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Campground Crowding: Is this the “strictest cancellation policy ever”?

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.

“It’s all good!”

This week I wanted to mix it up a bit. We talk a lot about what is bad or difficult about RVing and particularly crowded campgrounds, so this week I wanted to publish a few “It’s all good” comments.

I’ll start…

By the time this column hits the newsstands, er, rather, the internet, we will be on our way toward Red Bay, Alabama, home of all things Tiffin. Red Bay is a small town that revolves around Tiffin Motorhomes. We have a couple of major things to have fixed on our RV. At this point, all of the items needing attention are owner errors. We have been assured by numerous Tiffin staff that everything runs the same at Tiffin as before it was sold to Thor. More on that later.

But, back to the “it’s all good” part. I started reservations late. And we have reservations for every night along the way. We are even staying at a Harvest Hosts location for the first time and they are allowing us to spend two nights including tonight, Easter Sunday.

We are able to travel with the beyond-high gas prices by conserving here and there. Fewer resorts and more boondocking. We are starting out on our adventures again, meandering toward family and cooler weather. We will undoubtedly have some so-so days, some great days, and the occasional bad one. But we will be camping, traveling, meeting new friends and sharing a campfire or two. Perhaps I should stock up on some graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows…

No issues getting sites

Kenneth P. did not have issues getting a site while snowbirding. Kenneth says, “Our experience is really just traveling when snowbirding from Wisconsin to Texas throughout October to May. We really have had no trouble getting sites. As I type this there are a few caveats. We reserve Texas nine months in advance. Tropic Winds RV Park, Harlingen, TX, has an early bird booking in February for the following winter. We reserve at our friends’ Grand Ole RV Resort and Marketplace in Goodlettsville, TN, about a year in advance for about seven weeks total traveling both south and north. We then need approximately six additional stops total, to complete our journey.”

Is it luck?

Del W. chimes in with, “I don’t know if it’s luck or what, but we have never not been able to secure a spot to camp in our travels. When possible, we call the campground directly instead of using the reservation systems, which seems to work for us. Most places we stay at have available spots based on the after-hours site boards we have seen.”

No trouble making reservations

Sal S. hasn’t had any issues either. “Had no problems with making reservations. I plan my snowbird trips on rvtripwizard.com. So far I haven’t been delayed or advanced on these annual trips. I believe that if all the campgrounds would demand a deposit on the site on reservations, campers would make their plans and stick to them. Those deposits would be returned if canceled in a reasonable time period with maybe a service charge as a deterrent to not cancel. We love the RV lifestyle and have for 16 years.”

“Shed camping”

Kurt S. mentions “shed” campers in his comments. “I have noticed that many of the campgrounds are now catering more to the ‘Shed Campers.’ Campgrounds are taking campsites away from transients by placing little cabins on the sites and catering to those who wish to experience camping but don’t want to invest in the equipment. I can understand that, but don’t take away my chance to camp.”

Wagonmasters losing clout

Dennis C. is on a continual search for sites. “Campground bookings are generally up with long-term stays making things more complicated. Wagonmasters of camping groups are having a hard time and definitely don’t have the reservation clout they once had. Many parks are demanding individual reservations from group members and will not accept group reservations at all. Our group is on a continual search for places to stay that will accommodate and/or respect our group status. Those that do are surely rewarded with our group reservation, self-parking by our wagon master, group fee collection, and general self-policing and clean-up. The corporate spots just don’t get it, nor care, so we find ourselves supporting mom-and-pop operations more and more, and that we don’t mind at all.”

Re-tread campers, not tires!

Reader Steve G. compares prices of prior camping to costs now. Steve writes, “We’re new RVers or old re-treads, having restarted in 2021. Prior camping was 20+ yrs ago. With people paying $5 for a cup of coffee and $15+ for a cocktail, I doubt a $60-80 loss of deposit will have any effect.

Changing sites

Chris L. will move sites to stay in the same park: “I have finally given in to moving/changing sites within the same stop/park (usually state parks) to get a stay in an area. But, we have decided that four, maybe five, days is about our max at one location. Trip planning starts on the first of the new year or earlier. KOA and Harvest Hosts work well for overnights.”

Strictest cancellation policy ever!

Wand H. has a suggestion that this cancellation policy be used more broadly to cut down on last-minute cancellations. They say, “I have a suggestion about cancellation policies. At McChord AFB in Washington, they have the strictest cancellation policy I have encountered in my eight years of travel (at mostly military campgrounds). This would be a good policy for all. Full payment is required when the reservation is made. Cancellations or changes must be made 30 days prior to the day of check-in to receive a full refund. From the 30-day mark up until 7 days prior to check-in, a 75 percent refund will be granted. Cancellations made within 7 days prior to the day of check-in will receive a 50 percent refund. That is certainly incentive to not book multiple campsites and to be on top of canceling if you have a change of plans.”

Now, some questions for you:

• Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or is finding a place to stay not a problem?

• 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: The park told them to overbook!

##RVT1048b

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Donald N Wright
2 months ago

What? You want me to make reservations for December in Texas, full payment due now ?

John Carroll
2 months ago

We have spent the last three Decembers and half of January (six weeks each visit) in Phoenix, visiting our daughter. We have been blessed to learn our first grandchild is due this December. But every RV park we’ve contacted this week (April 2022) in the Phoenix area now requires a minimum of a three-month stay.

Virginia
2 months ago

There is something I have been wondering about reservations and the system.

We like to enjoy the ride, and so spend a maximum of 4 hours a day getting to a location. If it takes us a week to get there, we want to spend at least a week or more enjoying the area. That has become next to impossible to do without moving between sites or campgrounds…and sometimes we cancel the trip because we cannot get weekend sites — even though we want to spend a couple of weeks.

Is there no incentive for campgrounds to encourage week-long reservations vs. weekend-only? It seems there would be more money for the campground owners to rent a site for a week or longer.

It seems campgrounds could offer some week-long sites up to a few weeks prior to the date and then open it up for weekend visitors if not filled. Doesn’t 10 days x $100 a day sound better than 2-3 days at same rate? I recall a time when you actually got a reduced rate for staying longer.

How do you full timers do it?

pursuits
2 months ago

Just finished paying a few hundred $$ in cancellation fees for an unexpected cancellation of a trip to TX. Some parks wanted all $$ up front, some just needed one night’s deposit. Most had a cancellation fee “ladder” based on # days notice given. I noticed a few other things that didn’t sit well.

* The cancelation fee is the same for a two-month reservation as for a 2-day one. No wonder folks reserve more than they need and then just cancel when they make up their mind. There is no incentive to do otherwise.

*Cancellation fees often are applied to ANY change made: date, site, etc.

If I camp a lot and plan 2 years ahead, that is a LOT of my money tied up. Since campgrounds penalize me for cancelling (and they should), they should also pay me interest for keeping my money for 2 years. Since I cannot assure they will even be in business, they at least need to put that $$ in escrow to protect customer interests.

Al Scudder
2 months ago
Reply to  pursuits

That ain’t gonna happen. 2 years out I could be dead. I am booked in Florida for the 2022/23 season. I’m a repeat customer I’m paying $6400 for the season and pay by the month when I arrive all done with a $1,000 deposit. I also have my trip south bound all done and pay for the first night only when we leave. I’m careful where I stay if I don’t like the term I pick another cg

Thomas D
2 months ago

In my 40+ years of camping with all kinds of rv’s, I’ve only maybe twice made reservations. We drive mainly off superslabs and don’t really know where we are going. Just the destination. Learned a long time ago if registration is made, keep it or lose money. Drove well past 2am to get somewhere we paid fully for. Not a pleasant trip. Now, im fully equipped to spend time in a parking lot or walmart. If we decide it’s time to get off the road for today,we’ll look for a campground. If busy or full we move on. No big deal. I guess I should say,camping is a thing of the past. Today it’s an overnight stop in my own house/ bed. One of the best,overlooked camping/ staying are country fairgrounds. Cheap and hookups.

Al Scudder
2 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

I did this years ago. Going to Outer Banks from Akron. I just could make it and called every cg in the area. No call backs so I called the closest to the FJ and told them I’d take the site. When I arrived and got out of the coach the only thing I could think of was banjoes playing that song . NEVER AGAIN NEVER. it looked even worse pulling out at 7 am

wanderer
2 months ago

Oh my gosh, of course you folks have no issue booking on your snowbird trip twice a year! Planned ahead, same or similar route yearly, done in shoulder season. This has nothing to do with people trying to camp near their metro, or exploring the country, especially in summer months.

Bob Palin
2 months ago

New Mexico State Park cancellations are very similar to the AFB mentioned in the article, I had to pay to cancel a reservation last year (I have an annual pass which reduced my daily rate below the $5/day penalty).

John
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob Palin

And yet Fam Camp at Kirtland AFB does not even take reservations. You would think this would be standardized at all AFBs.

Don
2 months ago

We just returned home from a 6+ months trip that began in Sept. We traveled from Puget Sound to North Carolina, then South to Orlanda, back North to South Carolina and eventually wandered East thru stopping in MS, Texas, NM and AZ before going North thru NV, Northern Cal and OR to home. We plan in advance, but almost never had a problem getting a spot. And as I’ve mentioned in other comments, we also passed dozens of RV dealerships, and saw only one or two lots that weren’t virtually full of new RVs.
Do you have to do some planning? Yes. Is it so hard as to make RV travel a bad thing? NO, it’s not. And OBTW: is the RV sales curve starting to invert, and are manufacturers failing to adjust for that? Sure look like it to me…
If you’re thinking of selling your RV, you’d best do it PDQ. If you want to buy one, you’re about to find some real bargains out there…

Bob
2 months ago

Sun Resorts has about the worst cancellation policy. Your deposit is billed for the entire stay upfront. Cancellation must be made 7 days prior to your arrival or you lose the entire deposit.
Plus, if you try to call them for any reason, you are put on hold for long periods, then get put into voicemail. I left three messages and never received a callback.
When I finally did get through, I asked what would happen if I needed to contact the campground directly in case of a late arrival. I was told to call the 800 number. What good does that do if no one answers the call?

Al Scudder
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob

I have the same problem with Sun.

Spike
2 months ago

Olmsted County, Minnesota has two nice campgrounds. Pay in full on booking…NO refunds or rescheduling. Use it or lose it.

I like the policy. Keeps the cheaters from booking up sites in advance for the summer and then choosing whether to come or not on short notice.

Glenn A
2 months ago

Mississippi state parks have a unique cancellation policy. You don’t receive a refund, you get credit for future stays that must be used within 1 year of the original reservation. We still have a few days on the books.

Greg S
2 months ago

From a park in South Carolina:
Daily/Weekly reservations require 100% deposit. No refunds! Cancelations 7 days prior to arrival date will allow you to re-schedule your stay, but dates must be chosen within 30 days, otherwise, the entire deposit will be forfeit. No Refunds!
It’s a nice park, former KOA, off I-95, with mostly long-term and only 5 overnight spaces.
It’s also on my do not stay list now.

Greg R
2 months ago
Reply to  Greg S

Wow. That’s crazy.

I’m guessing that they are focused on their long term rentals and find the management of five spaces to not be worth the hassle.

Or maybe they discovered they could really maximize their revenue with this policy.

Engineer
2 months ago
Reply to  Greg R

Nothing wrong with their policy. Just don’t stay unless you are 100% certain

wanderer
2 months ago
Reply to  Engineer

Apparently you’ve never had to change your plans due to death in the family or major illness. Hope that continues for you.

Meanwhile the rest of us need to avoid parks that are this inflexible.

Clayobx
2 months ago
Reply to  wanderer

Exactly! I had a steer tire explode on I-26 west to eastern TN with a week reserved.. Private campground, called and explained my problem. They said no worries and asked “do you want to hold your site for late arrival? We of course had no idea of service time or tire availability. There were NO 295’s in our load range available in nearby towns or states for 3/4 days! We asked to cancel and were refunded our entire deposit. It is rare these days to be treated fairly. PS. We booked for the following leaf season, same destination, same price. Todays “resorts” owned by corporate investor’s will not even consider this simple customer service. So sad, maybe selling our beautiful bus. 😐

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