Erin Thiem grew up in Nevada City, California, but life eventually took her around the world. While her husband Dan was going to grad school in New Zealand, the Thiems and their young children traveled around the country and fell in love with the Holiday Parks model of camping close to city centers.
When they returned to the U.S., they spent 3 years building the Inn Town Campground, which opened in Nevada City in 2016. While they don’t have the land to expand, Thiem says they try to keep things fresh by changing up some of the sites, but mostly they just “continue to do what we do and do it well.”
We recently spoke with Thiem about what inspired her to build a campground in her hometown, how her family-run business has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, and why she thinks everyone should try camping.
Tell us about your campground.
Our campground is unique in that it used to be Bureau of Land Management land. We’re within city limits and close to downtown Nevada City, so we have the feel of a state park while also being within walking distance of a historic gold mining town. We offer traditional bring-your-own tent sites, RV sites with full hookups including water and electric options, and glamping tents. In the summer we also have a swimming pool and offer family-friendly outdoor movies every weekend (weather-permitting).
What inspired you to start a campground?
We owned a motel called the Outside Inn (also in Nevada City), so we’d already been in the hospitality industry. When we lived in New Zealand, we fell in love with the Holiday Parks model, which offers various types of camping. Some of the sites have cabins, some have RV hookups—it seemed like a nice way to still have amenities while camping and enjoy services that were family friendly. We thought if we could find the right piece of property in California, we could build something great for the community.
Tell us more about your glamping options.
In the last 6 years we’ve definitely seen the trend of glamping grow. If you want to go camping and don’t have any gear, glamping is a great option because you don’t have to own much—just bring your toiletries and your overnight bag and you’re good to go. Our canvas-walled glamping tents come equipped with beds, linens, heated mattress pads, electricity, and furniture. We also have a communal kitchen available.
What are some other trends you’ve noticed?
During the summer of 2020, it was very, very busy. People wanted to spend quality time with their families outside—the grandparents have an RV, the kids have a trailer, and Aunt Sue doesn’t want to sleep on the ground so she stays in a glamping tent. Camping is definitely not a one-size-fits-all activity, so at our campground groups can mix and match.
Camping has always been a socially-distant activity, but the pandemic gave us a greater appreciation for camping and the outdoors. There are a lot of RVers out there who camp year-round; now, people seem to be camping much closer to home. If you’re new to RVing, I recommend that you do your “shakedown mission,” or inaugural camping trip with any new equipment, at a private campground with seasoned staff that can help you in case anything goes wrong.
What are some of the main attractions outside of your campground?
The main draw depends on the season, but we’re close to several state parks and a great swimming hole in summer. The campground is also located right next to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. You walk out of the front gates and you’re at the museum, which is run by volunteers who are super enthusiastic about local history.
How do your offerings change by the season?
Summer is our most popular season, but I personally love our town’s fall colors. We’re super enthusiastic about Halloween—we celebrate for the entire month of October. We love it when our campers decorate their campsites, but we also create Halloween-themed installations spread throughout the campground. I challenge kids to find as many skeletons as they can count—we have so many trees and I remind the kids to look up, down, and all around.
What advice would you give to anyone new to camping?
Many people over pack, trying to anticipate needs—bring less stuff, in general. A lot of people also don’t realize how much sound travels—you can hear your neighbors, other cars, or Mother Nature (we have an owl that lives at our campground), so take the opportunity to stop and listen. It’s also always amazing to see the stars, especially if you live in an urban area. Everyone should try camping, but first do your research and find the campground that feels like a good fit for you and your family.
What do you like about owning a campground?
It’s a lot of work, obviously, but it’s really amazing to see people enjoying a space that you created. Most people who are camping are there having a good time, relaxing, and enjoying themselves, so it’s nice to see people in their happy place.
Editor’s note: Some quotes have been edited for clarity and length.