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Campground Crowding: Is it too early to book for 2023? Campgrounds offer “Early Bird Special”

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.

Is Reserve America to blame?

Two weeks ago in this column reader Eric C. brought up bots and how tricky it is to make reservations when you’re fighting them. Timjet P responded to this and said, “I too have experienced the competition with bots when trying to book reservations at state and national parks. I also have experienced the empty sites at campgrounds whose website show they are full. These issues seem to occur at parks that use the computer reservation systems of Reserve America, which most state parks now use to book reservations. It will be up to the individual state parks to hold no-shows accountable as Reserve America just handles the reservations. I don’t see this changing any time soon.”

Camping is like being at an amusement park!

Sadly, Billy R. wrote to us about selling his last RV. “Years ago it was no problem finding somewhere to camp, whether it was a tent or an RV. Now it is so much more expensive, crowded and the campgrounds so picky it’s like being in an amusement park. We sold our last RV. Had enough of it, wasn’t fun anymore. I suppose you can say, we did that, And got the T-shirt…”

Whatever adventure you end up on next, Billy, we wish you all the best.

Try Florida in the summer to avoid campground crowding

Nancy G. now books way ahead to get sites but does mention one place it is easy to get a one. She shares her secret: “I find it imperative to book far ahead in popular areas, such as Yellowstone. I just booked at the newly renovated Yellowstone RV campground 10 months in advance for September. I could not find the exact dates I wanted but I had some flexibility. After a few trips of trying to book as we go, I reserve everything months in advance now. I do not want to spend my time during the trip looking for a campsite and becoming ever more frustrated. However, Florida in the summer is easy for last-minute campsites!”

Held for the first night only

Deborah M. worked at a state park some years ago in California that held the site one night only. Sounds like a good idea. “Back a long time ago, I worked five summers at a California state park. We had 75 campsites and filled up every weekend and many weeknights. Most sites were reserved through Ticketron. The policy in the system (I don’t know if state parks or Ticketron was driving the policy) was your site would be held through checkout time for your FIRST NIGHT ONLY. If you called to delay arrival we’d let the site be used for one night, holding the remainder of your reservation. If you didn’t call and didn’t show, after 2 p.m. of the day after your scheduled arrival we’d release the rest of the reservation and let someone use it. Yes, we faced a few irate folks who assumed we’d hold it for however long they’d reserved. Oh, well. We rarely had empty sites.”

Where’d that policy disappear to?!

Lots of RVers are booking out for next year already

I will have to admit that the number of people looking for next summer’s reservations already has me a bit worried. I best get on it now!

One of those people, Sam C., always makes reservations. “We always make reservations, usually at least a week in advance, more often it’s a season in advance. (Wife feels uncomfortable if we don’t have reservations.) We do not have a sticks and bricks home. Our usual schedule is to travel about 200 miles each Sunday to a new camping location. If we like a place we sometimes stay two weeks, rarely more. Except we stay the winter months in Mesa – wife’s sister and mother live in Phoenix.”

Too early for 2023 reservations? Nope!

Kenneth P. has a reservation at the Grand Ole RV Resort for 2023! “We snowbird from Wisconsin to Texas via Nashville. I make reservations in advance. I already have reservations for Grand Ole RV Resort for October 2022 and April 2023. Tropic Winds in Harlingen, Texas, has early bird special in February for the following winter. I’ve had no problem reserving parks for traveling to our two main stops. Again I make reservations as early as possible, C.O.E. nine months in advance. Most state parks six months in advance.”

Daily reservations

Layne W. makes daily reservations when traveling. “The only times we’ve experienced full campgrounds are during the height of the seasons, so pre-planning is a must when going to popular areas. Otherwise, I make daily reservations when traveling. Usually by lunchtime. Gives me plenty of time (as the navigator) to find a place along our route. We like having a reservation. It gives us peace of mind.”

Sound advice from a Canadian RVing newbie

Leonard R., an RVing newbie, has some great advice for all of us. I had to smile. His enthusiasm is contagious! “Well, as a Canadian RVing newbie, I guess I am also the problem! Lol. This will be our first winter in the Southern U.S., and we can’t wait! I started making ALL of our reservations from Georgia to Florida to Texas 6-8 months in advance. Even then, some of my preferred destinations were completely full. We have also combined Harvest Hosts for our extended travel days between longer stops.

“My key takeaways for everyone? Be flexible, be early to book, be thoughtful and not double book locations, cancel if your plans change (as ours did due to the extended border closure), and above all, relax. If you are RVing, we truly have ‘made it,’ and all the inconveniences associated with crowded RV campgrounds and resorts are just first-world problems.”

Welcome to the States, Leonard. Hope your time here is wonderful.

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

##RVT1029b

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Capt. Jim
1 month ago

We travel 100+ nights a year with our 5th wheel trailer in the western states.. To date I have had no problems reserving spots 6 – 8 weeks in advance with our principle travel in the Spring/Fall shoulder seasons. For a recent trip through four states, I booked sites in 8 campgrounds with no “Full” rejections. I do tend to worry a bit going into ’22.

Drew
1 month ago

It will be parts and labor shortages that will kill this industry+ the escalating costs associated with it.

Bob M
1 month ago

Pa state parks us Reserve America. They told me Bot’s can’t reserve camping sites for Pa state Parks because the use that Catch thing that you have to check when reserving the campsite.

Firefly
1 month ago

Bot, bot, bot …. It’s the new ghost story told around the campfire. I guess Bigfoot retired.

Exhibit A is the complaint that someone was competing with bots to get campsites and when they showed up to camp half the campsites were empty. These are certainly not the standard profit-making bots that we all know from the music concert business. The camping bots don’t seem to have a website where I can purchase these campsites at an inflated price. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Craigslist listing for a scalped campsite, though I haven’t looked extensively. So, what’s going on? Are bots just reserving campsites and not showing up? Are they Russian bots trying to destroy the American way of life? Clearly what they are not is an organized effort to resell campsites.

The difficulty with getting reservations at popular campgrounds is simply due to demand and the historic failure to invest in public infrastructure to supply that demand.

MrDisaster
1 month ago
Reply to  Firefly

You raise some great points. Since “bots” don’t camp what is the motive? Money? You’re right there’d need to be a resale site somewhere. I suppose some sites could be bundled into some kind of rental program (rent an RV and camp at (name a popular park). Could the reservation website be blocking some sites to release later? I, like many of you, am full of questions but woefully short of answers. I would urge anyone who finds reservations “sold-out” to consider registering a complaint with that site and filing a complaint with their Attorney General office of consumer protection. This is especially important for sites that are contracted for State or Federal parks. It’s time to put some pressure on these sites and might be time for some investigative reporting.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

I’m sorry, but making reservations two years in advance is out of the question. I’m not sure where I want to be next week! I think we were lucky to visit most of the “must visit” places years ago when you could just drive in and camp (think national parks etc). Now we steer clear of these overcrowded places and enjoy RV’ing as we want it. Some state parks (not the popular ones) and boondocking.