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.
Why penalize canceling?
Marion C. agrees with a comment last week. “I agree with Shimmy K., who said, ‘Recreation.gov needs to get savvier, track multiple bookings, and implement real financial consequences for canceling/no shows’ EXCEPT for the canceling part. You should be able to cancel with zero cost because canceling due to changes in schedule gets costly, sometimes equaling site costs if you get the 50% discount as a pass holder. I say this because the automated system should be able to put the canceled site back into inventory within 5 minutes, so why penalize canceling? Even someone who comes in that day can use it.
“I also agree with John B. that more sites need to be left open for first-come, first-served. Recreation.gov has become a bureaucratic entity that serves its own interests more than the public. I have butted heads with recreation.gov multiple times this spring, all to no avail. Sadly, many more government-affiliated campgrounds are going to the online reservation system and fewer sites are available at the last minute.”
Resourceful and adventurous
Dawn S. used a strategy that got them overnight sites that made their trip memorable. She writes, “We stop to spend the night at interstate rest stops, Tractor Supply stores, Cracker Barrel, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and truck stops. We always ask management for permission.
“My fiance is retired USAF, so we frequent military bases’ RV campgrounds. Many don’t take reservations, it’s first-come, first-served. They almost always have an overflow parking lot if the campground is full.
“We keep envelopes, address labels, and cash to pay on the honor system for after office hours arrival. The pull-off/picnic areas along U.S. highways that were popular from the ’40s on are usually safe for an overnight restorative sleep.
“We just returned from a cross-country trip and also found town and city municipality RV campgrounds, usually alongside local parks and recreation areas. We even spent the night in the westbound lane of a U.S. highway that closed for nighttime blasting and roadwork in Colorado. Due to so many campgrounds being fully booked, we had to be really resourceful and adventurous. It made our trip more fun and memorable.”
Smash-and-grab campsites—Is this the new normal?
Kevin C. started RVing in January and didn’t have issues until he started dealing with Recreation.gov. “I started roaming for reservations this year back in January. Some private campgrounds, however, are old school and did not open reservations until April and did it by phone only. After 3.5 hours of calling and calling and calling, I got our spots. The other stops along the way of our trip I was able to accomplish via the internet and found it fairly easy to obtain reservations.
“However, then there is recreation.gov. Holy moly, what a joke! The site is not user-friendly, it’s extremely slow and, of course, the gamesmanship people play is on full display. I was able to obtain spots; however, nowhere near where we really wanted to be. It was the typical people obtaining several spots, get what they need, get their buddy online, canceling what they don’t need and the buddy jumps on, click, click boom, they then swoop in and grab them. I was told by others camping this year, when I complained via a conversation, a detailed smash-and-grab of campsites is a game they play. Rec.gov has always been a joke, but now it’s just overall horrible. Good luck, happy camping and safe travels!”
No-show rich folks in their big rigs don’t give a *&%@!
Silas L. has a word or two about the big rig, no-show rich folks. “We have been camping for about 49 years now, everything from tents to travel trailers, and the last couple of pandemic years have been crazy. There needs to be some serious steps implemented to greatly reduce or end this no-show BS that leaves multiple vacancies in ‘sold out’ campgrounds. These people who pull this all the time are generally the ‘rich folks’ with big rigs and they really don’t give a &%!@ over losing the $10 deposit fee when they don’t show up. The penalties need to be more like 50% or more of the so-called planned reservation time (4 days or whatever). If they don’t call by closing time on the day they’re supposed to be there, then they get hit that way and the site is up for grabs in the morning. Crowded sites are now the ‘norm’ and will be that way until a high percentage of the newbies get burned out and sell off their badly-built factory-rushed units.”
“It’s not just the boom in RV sales, it’s the boom in camping.”
Jadon H. has a pet peeve that “chaps [his] hide.” He says, “The problem my wife and I have encountered is sites at state parks being reserved out as far as 4 to 6 months. We can’t just plan a weekend getaway or even by the month. What chaps my hide is to see a small tent put up on a nice concrete pad with a 50-amp hookup next to it. I’m all for camping but please let the RVs use these premium spots. It’s not just the boom in RV sales, it’s the boom in camping.”
Susan C. has put a new name on campground crowding: campground hoarding. “Campground crowding? More like campsite hoarding. This summer we planned to camp one long weekend per month in our home state, Indiana. Online the parks often appear to be full on the weekends, though this has not been the case once we arrive at the campground. Last summer we were able to get two sites on late notice at an Illinois SP, but despite the reservation site showing a nearly booked campground, about 30% of the sites were vacant. Not all campers have the flexibility to go mid-week, so it’s disappointing to lose out to a no-show. The best solution is for RVers: 1) stop overbooking, and 2) be responsible and cancel any unneeded reservations in advance to free them up for someone else.”
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.
Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column: Hospitals should add sites to their parking lots