not hold accessible sites at all. 27% hold the accessible site until the published check-in time and 11% held the accessible sites exclusively for people with disabilities.

This question elicited over 30 additional narrative comments. Since the answers to this question were central to the purpose of this study, all comments associated with this question are included in Appendix II.
In general, comments amplified on the specific campground policy on holding (or not) accessible camp sites. Many of the comments revealed the acknowledgement by campground operators of the need to provide

some type of safe haven for those with disabilities. Of the 30 comments received, 25 indicate that accessible sites were reserved or held on some basis or that all of their sites were accessible.

Since many campgrounds did not require reservations, investigators also wanted to know what, if any, action is taken when campers with disabilities arrive and no accessible campsites are available. The questionnaire provided three choices as well as an opportunity (Other) to add comments. This question elicited by far the greatest number of written comments (76). Of the 149 responses to this question, 35% of the respondents indicated that campers without disabilities are asked to relocate to a non-accessible site. Fourteen percent (14%) indicated that the person with a disability is told that they must wait until an accessible site becomes available. The comments accompanying this question are substantial and are included in Appendix III. It is interesting to note that there are several comments to this question, as well as the previous one that state that “all or the majority of sites are accessible” or that it has not been an issue. In reading the responses, it is apparent that many of the respondents may not be familiar with the proposed accessibility standards for campsites. It appears that many assume that a level campsite or a hardened RV camping surface makes the site ‘handicap’ accessible. It is also interesting to note that it appears that most respondents have a positive attitude about accommodating people with disabilities and are willing to assist all of their campers when needed. Comments like “we will attempt to find a campsite that will match the needs of the camper”… and “we would try to make all parties happy…” attest to this attitude. Many simply indicated that this has never been a problem and that not many people with disabilities had used their campground or if they had, they had not requested specific accommodations.

The final question regarding what actions the campground operator takes focused on the issue of when campers without disabilities are asked to relocate from an accessible site, i.e. when are they informed? Most respondents marked this one not applicable. Of 154 responses to this question, 80 or 52% indicated that the question was not applicable. Only 26% indicated that they informed those who were requested to move only when the situation occurs; 14% indicated that they informed campers of this possibility upon check-in and 3% indicated that it was part of the reservation procedure. There were only 8 comments to this question, and it is clear that campground operator did not see this as a major issue or problem.

Construction dates and Accessibility Guidelines used

The research team was also interested in determining the approximate time period when their accessible campsites were constructed.

Over 50% of the campground operators surveyed indicated that their accessible spaces were constructed prior to 1999, and 38% after 2000. Since the proposed accessibility guidelines for campgrounds were not available until the fall of 1999, investigators then wanted to know which guidelines were used by entities to construct their accessible campsites after the year 2000. Of those responding to this question, the choices were:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)
  • Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS)
  • Outdoor Developed Areas Report (ODA)
  • State Accessibility Codes
  • Other

The following graph shows the responses regarding which of these guidelines were used in design/construction of accessible camp sites.

This is a graph which displays the percentage of respondents who used a particular set of guidelines during the design and/or construction of accessible campsites.  39% used ADAAG.  22% used UFAS.  20% used ODA.  15% used state guidelines, and 22% used other standards.

The fact that more campground owners/operators used ADAAG for designing and constructing campgrounds after 2000 than other standards would lead one to believe that many were not familiar with the ODA guideline recommendations, and/or were advised to use other standards that are already enforceable. In fact, only one private campground used the ODA guidelines. As would be expected, federal and state agencies referenced the ODA guidelines the most, but they also used ADAAG more often than any other standard or guideline. Federal agencies were split in frequency of using ADAAG and UFAS as the standard used most often when designing campgrounds. Those indicating “Other” for the most part, were not aware of which guidelines were used or were not familiar with accessibility guidelines.

Location of accessible campsites and facilities

Eighty nine percent (89%) of the survey respondents stated that they have accessible restrooms and 80% indicate that they had an accessible path from the accessible campsite to the accessible restroom.

The quality of the camping experience is obviously dependent upon the desired experience and expectation of those staying at campgrounds. Some campers want isolation, some want socialization. Some want primitive experiences and some want convenience and access to campground improvements (e.g. electricity, tables, grills, restrooms, laundry facilities, etc.). Campers with disabilities can be expected to have the same types of expectations as others and will seek campgrounds and individual campsites that most closely meet those desires. As with those without disabilities, some campers with disabilities will prefer a campsite that is located close to restroom facilities and other improvements, others will not. One of the primary tenets of the American’s with Disabilities Act was to provide the same opportunities for people with disabilities as those without. It really comes down to choice. While some folks with disabilities may prefer to use pit toilets, as an example, others will want to be able to use the more modern facilities, if they are provided. In order to provide ‘choice’ campgrounds should have sites accessible for people with disabilities that provide a full range of choice as those without disabilities have.

On a question regarding how campgrounds located their various accessible campsites, 33% of the respondents indicated that they group the accessible campsites in the same location. It is likely in these campgrounds, campers with disabilities would not have the full range of choice as campers without disabilities. On a question asking what percentage of accessible campsites are located within 500 feet of a comfort station or restroom, 61% of the respondents indicated that ALL of their accessible sites were located within 500 feet. Only 3% state that none of their accessible sites are located within 500 feet of a restroom or comfort station. Thirty-five percent (35%) indicated that 50%, more or less, of their accessible sites are within 500 feet of a restroom. This latter percentage is probably most desirable as it would indicate that the accessible campsites might provide a variety of experiences. In fact, a question asking about dispersion of accessible campsites (i.e. located throughout the park offering a variety of camping experiences such as lake view, wooded view, sun, shade) only 20% of the respondents indicated that they did not have that type of dispersion.

Discounted Fees

Forty one percent (41%) of the respondents stated that they provided discounted campground fees to campers with disabilities. Sixty-five per cent (65%) of the federal agency respondents indicated that they provided discounts to visitors with disabilities. These are largely made up of the federal government’s Golden Access Passport program. Conversely only 6% of the private campgrounds offered discounts. On the question of why do you provide discounts (for those responding yes) the largest number indicate that they do it for good public relations followed by “to attract campers with disabilities to the campground. The percent discount averaged just below 50%.

Visitors with Visual, hearing and speech Impairments

Finally, several questions were asked regarding accessibility considerations for individuals with visual and hearing impairments. The following chart represents the percentages of services provided to people with visual impairments.

This is a graph which displays the number of facilities which provide accessibility services to people with visual impairments.  Approximately 150 respondents provide no services at all.  Over 20 respondents provide tactile maps or large print.  Less than 20 respondents provide braille or audio descriptions.

As can be seen in the chart, almost 80% of the respondents did not have printed or auditory literature available to assist visitors with visual impairments. However, it is unclear how many of those surveyed have printed literature at all.

As for campers who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired, of those campgrounds that offer phone in registrations, only 28% had a TTY to accept phone reservations from these visitors.


When asked about emergency procedures or policies related to informing people with disabilities, 60% indicated that they did not have an emergency plan in place to inform people with disabilities in case of emergency such as a
natural disaster. Comments about this question, however, indicated that all campers would be notified, including those with disabilities. By far the most frequently mentioned way of informing campers of an emergency was for staff to go around to each campsite (67%). Many of the other campgrounds did not have staff available and therefore there was no system for informing any camper of an emergency.

Finally, when asked about training for staff related to accessibility, less than 30% of the respondents provided any type of training related to disability or accessibility.

Conclusions and Summary

While not all responses to this survey are conclusive, the analysis of the data shows that, in general:

  1. Campground owners and operators, even at the administrative levels, are not familiar with guidelines for making campgrounds accessible
  2. Campground operators seem to equate accessibility with restrooms and parking spaces. As is evidenced in the responses to the RV camping spaces would lead one to believe that all components and amenities that make up accessible campsites may not be considered.
  3. There is little evidence that campground operators are making any accommodations for those with auditory, speech and visual disabilities.
  4. There appears to be a lack of understanding of the implications of lack of policies related to campground accessibility, including methods and systems for reservations, training, etc.
  5. There has been little demand for accessible camping sites by people with disabilities thus resulting in an apparent lack of focus on accessibility by campground owners and operators. The lack of demand by people with disabilities is always an interesting observation. It really raises more questions. Is the lack of demand due to lack of interest in these types of experiences or is lack of demand an indication that people with disabilities realize that campgrounds are not accessible and therefore do not participate in camping experiences as much as those without disabilities.
  6. Campground owners in general, seem very receptive to including people with disabilities in their campgrounds and to making whatever accommodations are necessary to insure that they have a positive experience.

While there were some limitations in the design of the study, the results would seem to indicate overall that campgrounds have much to do in making their sites, facilities, and programs accessible. A follow up to this study is under consideration and needed to focus on camping experiences, observations, practices, and issues that people with disabilities have when visiting campgrounds in the United States.

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