Picture this: you’re standing at the foot of a spacious lakefront filled with clear blue water, the reflection of a lush green forest bordering the lake, and panoramic views of a snowcapped mountain sitting on the horizon. If this sounds like a picturesque postcard, you’re exactly right. This is none other than the award-winning campground Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort in California.
For this year’s Campspot Awards among thousands of properties in North America, Lake Siskiyou won in four coveted categories: #1 Best Campground for Couples, #1 Best Tent Campground, #3 Best Campground for Spontaneous Campers, and #3 Best Campground for Weekenders. In 2022, Lake Siskiyou also placed among our “Most Popular in the USA” awardees. We interviewed Julie Amsdell, General Manager of this multi-award-winning campground, to understand how Lake Siskiyou stays true to its brand while continuing to reach new business heights each year.
Congratulations on being one of the highest awarded campgrounds this year. How do you describe Lake Siskiyou’s unique brand of camping?
Unique is what hits it on the head with us. We are not a high end resort with down bedding nor are we the most Instagrammable campground around. But with 343 total sites and many different site types, we excel in terms of our sheer volume of rustic and unique amenities. I say we’re the perfect mix of no amenities “in-the-middle-of-the-woods” camping and creature comforts with a view. You won’t find electricity at your tent site, but there are 15 bathhouses across the property and no pit toilets in anyone’s future!
Our standard season is April 1 open to November 1 close, provided Mother Nature cooperates. Being located in a hilly wooded area, we do see occasional black bears and other wildlife. The layout of our park means guests get to experience nature up close while still being close enough to neighboring sites for comfort. Each loop of our map is set up in a way to make cute moments possible—like private patches in a large, rustic neighborhood. We can accommodate whatever your style and stage of camping is, from baby steps to seasoned RVing.
Tell us about the natural landmarks featured in your main photography and how they help tell your campground’s story.
We have a pretty splashy website homepage photo (below), but it represents the pure magnetism that is Mount Shasta and the surrounding Shasta Trinity National Forest. You could stare at the view from our dock all day all year round. I can attest that the feeling doesn’t wear off. We’re the rustic jewel of northern California and we’re not sugarcoating the experience. The iconic postcard view of Lake Siskiyou we use online to market our resort is no joke and frankly speaks for itself.
I don’t want to twist someone’s arm. I say to any prospective camper, “Come check it out.” If I was wrong about the beauty and charm we have to offer, they can let me know. Because truthfully, it’s very rare for someone to say, “This isn’t what I thought it was going to be.” Through select photography, we have consolidated our message and brand to be this undeveloped, picturesque moment with amenities. You can feel how amazing that moment is once you’re on our property. We’re not the only resort with a lakefront view, but we stay true to the variety of amenities and sites we claim to offer while at the same time not overdeveloping the area.
Clearly Lake Siskiyou is a destination in and of itself, but are there other nearby attractions that bring campers to the area?
We’re located on the southern side of Siskiyou County, California, which as a region feels very authentic and not over-developed. We do get a lot of through traffic due to how close we are to Interstate 5. We attract hikers making the Pacific Crest Trail journey or roadtrippers driving the full I-5 route through California. We’re not too far from Medford, Oregon either. Whether we’re a camper’s first impression of the county during a pitstop or we’re their final destination, the region is full of charming towns and stops. Downtown Mt. Shasta City is filled with local artisans, great cuisine, and activities. Local residents have a high level of pride for our county and maintain a high-quality experience for everyone who visits. Our role as campground operators is no different. We fit right in with the culture of the area and play to our strengths through the natural wonder around us.
What do you think makes your campground so attractive for the audiences associated with each of the four Campspot awards you won: tent campers, spontaneous campers, couples, and weekenders?
Our best tent camping trait is our sheer volume of availability with access to amenities in a rustic setting. With 15 bathhouses, you’re never far from a hot shower and a flush toilet. If you’re tired of cooking over an open campfire, we operate a full-service restaurant Memorial Day weekend through Labor day weekend and we keep our general store fully stocked. We also play a family-friendly movie every night so guests can grab their camper chairs and come socialize.
In addition to overnight camping, we sell day passes for just $3 per person over the age of 11, which is a tiny commitment for a ton of fun in one day. I don’t typically have to advertise the day use part of our business. We see a great mix of locals who come to fish, families who use the splash zone, and hikers who walk the seven-mile trail that laps the lake. Come for a day, experience Lake Siskiyou, and then turn your visit into an awesome full weekend. We rarely have to turn folks away given our volume of sites, and they can self-register, too. This type of flexibility is really appealing to the spontaneous person or family.
We’ve got a little bit of everything for a pair to enjoy together: fishing, volleyball, kayaking, swimming, hiking, and more. If a couple wants a fully rustic adventure, they can pack a tent and head on up our hill to their secluded site. If they have an RV and want a weekend getaway while the grandparents babysit, the quiet setting and beachfront views offer relaxation. If they don’t want to pack anything but a cooler, we have 33 cabins and something for everyone. Our cabins are essentially tiny houses with an intimate, cozy feel.
Our bookings tend to surge on the weekends, which we attribute to our location. We’re the perfect spot for people coming from Northern California, like Sacramento or the Bay Area, who only want to spend 1 to 2 hours in the car. Our resort is a charming central meeting point for many and a top staycation site for Californians.
Given your location and number of sites, do you host many groups?
Absolutely. They make up about one quarter of our summer business. Because of our variety of site types, we’re an amazing hub for larger groups who want to have giant meals, s’mores nights, and storytelling time together. Some of our rustic sites can accommodate up to 150 people at one site, which is ideal for girl and boy scout troops, church groups, family reunions, birthday parties, and anniversary celebrations. Our diversity of site types means one family in the same group can choose to rough it while another family chooses to stay in a cabin. The same is true of our variety of amenities. Granddad can enjoy his quiet fishing moment while the grandchildren enjoy the splash zone. They’re all at the same resort enjoying different accommodations and quality time together. The four Campspot awards we won definitely reflect our different site types and types of campers.
What does winning these awards mean to you and your team?
Winning awards like these is validation. Our park has been in existence since 1984. It’s gone through different management teams with different strengths and always a strong guest focus at its core, but buildings in the past didn’t get as much attention. With the effort we’ve put in over the last four years to renovate and evolve, it feels very rewarding on our end to be able to say, “Hey, I’ve really tried and put my heart and effort into this and these awards now validate that effort.” We hang all our awards up at our front gate. It lets the guests know we’ve hit this level of success and we care—it’s a little virtual hug.
Tell us how you came to Lake Siskiyou and about the team behind these awards.
My husband and I are co-general managers. He’s my behind the scenes guy and I’m more the face of the things. We’re the boots on the ground and the owners allow us to run the park as we see fit. We’ve been here since 2019 and are about to start our fifth season. When we began full-time RVing, I never thought we would repeat a stay because the whole point was to take off and explore. Contrary to the plan, neither one of us felt finished with Mount Shasta ever since we first experienced it.
The last four years have been sweat equity to reveal and brand our rustic jewel. My favorite part still has to be down on our dock staring at the lake and the mountain. From that perspective, working here just doesn’t get old. We got hooked and we love seeing the potential the park offers each new year. It’s a labor of love. Similarly, our staff members’ hearts are completely invested in the area and the work. We have an amazing core group of repeat local and work-camper staff from across the country.
What are your campers’ favorite amenities?
Our number one amenity is our splash zone and we have continued to put more work into it every year. The beach is where we focus a lot of our effort to put our best foot forward given the volume of day visitors and campers. If you forgot water shoes or broke a flip flop, our general store is very convenient for guests to grab what they need and go spend the day on the water. Having a dedicated bait and tackle shop on site is a big asset for fishermen, too.
Since your resort features so many cabins, can you speak to the increased interest in glamping and how you consider this trend in your future campground strategy?
Glamping is definitely a buzzword but it’s to the point now where it has become its own category of camping. It’s reduced the barrier of entry to many folks who thought camping wouldn’t be their thing and were too hesitant to try it. I like to say that you can still come to Lake Siskiyou, unplug, and even bring your favorite fleece throw and fuzzy socks. We have repeat guests that make full use of our lodging accommodations and their amenities, just like they’re at home. They may even rent two adjacent cabins for the in-laws and kiddos to ease into family camping.
For our existing structure, we have the cabins located at both Lakeside Loop and the marina.
I went all out with the decor and details to welcome guests to our neck of the woods, like bronze fishtail coat hooks in the marina cabins. In a perfect world, I would love to convert some RV sites to hard canvas tents or yurt-style structures. It’s the only site type category we’re missing right now. We could also add more small cabins and further develop the area. It’s a tough balance to strike between creating available space and not upgrading the land too much. I don’t want to tip the scales.
Since Campspot rolled out its add-ons with quantity feature, we’ve been collaborating with local companies and developing unique packages as available add-ons during the booking process. We’re piloting a hot cocoa and custom Lake Siskiyou tin mug package and a souvenir basket with local wine and craft beer. This idea of selling a more charming experience with added nice touches feels very in line with the spirit of glamping and our brand. Campspot’s software makes it possible for us to try this out as we grow.
How do you measure success and what type of growth is important to you?
To me, success is that everyday smile on a guest’s face, whether they’ve been coming for years or have never stepped foot in the park. When there are second generations coming to Lake Siskiyou, I want to see smiles on both sets of faces. I adore the amount of folks that ask if I remember them from last year or thank us for having Beary around, our animatronic bear. Intergenerational growth is very important to us, but we have to maintain a healthy balance of returning and new guests. We’re not a membership-based park and nobody owns the view.
Given the natural features that give your resort its namesake and your comment about not wanting to overdevelop, does Lake Siskiyou try to be a steward of the land?
Yes, that comment is perfect. We are stewards of the land. When the girl scouts come over every season, we lead a micro-trash education program for them. The boy scouts will bring magnets and clean near the marina to catch a discarded fishing line or hook that could find someone’s foot. Preservation is a big personal value of mine that is relayed to our staff. No one on our team will walk by a piece of trash without picking it up. This etiquette has translated to our guests as well, as we don’t have issues with them trashing sites. Because of the environment we foster, guests share in our pride for the area and do their part so that everyone can enjoy the experience for years to come.
How did you manage your bookings prior to switching to Campspot?
When I came to the park in 2019, there was an existing software in use that didn’t allow for online booking and was built using a hotel format. Though it claimed to take online bookings, all it did was send the booking request to a reservationist for manual entering, which didn’t satisfy the staff or guest experience. It was so cumbersome that you needed a trained reservationist in the front office at all times to do the booking. There was such a steep learning curve to teach someone fresh that I almost had to babysit the old software that first year. I wanted a platform that was just as easy for guests to book online whether they knew the park and their favorite spot or not.
In the winter of 2019, we began the transition over to Campspot. The two account representatives who set us up were attentive to every need, understood my frustration with the previous lack of online booking, and knew exactly how to make our different site types function within the software. We were live with online booking before the 2020 season.
Once you decided to explore other software providers, what was the deciding factor to go with Campspot?
After our first bad experience, I did a lot of research and sat through demo after demo. Some systems said they could make three separate platforms to handle our volume of bookings, but that wouldn’t make our lives any easier. The ah-ha moment was that Campspot was born from other high volume, frustrated campground owners. We also realized that we don’t always get blessed with the same trained returning workforce. You need an interface that’s teachable. If your staff is frustrated with the experience, it translates to frustration for the guest experience. Campspot just checked all of the boxes.
Since using Campspot for three years, what is your favorite part about the software?
Ease of teachability and truly being able to book online are tied for my number one favorite aspect. Change is difficult for folks, but our repeat clientele quickly came around to how easy and convenient booking was. I tell guests, “While your family is sitting around the campfire tonight, if you want to pick dates for your return trip next year, you can literally do it from your campsite.” Of course we still take bookings in person, but now guests don’t have to send someone on a bike up the hill to book!
Are there any business health metrics that have improved over the years thanks to your use of Campspot’s software?
Our total bookings have increased thanks to Campspot. With our old software, there was only one way for a booking to be made. It had to go through the reservationist and there were only so many people one employee could talk to in a day. We had four phone lines at our front office ringing nonstop, a backlog of voicemails, and a constant stream of emails. It all bogged down our system. Now 76% of our bookings are made online, which has allowed us to increase the sheer volume of reservations made simultaneously and reduce callback time from a week to less than one business day.
If there’s one word you could use to describe your experience with Campspot, what would it be?
Probably innovative. Campspot made the online booking component real and finally made it happen for us. The software allowed us to take our rustic jewel and meet the needs of the 2020s era camper and not the 1980s era camper. My impression is that Campspot cares, listens, and is making active changes based on guest and operator feedback. I got an email from Campspot’s COO congratulating us on winning the awards. That would have been unheard of with our prior software. I didn’t know anyone’s name. That’s not the feeling you have with Campspot. With Campspot, you feel the support and that their whole team is there for you. I can’t say enough nice things about my account manager.
What is the main reason you would recommend Campspot to other park operators?
From the owner/operator perspective of a smaller, mom-and-pop type park, you can pull up the software on your smartphone to double check something without having to run back to the front desk. For the situation similar to ours with outside ownership, Campspot allows for an extra level of transparency from a distance. I can schedule reports to hit the owners’ inbox before they’re even asking for them. Our calls are more productive as a result because we can immediately jump to idea sharing and not be bogged down by operational issues. No one has to steer a blind ship. We’re all on the same page communication-wise and we can more clearly see where the business is going.
What goals and changes are top of mind for you as we approach the summer season and beyond?
We continue to invest in our park based on guest feedback. This summer, the splash zone is getting another upgrade. We’re working on increasing our kayak and stand up paddle board fleet as well as creating two separate launch areas for these rentals. Currently, there’s only one main activity hut at the beach, so we’re trying to reduce and divide the line for people going to the splash zone versus people seeking rentals.
Beyond this year, I have all kinds of ideas but only 24 hours in a day! We’d like to expand our prepared food options at the beach either by adding a second food truck or building a small restaurant. Creating canvas-structure sites with space heaters would push our shoulder seasons and align well with our existing variety of site types. Although we could reach year-round operations eventually, the park wasn’t initially designed for year-round use. A full gut and redo of the park’s utility infrastructure is a long term goal.
Thank you, Lake Siskiyou Resort
From all of us at Campspot, we want to thank Julie for sharing her perspective as devoted co-manager of an award-winning campground. Whether you have 20 sites or 200 in Montana or Manitoba, it’s crucial to know your target audience, strengths, and play to them. Staying true to your unique brand of camping and the customers you serve, along with having the support of a smart booking software, will pay dividends in the long run—and we all want to preserve outdoor hospitality for the long run!
If you have a story you’d like to share with other campground owners, reach out to us at email@example.com.
Haley Dalian is a lifelong Michigander who takes advantage of recreation throughout the state’s changing seasons, such as skiing up north in the winter and scuba diving the Great Lakes in the summer. A former Campspot marketing employee, Haley is pursuing a Master of Science degree at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. She is passionate about solving the world’s sustainability challenges, enjoys performing improvisational comedy, and has never met a potato she didn’t like.