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Campground Crowding: ‘Costs are getting prohibitive’

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.

Older computer can’t keep up with the “bots”

Sandra D. laments the computer programs that book all the sites. She says, “Our state books sites six months in advance and I need to do that to have even a hope of getting a good spot, let alone a favorite spot. Yes, that causes problems with unforeseen last-minute things that crop up like an illness, family emergency or vacations being changed by employers. We are retired and camp about two weeks each month from May through October, and we have taken the financial penalty several times this year due to funerals and unexpected medical tests, even if we are canceling just one day of a 15-day reservation.

“This bothers me far less than groups that use computer programs to book spots, though. Those programs are much faster than I can be on our older computer, and I cannot tell you how often I have gotten up early to make a list of camp spots that are still available, pushed the “Reserve” button on my computer for my preferred spot right as the time changes to the earliest time possible to reserve, only to have every single spot I had on my list show up as already taken. Last year it took me four months of doing that to get a mediocre site at the campground I was booking. We wanted to go in May, and we couldn’t get a site until September in a campground with a couple hundred spots.”

A campground to know about

Carolyn M. is sharing a hidden campground with us: “I have been camp hosting for 12 years. All of this is very true. Most county campgrounds are non-reservation. I advertise every year that the Guler County campground at Trout Lake, WA, is non-reservation. We have 43 open sites. Opened 7 months, has only 9 electrical sites, flush toilets, water on every site and showers. Close to a tiny town. Lots of wildlife and the best huckleberry picking in the NW, with a close-up view of Mt. Adams. Prices are $15 and $8 with a senior discount of $2 less. Lots of hiking trails and lakes nearby.”

Book a year in advance

Not booking your sites a year in advance? Connie S. reminds you to. She says, “Yes, I am finding more and more campsites booked early. We do an annual fishing trip and we NOW must book a year in advance. This has affected our RVing.”

Costs are getting prohibitive

Bob S. is used to booking early but costs are going up, up, up! Bob says, “We tend to stay in traditional full-hookup RV parks and we stay at each destination one month or more. We plan 6 to 12 months ahead and don’t have too much trouble finding a spot. But the costs are getting prohibitive at popular destinations. My wife is already retired and I was going to retire this year, but our wonderful RV lifestyle is a bit too costly. So I will continue to work. My wife got a summer job and we are renting out our house while we are gone this summer, all to offset some of our RVing expenses. I certainly do not blame anyone for joining this lifestyle, but I do wish we had more supply and less demand so the costs would be more affordable.”

We miss the old days

Val Q. misses the old days when you only had trouble finding spots on holiday weekends. “We had high hopes that 2022 would be better than last year when it came to booking, but nope! Tried to book a midweek stay for the beginning of June a month in advance at a large campground chain near our destination up north and was told that they had nothing that could accommodate our length RV (35′ with car in tow). Finally found an available site an hour from our destination. We miss the old days when the only trips that had to be booked way in advance were for holiday weekends!”

In other news… “What campground crowding?”

Campground crowding? Huh? Where? Paul G. wonders where the campground crowding is. He writes, “We are presently a third of the way across the U.S. eastbound. I have not had any problem getting a place to stay for one or two nights as we make our way east. I had one park, Pioneer RV Park in Phoenix, agree to shift my arrival back a day because I had extra time in service. With only two days’ notice they honored my reservation for a day later. Other parks as we travel along I-40 have had nice sites available for us at reasonable prices. Most of these are not destinations at the present time. We have also stayed at an Elks Lodge and tomorrow will be a Boondockers Welcome. What campground overcrowding?”

Call the campground to task

Randy C. expects the campground to enforce their rules. “If a campground has a written policy about noise and quiet hours that they don’t enforce, I have left and received a refund even though they had a no-refund policy. If I stay at a campground, I follow the rules. That is part of the agreement, but it is two-way. I book campgrounds and RV resorts based on those policies and if they violate their own policies, I call them to task on it.”

Crowding in the marinas, too!

Dewey P. was a boater and saw crowding there, too. “While I don’t camp, I once was a boater (think 36′ with multiple bunks and facilities). We got out in ’08 due to the crowding in the marinas at that time. Camping was an alternate thought we had, but we decided that the crowding, not to mention the people, were enough to put us off.”

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 Campground Crowding: Reader shares a very humbling reminder

##RVT1058b

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Steven Peterson
1 month ago

New title – DO YOU WANT CHEESE WITH THAT WHINE!
We have literally ZERO issues finding campsites. But we aren’t sheep going to the latest and greatest location. Plus, you are not the only camper in the country. Yes, if possible you need to book early, but not getting “your” site. Cry me a river. Many times when traveling, we don’t book until that day. There are lots of ways that we as campers can help the issue of full cg’s. Go off season is the easiest – much less traffic before Memorial day or after Labor day – and if you are retired, you can do this! Yellowstone or Maine are better in the early fall anyway! If you hate your money and HAVE to go to the magic kingdom, well then suck it up buttercup and deal! We are victims of our own desire (sounds like a song). We like nice campgrounds and the relaxed lifestyle and so does everyone else who camps. Not a Debbie downer, but come on man. We are what we created. Work the system – YOU CAN DO IT!
Too many campers, Thank you RV industry!

DJ Maloney
1 month ago

My husband and I took 6 years off, and lived full time in our MH beginning in 2008. 2 out of the 6 years we were full time wanderers, and very rarely made a reservation more than 1 week in advance, and that was for urban areas – like New Orleans, Boston over the 4th, New York, Grand Canyon, etc. I would use my various discounts, and club memberships as often as possible, which reduced our rate considerably, and many a night, paying 15.00.The longer we stayed in one place, the better the discount. The most expensive site at the time, was the Disneyworld’s Fort Wilderness for $89.00 per night. We went from coast to coast, and the weather conditions were awesome. Ah, wishing for the good old days.

DJ Maloney
1 month ago
Reply to  DJ Maloney

P.S. – Did I mention when we began our adventure, gas was $1.69 per gallon?

Bruce
1 month ago

Beginning to think when you look at the cost of some of these campgrounds are getting to, when you factor in the costs of the RV, insurance, fuel, if a trailer or 5th wheel larger costs for trucks to tow with there are lots of AirbNb’s all over that are very nice for a lot less costs. It’s all challenging right now.

mary Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce

It cost a lot to be Trailer Trash now adays LOL

captain gort
1 month ago

Once again, this article puts out a lot of smoke…with no fire. Sure- you have to book ahead, like everything else in life.

Admin
Chuck Woodbury(@chuck)
1 month ago
Reply to  captain gort

Captain Gort, it does not have to be that way — at least not as bad as the situation is (and getting worse as RV manufacturers flood the market and new places to stay with them are far from keeping up).

Steven Peterson
1 month ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

Chuck

Most agree with you, but $5-$6/gal fuel and 12% inflation. It might be interesting this fall. My local RV service dealer rents units and they are seeing multiple cancellations because of the rising costs. Plus they are seeing sales slow! I see lots of campers “For Sale” on local market pages.

We are looking at several locations for winter (snowbirds like you) and right now we are not seeing any issues with available sites. As I noted above, it will be interesting this fall.

PS – love the website – kudos to all involved!

Bill H.
1 month ago

The law of supply and demand is in play here. More RV sold in the last few years means more demand, but in this case, the market is unable to react quickly to increase the supply in order to meet the price, therefore the price of the supply goes up (and not just due to inflation) and there becomes a shortage of supply. Of course, when it comes to RV campgrounds, there is also the matter of location and quality and amenities of the park. While the number of RVers has increased in recent years, the number of baby boomers aging out of RVing may offset the newbies, if not exceed the number of newbies. Time will tell.

T N
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill H.

Exactly!

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

I’d be curious to know if Guler County campground at Trout Lake, WA now becomes jam-packed due to this revelation.

Charlie Sullivan
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

What do YOU think? LoL Unless I lived very close by, I would be hesitant to drive any distance with the hope of securing one of their sites.

wanderer
1 month ago

Lol, so Paul G, who has access to Elks Lodges AND Boondockers Welcome, has made it as far east as apparently Phoenix, and there is no issue. Lol, let us know how that goes when you get to Michigan or Ohio, and whether you could have secured weekends if you weren’t an Elk or a boondocker. The problem is not with finding overnights out west, but in actual multi-day stays, in desirable places, near populated areas.

Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

We made it to Virginia and then NY State without having a single turn down. Campground in Harrisburg PA had plenty of openings. Of course as the summer season comes it may become more difficult. We will be off the road for high season. Also I have not looked for any extended (week or more) stays.

Irene D.
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

It’s not much different than going out to eat. Go during peak times at the most popular places, and you’ll wait in a long line if you can even get reservations. For us, we go off peak, and have 2 or 3 backup places so it’s never an issue.

Ron
1 month ago

3rd world problems

Tom A B
1 month ago

I’m curious about the alleged bots. The purpose of bots would be to grab the sites to resell at a profit, like bots buying concert tickets to scalp. But camping reservations are attached to names and can’t readily be resold, as far as I know. Is it possible that there are just SO many people making reservations that it makes it seem as if there are bots? What am I missing here?

Kelly F
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

Good question!

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Kelly F

There are campsite reservation service companies. One is called Campnab. You fill out a form with all your info, and requested dates/campground, and they use their bot to grab it faster than a human can, on your behalf. I don’t know how all these companies work, but that’s the general idea.

But I agree, a lot of the problem is just too many people trying to book at the same instant. It doesn’t help when states like Michigan send out millions of emails to campers, reminding and urging them to book 6 months in advance or whenever the site can first be sold.

Tom A B
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

Thanks for the reply. I can see where Campnab could give an advantage, but it’s only booking sites requested by a customer. It’s not buying up blocks of campsites and reselling them. It does,though, create a rift between the haves (who can afford their fees) and the have-nots (those who want to book their own sites). With enough users, camping may become even more unaffordable for those who don’t buy into the haves. Ironically, Campnab has multiple tiers at different prices, so with enough users, the lower price/tier customers may themselves be outbooked by the higher tier customers, becoming have-nots.

I’m not sure Campnab and it’s competitors have caught on enough to have much of an impact, at least not nearly enough as reservation systems that don’t discourage no-shows.

Drew
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

My feeling is that if you love camping and maybe getting favored spots- it’s money well spent. Consider the time and frustration of doing the reservations yourself and factor that in.

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

Yes, it’s just another layer of parasites charging fees.

Eric Karjaluoto
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

Hi Tom,

Eric from Campnab here. We don’t actually book campsites. We only notify people when one opens up that matches what they’re looking for. It’s up to them to attempt to book the site. 🙂

All the best!

Eric

Pat
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

As a full time RVer, I can tell you that many reservation systems allow you to change the name of the primary registrer. I am totally against this practice as it supports the bots.

Tom A B
1 month ago
Reply to  Pat

Thank you.

alan W householder
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

you can hire a bot to search for you, I tried it last year and I got an email when a sight became available at a preferred campground, but I never used it and gave it up but it’s out there and only going to get worse

Eric Karjaluoto
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom A B

Hi Tom,

You’re on the right track here. I’ve done a lot of research on this topic, and I don’t believe bots are a real concern.

I made a video about why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z41czlo2Wg. It touches upon some of the notes you made, as well as a few others.

Cheers!

Eric

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