TRAVERSE CITY — Those of you who wiggle out of family camping trips by claiming you're just not into roughing it will have to find another excuse.
A range of camping options and innovations have made it far more comfortable to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the Great Outdoors.
"'Soft rugged' is what so many Americans are seeking in their outdoor experience today," said Jim Rogers, chairman and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, or KOA, which runs about 500 campgrounds around the country. So much so that he now refers to the camping industry as "outdoor hospitality."
KOA has beefed up some of its campgrounds to include both basic and luxury cabins — the latter being the kind more often equated with family resorts than places to pitch tents. Rental costs $100 to $150 per night. Some sites offer coffee carts, pancake breakfasts, kids' activities and entertainment.
Traverse City KOA offers a "spiderweb" rope play structure, a giant jumping pillow and miniature "train" rides, among other activities. There's even a heated pool, free Wi-Fi at campsites and a Kamp K9 dog park with agility equipment so campers can play with their pooches off-leash.
The 20-acre campground includes 13 cabins, many of which boast a refrigerator, heating and flat-screen cable TV. All are air-conditioned and shaded by mature trees, under which guests can unwind on porch swings or gliders.
Deluxe Lodge Cabins offer 400 sqare feet of living space with separate bedrooms and bathrooms and a full-service kitchen. Each is furnished with a full-size cedar log bed, cedar bunks, a cedar dinette table and a cedar log futon.
"They're pretty much booked solid through Aug. 19," said Cathleen Kueblee, owner of the campground along with her husband, David. "You get the camping experience but without an RV.
"It seems people are doing more of the cabins and the big guys (RVs)," Kueblee said. "You would think with the economy you would see more tenters, but no."
Paul and Erin Glaza, of St. Clair Shores, rented a Deluxe Studio Cabin for their first camping experience in Traverse City.
"There are tents over there that would have been fine with me, but this is my wife's idea of roughing it," said Paul Glaza, an experienced backcountry camper who has roughed it on North Manitou Island and in the Upper Peninsula's Porcupine Mountains. "This might bring her around a little."
"I'm not the camping sort," said Erin Glaza, as the cabin's wide-screen TV played cartoons for son Troy, 4. "It's the bugs and the animals. We camped out as kids but always stayed in some kind of cabin. I've never camped in a tent. I like the running water and the plumbing and the electricity."
Campers who want things a bit more — but not much more — rustic can browse the equipment lining the shelves at well-stocked outdoors stores (although some of the fancy new goodies may hike the price of that simple camping trip).
Take, for instance, REI's Kingdom 8 tent, which is big enough to sleep eight. For $529, the tent is not just waterproof and bug-proof but also has moveable room dividers to create separate spaces with private entrances. Fill it with cots, airbeds and perhaps a ceiling fan created for tents, and you're bound to get in a good night's sleep. Toss in another $100, and you can add to it a "garage" to store food or gear — or use it as a place for the family dog to sleep.
Nifty outdoor stoves and cooking gear have made campfire-cooked canned beans and hot dogs moot, unless you really like them.
REI's camp kitchen, for example, is a folding trove of food-prep workspace and storage — all of which can be carried around in a zipper bag. It even includes hooks for hanging up spatulas, and windproof screens so the elements don't mess with your cooking.
Coleman, one of the biggest manufactures of camping gear, sells a camping oven that fits handily onto one of the company's two- or three-burner grills.
Don't even think about grainy cowboy coffee, or even those classic enamel percolators. French presses, specifically engineered for outdoor use, are now the way to go if you're picky about your coffee preparation (although the experience may not be exactly what you're used to in your own kitchen). Coleman sells a propane-powered drip coffee maker that you don't even have to put over heat.
Freeze-dried food now includes dark chocolate cheesecake, spinach puttanesca and Indian dishes.
And the retailer Eastern Mountain Sports sells solar chargers for your portable electronics because, as its website says, "Trees don't come with electrical outlets to charge your iPhone."
Bob and Monica Fulton of Livonia gradually upgraded to an RV after their pop-up camper broke.
"The first year our luxury was getting a tripod (for cooking) over our campfire," said Bob Fulton, one of several seasonal campers at the Traverse City KOA.
Now the couple and their children, Cassidy, 13, and Zack, 7, have both indoor and outdoor kitchens.
"What's great about that is that we don't have to be inside all the time. We can be outside cooking," Monica Fulton said.
Some purists snub the idea of making camping more comfortable. They question whether lugging and using all that stuff dilutes the nature of, well, getting back to nature.
Much of the fancy new stuff is meant to be driven, not carried, into a campsite, and is heavy enough that retailers don't recommend carrying it far.
So can you really get away from it all when you are bringing it all with you?
"There are so many different kinds of camping experiences, and they are all camping," says Avery Stonich, spokeswoman for the Outdoor Industry Association. "It's all what it means to the individual."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.