Lifestyle

The History of Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts

Ron Vitkun, owner of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts in WIlliamsport, Md., poses at the guard shack/entrance of the park on April 4, 2004. Corporate sales executives Ron and Vicki Vitkun thought running a campground would be a fun second career far in the future when they decided to slow down. But when the avid campers learned Vicki was pregnant after 15 years of marriage, the unhurried search became a mission to create a family-friendly lifestyle, so eight years ago they bought a campground in Williamsport. Since then, their Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts franchise has turned into a pretty cool backyard for their son Brett. (AP Photo/Sonja Kinzer)

If you've traveled certain parts of the country over the past 50 years, you've encountered Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts and RV Campgrounds. There's currently over 75 locations in the U.S. and Canada, so there's no shortage of interstate signage for the family-friendly campsites themed after Hanna-Barbera-related characters.

These vacation destinations offer mini-golf, pet-friendly RV-sites, tent sites and other amenities. If you're really lucky, you'll book a weekend when costumed characters (Yogi, Boo Boo, Cindy Bear and Ranger Smith) roam the park and, in the spirit of Disney's Heavyweights, amenities on the water include water slides and a jumping pillow. Check specific campsites' websites for special programs and on-site features.

This magical, fun and affordable stop for travelers was dreamed up in 1968 by a Wisconsin advertising executive named Doug Haag.

After imagining an interstate-accessible campground for vacationers, Haag purchased 30 wooded acres in Wisconsin for just $30,000. With a $100 per acre bargain on the books, Haag just needed a kid-friendly gimmick to separate his investment from other tourist-targeting stops.

"In order to draw campers, we needed a clever and recognized name for our campground," he said, as quoted on the official Jellystone website (campjellystone.com). "My partner and I and our families had many discussions about names. Paul Bunyan, Lewis & Clark, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, Robin Hood, sports stars and historical figures. We went through them all, but nothing seemed to fit."

In January 1969, Haag found his ideal spokesperson (more like spokesbear) when he overheard a Yogi Bear cartoon watched by his children. Yogi's own campsite rules encouraged picnic baskets, especially during peak season for bear sightings. Plus, he lived at Yellowstone parody Jellystone Park, a hilariously named spot that younger members of camping units would immediately recognize.

Haag convinced the holders of the Yogi and Jellystone licenses at the time, Screen Gems, for the rights to both names. Yogi's now part of Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios.

Read More: Kentucky Campground Offers Covered Wagon Camping

The original Jellystone opened in July 1969 with a weekend that shattered expectations.

"There was no way we could have imagined the chaos that was to happen that opening weekend," Haag recalls. "Three times as many people as we had sites for came to camp! We allowed them to set up in the field nearby, in the playground, etc. - anywhere they could find room!"

New campsites in other states started popping up soon after, with 10 locations spread across the country by 1971.

Nowadays, Jellystone offers 4th of July, Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend getaways once you've selected your cabin type of choice (or bookings during the dog days of summer or the cooler months of an early fall). Return visitors can earn points as Club Yogi members.

Parks stretch from the Lodi, California to Newfoundland in Canada. A full map of locations can be found here. Check individual campsites' websites for amenity closures or other COVID-19 precautions.

Now Watch: This Vineyard Lets You Sleep Inside a Giant Wine Barrel

recommended for you

The History of Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts