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Campground Crowding: RVers wanted to leave campsite early, give site to another. Office staff said “no,” and ‘We have dozens of lawyers'”

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.

Question for you

As we are on the cusp of a New Year, the lure of summer camping is in the air. Putting this column together each week, I see the angst of booking campsites and I realize I haven’t even started! I have a few questions for you:

  • Have you started your summer planning or even your planning for next winter?
  • For you procrastinators, are you concerned about campground crowding and the lack of campsites? Despite those concerns (or not), will you plan as you go?
  • What are your camping plans for the new year?

Please use the form at the bottom of this page, or leave a comment, to answer these questions. Thank you!

Suggestion for us

Micheal W. has a suggestion and praise for us at RVtravel.com. “Thanks for the great job that you folks at RV Travel are doing. One suggestion I would offer for your Campground Crowding column is to use some of the reach that RV Travel has to start figuring out the where and when the reported crowding occurs.

“From our perspective on the east side of the Rockies, we do not see the problems we read about here. I suspect part of it is our travel patterns (times, destinations and types of campgrounds). But even in our heaviest travel summer season when the major camping hotspots are packed we can always find a place to camp. Our winter snowbird trips seldom have issues. Maybe we can’t get the exact site we prefer or on occasion the campground we prefer, but we always find a great spot.”

Where do you think the most crowding occurs and at what time of year?
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Follow the rules or lose your rights!

Susan M. has a few suggestions for those that reserve and don’t show and also for those that don’t follow the rules. She writes, “I hate making reservations. Paying an online fee that isn’t refundable. Prices are already expensive and show little to no improvements. We know people that make lots of reservations and don’t show. They don’t care about losing the reservation/deposit fee. If people keep doing this then don’t allow them to make reservations. People can’t always plan 6-9 months ahead of time.

“Also, rules need to be obeyed. Keep your pet tied up at all times. Our disabled dog was always being charged while we walked him by dogs not tied up and he was a large dog. If you don’t follow the rules you lose camping privileges for a year.

Pet peeve

Another reader, Gale K., also brings up the subject of reservations and empty spots. “My biggest pet peeve is people who don’t cancel reservations or don’t show their first night. We travel a lot before Memorial Day and after Labor Day to avoid crowds. Many times we just need one night. We recently checked in at a state park and were told they only had three sites unreserved. We took a less-than-ideal site. In the morning, we walked around the campground and there were 16 reserved sites unoccupied…”



Meaning of “camping”

Samuel C. defines his history of camping. “Camping means different things to different people and at different ages. At 6 years old for me it was sleeping under the stars – even just in the backyard at home. If not at home I called it ‘car camping.’ By the time I was 10 or so, camping was always a multi-day experience. By 12, I was carrying my clothes and food and sleeping bag on my back from one campsite to another. I soon learned to use the term ‘backpacking’ because, otherwise, others misunderstood me thinking that when I said ‘camping’ I was referring to what old people did when they spent a night in a tent (often that ‘tent’ was bigger than the home I lived in).

“The word ‘RV’ hadn’t even entered my conscience. As I’ve aged, I’ve lived in many circumstances, many that others do call ‘camping.’ So many people ‘camp’ in so many different ways that the word ‘camping” no longer is clear to me. Now my wife and I live full-time in our travel trailer. The trailer IS our HOME. We are NOT camping.”

They have “dozens of lawyers”

Judith R. wrote in to tell us about her experience trying to give away her site when she needed to leave early. She says, “Here’s an excuse for empty campsites in full campgrounds that I hadn’t heard before. On my recent fall foliage trip to Maine, I reserved three nights at the Narrows Too Campground near Acadia National Park. For personal reasons, I had to leave after just one night. As I was leaving, I stopped to tell the office staff that I was vacating my site and that it could be given to someone else as I was not returning. ‘Can’t do that,’ they said. ‘That would be double booking.’ I suggested they could refund my money, then it wouldn’t be ‘double booking.’ Or they could, as other campgrounds do, have guests simply sign a release. They pooh-poohed both ideas. They are a ‘big corporation’ and have ‘dozens of lawyers’ who know what they’re doing, I was told. So if you leave early or don’t show up at all, your site sits empty. By the way, Narrows Too is an Encore/Thousand Trails campground, so that may well be a corporate policy that applies to all of their parks.”

Retiring soon and set up to boondock

Donn N. is counting the months until retiring and is ready to go! “14 months until I retire and we plan on long trips to see this great country. I’ve set up our rig for boondocking as we currently use it that way a lot in the desert. Hoping this gives us the flexibility we’ll need. We can enjoy full-service resorts or wide-open spaces and like the variety that offers.”

Safe and fun travels, Donn! And congratulations on your soon-to-be retirement!

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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Michael R Nootz
14 days ago
Where do you think the most crowding occurs and at what time of year?" Read more »

We have have never had a problem finding a spot on a days notice in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas or Texas.

Sam Crabtree
7 days ago

That’s understandable. It doesn’t take long for this California guy to see everything worth seeing in those few states. For me it is the other RVers and the local people that are of interest. The scenery is nice, and there ARE so many interesting people – everywhere – especially among RVers.

Bob p
10 hours ago
Reply to  Sam Crabtree

I feel the same way about californi****, I saw everything I needed to see in the 4 months I was there in 1962 and flying out on my way to Vietnam and back in 1969. Never looked back and from what I read I’m not missing anything. Lol

Jeff Craig
20 days ago

We haven’t had issues making reservations on the weekends near our home in Seattle – as long as we make it nine months prior to our stay, the very minute that the system opens up. I do leave the afternoon before our stays end on occasion, and have a good relation with our local State Parks Rangers, who know they can open our space up for walk ins. The biggest issue I see is that park systems do not have a decent reservations system. If you want a hotel room, their systems (Opera is the one I’m familiar with) can tell the manager if a room is occupied, checked out but needing cleaning, on maintenance, etc… with instant updates. Campgrounds need a similar system.

Kimberly
20 days ago

Always use Reservations.gov for federal campgrounds. For state campgrounds use Reserve America.com for camping.

Phillip
20 days ago
Where do you think the most crowding occurs and at what time of year?" Read more »

Around Dallas-Fort Worth it’s generally pretty full. This holiday season we are 30 miles outside in order to find a spot to stay

Bob M
21 days ago

I have all my campsites for 2022 reserved and paid for. If you don’t reserve the campsite when they become available you may not get them. I can understand why some people reserve a site and may not show up the 1st day or two. If you want a certain campsite around a certain time. You have to reserve it as soon as it becomes available around your time frame. Otherwise you won’t get it. Like the old saying goes. If you snooze you lose.

KathyP Dresbach
21 days ago
Where do you think the most crowding occurs and at what time of year?" Read more »

Campground reservations in Florida for the winter season, requires reservations 11 months in advance and even then getting a reservation means linking up to the state park 11 months to the day, choosing a site and then praying that when you push the reserve key that you don’t get the message that all sites in the campground have already been reserved. I have never been able to get reservations in any of the Florida Keys state parks. Overcrowding in Florida state parks is a constant from Dec. thru April.

Steve Murray
21 days ago

Campground Crowding and Bad Behavior are pushing us toward a Custom Stealth Boon-Docking Van. More freedom. Don’t like paying $100.00 for Loud Partying Neighbors, Barking Dogs and Screaming Kids. Adios Airstream.. It was fun!

Vincee
21 days ago

I have stayed at Narrows in Maine and would never recommend it to fellow campers exactly because of the attitude of the “office”.

BillyBogey
21 days ago
Reply to  Vincee

Agree with Vincee. While I not speaking about The Policy. Am speaking about the Attitude; “Poor Customer Service” & “Not Good” for “Repeat Business”!! Corporate or Site Manager need to address pdq!!

William J Niedzwiecki
20 days ago
Reply to  BillyBogey

The same for Thousand Trails Idyllwild.

Michael
21 days ago
Reply to  Vincee

Having stayed at Encore parks in the past, they may be a big corporation, but they are not the most organized I have encountered. I have commented that their management attitude is that they really search to be able to find a way to say “no”. With all things equal, they are my last choice.

William J Niedzwiecki
20 days ago
Reply to  Michael

Totally agree. Thousand Trails has only 1 word in their vocabulary and it’s “no”.

Richard
21 days ago

The policy of “No refunds” is almost universal with CGs, in my experience. Because people abuse it. Demanding refunds for anything and everything. The increasing mindset of “Entitlement” has made it even worse.
The illegality of “Double Booking” has been been brought to us by the removal of common sense from the legal system, for the benefit of the Legal Profession.

Josh T
21 days ago
Reply to  Richard

Most of the campgrounds around me (Alaska) have a ‘must be occupied’ first night clause in the booking contract. But it also states that if you aren’t there, they will just rebook your site and you are out of luck. No refunds. I’ve booked adjacent sites for friends in the past who weren’t able to show up and I’ll see the Host walk around about 11PM and remove the reservation slip and open it up for walk ups.

I’m 100% okay with this. If I can’t show up, I just take the loss. I don’t want my site sitting unoccupied the whole week. That just sounds crazy.

Bob p
21 days ago

How would you take someone’s camping privileges away? Put their names on a NO CAMPING list like the government’s NO FLY LIST? That would really be a logistical nightmare. My suggestion is requiring a full fee at the time of registration, losing a $25 registration fee today is nothing, but when you register for a weekend and have to pay $150 then you’ve got their attention about not showing up. Refunds for no shows could be handled on individual situations, ie, medical emergency, death in the family, with proof of your emergency cancellation.

Phil
21 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

I agree Bob. Recently at a county park in Phoenix several sites sat empty with reserved signs for the timeframe they were reserved for. Paying full price when you register then requesting a refund should require a valid reason.

Tim
21 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

A number of Military campgrounds are going to a policy of you reserve and pay full cost at that time and lets you know upfront that there is NO REFUND ever.

Shirley
21 days ago
Where do you think the most crowding occurs and at what time of year?" Read more »

Our experience mirrors Michaels experience. Being flexible on specific CGs is key. In 200 nights of camping we probably stayed 1 or 2 nights in a place we wanted to leave.

Robert Pulliam
21 days ago
Where do you think the most crowding occurs and at what time of year?" Read more »

High tourist areas on the weekends. We took a trip in August to Pigeon Forge, TN (Smokey Mtns) during the week and over the weekend and got reservations at the campground of our choice. The campground did fill up on Friday evening and emptied out Sunday afternoon. I believe the crowding everybody talks about is families who are still working and have children in school.

Bob p
21 days ago

If Donn plans on boondocking through his retirement he may as well be content seeing this great country with travel brochures as there aren’t vast areas of government BLM land once he leaves the western quarter of the country.

Donald N Wright
21 days ago

Those of us who are retired have better choices and times, those with children have a limited time schedule. I am one of those who make reservations months in advance, My old Aliner popup would fit in a parking space when nothing else available, my 26′ trailer would be a problem. If leaving early, I notify the office, but never ask for a refund. Less paperwork for all of us, and maybe someone who didn’t make a reservation gets a site.

Lisa Adcox
21 days ago

That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard that a campground would not take advantage of a space becoming available. I workamped at a park in Junction TX and in San Antonio. Heck if someone left early ,we used it. Both parks stayed full and to have a site become available was priceless.

Robert
21 days ago

I don’t know where the person thinks there is no problem finding spots east of Rockies. This past year it was a total headache trying to find any which led to having to cancel some plans and change others. And with all the trouble we had to give up on fall camping this year

Tommy Molnar
21 days ago
Reply to  Robert

That’s what I thought when I read that. Maybe it was a typo. All the campground problems I read about seem to be ‘back east’.

Phillip
20 days ago
Reply to  Robert

Agreed! We are very flexible full timers that has to alter our entire route because there was NOTHING open near or around Louisville by 100 miles for several weeks (not holidays). We can generally find spaces on highways but not in location cities. DFW this week- we’re 30 minutes outside due to full parks.