The Humongous Campsite At The 650,000 Person Oshkosh Air Show Was Almost As Fun As The Show Itself

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Last weekend I finally achieved a dream of many years when I attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2022, one of the largest and coolest gatherings of planes on the planet. Almost everything about AirVenture happens on an impressive scale, and camping is no exception. Camping at AirVenture is some of the most fun I’ve ever had involving a tent, and it didn’t even involve watching cars blow up.

When I departed my home a week ago I had no idea what to expect. The campground attached to AirVenture, Camp Scholler, has a website that details the grounds and the facility, but it won’t prepare you for what you’ll experience. When I packed up my fiancé Sheryl’s Prius I pictured something like a regular campground; if you’ve gone RVing before then you know what I’m talking about. A typical campground will have neat gravel spaces for large RVs to park and manicured lawns for tent campers to set their stakes down in.

The first sign that things were going to be different at Camp Scholler appeared when we started seeing seemingly endless rows of parked RVs a full mile from the campground’s entrance. But even then, I didn’t quite wrap my head around just how big things were going to be.

As we checked in, a skywriting plane drew a happy face directly above our heads. [Editor’s Note: This is amazing. -DT]

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Mercedes Streeter

Off in the distance, ultralights took off from AirVenture’s ultralight runway and circled camp.

Awesome RVs and Vans

The AirVenture camping experience was already turning out to be pretty awesome and we hadn’t even checked in yet. The icing on the cake was that there were cool RVs as far as the eye could see. Check out this old GMC truck-based rig.

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Mercedes Streeter

Next to it was one of the cleanest Ford Econolines I have ever seen. And the owner of the Ford really tugged on my heart by having a little Honda Monkey that matched the van.

The Scale Was Absurd

Once we checked in, we started trying to find a place to set down our stakes. That’s when the scale of Camp Scholler finally hit me. This wasn’t so much a campground, but a small city.

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Mercedes Streeter

There were people everywhere going in all sorts of directions. They were on foot and in cars, golf carts, motorcycles, and all sorts of mobility contraptions.

The last time I saw camping on this scale was when I attended King of the Hammers back in February. And as luck would have it, I have a picture of what both camps look like from the sky.

Here’s what King of the Hammers looked like.

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Mercedes Streeter

And while not a current picture, this is what Camp Scholler looks like.

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EAA

The difference is that this year had far more campers. EAA AirVenture 2022 attracted over 650,000 visitors and over 10,000 planes, an all-time record for the fly-in. Previous years still had over 600,000 visitors, so I should have expected a huge campground turnout. But I was still wowed.

Facilities Erected Specifically For The Campground

The campground is so large and so vast that there are facilities strategically placed throughout the camp. Most people staying at Camp Scholler have access to showers, toilets, and markets all within walking distance. There’s even an on-site laundromat. You could conceivably stay the entire week-long length of AirVenture in a tent and never need to leave the campground. And to further compare the campground to a city, there’s a transportation system set up where you can take a free bus directly from the campground to AirVenture and elsewhere.

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Mercedes Streeter

And if the bus isn’t running fast enough, you can order a bus or a taxi.

I’ve been to campgrounds with laundromats and a store, but nothing on the scale of Camp Scholler. I’m not even listing all of the additional amenities like Wi-Fi and charging stations placed throughout. Just check out this map.

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EAA

We decided to settle down on Sunrise, just a few rows down from the showers and Red One Market Southwest. As Sheryl began pitching the tent I got distracted by the wonderful vehicles in camp.

More Awesome RVs and Vans

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Mercedes Streeter

One thing that disappointed me just a little about the King of the Hammers is that I didn’t really see any really awesome RVs out there. Sure, there was a converted school bus or a few, but most of the rigs out there were nothing amazing. Things were different here.

I dropped my part of the tent to snag a picture of this Thor Tranquility 4×4 van.

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Mercedes Streeter

This $171,600 beast is based on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. It has a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel with four-wheel-drive and appropriately chunky tires. But it apparently comes with a hitch rated for just 3,500-lb. At least it looks really cool.

This sixth-generation Ford F-250 also caught my eye.

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Mercedes Streeter

Like the GMC from earlier, it was worn down a bit. But you could tell that this truck gets around, taking its owner to places that hopefully make them smile. I bet this truck has stories to tell about camping adventures.

Not too far away was this Chinook Concourse.

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Mercedes Streeter

Chinook was founded in 1938 and built a reputation for building distinctive and high-quality campers. When this camper was built, Chinook was known for mounting monocoque fiberglass shells onto the backs of vans. Going fiberglass allows for a Class C RV that’s resistant to leaks and other water damage. Plus, you get really neat curves that you don’t really see with more traditional builds.

I also spotted a U-Haul CT13 from a distance.

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Mercedes Streeter

This was the first time that I’ve ever seen one in the wild that wasn’t mine! The campers at this event were quite varied. There was everything from a General Motors PD-4106 coach bus to a guy with a truck bed converted into a trailer with a camper on top.

Our Setup

Setting up camp is also somewhat chaotic. While Camp Scholler tries to herd campers into 20 foot by 30 foot spaces, it’s really a sort of free-for-all. Most of the space at camp is unmarked and does not have hookups of any kind. So wherever you drop your tongue or your stakes is where you’ll end up. For us, we set down our stakes next to a creek.

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Mercedes Streeter

 

We then got our tent up, set up a grill, and cooked food while all sorts of planes flew overhead. It was as perfect of an evening that I could ask for.

Another benefit of camping is that you aren’t necessarily missing AirVenture, either. The area clears out of regular planes, then you get to watch an airshow from your campsite. Sure, you’re not as close to the action as you would be from within the gate, but you can watch planes and fireworks from the comfort of a chair next to a campfire!

Working Without Hookups

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Mercedes Streeter

Many of those who brought travel trailers and motorhomes brought generators with them. Some of these folks brought two generators and lots of gas cans with them. A lot of these generators ran around the clock. Other, more expensive setups combined generators and solar panels. Those trailers were quiet during the sunny day, but ran the generator at night.

Either way, the widespread use of generators got me thinking about California’s upcoming ban on the sales of new small off-road engines. In 2028, you won’t be able to buy a new RV with a gas-powered generator. At this event, I got to test an alternative to a gas-powered generator.

Last year, the folks of EcoFlow sent me this EcoFlow DELTA mini Portable Power Station.

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Mercedes Streeter

It’s a 882Wh lithium battery that currently costs $750. I’ve been using it on all of my camping trips trying to get a gauge on if it can really replace a generator. And after several months of testing it, my conclusion is that it’s an imperfect replacement.

On the first night, I switched on the EcoFlow. Its screen indicated a state of charge of 69 percent.

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Mercedes Streeter

I then hooked up my dead iPhone 11 Pro and Sheryl’s iPhone 12 Mini, which was also dead. While charging, the phones pulled about 13 Watts. Assuming the screen is correct, the battery had about 609Wh left in it. It lost 27 percent battery just from charging two phones, or 238Wh.

Part of the reason, I think, is that Sheryl’s wireless charger seemed to have a leak, where it drained a constant 1 Watt when it wasn’t even doing anything.

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Mercedes Streeter

On the second night, it lost an additional 14 percent charge. The difference is that both of our phones were just below half-charged. I also ran a string of LED lights, which according to the charge estimator would have drained most of the remainder of charge if I left them on all night.

I feel like this thing is great for tent and car camping. You can charge your phones and run other low power devices like a small radio or LED lights. You might even get away with brewing a cup of coffee every morning. And with the addition of optional solar panels, which we used on a different camping trip, it’ll charge itself back to full during the day.

Campers are more power hungry. Running lights alone would drain this little guy before the night’s out. When I camped at the King of the Hammers I slept in a camper with a bigger battery and a bigger solar panel. All I did was run one or two LED light strips, charge my phone and run the camper’s propane heater, yet by the end of my three night, four day adventure the camper’s battery was below 12 Volts. It couldn’t keep itself charged despite my low power demands.

So I wonder what will ultimately be the best solution for this down the road. If you come to AirVenture, I’d recommend bringing a generator. But if you’re tent camping like I did, I think you’ll be just fine with a battery power station like an EcoFlow.

Who You’ll Meet At Camp

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Mercedes Streeter

The Experimental Aircraft Association says that it’s hard to meet a stranger at Camp Scholler. Instead, the people you’ll meet are friends that you’re just getting to know. And you know what? That’s not far off. I didn’t come across a single mean person at camp. One time, I sat on the bench of the showers waiting for Sheryl when two people on Honda Groms rolled up. I complimented their bikes and we struck up a short conversation about how fun they are.

Even more shocking is just how many random people will wave and smile at you, even if they have never seen you before. The people camping at the campground were a genuinely heartwarming way to wake up every morning. I shared laughs with other women when they discovered, just like me, that the shower heads were clearly set to “power wash.” I had fear with others when giant spiders occupied the toilet stalls.

That friendliness extended to the bus drivers, too. The bus rides to and from the event grounds were filled with people joking with the drivers. I even managed to share my fascination with the air doors on one of the school buses with the driver, who remarked how nice they are compared to the old-school handles.

The variety of people was vast, too. There were families just enjoying a weekend away, the plane nuts who have been there all well, the young people trying something new, and lots of curious kids. There were people from all walks of life and many locations, even from halfway across the world. I’ve been camping in a lot of places around the country, there have been few that felt as welcoming as Camp Scholler.

Oh, and those people had some sweet rides to get around. A lot of people got around on scooters and golf carts, but others had wilder ideas. One guy was riding this tracked scooter called the DTV Shredder.

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Mercedes Streeter

The terrain absolutely didn’t call for something like this, but it certainly was a head-turning way to get around.

Another guy got around in this go kart built into something like a scale Model T or similar.

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Mercedes Streeter

I saw trikes, those Onewheel boards, tandem bicycles, custom-built ATVs, all sorts of motorcycles, and even an airport tug. I wish I got a picture of the tug because if I had to pick the coolest way to get around, it definitely wins.

Check-out time was 12 pm on Sunday and honestly, we felt a bit sad. Sheryl calls Camp Scholler the best campground she’s ever been to.

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Mercedes Streeter

Camping at AirVenture was so fun that I wish I could have gotten another night under the stars. We didn’t even have enough time to enjoy Top Gun: Maverick, at the campground’s outdoor theater.

If you’re considering coming to next year’s AirVenture, I highly recommend coming to camp instead of a hotel. The camping spaces are as cheap as $30 a day, and if there are enough people I bet we could totally set up an Autopian zone at camp. But honestly, the camping is also so fun that I feel it’s an integral part of the AirVenture experience. I will be back next year, and I hope to see some of you out there!

 

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32 Responses

      1. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/fc/25/c6/fc25c6895df8fb8643d581333ceeabab–movie-cars-tv-movie.jpg
        Best pink helicopter has to be the screeming mini from Riptide (old 80’s tv show)

        The 80’s in general had a slew of crazy transportation centric tv shows or where some vehicle was like a co-star:
        Airwolf, Riptide, Magnum PI, A-Team, Night Rider, Hardcastle & McCormick, Miami Vice, Chips, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Taxi, Dukes of Hazard, to name a few.

        All fantastically terrible and campy in the best way

  1. Your description of all the people moving around, on bikes, and trikes, and cool tracked things, and on foot, and in go carts, and tugs, and whatnot, it all sound like a page from the greatest kids book ever. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go!

  2. You DROVE a generator to the camp ground! We connect a 1300 watt sine-wave inverter to our Prius to power our house when PG&E cuts our power. Quiet, efficient, regularly maintained, and when we used it for a few days, it only used about a gallon a day. Seriously look into one. Connect the inverter to the 12v battery, leave the vehicle in the ON position. The high voltage runs power to the 12v battery, and when the HV battery level gets low, the car automatically fires up and charges the HV battery. I attached cables to the 12v battery to an Anderson connector in the rear bay and a pair to the inverter. All I have to do is connect the connectors and we are ready for extension cords.

    This reminds me that an ideal off-site camper should be a hybrid for this exact reason. Why they don’t have a Sprinter-scale camper is weird.

    1. I picked up a Ford F-150 Hybrid last year, and one of the things we love most about it is being able to simply plug the Airstream into it, turn on “generator” mode, and get on with life. It’s a serious game-changer for comfort camping.

  3. We camp with a 100 amp hour RV battery, a voltage sensitive relay hooked to the car battery and a 120 watt folding solar panel. The combination runs our 40 litre Engel fridge, camp lights and peripheral charging for days…days and days. We’ve been doing this for decades. Never needed a generator. If it does need a charge then going for a drive will get you a quick boost..

    1. 100AH deep cycle lead acids are underrated which thankfully means the price is still low. Made my own 1.2kWH power storage with a battery from b+, a fitted tub from Home Despot, various adapters from Oughtazone, and a cheap foldable solar panel that came with a charge controller from everyone’s favorite online book store for under $300. I can power a small trolling motor for a few hours, hook it up to the panels for a few hours and power my campsite for days. When not camping, I just make sure to disulfate and top off with distilled water. Yeah, packaging isn’t as pretty as these fancy power stations and lead acids are a good bit heavier but saving $500 means more beer.

    1. There are large NO GENERATOR areas at Camp Scholler and others where generators are not permitted after 10pm. But it’s near an Interstate and there are tens of thousands of people camping so it will never be really quiet.

  4. Thanks for this writeup. I’ve long been curious about the camping situation at Oshkosh. Any time I read about the air show, the reports indicate just how many people descend on the city and how difficult it can be to secure a hotel room (many booking a year+ in advance), but I’ve never read much detail about the camping situation even though so many air show attendees choose to camp.

    When I was growing up, my family vacations usually involved camping near whatever attraction we were visiting (amusement parks, historical sites, etc). It was more affordable than a hotel, but more than that camping was a fun activity in itself… at least it was at the time. When you’re a kid, you don’t really care that you’re plopping down on just an air mattress or foam pad after a long fun day at Six Flags. As an adult, I wonder if I’d require the comfort of a real bed following a long day of ogling airplanes.

    I get the feeling that I’d quite enjoy the experience — especially since all of the other campers are kind like-minded aviation enthusiasts. It definitely seems like one of the better camping experiences out there!

    1. I have never been to AirVenture, but I’ve always thought it sounded absolutely fantastic. My only hesitation regarding (tent) camping would be the accounts I’ve read about massive storms blasting through the area in some years. Not just “It rained a lot” bad, but “It damaged some hangars” bad. I have to imagine that some people’s tents flew away and never came down.

      1. There have been some storms for sure! We’ve managed and have plenty of laughs of unexpected hotel stays. We tent camped every year until this year. Finally got an RV. Don’t let it stop you. It’s an amazing place for so many reasons! There’s always fair warning of the storms. ????

    1. The HF Predators are supposed to be pretty good in terms of noise now, and there’s plenty of Honda knockoffs that are about as quiet as the real thing. No need to shell out Honda money. Just make sure it’s an inverter-based model and not an open-frame one.

  5. Camped at OSH in 2005. Very well run, great experience. I was on the board of a major Canadian air show for many years as the manager for the commercial concession area and field logistics. I can well appreciate the work involved in a show of this magnitude. As a former Air Traffic Controller, I am simply in awe of the tower operation at this event.

  6. I love this story! I’ve camped at Camp Scholler for 40 plus years since 1972! I find it magical! It’s a week my family looks forward to each and every year and we are already counting the days til next July to do it all again! I loved your perspective on it all. It’s a special place and I hope we cross paths next year! ????

  7. THANK YOU for taking your time to write this GREAT article! It’s SO difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t been there. We’ve been going since 2008, pulled in on Sunday night (show starts Mon am) in a Class C rented from Cruise America . . . you know, “1-800-GO-RVING”. Back then, there was a ‘pet area’ and 1 spot left next to the port-o-pots. ‘OH, NOOOOOO!’ but they were cleaned every morning first thing & the dumpsters were emptied every day too! Never smelled a thing, but the slamming doors were pretty loud. Last thing my husband loaded was my chair because my butt was in it. I told him, “Pick me up next year! This is THE BEST vacation I’ve ever had!” We’re still friends with many of our ‘neighbors’ from that 1st year. There’s no longer a ‘pet area’, but there are large areas of Electric & Water hookups which are paid from the date the spot is booked NOT when you arrive & they DO sell out! (Honey pot service is available to connect to your site if needed.) Besides the Dorm rooms mentioned above, many that don’t want to tent camp, rent RVs from local RV dealers, give them their reserved spot info, and drive in to their spot with the RV already set up and connected . . . pricy, but worth it for some that fly-in or are by themselves and don’t want to tent camp. Many that fly-in, camp under the wing of their airplane or next to it. There’s a different airshow every afternoon and nite shows with pyrotechnics on Wednesday and Saturday, all of which you can watch from the campground if you don’t want to sit out in the sun next to the runway or be caught in the crowds at night. This year we noticed a large exodus of campers on Thurs am. I have a pic somewhere of a $1M Hawthorne parked next to a trailer flatbed with a popup tent on top. Just never know what you might see!

  8. ” In 2028, you won’t be able to buy a new RV with a gas-powered generator”

    I predict this will cause a big increase in the availability of solar/battery ‘generators’ for trailers… something that is long overdue. And I predict the cheap ones will just be a panel integrated in the roof and a relatively small battery to power things overnight.

    And the more expensive ones will have batteries integrated into the floor, have electric motors to assist with towing and braking as well as a greater amount of solar integrated in the roof.

    And this will be a very good thing from a noise and pollution perspective.

  9. Enjoyed reading your write up as someone that camped the week as well. Kind of interesting how much of the experience was the same as well as some things you saw that I didn’t. Also as soon as I saw the photo of your tent I remembered seeing your setup from walking by a half a dozen times or so.

    1. That’s the part of the article that jumped out at you? Me too. Usually I would be annoyed by the sound of a hundred generators groaning all night outside my tent.
      But then again you’ve gotta consider the environment. It’s not like people are out there to get away from it all, trying to enjoy nature.
      It’s a damn air show. Event camping is a little different and with it come different rules of common curtesy.
      You pretty much set up camp at an airport.
      Griping about the hum of some generators after a day of hearing airplanes of all sizes take off and land, at a place you chose to be, surrounded by like minded people camping around you sounds more antisocial.

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