Monday, January 30, 2023


Campground Crowding: “Camping in the backyard was not the plan!”

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.

Prevent multiple campsite reservations for same day

Reader Mike W. has an idea to eliminate multiple reservations at different parks for the same day. “It’d be nice if the various reservation systems, covering at a minimum the state and national parks systems, prevented you from placing a reservation for the same time window at different parks. ‘We’re sorry, but you already have a reservation at another campground at this time. You will need to cancel that to place a reservation for this site.’ Shouldn’t prevent multiple site bookings for the same name at the same campground – sometimes you’re booking for friends and family. This would be an easy thing for the reservation sites to code”

Camper gets to spend the winter in Florida… in storage

Candy G. wanted to spend the winter in Florida but found that only the camper could stay – in storage! “We bought our camper this past March. We live in NH, and we made plans to travel to Florida in October and store our camper there, so we could come and go during the winter. (Can’t afford all winter yet.) Once in Florida, we found out most campgrounds are booked solid January – March and part of April. Disappointed our camper will spend the winter (in Florida), and we won’t be able to.”

Camping in the backyard was not the plan

Stephanie E. writes to us about her disappointment. “I was so excited last November when I bought my new-to-me 2018 Coachmen Prism. I was semi-retired so I could enjoy more trips. Well, the reality didn’t match the dream. It was so hard finding campgrounds and I haven’t been able to figure out boondocking yet. The rising gas prices have convinced me that selling my RV is my best option. But how to sell it is my dilemma – the dealership’s consignment looks like I will lose a lot of money on my still well-made RV. I am sad to let my dream go, but looking at my RV and not being able to use it easily makes no sense. Camping in my backyard was not the plan.”

Reservation issues? Buy a membership

If you’re having trouble reserving a campsite, perhaps listen to Richard C’s advice: “Reservation issues? Not to sound like Captain Obvious but, camping costs money! The more you’re willing to invest in campground memberships, the easier your reservations will be (and the cheaper your nightly rate). And yes, those memberships will always cost more than you think they’re worth. Just another of the many expenses involved in the lifestyle.”

Combative campers

Camp host Michele C. has noticed an increase in her campground being busier but also campers being combative. Yikes! She writes, “We have been full-time RVers for almost five years. We camp hosted for three seasons (April–September) in Montana. Not only are campgrounds busier (ours was the busiest season yet), the campers have become combative. From verbal abuse to physical. This was our last season camp hosting and if the [lack of] availability of campgrounds continues we may buy a home.”

“Please don’t hate me!”

Cheryl H. writes about only being able to use her reservations part of the time and the difficulty in changing dates, particularly on “Please don’t hate me. Sometimes a family need comes up (my parents are elders) and I may only use the campsite I’ve reserved for part of the reserved time. I generally use COE parks and would have to cancel my reservation and re-book for the new days. You have to go to to reserve those spots and changing the dates is near impossible. The bots are out there waiting and boom! I’ve lost the entire reservation before I can re-book. My deepest apologies to anyone I’ve offended by coming a day later or leaving a day earlier. Any advice would be appreciated.”

Get into the wallet and solve the problem!

Robert P. has a suggestion to end the no-shows. “All campgrounds are crowded from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon. All campgrounds near favorite tourist attractions are crowded eight days a week. Families that have school-age children and/or are still working just have to work out a schedule. Been there and done that.

“As for the no-show reservations, campgrounds can easily solve that problem by increasing the fee for reservations. In a high-demand tourist area, a 75 percent – 100 percent camping fee for the reservation will stop most of the no-shows. It could be set up with a refund policy based on how long it would take to sell that spot to someone who will show up or who’s waiting. It would also include a processing fee so the campground would make a profit off the cancellation and renting the spot to someone else.

“I’ll guarantee if I’ve reserved a camping spot and I’ve paid $60–$80 deposit, if I’m not going to make it, I’m going to cancel as soon as possible. $30–$40 deposit is nothing to lose today, but double that, now you’re getting into the wallet seriously.”

Another reader, Bill T., also has a solution that hits the wallet: “It seems like for those who live in the western U.S. or in areas where you can reserve a year in advance are fortunate, but there are many of us who live in other areas of the country, Canada included, that need to wait for the 5-month window to open for national parks or early spring before most campgrounds open to online reservations. This is where the real frustration lies, especially competing with the ‘bots’ booking national parks sites in milli-seconds.

“Kudos to those who live in boondocking areas covering multiple seasons, but there are a lot of RVers who don’t. I believe a good place to start in reducing the number of those booking multiple sites is to charge full price upfront and rethink cancellation policy dates to 30 or more days prior for refunds.

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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1 year ago

Everywhere I camp I have to pay the full cost in advance when i reserve. I do not understand whe this is not universal.

1 year ago

Robert’s plan sounds great, but I always pay for my bookings in full, in advance, when the reservation is made. RARELY am I allowed to just make a deposit. So the solution is not a solution. The parks have empty spots, fully prepaid. The answer is not to further raise rates or costs of cancellation and put a burden on people on a tight budget.

I’m for public campgrounds recording no-shows (they already do daily patrols, it’s not that big an add-on) and for Reserve America to stop allowing these folks to use their system after a couple of no-show incidents. Let THEM show up at the gate on Friday and take their chances.

And bots need to be banned from all these systems, I don’t care who loses their clever startup firm. We do not want camping to be ruined like concerts were ruined by Ticketron and automated buyers. If I have to do an ‘I’m not a robot” drill to buy a gadget online, why shouldn’t people have to prove they are not bots to make a rez?

1 year ago
Reply to  wanderer

The cynical side of me believes that ticketmaster buys up their own tickets to resell for more on the secondary market.

John Hicks
1 year ago

Have there been any confirmed instances of bots actually making reservations?

Chuck Woodbury
1 year ago
Reply to  John Hicks

John, yes. We have run several articles about that in recent times.

1 year ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

Links would be nice Chuck. I’m a skeptic until you can give me a link to where I can buy one of these coveted campsites.

RV Staff
1 year ago
Reply to  Firefly

Hi, Firefly. I’m not sure what you’re talking about wanting to “buy” a campsite. As far as articles regarding bots reserving campsites, here’s a link to one such article: Are “bots” stealing your campsite? Answer: Yes! — Or go to and search for “bots”. There are more articles and links to newsletters where they are mentioned. Take care. 🙂 –Diane

1 year ago
Reply to  RV Staff

If the Bots are booking and reserving sites what name do they use? When you check in the state park or COE should check that name matches and you have valid reservations for the site. The 3rd party BOTS are reserving and then charging $20 more and night then the park fee and making a profit. So when they have non reserved sites they are still ahead. RA and should ban bots. I know it the free market system but should limit one site per named user and not allow a transfer of site to another user that books in 3rd party sites

1 year ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Thank you for the link Diane. Mike Gast wrote a very complete article and touched on many issues. I do think it was a serious attempt at journalism and appreciate his work. What I am talking about is bots RESERVING campsites. Bots don’t camp so presumably they either reserve for the single individual who wrote/rented the bot or reserve them for resale. So where do I either rent the bot or purchase the bot-reserved campsite? Mike mentions attempts at sales of bot-reserved campsites in Canada but has no details. Details dispel rumors. Otherwise there is mention of services offering to notify you when a campsite becomes available and a link to years-old webscraping code on Github (again notification, they do not make reservations). I do not need a “bot” to notify me that campsites are available at 8:00am pst in Yosemite and unavailable at 8:03am pst. It might be marginally helpful if I am trying to pick up a canceled slot. But that’s not really the complaint I read. The complaint is that all the sites are taken within a minute of opening up for reservations and bots are blamed for that.

My point is that RESERVATION bots have apparently become the Bigfoot of RV Travel. Plenty of rumors and so-called evidence, but actual facts are completely lacking. Unfortunately this phantom menace is doing harm. It takes the focus away from the actual problem that infrastructure investment in our public-owned parks is sadly lacking. If parks can’t keep up with maintenance (as you have noted in your articles), how can they expect to add campgrounds to satisfy the increasing number of campers? Instead of demanding investment from their elected representatives, your readers are running around screaming bot like their hair is on fire. And poorly sourced articles simply toss gasoline on that fire.

A slightly harsh ending so let me close by saying that I truly appreciate RV Travel and its staff. You do excellent work and I think the kindness and thoughtfulness of your staff shines through in their work. I’d camp next to any of you any day of the week.

RV Staff
1 year ago
Reply to  Firefly

Thanks for the additional information, Firefly. I’m forwarding it to Mike Gast to see if there’s anything he can follow up on to answer your questions. Have a great day, and stay healthy. 🙂 –Diane

Jim Prideaux
1 year ago

“Camping in the backyard was not the plan” Headline from above made me chuckle. Stephanie’s plight may have an upside. Often, even on a nice site, I’ve commented to my wife that our backyard is nicer with the neighbors farther away.

1 year ago

I’m on the Salton Sea and there’s nobody here. I never have these crowding problems. The ‘new’ reservation maps for this area are really messed up but nobody seems to care.

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

I think Mike M (first comment in the article) has the best idea. Only problem is that all the state and national parks would have to agree to install the same computer reservation system in order for that plan to work. That kind of cooperation is almost unheard of. Dan (below me here) has a similar idea with license place ID. It boggles my mind to think reservations have to be made months, years, or multi-years in advance. Who KNOWS what they will be doing that far in advance. This just invites no-shows and short notice cancellations.

1 year ago

How about a computer system that ties the reservation to the license plate of the RV, and that is the only RV that can occupy the site. If someone tries to make multiple reservations for the same days at different parks the system stops and says “hey! you can only have one!”

1 year ago
Reply to  Dan

Your idea is a good one, and there are several others I have heard. But the biggest drawback is that it will cost $$ to recode that software, and there is no $$ incentive for the system owners to do that. As long as they are not being hit in the pocketbook, I doubt things will change. How many campers are willing to actually do something — like boycott those campgrounds who allow empty sites or double bookings? Afraid your fellow campers would scoop up your site in a skinny minute! With all the competition for sites, I am not surprised that the park owners want to ignore the our perceived problem — which isn’t really a problem for them.

Donald N Wright
1 year ago

Perhaps RVTravel could become a corporation to purchase and operate campgrounds for it’s stockholders/paid subscribers. How much are we willing to invest?

1 year ago

Think Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome. Stay out of Florida, go to Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. They have mild Winters. Too many people chasing too few spots.

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