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USA Today: Campgrounds cater to stargazers

One of the greatest joys of camping is emerging from your tent to find the night skies ablaze with stars and planets. But some travelers have a thing about sleeping on the cold, hard ground encased in nylon. This summer, would-be stargazers who don’t want to rough it will find an intriguing new option.

Unleash your inner Galileo at Kampgrounds of America’s (KOA) “Astronomy Deluxe Cabin.” This new model, which opened this week at KOA’s location in Herkimer, N.Y., is equipped with a tabletop telescope, high-power binoculars and a viewing platform for guests’ use. But if that’s not enough optical power, the campground has also added a powerful commercial telescope, which sits atop a special swiveling observation deck. During the week, guests renting the astronomy cabin have exclusive use of the deck and telescope, with the campground hosting special viewing programs and lectures each Friday.

The cabin, which sleeps 6 and features a full-size kitchen and queen bed, is part of an upscaling trend as campgrounds evolve from safe places to pitch a tent to mini-resorts with cabins and cottages (often prefab units called park models). In a fun astronomical twist, the Herkimer location also features solar-powered cabins for rent. You’ll also find retro-cool Airstream trailers at some KOA campgrounds and other lodging sites across the country. Prices can run as high as hotels, $150 a night or more in prime locations, but you can fit a whole family in one and save a bundle by not being hostage to restaurants for every meal. The astronomy cabin starts at $170/night, find more info here.

KOA says business is booming this year, with a 3.8% increase in visitors expected for Memorial Day weekend, and a 14% boost in advance reservations around the Independence Day holiday. For the year, it says reservations at its almost 500 campgrounds nationwide are up 4.2%.

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