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. And yes, let’s all be patient with the newbies.
Here are a few observations from our readers.
“We wish we knew what we were doing, too”
Tasha M. is a newbie and is having fun despite still learning. She writes, “My family just bought our first towable and had our first night camping last night. We’re not seasoned. We absolutely don’t know what we’re doing. We spent almost two hours trying to park far enough to the right to be able to extend all three slides and finally gave up—no one used the couch or kitchen table—we sat on the floor at breakfast. And we loved every second of it.
“Please be patient with us newbies. We’re not trying to ruin anyone else’s experience. There’s just a very steep learning curve. And when you don’t come from a camping background, and you’re just trying your best to create lasting memories with your family, setting up chocks and sewer hoses and water lines and stabilizers while making sure your second slide doesn’t become one with the water spigot is a lot. A kind offer of advice or guidance from a nearby seasoned camper might be just what we need to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes next time. Trust me. We wish we knew what the heck we were doing, too.”
Same-day reservations for 47 days—no problem
This is impressive! Dana M. went cross-country with no advance reservations. She says, “We completed a cross-country trip from Sandy, Oregon, to Brevard, North Carolina, and back. Stayed at commercial campgrounds and one Harvest Host. Got same-day reservations each night. On road for 47 days and had no problems.”
Available but poor Wi-Fi
Tina K. was also lucky with last-minute bookings: “Last winter my husband and I traveled with our toy hauler from New York to Texas via the Florida panhandle. I booked our sites in Houston about 4 months in advance. I had no issues getting a site. We weren’t sure what direction we wanted to go after Houston so we would pick an area, search campgrounds and make a reservation a week in advance. Then we stayed approximately one week at each location. We must have been lucky as most sites were reasonably priced and we had no problem with availability. The main issue we had was most campgrounds advertise Wi-Fi, but we soon discovered the service was very poor. However, we always seemed to figure something out.”
Gas prices kept them closer to home
Bradley C. hasn’t had a lot of difficulty getting a site but is still staying closer to home. Here’s why: “We have not had much of an issue finding campgrounds to spend the night and/or week in unless it was around a national attraction. We did, however, find it more difficult out in the western states. We live in Tennessee and the southeastern area has not been too big an issue as we have always been able to find someplace close to where we wanted to be. It might not have been the exact campground we wanted, however.
“The prices of fuel as well as the increasing prices of campgrounds and resorts have kept us closer to home in 2022. Hoping for better prices in 2023.”
Even hard for pop-up campers
David F. has noticed crowded campgrounds and higher prices, too. “I’m by no means an RVer. I have a 12-foot pop-up, but I do hunt, fish, and camp. Yes, it has gotten harder and more expensive to get a site, at least in the Midwest.”
RW D. likes his freedom. He says, “I never use commercial campgrounds. Nope, NOT me. I don’t want the sardine lifestyle. RV is FREEDOM. That’s me and that’s why on the road or off the road I say NO $$$ to commercial campgrounds. When I take a job somewhere in the west I camp on the job site… Freedom!!!”
77 and 83, and hope to RV another year or so
Peggy B. makes her reservations on the day they open. She says, “We are now on the road for eight months in a year. I have to book the day the reservations open for that particular campground. It is a job that might take hours for each place. We like to stay in one place for a week or a month depending on where it is. But when we travel from one place to another, it is impossible to get a weekend without two days if we can get one at all.
“New campers have no clue about camping ‘rules’ such as walking between our door and picnic table! We are 77 and 83 now, so hopefully we can make it another year or so.”
Reserve different campground sections by use?
Shelley K. has an idea that may help: “Perhaps campgrounds should set aside sections: those dedicated to those who need space while working, a section for those who are staying between three days and a month, a section for the really long-term residents, and lastly a section for those who are only needing a spot for up to three days. Have rules for each section and adhere to them.”
Set a few sites aside for the locals
Ray D. can’t find a site in the winter in Florida. “Ha! Camping in Florida this winter? Just try and find a campsite. They’ve been booked up for months… Nearly all by out-of-staters who are escaping from the north. That’s fine. That’s how Florida’s economy keeps booming. But come on. How about setting aside a few sites for the locals only? Wait a minute… I think I just found one site in late June!”
Camping on top of each other? No thanks
Gene P. just gave it all up: “Been camping since 1975. I gave it up last year and sold our rig. Got tired of not being able to find campgrounds and the ones you do find the owners have put additional campsites in which makes it feel like you are camping on top of each other. And charging outrageous prices—just plain greed on their part. We have found that it is cheaper to stay at a nice hotel than it is to camp anymore.”
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.
Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column: We’re ‘seasonal’ campers, not homeless!
I doubt if breaking up campgrounds in sections would work well. In many of them, there aren’t many spaces I like. Let’s see, an area for smelly campfires that smolder all night. A section without barking dogs. A section without screaming kids. A section for tents. A section for loud drunks. A section for generators. A section for clowns that must strum their guitar and “sing.” Already, some have “premium sites” that cost more. Of course, if people would follow rules and use common sense and decency, people might be happier with their sites. I stay in campgrounds where you have to move on by two weeks, so if that is enforced, it helps find a space. But then the wife reserves another two weeks, and a cousin reserves another two weeks for them, and so on.
“Shelley K. has an idea that may help: “Perhaps campgrounds should set aside sections…”
This would result in even higher costs. Whether you are a manufacturing company making widgets or a campground selling space, the more options and complexity you have in your product line the harder and more costly it becomes to manage your inventory.
We’ve been full-timing since 2017. After selling sticks and bricks we purchased some acreage with water and electric and a dump station in nearby State park to use as our domicile address, see doctors, visit family. Fortunate to have it when we needed to stay put during Covid. Traveled from it for four years to see States east of the Mississippi. In 2022 sold acreage and purchased a rv site in a newly built rv park in an island beach community west of the Mississippi. This is our domicile address from which we will travel to take in the States west of the Mississippi. With both properties we have/had the convenience of sitting tight when necessary and the ability to stay on the road most of the time when possible. When planning to travel for months on end, I spend days/weeks researching and creating a route off the interstates then reserving campgrounds to stay in for a week to a month at a time. Is it work? Yes! Is it worth the effort? Yes and we enjoy the journey more!
I would like to see a section for loud generators. If you insist on bringing your open-frame contractor generator to a campground, fine, but I want to be far away.
In response to Shelley K., there are campgrounds that do separate short-term campers from long-term, eg. snowbirds. Just two examples we have stayed in are Butterfield RV Park in Benson, AZ, and Four Seasons RV Resort in Salida, CO. Both reserve the pull-thru front row nearest the office/clubhouse for overnight to one week RVs, with the back-in sites around the fence/near the river for long-term, seasonal campers. But we have also stayed in RV parks where there is no rhyme or reason for either the site layout or the length of stay. In some, we have had to ask neighbors to move vehicles out of the road just to back into the very narrow site. And that’s why we much prefer COE, city, county, and state cgs to any private RV park!
I wonder if it is cheaper to stay in a hotel or a KOA. Maybe Gail can look into this.
We have great luck with B&Bs, Airbnb et al. Cozier than a hotel and more convenient than the RV. We look at the extra cost of gas, insurance, repairs, etc. for the rig — not just the obvious costs — and find that for the amount of time we travel now, it is the best of both worlds for us.
After purchase cost, depreciation and maintenance – add gas or diesel – you bet a normal Holiday Inn or even Marriott would be cheaper. But, you don’t have your “stuff”, usually have to eat in restaurants and don’t have all the great part of having your familiar “home” with you.
Regarding the discussion of getting reservations in Florida during their prime winter season, we’ve found that many places don’t want to deal with a one or two day, or even a week, transient. It’s much easier for them to only accept long term reservations and be done with it, rather than trying to fit the puzzle pieces of short term reservations together. We like to stay somewhere for a month, then move on to a new area. We’re finding that many places want a 3-4 month reservation or they’re not interested. Beyond that, several places we’ve stayed before have now transitioned to full time residents only! That will never be us, but it is certainly a sign of what RVing is transitioning to. We’ve only found one location that states clearly in their literature that they are not to be used as a full time living solution! Good for them! But it’s not the trend.
State of Florida about to give legal residents priority to camp reservations in State Parks. State Rep Hoper has legislation. Call your Rep and get them to back this!!!
Giving it up! (For the 3rd time) we traded our truck for a hybrid sedan during the highest gas prices, turning our trailer over to consignment sales next week. The first time was during my late wife’s terminal illness, the second time was when we thought we were to old ( octogenarians) and now this time as we relocate back to Tennessee from Florida. Florida is a nice place to visit but we found it far to expensive for people not well off to live here. Who knows we may take the plunge again if costs decline back to normal, but we’ll probably settle for a road trip using motels and restaurants. Right now we are 600-700 miles from our respective families so we very seldom see anyone. The taxes killed us here, we paid $719.11 for tags on a midsized truck, a 23’ TT, and two drivers licenses. When I questioned the lady about it she said “but we don’t have income tax here”, my response was “ neither does TN and my tags cost $26 and $25” respectively, her eyes widened in disbelief.
Not yet, but the year is young. Summer, with school kids out, might be tough.
I live in Florida and I agree with Ray D that it’s almost impossible to find a site when snow bird season is in session. My BH gets mad at me cause we are not using MH in the winter here but I get so upset spending hours and hours on the phone trying to locate a spot for 3 or 4 nights it just doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble. Will be trying again in a few weeks as some snowbirds start heading home so maybe a few sites will be available.
Friends who also live in Florida told us that they have to book ahead, like everyone else.
Doing so, as a Florida resident, can be done ahead of the snowbirds and other visitors. Sadly, it might mean no spontaneous decisions to go camping, but it does afford you the chance to camp when you want if you are able to plan ahead. Also, snowbirds often complain that they find it difficult to get any weekend reservations because Floridians often book them all up and then cancel a day or two before if the weather doesn’t look promising or they have other plans. So, it seems both sides have some issues.
We have tried booking ahead by 6 to 8 months but are told nothing available for the dates we would need