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.
Has KOA single-handedly ruined camping?
Herb L. is wondering why he still RVs. He writes, “I must travel alone like one chap and being in my 70s the distance is a big issue. KOA [Kampgrounds of America] has almost single-handedly ruined the camping experience and culture. I’ve lost track of the number of private parks they purchased… threw out the seasonal. They tried to create a theme park going at prices that are obscene.
“Part of the equation that doesn’t change and is totally ignored is the capital costs we have in our rigs, no matter how big or small. When that’s added into the equation we’ve gotta be nuts to do this. I love watching boondockers and have a very small rig (an enclosed cargo trailer WeeRoll) with solar. But here in the east, it’s a dream. People don’t want it, so knocks on the door are common, not the exception. I’m wondering why l, we, still do this???? The numbers don’t add up even if you’re passionate about being in nature.”
What side of the fence looks greener?
Brenda O. sent us a list of all the things that can affect our “Happy Camping.” She says, “We have traveled the U.S. in a variety of rigs, work camped, homeschooled on the road. Tried to do it all. Things have changed over that time… drastically. (Does anyone even remember when weekend and weekday prices were the same?)
“Nowadays, fewer campgrounds allow discounts. Passport America CGs are getting so finicky that unless you are traveling only on Wednesdays of every even-numbered month, in specific towns, in a 15′ or smaller rig, you don’t qualify. Membership in discount clubs has increased but they are all space available and when crowded = less useful.
“The following variables seem to create the perfect storm, seriously impacting our perception of ‘Happy Camping’:
1. Location, location, location (what are we getting away from and what side of the fence looks greener?)
2. Time of year/season (think SNOW — either birds or skiers)
3. Size of camper (USFS/COE parks tend to be lower fees but smaller sites)
4. Weekday vs. weekend (scratch weekends)
5. Amenities desired (a parking space vs. swimming pool/clubhouse)
6. Branding (KOA vs. mom and pop)
7. Proximity to a body of water (ocean or creek, doesn’t matter)
8. Seasonal vs. long-term (think steadier income stream = owners don’t have to make all their $$ during high season).
“I’m sure there are more. The formula varies, but it too often produces a negative. Positive solution: DIY (buy land)!”
As costly as owning a house
James C. notes that living and traveling in an RV can be as expensive as owning a house! He explains, “Public park campgrounds in California are more crowded these days as there are more people in the state to fill them to include visitors. Many resemble RV parking lots in both public and private parks. I find private RV parks in the mid-price range to higher-cost RV resorts less crowded and easier to book on short notice. Everything costs more, camping and park fees, fuel, food, and fun in general. Owning and living or traveling in a home on wheels can be just as costly as owning and living in a home planted in the dirt. The culture to be found in any public or private park is related directly to what management enforces or allows.”
New owners intent on asset branding, not asset management
Jim J. points out the differences when private investors purchase a campground. Here are his thoughts: “The previously family-owned RV park specializing in longer-term seasonal RVing was sold to private investors with no campground experience several months back. They hired an RV management company.
“It is really obvious that the park management experience has primarily been with worker parks and/or lower-income housing, or short-term higher amenity parks. The new owners are much more comfortable with ‘asset branding’ than ‘asset management.’ We have new bright colors, a new logo, and public TV sets that apparently can only run infomercials.
“We also have unmowed grass, excess weeds and what formerly was an excellent water system. Photos of park activities appear on Facebook with no mention that those activities are all organized and self-funded by the seasonal residents and not the owners or their hired managers. We all know higher rates are coming for these ‘improved amenities.'”
Knew this day was coming
Walt and Mary S. find it is just not fun anymore. They say, “Well, I knew that day would be coming. This summer will in all probability be our last long RV adventure. Over the past 20 years, we have traversed the entire U.S.A. multiple times. Just prior to the Covid pandemic we hardly ever made campground reservations months in advance. While wandering America, if we stayed a few days and liked the area, we would just stay a few more days or a week. Now when we travel we are forced to book way in advance. It’s too bad if we want to stay longer, we can’t. Must move on to the next destination. It is just not as fun anymore.”
No problem with getting campsites but problems with the weather
Peter H. had no issue finding campsites but they did with the weather! “The very first week of January 2023, we decided to attend a rally outside of Quartzsite, AZ. We had no reservations anywhere, made more than an hour in advance. We fought the ‘atmospheric river’ effects all along our trip from North Idaho, through Washington, Oregon, and Nevada. That meant we had to make many more stops than expected to reach our destination. We had no trouble at all finding a place to stop for the night. Through bad timing, we had to fight the same sort of weather on the way home. This time it was through Salt Lake City and north. Again, we had no trouble finding a place to stay. Admittedly, who wants to travel to or from the northern states in the winter? We did, and had no trouble finding overnight stops in campgrounds. Time of year makes a huge difference.”
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: Costs have risen, and this RVer’s spreadsheet is solid proof
Koa is a franchise company like McDonald’s. The problem is they have no control on how much the owner of the koa charges the consumer for long term stays. On the other hand, people live in some of these campground sites year round for so long they think they own the campground or their section of the campground. A lot of these people have no respect for the over night camper. Typically the speed limit is 5mph. They get on their golf carts and go 10 to 15 mph. With no regard to kids or wildlife. The workers also drive the golf carts fast. This is why the rules and undesirables. cost of sites. Trying to get rid of the undesirables.
I suppose I’m spoiled living in the western US…we have an abundance of public lands on which to actually “camp”…whether it be out of our Jeep, in a tent, or in our RV..we stay in RV parks from time to time, but our favorite has always been boondocking. We like going where others don’t go, thus crowded, overpriced, and under-maintained commercial RV parks with tons of “rules” have never been an issue for us. Next to boondocking, state parks, national forest, and BLM campgrounds are next on our list. Most provide some nice features while still maintaining reasonable distance from fellow RV’ers and minimal intrusion into the “camping” experience. RV parks where rigs are shoehorned into every available space in order to maximize revenue just aren’t any fun.
If ever passing through Charleston wv come visit us at lazy k’s we are a family owned campground with 33 sites and 3 cabins for now
In 17 yrs FT we’ve stayed in 1 KOA, looked at two others, will never stay with them again. Bad attitude, overpriced, under maintained.
Corporate absorption of the camping industry has removed the “Personal” touch most people relished about the experience. People “Living” in CGs, not short term camping, making demands, destroying the property, is one factor driving M&P out of business.
FYI – “Complaining” is what helps regulate capitalism. You let providers know their failures by complaining or not returning. Most would rather hear complaints than stand around wondering where all their business went.
Several comments talk about KOA’s buying up all the Mom & Pop campgrounds. There has to be a seller for this to happen. Obviously KOA have made these parks offers they couldn’t refuse. Maybe smart on the M&P’s part if we do go into a recession. Also, can’t tell you the number of parks we used to/still stay at that were KOA’s that are now privately owned. They happened a few years ago, though.
Hey Nanci- ‘KOA’ not a single reference to this acronym in this article for the casual reader.
Thanks, Jazzy! We apologize for the oversight. It’s been corrected. Have a good afternoon/evening. 😀 –Diane at RVtravel.com
KOA is an acronym for Kampgrounds Of America
Wow! So many negative Ned’s and Nancy’s. We live full-time in our rig and we don’t recognize nor have we experienced the descriptions and complaints listed in these comments. We’re having a great time. Hope you will, too.
Yes, owning an RV is expensive, Yes campgrounds are expensive, even Mom and Pop campgrounds are expensive. Please get off of the theme “KOA’s suck! If you have a bad experience at a Mom and Pop campground does that make all Mom and Pop campgrounds bad? KOA is not responsible for all that is wrong with the RV industry. If you look around every thing is expensive food, gas, homes etc.
If you want to RV you must be responsible for yourself, you must do your own planning. No matter how much you whine no one is going to do it for you and make it better! There are still plenty of RVing opportunities out there if you’re willing to look for them.
Let’s try some positive “click bate ” for a change!
I am so tired of hearing the term “crowded” used in reference to every issue anyone has had camping for the last several years. By definition, being at full capacity doesn’t mean crowded. Being booked out months in advance doesn’t mean crowded. Raising rates while neglecting maintenance doesn’t mean crowded. The fundamental issue is increased demand for what is currently a fixed supply. Commercial parks are just doing what would be expected in a country that embraces laissez-faire capitalism, i.e. maximizing profits. Public parks are overwhelmed. They have been systematically underfunded and understaffed for years, and now we’re seeing the consequences.
Most of the people complaining here are those of us who have camped for years or even decades. It’s truly sad that the camping experience we used to enjoy is simply no longer possible. To me, it’s even sadder that young people will never have that experience.
Well said! I agree completely although I think a majority of the younger generation have no interest in the camping experience we grew up with.
3 KOA’s I have recently stayed at have put a little money into what they call their “premium” sites at double the money. In Red Bluff Calif there was a very nice RV Resort which KOA bought. Prices doubled overnight and no improvements. The KOA in Petaluma wants as much for their few premium sites as a nice hotel. The KOA in Corvallis Oregon threw down some pavers, put a table and chairs on top of them and now calls the sites “premium” at double the cost.
I like KOA’s, although I’ve never stayed in one.
They keep people from the parks I do frequent
I didn’t quite understand Herb Ls. Comment on “Has KOA single-handedly ruined camping?”. Can anyone elaborate?
KOA gobble up mom and pop campgrounds and turns it into “corporate camping.” They don’t have seasonal sites for full-time RV-ers and you’re stuck paying expensive nightly rates. They cram sites tightly together, the pool is always small and packed with kids, etc. I don’t know if this is what he meant, but it’s what I’ve seen.
In my opinion, as the RV industry slows to pre-Covid activity and the crazy campground demand that swelled during the pandemic diminishes, you will see fewer full or fully-booked campgrounds in your travels. When this happens the corporate CGs bought up in the last few years, not just by KOA, but Sun Resorts, Encore, Jellystone, and more may have For Sale signs on them. As soon as the big guys see the bottom line get smaller and smaller they’ll get out of the game faster than they got in. I hope!
I agree but my fear is they will simply close operations and sell the assets for building development vs keeping as campgrounds. The “investor speculators” couldn’t care less about camping. It was only visions of high profits. Nothing like a mom & pop campground that would want to see their legacy of hard work continue on.
Nah, they are just converting them to low-income senior housing for RVers. Lock in those annual fees til death. There are whole REITs dedicated to this.
Who needs travelers if you have permanent customers who never move?
Slightly unfair to single out KOA for this, it’s a nationwide problem of corporations buying campgrounds and KOA isn’t the worst of them. They’ve all raised prices way past what was necessary to keep up with inflation, but we’ve also continued to pay them so there’s no market correction. They’ll raise them until people don’t come. Where that limit is, who knows. Very discouraging.
Corporations Run This Country… (Sad)
KOA bought out a privately owned campground on Galveston Island that we stayed at for 3 seasons. They changed the “feel” of the campground from friendly to corporate…very stiff and smug. No communication via email for any changes.
They cant keep work campers for more than 3 weeks! So the maintenance of the grounds is suffering. The rates went up and we stayed away this year. Wonder how many other long term campers did that also!
As of last Thursday we sold our last RV, being octogenarians, politics, and expenses being out of sight we decided to hang it up. Now we’ll take short trips, stay in motels, eat in restaurants (we did that most of the time anyway) travel in our 47.8 mpg car and take it easy. As someone said, owning and using a RV is as expensive as owning a sticks and bricks house. We still have desires to take a nationwide train ride across the northwest and back across the southwestern country back home to TN. We just moved back to TN from a year in FL, that was an expensive experience, cost of living in FL is high. First sticker shock was when we changed our drivers license and tags, 2 tags(truck and trailer) 2 drivers license, $719.11 to answer my shock the lady said “but FL doesn’t have State Income Tax” to witch I replied neither does TN and all that would be less than $75. She was amazed and shocked!
A friend who lives in TN likes to brag about all the bennies senior citizens get from his state.
Tennessee does have a small income tax on most interest and dividends, but not wages or social security or IRA distributions. That said, I’ll bet property taxes, property insurance, car registration, and car insurance are much cheaper in TN.
Love Tn. But not the tornados. Sadly, I wouldn’t risk it. I always check the weather before we crossed the country. That being said, we sold our van, and are going to car travel also. We bought a Prius. We RVed for almost 40 years. 7 years full time. We tried to stay far away from campgrounds. Way too expensive. And the only reservations I made were Federal parks or east coast. Boondocking is the only way to go. Some great apps out there. Travel smaller and you have way more options.
Thanks Kathleen, love ur last sentence. Traveling smaller is also cheaper. I’ve been in my commercial looking rig since 2020 and it’s way cheaper than my apt in the city. Haven’t spent a dime on campsites. To all u RV folks complaining get rid of ur huge rig and downsize and downsize some more. Then do all of ur roaming around west of the Mississippi. You will thank me later. ✌️
We’re right there with you!
There you go. If you love travel, find the way that works for you!
I refuse to let outside forces affect my camping experience. Time changes everything. Sometimes for the better, Sometimes not. What I miss is my kids being small and inquisitive, being amazed by the littlest thing. Those memories and the new ones being made by my wife and I as we camp alone, far outweigh anything.
“I refuse to let outside forces affect my camping experience.”
My thoughts exactly! Thanks.
Me too. Well put.
Absolutely agree with you , Ace, and Craig.
This *is* America, where capitalism is king. The only way a change can be made (pricing, maintenance, etc.) is with your dollars. But when lower price campgrounds are full, and you have to have something, most will pay the crazy rates at a higher priced location.
When that happens to us, we just inconvenience ourselves and move further away for our stay in a particular area.
Loves has opened full hook up sites for $35. A night. What does that say about the future of rving?
It’s getting harder and harder for the mom and pop parks to stay going. Doesn’t help them that corporations are buying them up in droves for Theme rv parks. Its ruining the experience completely.
Is Capitalism or Greed king ?
It’s greedy capitalism!