Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Campground Crowding: Why stay in an RV park when hotels are cheaper?

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.

What is the hype about?

Terry S. has not been having problems getting great sites. They explain, “Not really sure what all the hype is about in regards to campground crowding. We’re currently staying in one now that we booked three days prior to check-in with no problem in a waterfront site. The park is nice and virtually empty.”

Impossible to get their favorite site

On the other hand, Red P. has to book six months ahead for their favorite sites: “It’s impossible to find a good site at a good campground. If you’re not booking 6 months in advance you will not get a site. In many cases, they require one year booking in advance.

“I have a 45-foot 5th wheel, so there are fewer sites available at most campgrounds. The campground managers are not interested in repeat customers, only that the site is occupied. They don’t care how long you have been a customer only that the site has a paying customer on it. I’m 72 and my wife is 68. We have one small dog so we don’t require much, but we have been pushed out of our favorite campgrounds and now we can only hope to get reservations close to the places we wish to go.”

Just be flexible

Lisa S. booked her trip four months in advance and had no problem. She writes, “Just completing a 25-day trip through MI, WI, MN, IL and IN. Booked four months in advance and stayed in 12 different campgrounds. State, private, COE and national forest service. Used eight different reservation systems. Always found a spot, some even specific to ADA. I love to travel off-season. And it’s not a problem staying away from the biggest tourist areas. Make the tourist stops in between the more remote campgrounds. Times have changed, however, I’m still enjoying camping life. Be flexible. Happy camping!”

Invitation from Boondockers Welcome

Bruce W. brings up a great alternative to formal campgrounds. He says, “If you are just visiting an area for a few days or just passing through, don’t forget about us Boondockers Welcome hosts. I am easier to get to, and easier to park at, than many commercial sites. My guests are 6 miles from great beaches, kayaking on rivers, and trails in a national forest. Point is, just don’t get frustrated trying to find a campground in the traditional scenes. Look for alternatives. You’re in a camper so you can ‘boondock’ for a few nights anywhere. As a host, I have met some great people who we consider friends. Many guests have come back to visit us multiple times! Many hosts have power and water, and a few of us even have waste dump stations on the property.” Learn more about Boondockers Welcome here.

Looks like a mobile home park

Rusty C. is seeing an increase in permanent RV residents. “When is an RV park no longer a true camping RV park? Here in the Denver metro area are two RV parks (yes, there are more than two) and both parks have limited open space for the occasional RV camper. The majority of spaces in these two parks are permanent residential RVers. I have nothing against this practice of renting out a space on a yearly basis, better income for the park owner. Both of these parks look more like mobile home parks than an RV park. Seems to me there should be a new distinction between full-time capacity and occasional capacity.”

Never book on holidays or when schools are on break

Earl B. always finds a site but has a few guidelines. He shares: “1. I haven’t noticed that much crowding. We seem to always find an RV park somewhere. Sometimes we book months in advance. 2. We will continue to book our RV parks if it’s going to be crowded. We like using State Parks that let you book months in advance and have an easy refund policy if you change your mind. 3. I don’t know if the RV park is going to be crowded until I am already there. We always book from Sunday to Friday and never book holidays or when schools are on breaks. We still get email notices from several campgrounds promoting stay for three nights and getting the fourth night free, so that tells me there are still places that are not crowded.”

Hotels are the same cost, or cheaper

Chris S. found prices rising and hard to get sites. “We were a family of RVers for about seven years. With campground prices rising so dramatically and it becoming so difficult to reserve a spot (we now have to reserve six months in advance to stay where we want), we made the hard choice to sell our RV a few months ago. We calculated that between the higher cost of RV parks, RV maintenance costs, and additional fuel charges, the cost of just renting a hotel room in the actual place we want to visit is about the some cost, and in some cases, less expensive. Plus, hotels are far more plentiful, and much easier to book when you need them (a few weeks in advance, versus months).”

RV trip insurance?

Joseph B. bought trip insurance and it covers RV travel! “Yes, we do find that a spur-of-the-moment booking is nearly impossible at some parks. We just did a spur-of-the-moment trip to the beach and when I booked there was only one spot left. When we got there on a Monday, the campground was half full. As the week went on, more filled up. One of the workers said they were fully booked through Saturday. We left on a Saturday and before leaving while walking the dog I counted 12 empty spots.

“We will continue to camp. Being retired we have a lot of flexibility and we are now used to booking six months to a year out. We have purchased trip insurance for a trip to Italy next year and it is also good for our RV travels. I wonder if that is how some people can afford to just not show up. So you want to know my secret for finding campgrounds that are not crowded? I don’t think so, then it won’t be my secret! But actually, I’m not doing much different than everyone 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 here: ‘System is broken, causes great frustration, totally unfair and selfish’

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Donald N Wright
3 months ago

It was after spending two nights at a KOA that I contacted AAA to learn the Motel/Hotels were less expensive, and I could park my RV trailer there.

Backcountry164
3 months ago

“We have one small dog so we don’t require much”
Says the guy dragging around a 45 foot trailer. A trailer half that size still carries more than twice as much as you actually need to stay in a campground. If you need all of the comforts of home maybe just stay home…

Gary
3 months ago
Reply to  Backcountry164

I noticed that too. Lol.

Steve H
3 months ago

Today I booked lakeside W/E campsites in four Corps of Engineers campgrounds in KS, OK, and TX for the next two weeks. Plenty of availability and the most expensive was $13.00/night with our Lifetime Senior Interagency Pass. Best of all, there is NO reservation fee on recreation.gov for any COE campground!

John Carroll
3 months ago

Received two weeks’ notice to deploy from Fort Lewis, WA to Fort Bragg, NC. No time to plan (participating in a 24/7 exercise); wanted to keep it simple so I reserved online with KOA. Every KOA campground had only one or two sites available. (40-ft 5th wheel).

Gary
3 months ago
Reply to  John Carroll

Doesn’t the military provide travel, accommodations, and a per diem for meals on a deployment? They used to.

Suru
3 months ago

I really think it depends on where you live and how you like to camp. We like to camp in nearby National and State Parks. Living in Utah, if you don’t book months, or sometimes a year, in advance you won’t get a site. We also find this same problem when we go to visit family in California. Reserving a site at a state campground in California is a nightmare. There are lots of boondocking opportunities near us but unfortunately they are getting full of squatters who are trashing the places. You usually can get a site at a private RV park, but that’s just not for us. On the other hand, we have friends who live in the Midwest who rarely book in advance and never have a problem finding sites at their state parks and beautiful wilderness areas.

Tom E
3 months ago

We’re traveling north for a few days during Thanksgiving from our winter spot in Florida. Five nights in hotels for stops along the way and at our destination equal one month’s stay in Florida. What? Is this some kind of new math? 5 hotel days = 30 RV park days? Hmmmm?

John S
3 months ago

Hotel rooms same price as camp sites? Don’t think I’d rush to stay in a $25/night hotel room…

Tommy Molnar
3 months ago
Reply to  John S

Yep. Me neither. In fact, we’ve seen some $50-70 rooms we wouldn’t stay in. We occasionally look at hotels online for friends who are coming through town.

Mark G
3 months ago
Reply to  John S

True that. Where I live (western WA) anything under a $100 is likely to be pretty nasty.

Backcountry164
3 months ago
Reply to  John S

25 bucks?? I think you’re forgetting to factor in cost of an RV…

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