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Campground Crowding: Should popular campgrounds go to lottery reservation system?

RV sales have skyrocketed and more people than ever are taking up RVing. The result is campground crowding like never before! In this weekly blog, RV Travel readers discuss their experiences. Maybe we can find some helpful tips and ways to work around the problem.

Here are a few observations from our readers.

“Winging it” still works!

When reservations aren’t available, can campers still “wing it?” Marcy D. thinks so. “We have been RVing since 2003. Yes, things have changed, but like many of the other commenters, we have ways to make it work.

“We just got back from a six-week-trip to the Finger Lakes in New York, the coast of Maine and central Virginia. We live in Minnesota so we had lots of overnight stops as well as longer stays. On the way east, I had booked sites ahead. On the way home we decided to wing it.

“We were traveling midweek, so that is an important recommendation, but we had no trouble getting sites the same day. Since we can, we like to leave the weekends for people who only have the weekends to camp. We also found that if you stay away from the most popular sites and camp 10 miles away, there is no problem. Happy camping.”

Note “cancel by” dates and other great advice for campground crowding

Merkay M. has a system that works well for them and shares it with us. “Book your key ‘must stay at’ parks first, about six weeks or more in advance. Make note of their cancellation policies and mark your calendar for their ‘must cancel by’ dates and costs. Paying a reasonable cancellation fee is OK if you are aware of it in advance. I find state parks really cost a lot to change or cancel! Many private parks will not charge you a cancellation fee if you do so by their deadline.

“If I do not have a reservation when we are traveling from place to place, I have a list of at least three alternative places, with phone numbers that I can call a day or two ahead, or while we are on the road. For walk-up spots, arrive as early as you can, and be prepared with an alternative. I use Campgroundreviews.com for information about a park, then go to the park’s website for more. If it is only for one night and we are just passing thru, I am willing to stay at a poorly rated place and lock my doors!”

Start a lottery system to help campground crowding

Ed F. is having difficulty booking at Florida state parks and has a suggestion to make it more fair. “I tried for days to book a site for March at some of the Florida state parks. The available sites open at 8 a.m. ET 6 months out. Well, the 2-6 sites opening each day go in literally an instant. I found it impossible. Who knows if it’s due to computer internet latency, bots, or that there really are hundreds or thousands of people hitting their computer enter button at the same time.

“My suggestion is that popular campgrounds could go to a lottery system. You’d enter a requested arrival day, then a computer would pick lucky winners for each of the slots. If you win you would have a certain amount of time to complete your reservation, otherwise it goes back in the pool or to an alternate lottery participant. There are many other possibilities and variations on this idea but that would be the basics.”

What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?
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Cheating the system adds to campground crowding

Camp host Rich I. is also taking issue with all the empty but booked sites. “Being a camp host one problem that’s also adding to hard-to-find sites is people cheating the system and booking multiple campgrounds and picking one that is favorable at the time and not canceling other sites.”

Reader Toni B. also mentions frustration when sites are booked but empty. “Camping with an RV has become very difficult in Oklahoma. Reservations are required through Recreation.gov and they are hard to come by. The sad thing is to see some of the best waterfront spots empty but they are reserved so the camp host will not let you rent even if days have gone by and it still sits empty. Waterfront camp spots should be first come gets the spot.”

They don’t even answer the phone!

Dawn A. is frustrated trying to make reservations over a year out. “WOW! It’s August 22, 2021, and I just called to make our winter reservations for Dec. 1, 2022 – April 1, 2023, in Port Aransas, Texas. I got the last spot and it’s only available until Feb. 15, 2023.

“We are full-time RVers with a rather large toy hauler and I’ve been working on our summer 2022 plans. A lot of the places I want to go in Oregon and Washington are already booked. Another problem I’m running into is no one at the parks are answering the phones or returning calls. I keep us booked 9-12 months in the future. Now it looks like I’m going to have to book us two years out… that is, if I can get anyone to answer the phone. Yes, I can and do book online but I need to know if golf carts are allowed, if there’s satellite reception and if there is cell service, so it’s nice to talk to a human.”

Not as friendly?

Sharon B. wrote us about a trend she sees in campers that we have noticed too. “I have been camping my entire life and find that the campers do not seem as friendly now. Is it because of the violence that has occurred in this world or is it the newbies don’t know that us ‘old timers’ are friendly, kind and always willing to help a fellow camper?

Helpful tip for Fort Wilderness Disney fans

For all you Disney fans, here is a tip from Steve W. “To get last-minute reservations at Walt Disney World (Ft. Wilderness) call right at 8 AM EST. This is when they post cancellations from the night before and make them available. We have done this many times for sites right after Christmas … worked every time.”

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.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here

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Dave Pellegrino
28 days ago

First Come, First Served. With the ability to call ahead and find out if there are available spots.

IAN GARNHAM
28 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

This has been working on a very poplar campground -Wilson’s Promontory, in Australia for many years

JKH
28 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

A lottery system would make it practically impossible to plan a camping trip with friends/family. No thanks.

Donald N Wright
28 days ago

I think I will ask my AAA travel agent to book reservations for me. Let’s watch what happens !

John Koenig
29 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

A skilled computer coder ahould be able to write an App that checkes for multiple reservations by the same person / family. Said App could maintain a database of credit card numbers, MAC addresses of devices etc which would cross check camp site requests. Institure a penalty for those cheaters trying to “game” the system (perhaps banning them for six ~ 12 months for a first offense).

Virginia
29 days ago

Re the “first-come, first-served (FCFS)” suggestion for waterfront spots. Please don’t!! As camp hosts you cannot imagine the number of people who would be sitting at the gate at 4:00 a.m. to be sure they get their site. Even now, we have way too many sneaking in before check in time to get the best sites.

The park in which we currently volunteer actually will be changing from a mix of FCFS to reservations only for this very reason.

Unfortunately, people don’t follow the rules. So those who do not understand what check-in time means will simply be taking place of those who don’t cancel. Either way…problem.

Virginia
29 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

No. Don’t believe it would solve the major issues with multiple bookings and no-shows. Could even add more problems.

Irv
29 days ago

The problem isn’t reservations, it’s stupid policies.

  • Screen and prevent multiple reservations on the same date. (Could any of this be prevented by having photos and accurate descriptions of campsites?)
  • Cancel reservations for no-shows at checkout time the next day–UNLESS they called explaining why they’re late and when they’ll show up. (Car-trouble, bad weather, etc.) And/or call no-shows asking where they are.
  • Make it easier to cancel. Some campgrounds won’t allow on-line cancelations. Getting in touch can be difficult due to the office phone not being answered, differing time zones, and limited cell phone coverage while in route.
  • Make it worthwhile to go to the trouble of canceling through a carrot and stick approach. Refund at least 50% and penalize those with too many cancellations without a valid reason. Someone on a month-long tour might cancel 20 reservations if they can’t make the trip. That’s different from someone ghost booking.
Drew
29 days ago

For someone who has plans far in advance and needs a camping spot I think it’s unfair to rely on a lottery-for those who take extra care in planning in advance.

Gman
29 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

Not for it, now I’m waiting for either an email or text to respond? No different than waiting to hit the button at exactly, precisely 8AM.

Ron Sifford
29 days ago

No, just raise the price of camping and weed out the people who think that rules don’t apply to them

Al
29 days ago
Reply to  Ron Sifford

Are you under the impression that the ones who can afford higher prices are also the ones who always follow rules?

Bob p
29 days ago

Here I am again, my youngest son is getting married in Pensacola Beach, Fl October 9th. We live in Tn, we needed reservations in a campground for the wedding and a few more days. We inquired on line with two campgrounds that said accommodations for the dares desired were not available. As the wedding is at 5:30 PM on Saturday we thought arriving Friday would be good and then staying another 6 days would be good. The third campground we contacted returned our request and we got our reservation. As I’ve said before I don’t understand where all this campground crowding is at. It must be where the most tourist attractions are, I believe Pensacola would be a desirable place to be. After our trip to the Smokies last month and now this trip for the second week in October, I guess we’re just lucky or we don’t frequent the places all the rest of RVers go, but y’all can keep it that way because that leaves our likes available. Lol

Bob
29 days ago

We stayed at a campground near Rochester NY. Had reservations for 5 days. We decided to see if we could extend our stay for two additional days. Talked with the campground personal and was told one camper had a ‘hold’ on their site in case they wanted to stay longer. The office people approached the camper and asked if they intended to extend their stay. Seems these people were contacted by a friend that may want the site. When the campground found this out, they denied the hold.

Gary Allen Yoder
29 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

Lotteries are for gambling, and as far as my reservations I’m not going to chance a camping site to luck. I do my dilengence and book ahead and during the week and have no problems getting sites.

Willow
29 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

Thousand Trails Peace River Camping & RV Resort in Wauchula FL has their own in person lottery for sites.

Kathy Viers
29 days ago
What do you think, should popular parks implement a lottery system for reservations?" Read more »

I think they should find a way to get rid of the abuse. People that rent multiple weeks and then no show or get reservations in family names to beat the system.

Bill T
29 days ago
Reply to  Kathy Viers

Agree. They should go back to phone calls and talking to people to book their reservations and be told immediately about any restrictions. Great employment opportunities for workers since the rates we pay we would know they are paying someone instead of our money disappearing down some “maintenance abyss” for uncompleted infrastructure upgrades or simple basic repairs to roads and some new gravel for campsites.

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