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Is a Covered Wagon Technically a Travel Trailer?

While RV sales have skyrocketed in recent years, traveling across the country isn’t anything new. If you’ve watched the popular Paramount Plus series “1883,” you know that settlers have been hitching up and heading west for more than 130 years. While the first settlers relied on a different horsepower to tow their covered wagons, were they technically a travel trailer? And can you camp in a covered wagon today? Let’s look and see.

Family sitting around campfire in front of covered wagon.
The original travel trailer might just have been a covered wagon!
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

What Is a Covered Wagon?

A covered wagon is a form of transportation used in the mid-1800s. They typically had an arch-like canvas top that covered the wagon pulled by a team of oxen, horses, or mules. They were the primary means of transportation for those heading west searching for gold, rich farmlands, and the potential for a new start.

Many of the wagons used by settlers heading west used converted farm wagons. Many of them retrofitted them with awnings because they were lightweight and sturdy for what the rugged trail would throw their way.

Is a Covered Wagon Technically a Travel Trailer?

Covered wagons and travel trailers have more in common than you might think. However, those riding in wagons weren’t exactly taking recreational trips to explore. The wagons initially used were for hauling heavy loads over the rough terrains found in the country’s eastern portion. 

As settlers began heading west, they opted for the Prairie Schooner wagon, which was substantially lighter and made it easier to make the 2,000-mile journey. The wagons typically contained everything the families needed, usually upwards of 2,500 lbs. As the adventure became increasingly more complex, families had to abandon heavy items along the way.

Travel trailers are very similar to covered wagons because they contain all of the essentials a family might need. However, wagons didn’t have a restroom or any sleeping spaces. At the end of a long travel day, the family in a wagon would camp under the stars.

One of the biggest differences between travel trailers and wagons is the massive difference in miles they can cover in a day. A typical wagon would cover 12 to 15 miles per day. However, a travel trailer can easily cover several hundred miles in a day, thanks to the advent of the automobile.

Pro Tip: Is a covered wagon not the ideal travel trailer for you? Try out one of these 9 Unique Travel Trailers That Will Catch Your Eye.

The covered wagon company logo mount clemens, mich.
The legacy of covered wagons crossed over to RVs after the automobile travel trailers were invented.

There Was a Covered Wagon Company That Actually Made RVs

While covered wagons eventually became obsolete, the transition period between oxen-driven trailers and vehicle-towed trailers echoed the legacy of the pioneer days. In fact, one Michigan-based travel trailer company called itself “The Covered Wagon Company.”

1935 covered wagon travel trailer sign from RV Hall of Fame.
Head to the RV Hall of Fame to learn more about covered wagon travel trailers.

A 1935 specimen from The Covered Wagon Company can be seen on display at the RV Hall of Fame. According to the exhibit display, “in 1935, Covered Wagon was the largest trailer manufacturer in the country and produced 1 out of 6 “house trailers” built in the United States. Their recorded production from a single plant, at that time, was 45 to 50 trailers per day.

The exterior is ‘genuine leather’ over a thin plywood shell and the roof is covered with coated canvas stretched over tarpaper.”

How Much Did a Wagon Cost, Then and Now?

A typical wagon in the mid-1800s would cost around $100. However, the total price for those families looking to make a westward trip would typically cost around $1,000. This would include the wagon, animals to pull it, and other essential supplies.

If you’ve shopped for a travel trailer or any RV lately, they don’t cost $1,000. If you found a brand new travel trailer for $1,000, you’d immediately sign on the dotted line, hitch it up, and head home. 

However, keep in mind that a $100 covered wagon in the 1800s is equivalent to $3,260 today. And that $1,000 trip would total over $32,000 now. For us, a travel trailer typically costs $15,000 to $45,000 or more. Plus, you’re probably not going to tow it with a team of oxen or horses. 

Covered wagon on display at RV Hall of Fame.
Check out the 1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer on display at the RV Hall of Fame.
Image from RV/MH Hall of Fame & Museum Inventory
Dining table inside of covered wagon.
Covered wagons were surprisingly spacious inside.
Kitchen dinette inside of covered wagon.
It is possible to camp inside covered wagons to this day.

Do People Still Use Covered Wagons?

Covered wagons got replaced long ago, at least as a means for transportation. Railroads began replacing them in the early 1900s. By the early 1920s and 1930s, cars became a relatively common means of transportation. So you won’t see many wagons traveling along the highways of America these days.

However, you may find plenty of dude ranches and other unique tourist-like experiences that you can give a try. You can find exciting adventures in the Tetons, ride on the actual Oregon Trail, or explore where the covered wagons first started in Pennsylvania

Pro Tip: Make the journey across the USA like the pioneers with our tips on How to RV Across America.

Two friends leaning out of covered wagon.
Try covered wagon camping while venturing west.

Where Can You Stay in a Covered Wagon? 

While you may not have time to cross the entire country in a wagon, we’ve found a great option for sleeping in them. Less than 10 miles from the entrance to Zion National Park, Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort has a fleet of covered wagons available for rent. 

However, the Wi-Fi, continental breakfast, and electricity in the wagon ensure you’re not going to be roughing it. If you’re willing to pay over $100 a night for this unique glamping experience, you can stay here for several nights of covered wagon camping.

Luxury Glamping in Conestoga Covered Wagons and Shower Houses

Is Covered Wagon Camping Worth It?

Covered wagon camping is a unique experience and an opportunity to make some once-in-a-lifetime memories. It’s the type of camping you do to check it off a bucket list and then talk about it and share pictures with others for years. It’s an interesting way to camp but not cost-effective for every trip.

Would you consider giving covered wagon camping a try for your next adventure? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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