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.
Gentrification is harming vulnerable communities
Nan A. helps unhoused communities and sees rising costs and the influx of campers as moving people to destitution. She writes, “I live in an RV helping unhoused communities. ‘Seasonal’ campers are causing gentrification in one of the last affordable ways for many to live. Thus, they are directly forcing already vulnerable communities into complete destitution. The death rate of homeless rose by 125% in big cities last year and yet those who ‘don’t want to be lumped in with the undesirables’ are only making things worse.
“It’s murder through mass participation and elitism. Worse than the ‘seasonal’ campers are the landlords who sold everything to live in an RV campground and buy back in when the market dips. They have driven the price up for everyone and have made it nearly impossible for anyone without a large amount of financial resources to afford even a parking spot.”
Separated by length of stay
Cyndee A. is happy with the KOA that separates campers by length of stay: “We’re currently staying at a KOA and we love how they have separated RVers, depending on their time of stay. Everyone is happy with how this is working out here. We’ve been here three months now, without issue.
“We’re planning to head west in April and we are finding it extremely hard to find an affordable RV park, as they are three times as expensive as here in Kentucky. I feel like that’s keeping a lot of people from experiencing things like the Grand Canyon or Zion National Parks.
“Instead, we’ve opted not to stay at any privately owned RV parks now and we are going to stay at as many State Parks, COEs, and BLM land as possible. We’re looking into getting solar for this very reason, as we live full-time and also need to be able to work and do school assignments. I feel they need to put a cap on RV rates within a certain distance to a national park of $50-$65/night or less…”
Win for Florida residents
Darla V. is hoping for a win for Floridian campers. Here’s why: “Good news for Florida residents could be coming. A bill, if passed, would allow residents a month’s head start in making reservations at state parks. At present, you can make reservations 11 months in advance. With Florida ID you will be able to book 12 months in advance. Let’s pray it passes. Lived in Florida 52 years and had to give up state park camping 8 years ago because of lack of sites.”
A deal of a senior pass
Cooking M. gets good sites off-season. They say, “We tend to travel in the off-season. This past fall we spent six weeks in Arkansas rockhounding. Lots of COE campgrounds in the state. Had no trouble getting a campsite. Did reserve with recreation.gov and always got a great spot. Power and water at the sites. With the senior pass paid $11 to $12 a night.”
Easier to find hotels than campsites, but…
Jim J. examines the pros of a campsite over a hotel. He writes, “It is still easier to find hotels than campsites, but it is foolish these days to not make advance reservations for either. As for cost, there are a lot of factors. Better hotel chains where you know the room and other amenities will be clean and safe are typically not cheaper.
“With our small touring travel trailer, I know exactly how clean our bedroom and bathroom will be, and if not pristine it is at least our dirt and not somebody else’s.
And if you travel with pets, for whatever your personal reason, campgrounds are far more pet-friendly than pretty much any hotel chain. ‘Pet-friendly’ means something different at each of most hotels. Besides, most pets will be more comfortable inside the same space each night than a constantly changing room that smells different, and their food bowl (or litter box) keeps moving around.”
Camp for a week every month
Earl B. has a great tip on getting a site and how to make sure it is long enough. “We are 72 and 78, and our goal is to go camping for a week once a month in our travel trailer. We haven’t had any real problems reserving an RV park site a couple of weeks in advance. However, we live in Arizona, so during the winter with the snowbirds coming to stay it gets harder to find a place for a week in Arizona. We camp in the Southwest during the winter to avoid bad weather and slick highways.
“We have stayed at places I would call mostly ‘mobile home parks’ but they have carved out several sites for RV campers on short-term reservations. These campsites are actually pretty good with clubhouses and lots of amenities, and the best part is that some are 55+ communities. As far as prices, there have been a few times we only stayed five days instead of a whole week. Crowding hasn’t been a problem in the Southwest. I notice on Sunday or Monday morning that the campground clears out and I see many vacant spots during the week.
“I have learned if there are no open spots I just keep calling the same place because some campers do cancel their reservations, so I am there to grab it up.
“The only tip I have is be sure to ask the RV campsite how wide or long their sites are. Too many times I arrive and have to move back and forwards to get one side of the RV as close to the bushes or trees where I still have enough room to put my slide out and leave space on the awning side to actually open my awning. Sometimes I say my RV is 25% longer than it really is to have enough space to park my truck.”
Don’t know why people are having such trouble
Don R. has been on the road since August and has only encountered one full campground. He explains, “I have been on the road since August 3rd from Show Low, Arizona. Across the upper Midwest to Michigan down through the Virginias into Florida. I’m now working my way across the Gulf Coast on a slow return home.
“For the most part, I stay 2 to 7 days at each site except Florida, which were monthly stays. I book one to two weeks ahead and have only encountered one full campground. I search for less expensive sites with pull-through. Pay $50 or less! Don’t seek out ‘activity-oriented’ sites, mostly private parks, and great people. Don’t know why people are having so much trouble!”
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: RVers discuss booking two sites side-by-side: ‘The second site is for all my toys’
Nan, A needs to get a grip! I got news for you lady, whats the “new thing” out there? Here’s a clue, NOT the people that have been RV’ing for decades. No, the “new thing” is homeless people by the hundreds of thousands living in RVs.
“Eliteism” give me a break! Murder? And, you’re mention the murder rate of big cities, as if somehow we”re responsible for that. The increase is a shame, but it’s again, NOT RV’ers that are doing that, dang, we. dont even LIVE in the big city!
Great points. Thank you. I haven’t lost my compass.
Anyone advocating price fixing/caps exemplify the saying, Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it (or some other form of the quote attributed to numerous persons). Remember 1971 and the price controls fiasco?
Being accused of contributing to homelessness and being called a mass murderer because we worked hard and can now afford a nice RV and can stay in nice RV resorts is offensive and serves only to make me less sympathetic to those who condemn me. You might want to reconsider how you try to “help” those you claim to want to save.
And I have a suggestion for those looking for a more affordable way to see the national parks. Instead of looking to the government for a handout – which is all a price cap would be – try doing what I did as a single Mom. Buy a tent and then you only need a tent site – much more economical than a camper. My grown boys still talk about their adventures while camping. It was the only way we could afford to travel, so that’s what we did.
Changing the language or the meanings of words won’t help Nan.
Mass Murder? = Mass suicide (more appropriate).
Unhoused? = Homeless.
Sorry Nan, your the problem not the solution but two thumbs up on your virtue. Seasonal campers are not agents of gentrification. In most cases, FT campers are enjoying the fruits of a successful life. Enjoying the harvest after a lifetime of hard work as opposed to a lifetime if hard drug use (Nan’s constituents). Equity is for losers.
I think unhoused works better because these people have homes sometimes. The home just happens to be a Car, tent or rv. And a full time 70 year old who needs help isn’t going to bristle at being called person without a house.
Completely understand your point. I think that there are a few different scenarios in play in that article. Laying the blame at the feet of seasonal campers is misplaced. As is blaming FT lifestyle RVers.
I have seen the term unhoused used often to describe sidewalk campers with tarps and crack pipes. The truly homeless but most often homeless by choice. The elderly and most vulnerable should not be lumped into this category. As we house 25 y.o. healthy illegals in 4 star hotels, where is our equal measure of compassion for our underserved seniors?
I agree with you. Homeless is not a derogatory slur but a description of the way they are living. It isn’t about labeling – it’s a fact.
And the point you make about safely housing criminal illegal immigrants instead of our homeless is another fact – we should be spending those government funds on Americans.
And to Natalie: It isn’t whether these people are in a car, tent or RV – they are homeless if the circumstances fits. Unhoused more like they have no car, tent or RV…seems much more derogatory.
Home- noun- 1. the place where one lives PERMANENTLY, especially as a member of a family or household.
They didn’t bristle at being called homeless either until people like you attached a stigma to it…
Reading the comments brings to mind “Ready Player One” where the solution to space for RVs and manufactured homes was to go up. How long will it be before we see double decker RV “resorts”?
We have become an extremely short-sighted society. We keep making cars but can’t maintain our roads. (We also complain about poor infrastructure then complain louder about use taxes). We cram new housing together so close you can spit on your neighbor, then have brown-outs due to the increased power demand. We put out the newest “smart” appliances but many areas still can’t get decent signals. We put out more RVs but don’t build or maintain enough campgrounds.
What was the old expression about “putting the cart before the horse?”
Oh, and about those electric cars…
Nan A helps homeless people make excuses and blame their problems on other people. I suspect Nan A isn’t as helpful as she thinks she is…
So now moving into, investing and improving a lower class neighborhood is now bad? What is the alternative?
Exactly, “gentrification” is now a bad word.
“…need to be able to work and do school assignments. I feel they need to put a cap on RV rates within a certain distance to a national park of $50-$65/night or less…”
Please be sure some of the school assignments are Economics 101. Artificial price caps by government have never increased supply or had any long term positive effect. I don’t like the higher prices either, but would never advocate for government intervention of price caps.
…like subsidizing the private sector oil industry…
How exactly are they doing that? By bombing Nordsteam ll pipeline or something less sinister?
And just who are “they”? Is it not free enterprise?
100% in agreement. Supply and demand is the only way to set prices. Myopic to think otherwise.
I agree that caps are a clumsy tool that don’t work. However, it is sad that many families cannot afford even a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the great national parks. Even planning ahead; I was looking at $65 a night for a tiny dry-camping ‘site’ in one of the big parks. Plus whatever the fees are, plus the jacked-up cost of sites getting out west in the first place.
Because the supply is tight in season, both public and private campgrounds charge whatever someone will pay. It’s not fair that only the upper crust can pay it. Maybe caps aren’t the way to go, but right now we are catering to foreign tourists and the well-to-do, instead of making an affordable way for people to see these great parks.
whoops that was a reply to “jewel”
It’s called, “Work and earn”
you want nice things? Get a job and earn them!
Ditto – Most of my tenants had 20, 30 and even 40 year tenure. Left the small apartment business because government wanted more control over my properties and tenants than I had. Don’t let them do this to camping.
Govt is seldom the solution and moreover is usually the problem. This is possibly the singular occasion I can think of that govt may be able to have a positive impact on both ends of an equation.
Double or triple the camping spaces in the national park system. Use some of my tax dollars for that infrastructure.
That could ease the pricing pressure on private parks while making our national parks more accessible to more lower tier campers and young families.
Unfortunately it has an adverse affect on the natural supply and demand pricing and business structures of privately owned parks. Every path has a negative consequence for someone. Gotta be nimble if your in the private sector but this is a 20 year infrastructure program at best.
While homelessness is truly an epidemic, I think Nan’s complaint is a little misdirected. The death rate of homeless people in big cities is not related to RV parks, which are generally located outside of cities. But if they are living in RVs, are they now still considered homeless? Otherwise, I’m confused.
The developers and owners of pricy RV resorts are what’s pricing everyone out of RV parks. New RV owners seem to prefer those to the standard camping experience.
Seasonal RVers are not typically full-time and are generally in the southern states so I’m confused about that complaint.
I do agree those who sell everything to RV full-time (not landlords) are forcing changes to a lot of the campground and resort availability. I personally have been glad to see some of these people are starting to buy homes for base so they take the pressure off RV site availability.
People locking up a site full-time with a phantom camper unoccupied 6 months a year, while keeping a home base, are what’s putting pressure on site availability, in the big ‘seasonal park’ snowbird states.
People booking 10 weekends a year at their local state park are what’s putting pressure on the public parks in the rest of the country. If the problem were full time travelers, why are the parks 80% empty all week and then overflowing on weekends? Answer, it’s not the full timers.
If you want to blame people, I agree that the ‘resort’ developers are not helping; and I’ll add that our national and state governments seem to think providing parks was something you did in the 50’s, and no need to provide more spaces and facilities for the new 100 million people who need a place to have recreation.
Good points. We are losing a Texas state Park due to the land they leased for decades has been sold to developers for a multimillion dollar home a golf course development.
Texas is working on a new state park to open the end of this year but in a different location.
As they say, they don’t make land anymore.
Living for weeks in a campground is a problem though. And try booking popular spots for any weekend. People get up before dawn just to try and beat the rush on reservations.
These bot sites that reserve and hold spots are contributing to the problem. And people book up more than they need or will use just to get their reservation in.
“People locking up a site full-time with a phantom camper unoccupied 6 months a year, while keeping a home base, are what’s putting pressure on site availability, in the big ‘seasonal park’ snowbird states.”
Sun RV is now forcing this at several of their campgrounds (I will not use the word “resort”). We stopped at one we’ve stayed at in the past, Rainbow RV in Frostproof, FL, and were told by the office that they no longer accept transient stays, EVERYONE must agree to an annual contract.
We stopped at another Sun RV place and were told by friends that the office is forcing everyone into an annual contract there as well. They were already on a 3-year “7 and 5” contract, which meant they had to pay for 12 months plus utilities but must vacate their spot for 5 months of the year and it would NOT be re-rented out. Their fixed contact price went up a bunch when the county increased the property taxes and Sun RV decided to spread out the increase among everyone and pointed to the contract clause that said they could.
At the Tampa RV Show we stopped at the Sun RV very large display inside and all the person who we talked to would say is “Call the headquarters” when his name badge showed he worked at that office.
We used to prefer Sun RV but now they’re turning into kind of a slum landlord of RV parks due to the deterioration of the sites and the junk-looking permanents.
Are any other big chains forcing annual contracts and stopping transient stays?