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.
Experiences quite joyful!
Each week many readers tell us how hard it is to find and book a site. We find joy in reading the stories of those who don’t have trouble finding sites. Kay W. shares one of those stories: “Made reservations three months ahead or sooner, depending on the state, with little problems. Mostly stayed at state parks and Army Corp of Engineers parks. Never experienced a full park in Illinois or Iowa. There are wonderful state parks in Iowa. My experiences were quite joyful. We do not have a large RV … but it is quirky and comfortable. We spend most of the time outside. Also, we leave sites cleaner than we found them. We are not, nor ever will be full-timers. About 11 million homes have RVs … a much larger number than sites that are available.” That’s the truth, Kay!
Camping is many things to many different people
Last week reader Jenifer M. said that having an RV the size of the house is NOT camping. Nancy B. took exception to that comment and wrote, “We are seeing what others are experiencing. If you are planning a trip which has areas that are popular tourist destinations, then make reservations ahead of time.
“We are becoming experienced boondockers. There are a lot of public lands in California, Nevada, and Arizona. We did more camping in 2020 than 2019 because of the boondocking. There is a lot of dispersed camping in federal parks.
“Camping is many things to different people. I was set back by the woman who said staying in house-size RV is not camping. To me, camping in a tent is suffering. Lol. We all just need to plan ahead, and maybe re-think what camping is to us.”
We are travelers, not campers
Another reader, Carol B., also brought up Jenifer’s comment from last week. Carol writes, “Jenifer M. asks: ‘How can anyone consider themselves as campers when they are practically carrying a small hotel room behind a super-sized truck that’s getting 10 miles per gallon?’ I’d agree that people in a large motorhome aren’t ‘camping.’ Certainly not in the traditional sense of the word. We have a 28′ motorhome and I don’t consider what I do as camping, and we put at least 10-12K miles on our RV a year.
“My husband and I love to hike and see the beautiful natural wonder of this country. I don’t want to sit at a campfire or sleep on the ground. I don’t want to sleep in a motel bed. Also, I love my comfy bed, and the fact that I can get up in the morning and have a leisurely cup of coffee. We have met and chatted with many other travelers who enrich our experience.
“My motorhome IS my home away from home. While traveling this way, we do not consider ourselves campers. We are travelers. My husband and I spent years camping in a tent, then went on to a pop-up, a trailer, then a motorhome. If being ‘environmentally friendly’ is the main goal, then I guess having a campfire should be out of the question. I do agree with Jenifer about trash in natural places. Pick it up, people!”
What we worked hard for in life
Brian D. responded to Jenifer’s comment too. He says, “Just because one person feels camping should only be in a tent, or another person thinks it should be only a travel trailer, or another enjoys a fifth wheel or another enjoys a motorhome, doesn’t mean a person can’t enjoy themselves. We are in our 70s and in good health. Also, we worked our entire lives to get to the point this last couple of years so we could buy a used Class A motorhome.
“We travel with our dog, are responsible and respectful, and find the convenience of what we have to be what we worked hard for in life. I fought for our country and was severely wounded in combat for this, and all of our rights.” Editor’s note: Thank you, Brian, for your service!
“Suck it up, Buttercup”
Steve P. talks about the new norm in camping. “We travel regularly and seldom have issues finding campsites. My guess is those finding crowding are camping as a family vacation at high tourist locations like Disney or seaside beach resorts. And they are traveling at peak times. So if this is you: Suck it up, Buttercup.
“We will continue to RV in our house on wheels and continue to be in campgrounds with lots of openings. RVing is a lifestyle, not weekend camping.
“Our secret: camp in less ‘popular’ locations, camp during less popular times and get used to the new norm of RVing. Not trying to be snippy, Just calling it like I see it. Happy camping!”
50 percent cancellation and full payment in advance
Ty W. suggests that a 100 percent payment in advance and 50 percent cancellation fee would curb the problem of empty sites. Ty says, “As an avid camper, I am all in for full payment in advance. As previously noted by others, it is difficult to book a spot, especially at state parks. Even the worst spots at the more popular locations get full within hours of opening for booking ahead. Sometimes they’re booked within minutes.
“In some states you can book up to 10 days, so people will book 10 days ahead, with the last day being the day they plan to leave. They will cancel their reservation a month later and immediately book the days they want, or do it just before the cancellation cutoff date. People will go online nine months from the day they want to start camping to book a spot and see it’s full and book somewhere else. This has left many empty spots in campgrounds that don’t get filled, bleeding campgrounds and hurting their income used to conduct improvements and maintenance. State parks are especially hurting for money.
“I have driven in and gotten spots the weekend before a major weekend (Labor Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July) because of the manipulation being conducted. I would like to see changes that prevent this from occurring, including stricter cancellation policies. Having to pay the full amount upfront may curb issues with those who manipulate booking schedules.
“Booking no more than 90 days out, paying full upfront, with 50 percent of the cost being non-refundable will definitely curb this issue. Perhaps a way to show a legitimate cause as to the cancellation, with the money being returned after the intended camping days. It may sound extreme, but with the degrading park infrastructure due to the lack of income, it may be necessary to keep places open.”
First-come, first-served is back!
Allen S. found Wisconsin state parks returning to first-come, first-served method of booking. “We stayed at a state park near Green Bay, Wisconsin, this summer. They had just changed their policy with regard to first-come, first-served campers. They increased the number of first-come, first-served sites to nearly 50 percent of the campground. This was due to a plethora of people reserving sites and then not showing up. Of course, the sites were paid for, at least the first night was, but the fact that people were being turned away and sites left empty over very busy weekends was a reason for changing the policy.
“We benefited from that change and for that reason I would list this Wisconsin park as being one of my favorites. I’ve been told that other government agencies are considering similar changes and I wholeheartedly agree!”
Get what you pay for
Don F. found lower-priced campgrounds filled but had no problem at KOAs. “Yes, more campgrounds are being filled up. Good for them. We did a ‘classic’ western vacation this year. In preparation, we had searched availability online by date of proposed route. We found that any lower-priced private campgrounds and all state park campgrounds were mostly booked. Then we looked at KOA parks and had no problems booking the entire trip. Even had to delay arrival by a day at one and found the owners very amicable. You get what you pay for.”
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.