Monday, December 5, 2022


Campground Crowding: Consider an email alert to confirm reservation or face stiff fees


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.

Please, do the right thing and cancel unused reservations

We recently had to cancel all of a 20-stop trip and I was glad I had written every campground down on a calendar and used to plan our route. I could easily figure out all the campgrounds I needed to cancel. Refunds varied from full refund, to partial refund, to only a dollar or two from COE parks.

It would have been easy to just say forget it – I’m not doing that much work for a couple dollars! But we are camp hosts and I see so many reserved empty sites when other people are clamoring to camp I just had to cancel. I even tested out how important it was to cancel. I went back to the website to see if the COE sites had booked up again and, yes, all the campsites were picked up quickly.

Paying in full could help alleviate problems

Guy V. has a couple of ideas. He writes, “I am agreeing with so many of the comments. However, I do not necessarily agree with lotteries unless it is a decision by a private campground. I feel that all state and federal parks need to have dry spots available for non-reservation travelers, first-come, first-served. All reservations in state and federal parks need to be paid in full at the time of reservations with cancellation fees of 50% after reservations are made and 100% within a week of scheduled arrival date.

“I do feel that we will see less overcrowding as soon as the stimulus unemployment payment stops in the fall since people will need to (as a retired person this word burns in my mouth) work!”

More thoughts on phantom reservations

Elizabeth G. has similar thoughts and offers a solution to phantom reservations. “If folks are booking one year out for RV camp spots, then charge them for the whole stay ahead of time. Hotels do this! You are not going to forget you have that reservation when you’ve paid for it. You are not going to make multiple or phantom reservations if you have to pay upfront.

“Yes, plans change, but in the case of hotels, if they can relet the space, you get your money back! If not, you lose your money. The onus is then on the RV owner to let the campground know they can’t keep the reservation, and to attempt to get their money back. Tour operators operate this way, too. There’s too much flexibility for the RV owners who abuse the system and make it difficult for everyone involved.

“Everyone should stick to the rules. If they don’t, they suffer the consequences:  they lose their money. No one wants to lose their money!!! Problem solved.”

Denise C. also shares an idea: “A suggestion for campgrounds that have ghost reservations is to set up an automatic email system that pings people with a reservation to confirm their reservation or face stiff cancellation fees above the normal rate. I know things can happen along the route that may cause you to cancel, but this can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and proof of breakdown. Maybe the ghost campers will be giving up those sites.

Seasonals taking over?

Reader Bob C. says, “We are booked into a non-in-demand RV park as advertised. But they have 4 spots available for reservation. The rest of the 80 spots are seasonal renters from April through October. Are more RV parks going to seasonal campers? This is our first year out with an RV. We were tenters with a motorcycle habit. At 70, sleeping on ground is hard on the bones.”

Private campgrounds – lots of room

Are there more sites at private parks than public? Michael W. seems to think so. Michael found the sites left over at public campgrounds not desirable but says there were more to choose from at private ones. “We just booked a fall color tour getaway week at a popular destination in northern Michigan. I noticed public owned and operated campgrounds had limited space available. These were the undesirable sites. I started checking private owned and found lots of room. We booked a site just off Lake Huron for a very reasonable off-season price that competed with the public parks.”

Winging it can work! Just be flexible

Still “winging it'” is possible, and Al L. is here to prove that! “I’m finding campgrounds more full but it hasn’t really impacted my ability to travel without reservations. The whole beauty of not making plans and ‘winging it’ is exactly that… winging it. So if one place is full, I stay at a different place. If they’re both full, I stay at a Walmart. If I want to stay at a certain park for a week, I’m willing to move around during my stay if one spot isn’t available the whole time. It’s all about being flexible.”

More great tips

Tina P. has some great tips for getting that much-sought-after site.
“1. Walkups are available at some campsites.
2. People cancel. Have to be diligent on phone reservations. Call 2-3 times to check.
3. Plan. Book 6 months out.
4. Know your campground’s sites. Look at maps. Look at lengths, although some sites say 25′ but will fit a 36′. (Editors note: Double-check with the campground. One campground we worked at turned people away if their RV was longer than allowed. National Parks are also sticklers for stated allowed length.)
5. If in an area near other campsites go look at the surrounding areas and take notes for next year. Do a day trip to other campgrounds and talk to camp hosts.”

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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Bob M
1 year ago

I just came back from camping in Erie, Pa. During the week there were some empty sites. On Friday and Saturday the campground filled up. What I notice were two choice sites that had water views with unoccupied 5th wheels. One motorhome on another site that three times had different campers during the week. I assume they were renting it out on the occupied space. Than there was a couple across from me who rented the site for a month. Friday morning I noticed him loading his car up. When I left at noon Sat, they still didn’t return. Must have went home for the weekend. When I called to make reservations for next summer I could have sworn they said I could only book for two weeks. Not sure what strings the others pulled. Notice a lot of campers who stayed just overnight. Quite a few from California.

Bob p
1 year ago

I think campgrounds should charge 75% of the camping fee when a reservation is made. Then if the reservations are cancelled a minimum of a week ahead then a refund can be processed based on normal policies. If an emergency can be confirmed as to why they couldn’t keep their reservation it can be dealt with on an individual basis. If people had to lose $$$ money by not showing up or because they decided to go somewhere else they might reconsider making multiple reservations. Losing $25-35 is not that much money today, but if they were going to lose $100 that’s different.

Ron Sifford
1 year ago

This has nothing to do with unemployment benefits or politics

Jesse Crouse
1 year ago
Reply to  Ron Sifford

I agree. It has to do with “doing the right thing”.

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