By Nanci Dixon
More people than ever are taking up RVing. These newbies have determined that RVing is the safest way to travel in our pandemic times. The result is campground crowding like never before. In this weekly blog, RV Travel readers discuss their experiences. Maybe we can make some sense of this and find ways to work around the problem.
Alert! 17.8 million households expected to kick off camping season
According to a KOA press release, 17.8 million households are expected to kick off the camping season over Memorial Day (U.S.) and Victoria Day (Canada). KOA is pleased, very pleased, to see the 2020 numbers of 48,243,216 camping households increase to an estimated 52,585,105 households in 2021! That is an additional 4.3 million added to already crowded campgrounds. Particularly over holidays. Read more on that here. The numbers are shocking.
Seems like everyone wants to camp over any of the traditional summer holidays. You’d better have a reservation now!
Weekends: Plan, plan, plan! to avoid crowded campgrounds
Weekend campsites are the hard ones to find, particularly in peak camping seasons. Not having reservations for part of this season, we are scrambling for Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes even Thursdays are ramping up for the weekend warriors.
Charles Y. experienced difficulty finding campsites and spends more time planning for those days. “We were full-time for 16 years and bought a stick condo in 2018 planning to go out 6 months at a time. State Parks in South Florida were getting difficult to book. We didn’t want to winter in one place like some friends. Now there are areas where campgrounds fill up on weekends. So we just spend more time planning. Often finding a less desirable tourist CG for the weekend but pretty much can still travel to places we enjoy. With a little more searching there are always places to camp and some county and municipal CG with full hookups are often empty as are motel campgrounds for travelers.”
Doug P. also finds weekends difficult. “We have not had too much trouble finding a site for 1-3 nights during the week but we are finding it increasingly difficult to find a site, especially in state parks, on the weekends. Since state parks and COE parks are our favorite places, we are just planning further in advance. For instance, we already have reservations throughout the summer months and into the last week of October.”
Heidi B. is a full-time RVer and they haven’t needed to plan ahead either. “We have been FT RVers for three years and were in the Southeast this past winter. Since we never know where we’ll be, we do not do much planning ahead. We were in St. Augustine, FL, and loved it so much, and found 2 cancellations at an RV park we absolutely loved, both for 30 days each! On the way back to the Midwest this spring, we stopped at RV parks, State Parks, COE Parks, Cracker Barrel, and Harvest Hosts and we never had an issue of the parks being completely full. Flexibility is the word to focus on. If you can be flexible, you will always be able to find somewhere to stay! We will continue to be full-timers as there are lots of adventures out there!”
My personal story: No campground crowding, no worries
We just traveled from the West Coast to Arizona and up to Minnesota with practically no reservations for the last 45 days and slept soundly in our own bed in a campground every night.
We are now starting peak camping season here so now you better have something reserved or else you’ll be finding a Walmart.
Like many others we have heard from, we did not have a problem getting a site and there were a lot of campgrounds that were nowhere near full. We were able to call the day before or even the day of when traveling and find spots. Only twice were the campgrounds we called full and, of course, that was on a weekend. Friday and Saturday we took what we could get and hoped for 50 amp. When calling places, I let them know I just wanted to check availability and didn’t know how far we would get. A lot of the campsites said they would note that we might want a site but didn’t need to reserve. They asked me to call back if I didn’t need it and I made sure to do that every time.
No issues with campground crowding, either
Many readers are surprisingly having no issues finding a spot, particularly if not looking for a particular campsite or multiple days.
Reader Kimberly S. had a similar experience: “We just did 1,900 miles from FL to MN. We did pre-book when it was Friday/Saturday to ensure our 6-hour drive led us to a nice site for the evening. Otherwise, I booked the morning of our drive and kept in mind Harvest Hosts, Cracker Barrels, and Walmarts if we could not land a spot.”
Bill F. found places to stay and empty sites. “Drove across Texas from Dallas to El Paso this week. We stayed in probably the nicest park in Odessa, Barons, and it was nearly empty. We saw lots of empty spaces in campgrounds along I-20 and I-10, and had no problem getting into military campgrounds. All of those were full or nearly full on our last trip in 2016, mostly due to oil field workers.”
Dave P. shared a photo with us that says it all.
No winging it with 70 feet!
Rick P. has to have sites booked ahead of time – they are long! “Our situation is unique in that we are 70’ long, need FHU 50A and a pull-through at least 70’ or more. Those kind of sites are not common in many smaller/older campgrounds. We make our reservations at least four months in advance so we can feel reasonably confident a usable site will be there for us upon arrival. We use RV park reviews, RV forums, RV Parky and other apps to investigate potential RV parks we have not been to previously. Then, it’s over to the Atlas (FMCA) and Google Earth to look at the park and surrounding area. We have found ourselves in some pretty seedy areas and miserable excuses for RV parks prior to doing this. All in all, this works quite well for us.” Rick included a great photo of his rig and we can see why a l-o-n-g site is so important!
Social media closed this boondocking site
Cheri M told us how posting this boondocking location forced its shutdown. How sad. “We’ve found in our area along the remote coasts of California that campground and boondock crowding have become the norm since the advent of social media (in other words, for years). We had one favorite boondocking site that was overwhelmed after it appeared on a social media site and now it has been closed down. There was just too much trash, illegal campfire rings that the campers left in place after leaving, and the sites spilled over onto the road and even made it a hazard for motorists. We were shocked at the disregard shown by the weekend campers. This is not to say that people can’t share locations, but it does seem better that locations be shared word of mouth to those we know would be responsible. Also, all the regular and beloved campgrounds are no longer available impromptu and we saw the change happen with the rise of social media. There was a direct correlation of campground availability from one year to the next with an appearance on social media.”
Pet peeve: Adult only RV parks
Jim C’s pet peeve is “Adult Only” campsites. At 78 and 73, they have the heroic task of finding campsites while homeschooling their 9-year-old great-grandson. “We are full-time and Thousand Trail Elite members and try and stay in each CG for as long as we can and make reservations 180 days out. We use the toad to sightsee and we do homeschooling so our days are full, but we have never found any CG full even if they have stopped taking reservations. My pet peeve is adult-only parks. I am 78 and my wife is 73, but because we have our great-grandson, who is 9, we cannot stay.”
Last week we ran a poll asking if there should be “No Campfire” zones in a campground. An overwhelming 68% responded that there should be, particularly for those with allergies or asthma.
Knowing campgrounds are already crowded, do you think it would make it more difficult or complicated to book a campsite if there were no-campfire zones?
Would the additional planning be worth it?
Would you book a campfire-free site even if you wanted to have a campfire?
Now, some questions for you:
• Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or are you having no problem finding places to stay?
• If campgrounds continue to be crowded and RVing continues to become more popular, will it affect how or when you RV?
• Do you have any tips or secrets you’d like to share about finding campgrounds that aren’t as crowded?
Please use the form below to answer one or more of these questions, or tell us what you’ve experienced with campground crowding in general.
Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here.