You can still camp at the original KOA.

It’s been in the same spot just outside Billings, Montana since 1962. Clean and green, it’s an island of outdoor fun that sits between two different flows of near constant activity: Hwy 212’s flow of traffic to the northwest and the Yellowstone River running along it to the southeast.

The original KOA kampground in Billings, MT.

The original KOA kampground in Billings, MT.

Inspiration struck the original owner of the land (and KOA founder) Dave Drum from this very spot as he watched the steady line of cars streaming westward on their way to the 1962 Seattle World Fair. Within the year he had converted his plot into a campground and opened for business. Like KOAs today, Drum’s site sits conveniently close to roads and towns, it’s picturesque enough to feel like you’re enjoying a piece of the great outdoors and eases the stress of forgotten items and outdoor living with amenities like hot showers and a well-stocked store. It was a huge success. By the next year he had gained a few partners, created the iconic KOA logo and was selling franchises.
This is how you wake up at a KOA.

This is how you wake up at a KOA.

Fifty three years later and the franchise is still going strong, with just under 500 KOA kampgrounds in North America, each who must pass the stringent once a year 600-point inspection in order to retain their franchise license. Building your own KOA from scratch requires an initial investment upwards of $1M, but loan defaults are low and company and owner satisfaction is high. No word on profit margins (they vary widely depending on location) but during the financial meltdown of ’08-’10, KOAs were one of the few businesses that did not suffer a dip in profits.
Swimmers survey the scene at the KOA pool.

Swimmers survey the scene at the KOA pool.

A posse of kids stroll through the KOA campgrounds.

A posse of kids stroll through the KOA campgrounds.

Still, hard-core campers scoff at a KOA stay and with good reason. Enjoying your hamburger fresh off the outdoor grill ($6 with drink and chips at the Petaluma KOA) in your lounge chair while the kids play in the pool hardly feels like roughing it. But with nights lit by lanterns and sleep signaled by the zip of the sleeping bag…a KOA night does count as actual camping. Book one of the their deluxe cabin, airstream or cabooses, however, and you can decide if you’re earning your camping badge.

A recent KOA was a great opportunity to try out the ‘camping roll’ packing technique, the latest in my quest to find the ultimate packing solution. Overall, it comes in at a 9.5. Clothes for our short stay were organized and I did not have to pull out everything to find the day or night’s clothing.

A hand-me-down ski boot bag was perfect for packing for the short trip. Each roll was for a day or night, along with a bag for dirty clothes.

A hand-me-down ski boot bag was perfect for packing for the short trip. Each roll was for a day or night, along with a bag for dirty clothes.

The method goes like this: gather all the clothes for the day (or night) and roll them up. Then place the rolls in your bag. When it’s time for bed, grab the PJ roll. The next morning, grab the daytime roll. Unfurl and dress without upsetting every other item you packed. It was a sanity saver for anyone who gets agitated with constant piles of stuff floating around the tent.
rolls

A set for day for her, a set for night for him, ready to be rolled.

 

My only edit would be to pack a small bag with a few extra ‘switch-out’ items: extra tshirts, shorts and socks when the ones you’re wearing get wet or sticky. A mesh bag for goggles, suits and other swimming supplies would also be handy.

Not that we spent much time in the tent. There was tons to do. (See below).

Spotted at the incredibly well-stocked KOA store. I thought they stopped making these, but they were new, not some old stock (you can see the expiration date). I resisted temptation and got the Donettes instead.

Always suckers for a good infographic, we’ll leave you with this:
KOA infographic

Original KOA image courtesy Short and Sweet, infographic courtesy KOA.

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