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Campground Crowding: Six great tips for finding sites

RV sales have slowed (finally) and fewer people are buying RVs than has been the recent trend. Has that changed campground crowding? Is it easier to find a campsite now, particularly in state and national parks? Campgrounds are changing and evolving, some for the better and some for the worse. RVtravel.com readers discuss their experiences and offer a few tips to help other campers find that perfect spot.

Here are a few observations from our readers.

Six great tips for finding sites

Susan E. is graciously sharing six wonderful tips with us. Thank you, Susan!

Tips for finding places to stay, crowded or not:

1) Find out if a national park has first-come, first-served sites. Almost all of them do, and if you come midweek you are more likely to find a spot. We move on a Monday or Tuesday.

2) Keep your options open and don’t be afraid to overnight at a Walmart or other places to restock your pantry while you check out what is locally available. Then move! Ask if you can stay. Some stores or shops don’t have a problem with an overnighter or a 2-3 day stay even if they have a posted sign of no overnight parking as long as you ask.

3) Download camping apps to give yourselves as many options as possible.

4) Ask for fewer days or be willing to move about the campground so you can get multiple nights in an area. Every site in an RV park likely has a gap of a day or more before a longer-term booking.

5) Reconnaissance: In almost every place we travel, we scope out what is available while there and along the way. Check out campgrounds, note rest areas, etc. Many cities, counties and states have campgrounds that are not well advertised, so a bit of internet research while on the road has reaped many camping benefits.

6) Get to know your RV park or campground host. Be nice to them, as their jobs are not always full of joy and can be hard work. They will often try their best to accommodate your needs, make recommendations, call sister campgrounds, and they know what will be open in the coming days. Even allow camping for a night or more in some special spots not open to the public.

The states we found empty campgrounds were Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Always a site in Quartzsite

April C. writes about boondocking in Quartzsite, Arizona. She says, “Quartzsite, Arizona, winter (Sept. 15 – April 15) camping 7 months for $180. It’s in La Paz County. 20 miles east of the California border and 128 miles west of Phoenix. Interstate 10. There’s a dump station, fresh water and the market is busy. There’s a long-term and short-term visitor area. Or it costs $40 for 14 days charge for the amenities. They also have full-time areas.”

Still impossible to get a campsite

Carol B. is still finding it impossible to find a campsite in Savannah, Georgia. She writes, “My daughter lives in Savannah, and it doesn’t matter the time of year we go, getting an RV spot is impossible. The last two times we have gone to visit we have opted to stay in a hotel. Very frustrating!”

Last few years have put a strain on reserving sites

Richard K. finds sites but notes that it is sometimes difficult. He explains, “We have been camping for a lot of years and the last few have put a strain on reserving sites. You have to be on top of the six-month window to get into a state park. Sure you can get lucky and look when there has been a cancellation. Other articles talk of people reserving multiple sites and at multiple locations and cancel what they don’t want to use.

“We have had success finding mom-and-pop campgrounds as well as some of the flat, no-tree double loops that are mainly very large rigs. We have had pretty good success getting into KOA in different areas. Sometimes it is tough to find something we like in a new area due to no availability. It is tougher when it is a desirable location, like areas near a beach or nice lake or if the hiking is gorgeous. We end up finding something near or moving dates to get there.”

Travel off-season and never a problem

Layne W. makes reservations in the morning for that night. He explains how: “We travel across the country twice a year (from NY to AZ and back). We take a different route each time and play tourist as we go along. So far, the only time we’ve been unable to get a site (first choice) was Memorial Day weekend or, when we showed up in Paducah, KY, last year and it was hosting the International Quilt Show. (My mother was thrilled! And, we were lucky to get a call back due to a cancellation.)

“We travel the off-seasons—campgrounds are less crowded. We travel about 300 miles a day—we’re not in a hurry. I look for campgrounds the day before when we’ve settled for the evening. As soon as they open the next day, I call and make a reservation for that night. If we’re going to a popular venue for several days, I try to make reservations well ahead of time. But, since we travel during the off-season, we’ve had no problems getting a place to stay. It’s worked 20 years.”

Downsize to find a site

Pat H. thinks that if big rigs downsized they would find sites. “The massive Class A and 5th wheels are a blight on the landscape. They blast generators for hours on end, and they ruin the camping experience. They complain when they cannot find campsites. Maybe if they downsized they would have more luck.”

Lots of empty sites and never turned away

Jim C. is finding lots of empty sites. “Right now we are in the Seattle area staying at many parks, all of which have lots of empty sites. We are at Birch Bay and a fourth of the park is roped off because of no RVers. We are headed to Monroe (Thunderbird RV & Camping Resort), WA, next and still many empty sites even with lots of sites down for repairs. Fall City also has a lot of empty sites. Last year we traveled down through California, across the southwest to Texas and up the Great Plains, through lots of National parks and back to Washington without finding one park that was full or being turned away.”

Now, some questions for you:

  • Are you finding campgrounds booked up? Or is finding a place to stay not a problem?
  • Are campgrounds changing for the better or for the worse?
  • Are you seeing more permanent and seasonal RV parks?
  • Are rising costs affecting your camping style?
  • 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: “If camping looks the same in 2023, we quit!”

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Randy
2 months ago

What I find a little frustrating is the RV parks that are essentially storage yards too. I go south for part of the winter and I find in some parks that 1/2 the spots are taken up by RV’s that are empty. Its “easy money” for the park so I don’t begrudge the park owner but its kind of hogging the trough. Also have seen a few RV parks taken over as a work camp for oil rig workers and construction crews, lots of competing interests.

Virginia
2 months ago

One thing we noticed on our last trek was that more and more campgrounds (particularly new ones) are just parking lots. Gravel with utility stands, parked as close together as possible without scraping paint. At one site advertised as “nearest to attractions” we actually heard gunshots at night..on more than one occasion. Trains, planes, traffic noises we are used to but this was a little disconcerting.

While I honestly don’t need much other than a site (pools, club house, etc.), I do like a little space and privacy. I don’t need or want to hear my neighbor’s private conversations.
If you are going to build a parking lot, could you at least include a small fence/bushes to hide the neighbor’s sewer hose that you put less than a foot from my picnic table!?

We actually added a couple of overnights at state parks where we just did laundry or chilled for a day or so in order to keep some resemblance to camping. Sad but true.

bwodom
2 months ago

Having just returned from a 6-week outing with another RVing couple, I can honestly say that we spent more time than ever finding campgrounds. True, there are ways to help find them and this article describes many.

But for those who are RVing as “short-term travelers” (vs. full-time ramblers): who wants to spend an entire afternoon making phone calls and searching the internet (often at McDonalds because service at parks is generally pretty sad), only to have to repeat that for the nex stop? And the next? I have never spent that much time when traveling by car and looking for hotel rooms!

Yes, it is far easier to find camping spots in small towns or a distance from large cities and tourist destinations. But with the cost of gas, travelling back and forth to those tourist sites every day can be time consuming and costly.

I doubt camping will ever be what it used to be. But then, a lot of things were simpler 20 years ago.

tom
2 months ago

Having a shorter RV really helps. We are 28′ 8″, and fit in many older State or Local parks the big rigs cannot use. Had the absolute perfect site at Perry last year, and actually expect to be on it in 2023.

Drew
2 months ago

There are companies now that offer reservations to almost every camp ground out there. One of them is Campnab. They’ll find you a spot, reserve it, and bill you. If I were a frequent rv traveler I’d find it necessary to be a member.

John Hicks
2 months ago

In the past week I’ve made a reservation for two weeks at Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah in late May and a month in mid-June in Wilson, N.C. Starting early helps a lot. In the Columbia area there’s no problem getting short-term sites but the woman at Barnyard told me she had a 40-page waiting list for monthly sites.

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