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Campground Crowding: Hotels cheaper than campgrounds?

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. RV Travel 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.

Judgmental and pretentious

Tina D. has experienced truck camper prejudice. She explains, “I haven’t had any problems except a prejudice against truck campers at higher-end resort parks. Mine is a totally self-contained 2022. There were junky-looking old 5th wheels at this resort but a new truck camper was out of the question. I use campgrounds about 50 percent of the time. I’m not sure it’s fair or even in good taste to talk about full-timer people in state parks being ‘hobos.’ Seems very judgmental and pretentious.”

Have to book extras days to get the days we want

Susan W. has to book one year in advance to get sites now and then deal with rude campers. “Campsites that we used to get by booking just a few months ahead of time we now have to book one year in advance and book extra days we don’t want to get the days we do want.

“The campgrounds that are private and nice family sites took advantage of Covid and tripled their fees. County parks still are reasonable but you usually get basic amenities. Basically, you are paying hotel prices without the room service.

“I find some people camping are those who are not seasoned campers and don’t know what the heck they are doing. They don’t come prepared, don’t clean up the way you should, and are rude by walking through your site. Hoping those people go back to their hotels and open the campsites to those who really like camping and enjoy the peace and quiet of an outdoor adventure.”

Campground prices leave me upset

Are Embassy Suites a better deal? Gary J. thinks so. “We’ve been RVing for 36 years. While we realize that the prices of everything have skyrocketed, campground prices continue to leave me upset. While many true ‘resorts’ may be worth the price, most are not. After full-timing for four years recently, we started to believe that we were just paying ‘rent’. We had not ‘rented’ in fifty years. And I got to thinking we could stay in an Embassy Suites with complete free hot breakfasts and free manager’s happy hour every day, with a full slate of resort amenities and have someone to make your bed! We’re not sure how much longer we will choose to travel in our 40’ diesel pusher.”

Overcrowded locations, please??

Robert P. is asking for the location of overcrowded campgrounds. He writes, “As I have suggested before, I think it would be beneficial to include at least a basic location to the claim of overcrowding. I don’t doubt people saying it’s overcrowded, but there’s a difference if the overcrowding is in a high tourist area or out in the boondocks. I started camping in 1978 and if we went to a high tourist area it was overcrowded, most of the time we were away from the tourist attractions in the state or city parks. Also, articles about boondocking may be of great interest to people who live in the west, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find BLM land east of the Midwest states. Once you get within 200 miles west of the Mississippi River there isn’t free land.”

Simply not enough campgrounds to accommodate workers

Tammy B. writes about their troubles getting RV sites for her husband’s job. She explains, “My husband is a heavy equipment operator for the union and goes where the jobs are. We live in the ‘wide open spaces’ of Wyoming and trust me, it’s no better here than anywhere else.

“In 2016 he bought a camper so he wouldn’t have to deal with the hotel hassle of constantly packing and unpacking, not to mention the high cost of hotel rooms. The last two years have become a real nightmare when it comes to finding any available RV camp spots.

“There simply are not enough RV campgrounds to accommodate everyone who either lives this lifestyle by choice or, like my husband, makes a living via this lifestyle. Not to mention people are reserving spots several months in advance making it impossible to find a spot on a minute’s notice for the men and women in the industry who rely on these spaces.

“We’ve also found that campgrounds are starting to price gouge. At times, it’s been cheaper for my husband to get a hotel room than to stay at an RV park that for some reason would cost him double. I agree with the person in last week’s column: If we didn’t lose money on it, we would sell the camper.”

Automatic renewals?!

Terry B. wonders if there is automatic renewal on campsites. “I come from a long line of RV camping families. I have noticed the past couple of years that people are booking sites and never using them! I feel if you book a site and you’re not there on the first day of booking, then the campground should cancel their reservations and open the site back up! I’ve set weekends with empty lots that had been reserved for weeks! It’s like they have an automatic renewal going on.”

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: Six great tips for finding sites

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Donald N Wright
1 month ago

I have been guilty of hindsight, stayed at a KOA in South Dakota to learn from AAA there were less expensive hotels in town. What ever happened to Motels ?

Lisa Adcox
1 month ago

We have sold our RV due to illness. Now we are looking at using Airbnb. With gas and cost of campgrounds I can use Airbnb and travel bout same or cheaper. Add in insurance and payment if you have one and for sure you can do pretty much the same.

Virginia
1 month ago

Agree with Gary J. The last trip we took found prices doubled, and many of those high-priced campgrounds near large cities or tourist areas were quilte literally parking lots. The most expensive campgrounds we found were often the least desirable. Seems many of the private campground owners have decided to “make money while the sun shines” as my grandpa used to say. Hope they’re also “saving it for a rainy day” because at some point I fear that bubble will pop too.

Bob M
1 month ago

I’m not sure that if the camper don’t show up they should loose the site. I had a reservation this past summer and I debated whether to go to the campsite the 1st day. It was pouring so hard all day that I contemplated not going. I went up my lot hooked the camper up and was soaking wet by the time I was done. Drove to the state park campground, unhooked and leveled out.Dripping wet now. Was a good reason to stay home that day. In other instances in order to get a campsite at a particular campground you have to book as soon as it’s available which could mean a reservation for a couple days you can’t go. I also camped at a port authority campground in Pa two years in a row that had two campsites with the same RV’s with waterfront views and never seen anyone camping in them the week I was there.

Gary Bate
1 month ago

First off regarding no shows, if you paid for the spot it’s yours whether you show up or not. Now many people abuse that especially at state or low cost campgrounds, we do book ahead sometimes and change our plans but for example it only costs $8 in California to cancel a reservation. We have been no shows on longer trips and been unable to get a refund at private campgrounds. Usually when this happens it’s weather related i.e too hot so we’ve opted to stay at motel 6 or best western (because we have a little pooch), this also provides us with a little break on longer trips. So $100 or so for a motel vs similar for a private campground is easy to justify occasionally. Back to the no show problem I think if someone doesn’t show or confirm their reservation by the second night then they should forfeit that reservation.

Terry
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Bate

Gone are the 30 dollar nite motels and hotels. 100 plus a nite is the going rate. My, time sho changes.

Tina W
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry

… Which is about the price of many RV parks.

Gary Bate
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry

Exactly what I said, however we just stayed in Palm Springs in a decent motel six right on the strip Sunday night $80. That includes the pooch. We’ve spent up to $250 a night (Florida) for RV resort. Average is about $50-$80 a night when we travel. We don’t boondock except for harvest host which isn’t really free and not really boondocking. The cost of owning and operating an RV is actually quite high. Sometimes it’s cheaper and a whole lot easier to just take the car and opt for budget accommodations. Especially with high fuel cost. But we love to travel around this country in our RV.

Michael Thomas Lloyd
1 month ago

Why would you feel it ok to take away someone’s reservation if they do not show up? I am sure these sites are pre-paid and have been paid for, so technically even if the campers do not show up on the day their reservation starts (or at all for that matter), it is their site. It’s like a sporting event where you purchase a “license” to use the seat for a day/game. Even if you don’t show up, the stadium does not get to sell the license you purchase a second time. Perhaps the campground could call the camper to ascertain if the purchaser will show up, or would like a full or partial refund if the site can be rented to another party, but that’s a lot of work for the campground, maybe they don’t want to do that and have a few sites unoccupied to open the place up a bit. Anyway, it seems the burden to manage the process would be on the campgrounds and it’s their choice on if or how they’d like to manage that. They already have the money, so the incentive to re-rent is minimal

Dave Cole
1 month ago

As an RV Park owner addressing Terry B’s comment above. In private parks, if a guest books a site and pays for it, it’s their site whether they show up or not. Sometimes they have issues that cause them to arrive a day late, they’ve paid for the site, it’s theirs. Sometimes the people don’t have a toad and use their motor home to go out, the site looks empty but is in fact, occupied. It’s frustrating for park owners to turn people away when the park looks empty. Sometimes there is a day or two gap with one guest leaving and the next coming in, and somebody wants three or four nights. We want to accommodate everybody and try our best to do so. We want our sites filled, that’s how we stay open.

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Cole

It’s not that anyone begrudges anyone a late arrival or an actual problem. It is that we have been TURNED AWAY from many a campground because it’s full, only to find out there are multiple empty sites. We would like for the double-bookers and the careless campers to see some penalty for claiming a site and then not using it. You have no idea how many people cannot use a state park on a given weekend because of these selfish people. You never see them. They are at home or way out in the boonies, because of selfish people.

I don’t think your handful of empty-looking sites are what people are miffed about. It’s the public parks that are the real problem. I’ve personally seen a “Park Full” sign on a cold Monday, been told to leave, asked WHY it was full on a Monday, been given some ‘one-night-only’ sites to choose among, took one, and spent the night ALONE on a loop of 12 sites. People in Dallas book multiple sites out in the countryside and then choose one, if the weather is nice. Excuse us if we don’t think it’s okay. There is a shortage of sites near populated areas, and it’s not okay for people to waste them.

Tina W
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

If someone booked and paid, then it’s totally their right to do whatever they want with the site, including not use it.

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Tina W

Lots of brilliant legal minds on this forum all wrapped up property rights as if we’re talking land ownership. Not the same thing as a permit to use a public resource.

Ask the airlines if an empty seat is ‘owned’ by a traveler or needs to be given to a standby who needs it if there’s a no-show.

KellyR
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave Cole

Right on Dave and Michael. We have a Class B. We are not there during the day and into the evening. Our site is empty but not vacant. We traveled “back home” 1200 miles to a wedding and booked and paid for a site for 2 weeks to travel around and visit family and friends within a 150 mile radius. We probably only spent half of days or nights at our site – we were gone away for days. We paid for a site to use as a home base. We paid for it to use as our needs demanded. Traveling contractors may have to book for longer stays than they will actually need, not knowing if the job will actually start and end when intended. Looky-loos, drive me nuts when they see an empty site. If they see a “no vacancy” at a motel, do they look into all the rooms to see if the room is actually occupied? If a room or RV spot has been paid for, it is occupied. Both the landlord and the tenant have fulfilled their contractual duties. It’s no different than if I rented a house and never lived in it.

Traveler
1 month ago

Of course it costs more to camp than motel! Amortize your $100,000 RV and it’s a lot of Marriotts.

Life is always a choice.

G13
1 month ago

I agree with Robert P comments on where these locations are located. And to Gary J, you have 40′ diesel pusher and complaining about what exactly? Overcrowding, some yes, some say no problem. Recurring comments is the reservation system, lots of frustration.

Seann Fox
1 month ago

What’s a campground? I Boondock 200+ days a year. Haven’t stayed in a campground in over 5 years.

Bob p
1 month ago
Reply to  Seann Fox

Good for you, come east of OK, NE, etc.and try that, enjoy your western BLM sites, they don’t exist anywhere but the west.

Randy Gartner
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

Actually there are many places to boondock or stay for free. Most of those free or low cost camping are in National Forests. Just go on You Tube and you will find many of them. Of course some have size limitations but you can easily find that out with a little research.

Timothy
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

Virginia has quite a few Wildlife Management Areas, most of which are open to camping/boondocking. The cost is $4 per day or $23 for yearly permit. No cost if you have a Virginia hunting/fishing/trapping license. I bought a senior lifetime fishing license for $25. You’ll also need the WMA Camping Authorization form. It’s free and you can stay a maximum of 14 days.

Spike
1 month ago
Reply to  Timothy

Yep…I live in SE MN and we have free DNR campsites on Wildlife Mgmt areas as well. No services…maybe a pit toilet and a dumpster, but free. Virtually unoccupied 9 months of the year. Full during gun deer season.

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