Friday, October 22, 2021

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Campground Crowding: Camping “has turned into a Disneyland-on-wheels business with very long lines”

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.

“Sardine camping” in the crowded campgrounds

Feeling the squeeze? Cheryl M. certainly coined the perfect word for what a lot of campers, including us, are experiencing in the crowded campgrounds. “Not to be a henny penny, but RVing has changed drastically in the last 15 years. Too many RVers and not enough RV parks. Not to mention parks have turned one site into two, so you are forced to do ‘sardine camping.‘ It’s not a wise time to choose RVing. There are no answers to this insanity involved with a nature experience that was once very fun. If you wish to spend endless hours on your phone just to locate one site two to three months out from the dates you wanted to travel, then go for it. But spontaneous fun in the world of quiet nature has turned into a Disneyland-on-wheels business with very long lines.”

Joyce E. shares her “sardine camping” frustration too. “We just started towing a fifth wheel after a decade of not camping due to a family accident. Unbelievable changes! We are packed in like sardines at many places when we can get a reservation. The solution for us has been to camp during the week. We are lucky to be able to do so. We did manage to get a Labor Day weekend site, but we are all on top of each other!”

Permanent resident parks have a waiting list

Reader A. D. tells us about a full-time park where the few overnight spots are reserved but empty. “I am a full-time resident at a campground in West Plains, MO. We have 68 spots with another 45 going in on Oct. 1st. All but seven spots are full-time residents. Traveling nurses, retirees, veterans, disabled and private contractors… We have a list of people needing full-time that will fill the additional 45 spots in Oct. We can’t afford or cannot find housing. The seven overnight spots sit mostly empty because of people reserving and then not showing up.”

Karen W. is also a full-timer who is seeing more full-time families. “We are currently full-timing (between houses) and had toyed with the idea of traveling around the country. Unfortunately, with such difficulty finding reservations, which is becoming a full-time job, and the fact that there are actual lines for trails in national parks (we’ve seen them all already, and many times did not actually stay in the park), we’ve decided to find a sticks and bricks sooner than we originally thought. Plenty of nature to still explore, but we’re now thinking of getting a simple van or camp-ready SUV to do so, or fly and rent – because we never know if an actual campsite is available and we may have to sleep on the side of the road. 😉

“Sad for us, because in our younger days we actually were always able to find a site after a day of traveling. Things have definitely changed.

“We have met many full-timing young families at our campground and they are wonderful people. Many are service members working at local bases. They choose full-timing because it’s more convenient than having the Navy move them to new housing, and/or the local housing is way too expensive. Others are simply young families looking for a less expensive alternative to our overpriced housing market. I feel for these folks, because unless more campgrounds/RV parks become available and not so expensive, what will they do?

“If there were more ‘residential’ RV parks available, perhaps the national parks and state campgrounds may become less crowded? Just a thought.”

No more permanent residents!

On the other side, Vicki S. is hoping that RV parks will stop taking full-time residents. She writes, “‘Camping’ is a thing of the past. RVs and RV parks are permanent residences now for thousands of people and it’s only getting worse. The only hope camping has is if RV parks decide to not take permanent residents. We have been full-time snowbirds for 12 years and now have to stay in Yuma year-round because there’s no place to go for the cooler summers.”

The only way to get same-day spot is…

Lyle L. has found same-day spots even with all of the campground crowding but only this way: “Between Memorial Day and Labor Day the ONLY way to find a same-day campground is to stay away from large cities and popular parks! We have a 38′ motorhome, and IF this zaniness continues, we definitely will downsize to a 25′-30′ rig to give more flexibility to boondock and to stay in forest service and state park campgrounds.”

Hotel woes: I’ll miss my own bed every night

Arvid M. will miss the things all RVers love… “Due to crowding and costs for campsites rising, and not getting good gas mileage due to a small engine, I have sold my trailer. We will be trying the hotel route as some others have done. I will miss not having to pack a suitcase and my own bed every night.”

Keep the freshwater full, the holding tanks empty

Paul G. only made reservations when meeting up with family and has some sound advice after traveling for 20 years. He says, “Traveled from SoCal to Rochester, NY, May 1 to Aug. 1. The only booking far ahead was about a month in Albuquerque in May, since we were meeting family and HAD to be there. The other was about a month ahead in Madison, WI, again to be with family on a schedule. Other bookings were no more than a week ahead, even headed to Escapade in WY. We did not go near any major national or state parks. I got told ‘we’re full’ a couple of times. We also used Elks Lodges and Boondockers Welcome for several stops. We stayed away from interstates and major travel routes which also helps. The total number of stops was 37. We have traveled this way for 20 years. Keep the freshwater full, the holding tanks empty and drive on the top half of the tank. I have limited solar for more extended dry camping.”

“Let the next generation have all the fun”

Shelly H. gave up the keys. “We gave up. At 89 years of age, driving a 34′ class A with a Jeep on the back is a bit too much. What really finished it off was the difficulty of finding spots at our favorite campgrounds. I’ll let the next generation have all the fun.” Wishing you all the best, Shelly. I am sure you’ve had some very “Happy Trails” along the way.

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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Wayne
24 days ago

Living on the Gulf Coast, we see a huge number of travelers, some towing trailers, some driving coaches. Being a “newbie”, I boldly approach them, asking about their experience. I have not heard any complaints, except those with children. Those complaints are anticipation of getting to the water, unloading the camper, and just enjoying. No complaints about facilities or crowding. When my wife and I visit State Parks, we see numerous out-of-state tags, talk with whoever wants to talk, and find most folks are simply happy to be outside, enjoying the location. I’m sure the situation is different in some locations, but I think it’s how we approach the situation. These past 2 years have been very traumatic for us all. We are coming out of the fog, turn on your headlights, slow down and breathe.

Roger Marble
1 month ago

Agree. Spaces are available unless you demand a National or State park. Spent a week in CO then night in KS + night in IN with no problems.

Tracy Kaestner
1 month ago

We went to 10 National Parks this summer and did not see a single line at a trail. We were able to get First Come First Serve sites in the parks and found sites while on the road at various RV and state parks. I don’t believe the situation is as dismal as this article sounds!

Robert Trim
1 month ago
Reply to  Tracy Kaestner

Oh, yes it is. Just try a big one. Glacier, arches, even Mt. Rainier (45 min line to get in weekday), etc. You were lucky..