Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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Campground Crowding: Actually, is “crowding” really a problem?

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.

Are we being “too finicky”?

Dennis G. suggests that we may be a little too finicky. He says, “If you can’t find a campground, you are trying to reserve the wrong campground. I just returned from an 8,500-mile trip across 25 states to Bar Harbor, Maine, and back to CA, and only once had to look a little further than my intended destination. I drive a 34-foot Class-A, towing a Jeep Liberty, and reserved only the day before I needed to stop. Maybe you are being a little finicky?”

Dennis, we’re going to go right ahead and call you lucky!

No kiddos allowed

Do you prefer to camp in places where there are fewer children? This reader does. Fred P. writes, “We camp in the southeast due to medical reasons. We have never had a problem getting a site. Maybe not the exact date, so we adjust by a day, but we camp primarily on weekdays. Being retired we choose places where and when children are reduced, etc.

No problems in Florida, either

Fred B. spent December in high-demand Florida and always found a spot. “We just spent December wandering around Florida and had no problems finding campsites. A few times we made reservations, but only a couple of weeks ahead of time. We stayed in a mix of National Forest, National Park, Water Management District, State Parks and one private RV Park. We even found a site at a popular no-reservation National Forest campground that was still restricting usage to 50 percent occupancy from Covid.”

Ask for an extension or about cancellations

Tracy K. has a clever technique for getting and keeping a campsite. We like this idea! Tracy writes, “We’ve found that booking a shorter time period gets you in the campground, and then we ask for an extension if anyone cancels. It’s often worked! Also, at Glacier last year, we drove up to the campground and asked if [there were] any cancellations and there were about seven of them! So we camped one night there.”

Don’t expect massive discounts

Jennifer C. warns about memberships and says not to expect massive discounts. She writes, “Thank you for this article. I help run a campground and booking ahead of time is key! We have pulled away from Good Sam and others because some guests were expecting massive discounts and/or pricing that we did not offer. It’s not across the board. Just because one campground is offering $20 a night RV spot doesn’t mean we are.”

Never had a full camp—pleasantly surprised

Micheal W. is pleasantly surprised and tells us about his experience: “We are at the start of our winter Texan (snowbird) trip. So far I am pleasantly surprised. During the migration part of our trip, we have had no problem finding a great spot for the night.

“We call the campground as we get tired and want to stop for the night. Never had a full camp and even stayed an extra night to rest up at one very nice county RV park. Just before New Year’s, we arrived at our first reservation. While they had higher occupancy than we were used to, they said they were about 3/4 full and looked to be that way through the winter.

“I asked about them using a reservation service. The lady at the desk said they had looked into a few different options and found them to be too rigid for their customers and too expensive for what they offered for service. So they have optioned to continue doing their own. People we talk to at the park have about the same story.

“RV parks are busier than pre-COVID but none have been turning people away. Maybe it is the time of the year of our travel region, but so far so good.”

Michael, just like Dennis above, you are lucky!

Learning how to plan

For people who aren’t used to planning so far ahead, making campground reservations can be a daunting task. Reader Julie M. says she just needs to learn long-term planning when life gets in the way. Julie writes, “25 years ago, you could just show up and get a site. Then you had to start reserving ahead. I would book a site a week ahead or up to a month ahead. Not anymore! Now, you better book your site 6-12 months in advance. That’s very hard. Life gets in the way, and you can’t go. The weather is terrible, and being stuck in a small camper is no fun, so you stay home. I would still rather be in my travel trailer than in a hotel room. We like to walk, be in nature, and bring our dogs. I just need to learn how to long-range plan.”

Keep calling

Bill S. has some good advice about getting a campsite. He says, “Been full-timing for nearly four years now. The key to getting into campsites is to book it as early as possible. When you can’t get in and there’s no ‘waitlist,’ keep calling. Someone may cancel. Also, it’s a no-brainer that you cannot give your site to someone else. It is most always reservations required. Parks that do not require reservations will give space as first-come, first-served as RVers come in. Saving sites for someone is often against the rules, which makes perfect sense.”

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 join me in my forum to discuss your answer to these questions. Maybe other RVers have a solution for you!

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here

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Donald N Wright
7 months ago

I have been naughty, I planned ahead, made reservations, always staying two nights or more. Cannot use Harvest Hosts. When I arrive in the afternoon, it is always amazing how the campground fills up, and in the morning, a line to get out into local traffic. I usually walk down to their campsites to see what they forgot.

Maria
7 months ago

We live in southern Indiana and hoped to plan a trip for June in celebration of my husband’s retirement. He chose Michigan. I spent the last week working on putting together our reservations. We have a 35 foot fifth wheel. We are fine with just electric, too. Most of the state parks were already full. A few private campgrounds were full as well. Boondockers Welcome sites were not plentiful or sounded like a challenging drive in (one BW host site said you had to back down a gravel driveway for 50 yards!)!
Anyway, after much persistence I was finally able to put together reservations spanning 15 days but we had to delay our trip til July to make it happen. One state park, one BW stay of two nights, and three private campgrounds. We hope to go out next year for months at a time but I sure hope it doesn’t require this amount of time and effort! Hope we get lucky “on the fly” camping next year.

Last edited 7 months ago by Maria
Dennyg73
7 months ago

Okay, I don’t consider traveling across over 30 states and having to look another 20 miles further for a spot, lucky. I found most campgrounds (except Premium, KOA, major venues, etc.) keep at least one site for overnight stays, sometimes with hookups, sometimes not. There are indeed lots of factors coming into play here; route, time of year, size of RV, length of stay, and so on. I don’t typically travel on the freeway either, so that may be a factor. We like back-country America and our Garmin RV890 GPS keeps up out of trouble with low bridges. Adventure … life is too short to stay on the asphalt!

Cecilia
7 months ago

Here’s a tip, although I have not personally used it yet as I just found out about it from a Youtuber. There’s a website that will constantly scan for cancellations and then text you when something becomes available so you don’t have to waste your time refreshing. It’s called Campnab. There’s a sliding fee depending on whether you want one-time only help, monthly or yearly. What makes it really cool is you can reserve with a link provided in the text. I will definitely be trying it out.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
7 months ago
Reply to  Cecilia

Thanks for the tip, Cecilia. I think Campnab is one of our advertisers (I’m checking to confirm, since I don’t have anything to do with the advertisers). But here’s a link to their website: https://campnab.com/r/46cife Have a good afternoon/evening. 😀 –Diane

Michael Galvin, PhD
7 months ago

We have almost never had a problem looking for a place to stay. We are Elks. There are over 2000 lodges nationwide; about 600 have RV facilities and many of the rest will let you dry camp. Always very friendly. They are happy if you join just for the RV benefits. For every person who joins because of this Comment, I get zero dollars.

Dennyg73
7 months ago

Yes, Michael … Elks is almost always accommodating. And, Harvest Host, Passport America and, if very desperate, a KOA; almost never happens.

BWO
7 months ago

It would be helpful to know about folks’ camping style (FHU, tent, etc.) time of year, days of week, etc. when reading these posts about campground crowding. There are many variables that impact availability.

As campers/workcampers who accrue Loyalty Points, we need to use some of the online reservations systems. We have learned quickly that the more filters we check (i.e. more amenities we require), the less chance of finding a site.

First: take out sewer requirement. Boom! Lots of sites open up. Then: have a camper under 30 ft. Boom! More open up. Also: remove any preference for waterfront, Boom! There’s a few more! And so on.

I noticed a post on Facebook entitled “Least Visited National Parks.” Bet the chance of getting a spot there is much higher than at one of the MOST visited.

As someone pointed out, the pickier you are, the harder to find that ideal spot.

Kenny G
7 months ago

Look folks, after reading the article and all the comments it seems everyone can be called right here. It really depends on your assumptions since there are lots of variables at play — location, time of year, day of week, length of stay, type of RV park, nightly rate you are willing to pay. Before concluding campgrounds are crowded, please provide information about the assumptions you make for these variables. This applies to writers for this newsletter too. If you primarily stay at the most sought after category, i.e., “state parks”, you are going to have a more difficult time getting a reservation because most state parks are booked months in advance. Just returned from a week’s stay in Arizona in January. Realizing that January was peak season in Phoenix, I booked the reservations 4 months in advance at a state park on the Colorado River and at private RV park in Phoenix. Given the time of year, I got lucky and was able to reserve the last space in both campgrounds.

Vincee
7 months ago

In regards to the campground owner that dropped Good Sam because folks were looking for huge discounts, my guess would be that was a small percentage of her guests. I believe the great majority of GS clubbers know that the GS discount is 10% before taxes and fees. When I advance book CG’s when planning a trip often I chose a CG that offers a GS discount over one that doesn’t when everything else appears about equal when researching where to stay.

Regardless, you are always going to have that person(s) looking for a better deal. Can’t fault them for politely asking.

Billinois
7 months ago

Everyone wants full hookups for their monster rigs. Buy a smaller RV, learn to live without FHU and finding spots gets a lot easier.

Bud
7 months ago
Reply to  Billinois

Good point! We have a 35′ 5th wheel. We usually look for a full hookup site but now we may change a bit. We don’t “need” 50 amp service, and we don’t “need” sewer. (We have a composting toilet). Our rig runs off of 30 amp just fine. We have never been shut out of a campground bc of over crowding.

Diane Mc
7 months ago
Reply to  Billinois

Class A, 39 ft, towing. Just arrived Daytona Beach from California. 10 days, 9 RV parks. First, other than electric (and thank the Lord, it was in the 30’s every night, even first FL stop & tonight in DB) we only used water/sewer at our 2 night stay to take a rest & dump tanks/add water & check out a new area. We will be boondocking for 10 days when we attend Speedweeks for Daytona 500. We are doing fine in our “monster” rig. I made reservations in July, mainly because of what I was reading here, except for DB which we make every year while at the park. In every park we stayed at, I would not have needed a reservation. There were sites available, at two there were a few, the rest many. BTW, we are some what shocked as our DB RV park has many sites open. Very surprised as this is prime Florida time.

Lisa Adcox
7 months ago

I am in Rio Grand Valley in TX. While park I am in is busier than ever, there are a few spots open. While most stay here for winter there are a few open for very short term.
We have always taken a chance when traveling and made reservations day of travel. always found a place. When just overnight I am not as picky as long as in a safe area.

Karen Grace
7 months ago

In my experience, campground crowding has more to do with location, weekends and time of year. One recent comment mentioned having no problem finding sites in FL BUT they were talking about Dec. A last minute spot in Feb. or March is a different story! As full time RVer’s in our 5th year, we find that success is most likely when considering the combination of the three previously mentioned things. When leaving VT in early October, I don’t worry about reservations but if we are planning to stay in FL during snow-bird months, I know we need advance reservations, as far in advance as possible! So, sure campground crowding is real and reservations are sometimes a must but depending on conditions it can be just as easy to “wing it” especially if you’re comfortable with boondocking. We prefer to stay in state, county, national and COE parks for the more natural surroundings. When these options are full I can book a night in a private park, usually for more $ and hopefully w/ WIFI!

Vincee
7 months ago
Reply to  Karen Grace

We traveled through Florida last February down to Key West. Although we had reservations at some areas like KW and Key Largo, we also opted to wing it in some areas. I can’t say the first place we would call had availability, but we always found a suitable place to stay from one to three days. This includes around Daytona during bike week.

Dennyg73
7 months ago
Reply to  Karen Grace

Totally agree, Karen. Hyping overcrowding is almost as bad as hyping COVID, vaccination necessity and masks! It makes you wonder what is real anymore, don’t it? I say, go with the flow when traveling by RV … way less stress!

timjet
7 months ago

Camping in a 40′ motor home for nearly 5 years my experience is when trying to book a popular site like national parks and some winter campgrounds in FL I have had to book far in advance. Travel parks, those I use to get to my destination are generally not difficult to get a reservation if booking on weekdays. I however always book at least a week in advance as I want enough time to find a suitable spot for my 40 footer if my first choices are not available. I’m not a Walmart camper.
I use state parks a lot and have noticed abundant sites available even when the computer reservation system show that park is full. It doesn’t appear the parks nor the company that supports the reservation system is inclined to do much about the no shows.

Tommy Molnar
7 months ago

Looks like I’m not alone in wondering what all this campground crowding is all about. I especially liked Sue’s story about traveling for six months and never making reservations. For the past year or so we’ve had to make the trip from Reno to Houston every three months. We make it a five day trip. We don’t make reservations. After our initial trip two years ago (when we also didn’t make reservations), we now have five places we always stay on this trip. Nice clean places but none of the fancy-schmancy adornments found at high dollar RV parks. And, there are mega-buck diesel pushers staying in these parks as well. I think we’re among good company.

Bob p
7 months ago

Since y’all are left coasters maybe asking people to report the area they’re in when they report overcrowding. We live in south central TN and only once have we experienced over crowding and that was in Pensacola last October along the beach. I can understand overcrowding in high tourist places, but if you’re willing to drive 20 miles we usually find plenty of room. This past August we stayed a week in the Smokies, that’s a high tourist area, arriving on Thursday and leaving on Wednesday, the campground did fill up on Friday PM and Saturday Am and emptied out Sunday PM but that’s no different than 40 years ago when our children were in school and I was still working. Maybe that is the real story behind overcrowding, if it is then the overcrowding is blown out of proportion. Just a thought.

Cat
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

I agree with everything you just said…after the first five words. Guess you meant “west” coasters…last I looked there were plenty of conservatives there too. Campground crowding has nothing to do with politics! Please stop labeling people.

Gray
7 months ago
Reply to  Cat

Wife & I live on the “left” coast. It’s not a political label! Look at a map of the US sometime. Notice which coast is on the “right” and which is on the “left.” Unless geography is somehow a political indicator (are all “right” coast inhabitants “right-wing?”) then please understand that “left” coast originated as an off-hand map jest. Jeez, people. Lighten up! On a life values scale, political proselytizing ranks just below the need to polish the silverware!

Cat
7 months ago
Reply to  Gray

I stand by my comment above. I believe the original comment was meant to label, otherwise Bob p would have said “west coasters”. Just tired of the snarky comments.

Mike Whelan
7 months ago

Hey, it’s me again and now at the end of our first month. Staying on the gulf in Galveston, Texas. We will be at this park for a month. There is plenty of space. This is a KOA Holliday resort with beach, pool, hot tub and lazy river. The park has not been full since our arrival. Today I would say about 2/3 full. We lost one of our reservations due to storm damage. As I checked around for an alternate I found a lot of places. Some inland some right on the gulf. I am beginning to think the Rockies is the barrier to full parks. Keep travelin’

Leonard Rempel
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Whelan

Nice! I am at the Jamaica Beach RV Resort just down the road from you in Galveston. Reservation made here about six months ago and good thing, it is full!
Enjoy your stay!

Leo Suarez
7 months ago

I’m currently camping at the Fort Wilderness campground in Disney World. Probably the most popular campground in the US and there are empty spaces even here. You people really need to focus on more positive stories and less doom and gloom. Also your “Campground Overcrowding” header is so misleading but I guess it comes with your doom and gloom obsession.

Tom H
7 months ago

Calling is key as some pointed out in the article. It is frustrating though to look for a State Park reservation 6-7 months out and find none. My plan is to check SPs but have an alternate in my pocket. State Parks, National Parks will continue to be the preferred destination for most of the new RVers hitting the road, IMHO.

Don
7 months ago

I’m guessing you guys must have some vested interest in beating the “full campgrounds” drum. And I’m not surprised by that. But it’s unfortunate that when you get a report of “everything is full, I can’t find a space” you say “we told you so”, and when you get another saying there really isn’t much of a problem, your answer is “you’re just lucky”. Think about that… 🙁

steve
7 months ago
Reply to  Don

I was thinking the same thing…

FloydR
7 months ago
Reply to  Don

I haven’t given it a lot of thought, but don’t see much potential for a “vested interest” here. Who’s going to pay the newsletter to state there’s no space available? Who would benefit from people staying home? We don’t need more conspiracy theories…

Jeff Evans
7 months ago

We made a trip from South Texas to the Pacific Northwest this past summer. Only had one or two advance reservations. Everything else was booked a day or two before our arrival. We only had one area where we could not find a campground (Astoria, Oregon area). It was a weekend. We just moved further south along the coast. We even had a health emergency that required us to extend our stay in one coastal RV park that was “full,” and they were able to accommodate us. It was a good trip.

Bill T
7 months ago

I believe for most, like my wife and I, there are a lot of great places and things to see both here in Canada and with our south of the border friends. Many are “popular” tourist places that we have never seen but in our retirement would love to visit. For us this requires planning as we have a 35 foot class c towing a jeep wrangler (4 down) and drive about 4-6 hours a day and need a place to land after the drive. Cudos to those who hunt for a spot at the end of their driving day and find someplace, but settling into a Walmart of some other “shady” parking lot for the night doesn’t fit the description of “enjoying the journey not just the destination” mind set. Just finished planning a 8500 mile trip across Canada and the upper US and know I will be able to enjoy the trip without worry (barring any unforeseen problems) of a place to land or take on fuel every travel day. Safe travels everyone.

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