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Campground Crowding: What will it be? Higher deposits? Stricter cancellation 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.

Not coming? Fine, we’ll give it to someone else!

Deborah M. worked at a state park that didn’t let the sites go empty. “A long time ago, I worked in a state park that used Ticketron. Our reservations were held overnight, until the 2 p.m. checkout time. At that time, a no-show was canceled and they forfeited the site and their reservation. They could appeal to Ticketron, but the site was given to the next camper who showed up. It was spelled out in the reservation process, so no qualms about giving away ‘their’ site. It didn’t happen often and only a couple of times did the camper show up a day or two late and get angry we hadn’t just held it. They were referred to the boss. I think that is entirely fair – if you can’t get there on time, call, we’d hold it. If you aren’t coming, we can give it to someone else.”

Elks and Moose lodge memberships are worth having!

Are memberships to Elks and Moose lodges really worth it? Janette S. says they are! “Parking at Elks and Moose Lodges is mostly how I get around the country. Membership is not much money and some parks are much better than others. Just spent a week at the Tillamook, OR, campground which is about five miles out of town. Plenty of space even on Labor Day weekend. Now I’m planning a trip down the California coast and staying at many Elks. Also did that two years ago on East Coast. Members are friendly and happy to see us.”

Day outings and trips are better than camping

Lee C. hasn’t used their RV since May and has decided to sell it next spring. “We have not used our travel trailer since the first week of May. We are not into making reservations and then setting in the camper if it is raining, and the only way to get a campsite was by reservation. Instead, we spent the summer doing day outings when the weather was nice and we didn’t have to pay the ridiculously high prices the campgrounds are now charging. We bought our first RV in 1971 and now, after 50 years, we will sell the current trailer next spring.”

When the deposit is 50 percent, there are very few no-shows

No shows? No problem! Road R. has cracked the code. He writes, “I agree that the parks should charge higher deposits and have stricter cancellation fees. I don’t want to share any tips for finding campgrounds as then I might not get my next reservation. We stay at a very popular campground for 3-4 weeks every year and they charge 50 percent as a reservation fee if you book more than three nights. You have to cancel seven days in advance to avoid a penalty. The park is always booked every year with very few no-shows.”

50 percent?! What about 75 percent instead?

Bob P. has a similar idea: “I think campgrounds should charge 75 percent of the camping fee when a reservation is made. Then, if the reservations are canceled a minimum of a week ahead, 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.”

100 percent cancellation fee means there’s no incentive to cancel

Julz F. says that a 100 percent cancellation fee doesn’t help. They write, “The only problem with charging a 100 percent cancellation fee is, there is no longer an incentive to cancel. If I’m not getting my money back, why take the time to call and cancel? The campsite is booked and paid for, but no one is there because there wasn’t an incentive to cancel. I think it’s just as rude to keep our money for doing the right thing in cancelling as it is to not call and cancel.”

Solar means more places to avoid campground crowding

Dee L. can’t stand crowds and campgrounds are crowded now, but she found her solution: “I spent $4K on solar panels and LI batteries on my new camper just weeks after I purchased it. It’s expensive but I see it as part of the overall cost of the camper. I can’t stand crowds and plan to avoid campgrounds as much as possible.

Form a camping group

Now that’s an idea! Karen P. has found a unique way to have a campsite whenever she wants. She tells us, “The Float Fishermen of Virginia has a few Chapters. In season, we field camp together on private properties on rivers. For State events, there’s first come field camping with portajohns. Floating weather/river permitting, we’re always cleaning debris from our rivers.

“We’re also co-owners of a private group property that hosts one of the ‘State Floats.’ Our property has hookups, a bathhouse, and a dump station. We can camp there any time. There are plenty of nearby places to explore from these state event sites, so there’s something for everyone. Find some property, form a group, and have somewhere to get away from the hassles of booking or jockeying for spaces.”

Editor’s note: I had to look up what “float fishing” is. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is: “1. The practice of fishing from a boat or raft allowed to float down a river; and  2. The art or practice of fishing usually with live bait at the end of a line buoyed by a float.” 

“Spontaneity is great, but disappointment is a bummer.”

Jame E. bought property with hookups for summer camping. “I’m retired and travel mostly in the spring and fall when demand is low. I’ve purchased property in northern lower Michigan with water, electric and septic so I now have a place to park my 35-foot Class A for the summer. When I do travel during the summer, I either book in advance or use out-of-the-way, less popular campsites. For popular destination spots, I book in advance every time. (That goes for the popular tourist attractions. I hate getting to a destination and then be told all the rides or tours are booked.) Spontaneity is great but disappointment is a bummer.”

Allen W. decided to avoid disappointment and long driving days by buying some property too. “With the situation in the country with COVID-19 and the variant, we decided to not travel around the country. We winter in Florida and we bought land in Wisconsin that we can RV to in the summer. We plan on doing this for the foreseeable future since we had trouble finding a campground last year on our travel back to Florida and had to drive more hours than I care to drive.”

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

##RVT1019b

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Chris
25 days ago

I love camping, what is frustrating to me is not being able to find a spot to reserve online, getting the only spot left, and then getting to the campground and seeing all these “reserved” no shows. I feel like it’s selfish to do that when you know that camping has become so popular.

Bull
27 days ago

VRBO, Air B&B and others all charge a 50% down payment at the time of the initial reservation with payment in full 30 days before the date of the reservation. It’s the norm in the short term rental market. No reason it cannot be the norm in the RV campground market.

With VRBO and others the property owner sets the cancellation terms. Generally they are 100% refund 30 days or longer before the rental date, 50% refund 2 weeks or longer before the rental date and NO REFUND for cancellations with 2 weeks of the rental.

Adopt that policy in the Campground business and all the BOT’s, No Shows and the multiple reservation customers for the same date crap will STOP!

Will people complain? YES!!!

Will they still rent a campsite? YES if RV park owners unite to stop the abuse!

Ed Nopp
28 days ago

For a couple of years I did Camp Host work at National Forest Campgrounds. The sites were 60% reservation and 40% 1st come 1st serve. The trouble is that the reservations can be made at a real early date of the season for the entire season.
That is, you were be able to reserve a site for late August in April or May. That simply leads to all sites being reserved at the very earliest possible time and often fills all reservations for the season within two days of opening the reservation lines.
If the reservations could be made NO SOONER than three weeks prior to the date reserved, it would give people a better opportunity to make reservations. It might even end the multiple reservation syndrome that some people seem to have. This policy could be used industry wide very easily.

wanderer
28 days ago

I don’t think higher deposits are helpful, despite the cases made by Road and Bob. State park and COE campgrounds are all prepay-in-full for all nights you want to reserve, and they still have no-shows.

You could raise the prices to make it more painful for people to reserve and not cancel, but if you think the solution for public parks is to penalize poor folks in favor of wealthier ones, you might not get the point of having public recreation facilities.

As far as the wonderful park which is kind enough to release no-show sites the middle of the NEXT afternoon, gee thanks, but that Friday or Saturday night was still lost to campers who had to stay home or go elsewhere, not much help.