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Campground Crowding: ‘Crowding? More like campsite hoarding!’

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.”

Campsite hoarding

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.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column: Hospitals should add sites to their parking lots

##RVT1054b

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Donald N Wright
2 months ago

Just because you purchased an oversized rig does not mean you are guaranteed to get the biggest pull through site. I have been the popup on the pull through, I have conversed with tent campers on pull throughs, the sites they reserved were unavailable or closed. No, you may not park your “toad” on my site because I have empty space.

LMH
2 months ago

Just last October, I used Recreation.gov and ReserveAmerica.gov to reserve sites. One I reserved back in the Spring because it was a high demand campground and I had a specific time frame that I would be in the area. The other one was an “on the fly” reservation. I reserved a few hours out for arriving after hours while traveling. The county park I stayed at was the most expensive since I had to pay for two nights even though I only stayed for one (and while it was once a favourite park, I will not be back again because of it requiring a two day minium stay in the middle of the week). The other places, I did not make reservations. But then I also stayed in a lot of Sam’s Club or Cracker Barrel parking lots plus over a week in my Mom’s yard. I stay where it is convenient. I also stay in places that don’t tend to be “popular” for whatever reason. I’ve found some nice places doing that.

robert davis
2 months ago

I just got back from unnamed campgrounds in California that were completely booked. A good third of the sites were never occupied. I just look for a site that is unoccupied, reserved for several days, not used for the first day already and pull in. The way I see it, reserve California already got paid. No loss to them. I talked to the campground host and he said I don’t ask.

Melody Garcia
2 months ago

I just wanted to say about that statement that was made about tent campers shouldn’t take up the RV spots. I am a tent camper and I must have the RV spots because I am older and have to have electric which isn’t offered in the tent areas. I cannot sleep on the ground and must have electric to blow up my air mattress. I PAY FULL PRICE SAME AS THE RV camper.

Sara
2 months ago

I had no idea that people weren’t penalized at state parks for no shows. How stupid can our government be??

Lin Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  Sara

In my experience, I am always required to pay ahead of time in full for my space. It’s held for me in case I roll in late. Unless I cancel a week or two ahead of the date, I get no refund. This has been my experience in the state and national parks in recent years. Some states may not follow this but many do.

Summer
2 months ago
Reply to  Sara

There is no refund for no shows as Lin said.

Byron
2 months ago
Reply to  Sara

They love it if you don’t show. Less work and hassle.

Parking Needed
2 months ago

Will Warren Buffet, Bezos, Oprah or Mr. Wonderful please see the opportunity and develop new adventure seekers playgrounds. Or a campground or two would help.

Backcountry164
2 months ago

RV’s are why I gave up on campgrounds. I only use them now in the off-season when the fair-weather campers have all returned to their permanent homes. The worst people in the campgrounds are always RV campers. Loud kids, loud dogs and they leave a bunch of lights on all night long. The sad thing is now the RV’s are moving out of the parks bringing thier noise and pollution into the boondocks.

Frankly I don’t even see the point in an RV unless you’re retired and/or travel full time. If you want to get out into nature then do that. If you can’t live without all of your noise and light and garbage for a few days then just stay in your backyard. Seriously, if a natural environment is such an inconvenience why bother inserting yourself into one??

Eric Distad
2 months ago
Reply to  Backcountry164

Elitist much? We spend months at a time in our camper and during that time frequently also venture into the Backcountry with tents for climbing or pack running. Certainly see and appreciate the use of tents but also love the flexibility and comfort an RV provides.

And while certainly there is big part of RV culture that results in clueless users with generators, etc I just as often see tent campers with fires when they are restricted, leaving sh*t and toilet paper at sites, and thinking leaving their trash in the fire pit for the next people constitutes cleaning up. I’d rather deal with some kids being loud having fun then coming to a site with used toilet people “hidden” under a rock any day.

Mickey
2 months ago
Reply to  Eric Distad

And that is where we differentiate.

I personally would rather deal with a bit of trash/crap (paper, cardboard, etc…) in a burn pit from the previous user which would burn up quickly.
Rather than dealing with an obnoxius RV user.

Here I am resting, using the burn pit, sleeping in my tent, enjoying nature. At 0200 at night the generator comes on in the neighboring RV thudding, whining and rumbling the rest of the night and day just because RV users are “too cold, or too hot”… Lights on all night, speakers blaring during the day, kids screaming all day and late into the night, chairs, toys and all sorts of crap spewn about the campsite.
I’ve never seen so much crap come out of an RV… Completely oblivious to others around them.

Dingle
2 months ago
Reply to  Eric Distad

Used Toilet People? Hiding under a rock? Creepy….

Bart Woodcock
1 month ago
Reply to  Dingle

😄

Sandra
2 months ago
Reply to  Backcountry164

Some of us have an RV because we no longer have the physical capabilities to camp in a tent & still enjoy camping. We have a larger RV due to needing room to accommodate my decrease in mobility & our large dogs. We control our dogs & their barking, don’t leave the lights on all night & the kids are grown.

Sharon
2 months ago
Reply to  Sandra

Ditto

Micky
2 months ago

I find it interesting that someone who had an RV with full amenities of a home/apartment is complaining about a tent camping next to a 50amp hookup.
Or someone who has all the time in the world complaining about no place to park their massive RV… ever hear of a rest area? They are literally everywhere.
The little family guy works 40-60hr a week. Gets out 1-2 times a year to camp in a tent.
Now here comes the retired couple in their massive house on wheels, all the time in the world… complaining.
Entitled much?

There is a reason we have RV parks. Pull-in, use their hookups, fill-up and emptying and move on.
Use solar panels. No camping spots, no problem, use undeveloped locations.
As grandma said, world does not revolve around you.

Sara
2 months ago
Reply to  Micky

Well said. And don’t the retired people also have the added benefit of being able to travel south and camp during the off season too?

Hopscotch Willie
2 months ago

Campground should be separate from RV sites. We in Florida are limited to camping in the hottest months because of the massive invasion of RV people taking every single campsite for months at a time. I’ve written a few complaints to the state and zero cares or response.
It’s sad.

Micky
2 months ago

If it’s all paid up, why would they?

Donna
2 months ago
Reply to  Micky

Maybe out of consideration for others? I understand being upset about losing your money, but as a host in state parks, I hate turning people away while looking at sites sitting empty for days. As a full time traveler, I also wish the system was better since we have experienced both sides of this coin. Kindness matters…

Roger h
2 months ago

We find recreation.gov a whole lot faster than the new Illinois website exploemoreil.gov. It’s like watching paint dry

Lorelei
2 months ago

I do not go on weekends. I was just at a recreation.gov campground. I got a space, but as I walked around, I saw a sign that you had to occupy your site the first night with no exceptions. Then as I looked at reserved spaces, they were, for example, reserved May 23-27. On the 24th and 25th, the spaces were empty, but still reserved. So, their sign was a joke. Hard to say what they’re doing, but there still seems to be a problem. Some said you could stay for one night or two before people with reservations got there, and that’s why I found a space, but the no-shows were numerous.

I like to pull into a campground at 7 a.m. so I have the whole day. So I don’t want to arrive the night before with no time to do anything.

MrDisaster
2 months ago

Recreation.Gov is managed by the Dept of Interior. If you have specific issues, please document them and provide feedback to the program manager. Maybe when they hear from the users (or potential users) they can work on fixes for those issues.

Backcountry164
2 months ago
Reply to  MrDisaster

Unfortunately, that’s not how our government works…

Sara
2 months ago
Reply to  Backcountry164

Entire point- if you want something done right – don’t leave it up to the government.

pursuits712
2 months ago

No system is perfect. The state park we frequent changed over from half drive-in, to all reservables last year. Why?

One reason: workcampers can’t clean sites that are never vacated. The 100% all-reservable change was an attempt to maintain some order and provide better service.

Another reason: Drive-in spaces resulted in campers coming in at 8AM (or earlier) to find a good space! How would you like folks sitting beside your campsite waiting for you to pull out while you are cooking breakfast? (And no one is at the gate until 9).

And then, people were more likely to drive in late at night, grab a vacant non-reservable site, leave early and not pay — confident that no “owner” would show up and out them.

Bottom line is that as long as there are folks who think they are special, who make it their life’s work to out-smart the system, or are just plain selfish, then honest campers will be impacted.

Basic flaw in humanity…don’t blame it all on the system!

Thomas D
2 months ago

My wife and I are retired and usually tried to camp during the week. We’ve found our favorites are all reserved usually for a full week. Go there and see the reserved signs on the post weathered and no one on the site. Sites are so scarce that people reserve and pay for the whole week or more. I’d like to use it and I’ll be gone Friday morning, but no, the rangers won’t allow it and know full well no one is going to use it Monday thru Friday. Just about ready to call it a day. Forever!

Jesse
2 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

Experienced similar. We would camp mid-week to avoid crowds. Gave up. Sold the RV.

Sharon
2 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

Yes the empty sites that say reserved and next day empty need to be opened up.We are retired and have a 5th wheel. We usually can find a place Sun-Wed. What makes some areas less inviting are full time spots with clutter all over. All due to high cost of housing for sure.

Johnny
2 months ago

A lawsuit needs to be done. That’s how this is going to change.

Backcountry164
2 months ago
Reply to  Johnny

Please elaborate. Who are you suing and why?? Or have you even thought it through that far??

Marty
2 months ago

AZ state parks have a pay up front policy and a fair cancelation policy if canceling 2 weeks before. They also have real people who will call you back to help you if needed.

Teresa
2 months ago
Reply to  Marty

This sounds like a great solution! Why can’t they all do this?

Jim B
2 months ago

If you think Recreation.gov is a joke and not user friendly, try Reserve California! It is the most user UNFRIENDLY site I’ve ever run across.

Stephanie
2 months ago

RE: “It’s not just the boom in RV sales, it’s the boom in camping.”Before I had an RV, I have paid extra for a 50amp site so that I can put up my 10×16 tent on the grass and a canopy over the picnic table in a site that I desired for the location and view as well as having water and 110v on site. The state park website did not say that the site is RV only so for the reader’s comment to suggest that tent campers should only use tent sites is suggesting that only RVs are entitled to these 30/50 amp spots and tent campers are not. If I plan 3-6 months in advance in order to get the location and view I desire and I am willing to pay the extra money for the site, then by golly I am to book the site for my tent and canopy. Unless the website states the site is RV only, then it is available to anyone who can book and pay for it.

anne collins
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Exactly what I was thinking.

Jerry
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Yep

Suru
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

I’ve seen tents or tiny tear drop trailers in giant 90 ft long pull-through sites. Do I wish I could get that site? Of course! But if someone has reserved it or got there first, then that’s the way it goes. No need to get mad about it.

JudyThackston
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

I agree with you, I have a travel trailer now but for many years we camped in a tent, we stayed on sites that had power and water, just because you are in a tent does NOT MEAN YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE POWER AND WATER, you pay the same price as someone in a travel trailer or a Motor home,

John Sherman
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

I have an RV and I fully agree with you. The “no shows” are the problem camperS as far as I’m concerned.

Melody Garcia
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Exactly

Lin Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

Yup! Especially since so many campgrounds are converting tent sites to RV sites. We literally have no options most of the time.

Matthew
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephanie

As a tent camper I HATE IT when I have to camp next to RV’s. The AC running all night is noisy and obnoxious. But the same problems of campsites being reserved by no-shows afflict tent sites too and sometimes there are no choices.

Ron
2 months ago

Sounds like people need some cheese with thier whine.

Joe Goomba
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Don’t you think that’s a jerk response? Also “their”.

Joe
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Goomba

I before E except after EIEIO ?

Backcountry164
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Goomba

I agree with Ron. Some of the complaints posted in the article are ridiculous.

Bob p
2 months ago

I was looking for campgrounds near an upcoming trip for a family reunion. I found the campground in the area where we stayed several years ago when there was a death in the family, their website said No Online reservations accepted! Great news. I have to do it the old fashioned way, call and talk to a live person, wow what an unusual experience that will be. That’s what we’ve been doing the last 3 years and believe it or not it usually works.

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