Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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Campground Crowding: Would you pay more to have access to canceled sites?

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.

Never going back to booking madness

Michael has invested heavily in solar, batteries, and an inverter. It is paying off. He writes, “After issues finding camping spots for the weekend due to my job, I installed solar panels (and not just a couple). I put in 1,800 watts of solar and invested in AGM batteries, 700 amp-hours worth, and a 3,500-watt pure sine inverter. I did the installation myself for under $2,500. Been camping at Natural Resource Districts and similar golden areas basically all to myself, lakeside, free of noises. As I type this on Memorial Day weekend, there is only one tent camper at this magnificent recreation area due to ZERO electric, water, or wifi. I have it all at an average of $30 per day camping fees. Paid for my system the first year and will never attempt to go back to the booking madness. I’ve covered eight states and never spent more than $10 for an entry fee instead of annual park permit. Having zero amenities pays off.”

“I surrender”

We’re sad to hear that Stephanie E. has given up due to crowding. “It has been so difficult to find places to camp that I am giving up and selling my Class C RV. We cannot book out 4 to 6 months. Plus, the huge amount of time I spent last summer trying to find campsites on a long-dreamed trip to Yellowstone, the Tetons, and Mount Rushmore… I surrender. It has become too stressful. The only other option is to camp in the backyard—that was not the plan.”

Beginning to reconsider going camping

Laura G. has had a tough time making reservations, particularly at State Parks. She says, “Have not been able to get a State Park reservation since 2019. I’ll drive through my local State Park that claims to be booked for the weekend and the campground is half-empty. I’ve been camping all my life and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s selfish greed to do this and not care about other campers or the loss of income for the State Parks. We’ve had an extremely difficult time booking reservations and finding a place to camp. Beginning to reconsider going camping, which is something I thought I’d never say.”

No spots with ReserveAmerica

Walter M. tells us about his favorite spot which is no longer available. “We only use campground reservations about four times per year and have found that all of our favorite spots have started using ReserveAmerica and there are no spots available. One spot we have been reserving for over twenty years is using the system and we can no longer book it!”

Try Campgroundviews

Nick S. likes using Campgroundviews. “I’ve been camping for 30 years/RVing for 15. There is no other way to travel the country with family and friends. I have many stories, good and bad, because of time spent in our RV. If you plan ahead, usually always you can find a site or a nice place to stay. I’ve been using campgroundviews.com for a couple of years now and it is great. I’ve booked my 6-week trip this summer using exclusively that site and I’m confident I got the best spots at each park.”

Okay with price increase, if…

Julie L. has a suggestion about adding more employees, increasing fees, and releasing canceled sites. She says, “I can’t deny that it is disappointing to not be able to just spontaneously get in the RV and go camping for the weekend. Those days are gone, at least for now. I used to think, if only people knew how great it is to camp…. Well, they know now! But we just convert those ideas into longer-range plans and open the area to consider going. It works most of the time. Sometimes we get lucky and find cancellations closer to home.

“I don’t think there is a perfect way to have a reservation system. I do think if these parks were manned with full-time employees, the empty sites could be managed better. That may be the best solution but it would reflect in higher costs, so there is always the downside. I think most of us would be OK with a $1-$2 increase to enable short-term cancellations to be released for use.”

Finding wide site for wheelchair lift is daunting

Tony S. needs room for a wheelchair lift. He explains, “Yes, it’s much harder to get campsites now than it was just a few years ago. We have a Class A with a wheelchair lift and finding an accessible site wide enough for the wheelchair lift can be daunting. It’s very frustrating when somebody who has a minor medical condition uses their accessible parking placard or license plate to justify getting the wider accessible sites. For me having a 16’ to 20’ wide site is not a convenience, it’s a necessity.

“Additionally, the $16 cancellation fee for Recreation.gov is outrageous. We had a one-night stay booked in Red Bluff, CA, but our RV repairs delayed our trip, so I went online to cancel so someone else might be able get our spot. I received $9 of my $25 fee back, which wasn’t really even worth the time. I don’t remember what it cost to book the site two months ago, but probably $8 or so. Yes, I get there are administrative costs to handling cancellations along with credit card fees (although I think the credit card refunds the merchant upon cancellation), but $16 is crazy.”

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 here: ‘Crowding? More like campsite hoarding!”

##RVT1055b

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rollin mckim
29 days ago

Seems the campgrounds would be content to sell the space a second time, often doubling their take, without trying to add a surcharge from someone grabbing a cancellation.

If the campground is not “double dipping” perhaps it should collect better deposits.

But don’t double dip on the same customer!

tom
29 days ago

Dislike using ReserveAmerica for anything. Their fee charge on top of the camping charge is a rip off. If the taxpayers are keeping RA in operation, they are not getting their monies worth.
Would love to know who is getting the $$$$$.

rollin mckim
29 days ago
Reply to  tom

Ask Hunter!

Dennis Johnson
29 days ago

I would not pay more for other people’s selfishness! Campgrounds need to tighten their rules to punish those that reserve and do not show and do not call to explain their lateness! Why should it cost other campers more? Bad idea!

Bill Richardson
29 days ago

How about a “guaranteed late arrival refundable deposit” to keep a site open all night the first night unless you call and cancel. All sites with no late arrival deposit or if the camper hasn’t called to say they are running late but will be there….those sites get released for whomever calls or shows up. There have been several times I’ve called a hotel just after 6:00 and gotten a room released from a “no show “. Even if a campground keeps the site fee due to late cancelation, the “guarantee ” deposit should be refunded if the campground is notified. Just a thought.

Bob M
29 days ago

Wonder what campgrounds Tony S. goes to. so far every state park I’ve been to in Pa seems like the non handicap campsites are wide enough for a Class A RV with wheelchair lift. We don’t know what handicap people using the handicap campsites have. So we shouldn’t complain. Yes I know how it’s for people in a wheelchair. My mother was in a wheelchair. Seemed like ever time I took her somewhere it would pour. But I miss her now that she moved up to heaven.

George M
29 days ago

In response to the headline question (Would you pay more to have access to canceled sites?) — that is a truly terrible idea.

This would incentivize campground owners to hold back sites, then offer them late for a premium. This will make it even more difficult for those who plan ahead to get a space in addition to further raising cost.

LeslieP
29 days ago

We are dry camping currently for the next 3 weeks in the PNW. It’s been difficult to get reservations in state parks in non-hookup sites this year. It’s surprising how many are young tent campers, which I remember many years ago loving doing that! There are always reserved spots that remain empty but mostly I’m finding the campgrounds really are full. At least in this part of the country, regardless of the pouring rain. I remember those days in a tent too, without a lot of fondness!

wanderer
29 days ago

That cancellation fee attributed to recreation.gov doesn’t sound like them, are we sure it wasn’t Reserve America?

I got a pleasant surprise this week when I had to leave a COE (recreation.gov) site a day early. Turned in the pass as I drove out, and got a refund credited to me, unasked for. And apparently that also marked that site ‘checked out’ so it could be released to another camper. Not sure if this was just in this one district, but, another good idea; to be sure to turn the pass in if you have to leave early.

Tim
29 days ago

Until a concerted effort is made by the RV community to force state parks to get more involved with the reservation process I don’t believe reserved but empty campsites situation will get any better. Perhaps that effort can start with this publication.

The Lazy Q
29 days ago

My trip planning for my Michigan trip started back in December. I made 5 reservations across country to get there. Our original leave date changed so canceled and lost $25 per site. After another month, made reservations along another route to get there, oops plans changed again yep another $125 gone. As it got closer to leaving I decided to make only the first night reservation, yep the route changed again but hey only out $25 this time. No more making reservations. Trip started, I did map out the daily travel distance we wanted and as we got a little more than halfway and felt we could make the distance, my DW found us a site to stay at. Only one area did we have to make more than one call to get a site for the night. All the publications fear mongering about no sites caused me to lose $275 in cancel fees because they put a fear in me. I think I’ll read them with a grain of salt from now on.

wanderer
29 days ago
Reply to  The Lazy Q

And I hope any summer campers will read your story with a grain of salt, too. They may see the word Michigan and ‘didn’t need any reservations’ and think it will work for them in season in populous areas. It won’t.

Tommy Molnar
29 days ago
Reply to  The Lazy Q

Good thinking Lazy. Our experience has been to never make reservations, and we always manage to get a spot by just showing up. Mind you, we’re not looking for “resort” accommodations, just a spot to spend the night. And, I’m sure it helps that we’re ‘out west’. I’m guessing it’s a different story east of the Rockies.

Carol Laske
29 days ago
Reply to  The Lazy Q

Michigan State Parks have a terrible refund policy. If you cancel within 60 days of arrival – your refund is 10% of what you paid! That is why no one is cancelling! AND there is a $10.00 fee to cancel!!

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