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.
Rates skyrocketing? Work camp!
Bob S. found rates skyrocketed but found a way to make things work. He explains, “We’re not full-timers per se, but we spend seven months/year in our RV. For the last 10 years, we have spent every other summer near Yellowstone NP in full hook-up RV parks. We enjoyed a monthly rate of $650 to $750 including electric. When we tried to make our reservations for last summer, we found that all RV parks within 30 miles of an entrance to Yellowstone were charging $80 to $100 or more per night ($2,400 to $3,000/mo.). No weekly or monthly or other discounts were offered. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way; we still spent last summer near Yellowstone, but we had to find work camper positions.”
Drive around and find a site in Florida…
Richard H. knows sites are booked up in Florida but has a tip to find one: “Here in Florida this winter, we’re finding campgrounds are booked up like always. BUT, in Florida, there are many, many RV parks everywhere! Some are not listed anywhere, but in driving around we see tons of them. Also finding many RVers use Florida campgrounds as their winter destination, so they do not travel—they just park for a few months. Many RV parks seem to like this as they fill most spots quickly for the winter season.”
Parks don’t need to care about campers anymore
David C. notes that if they have to stay five months to have a nice site they may as well buy a house. Here’s why: “We love to stay at state and county parks where we are not stacked in like sardines. We find ourselves on the computer at midnight trying to lock in two weeks at a park and mostly fail. If we do get two weeks we can’t find parks to move to for another two weeks as some of you have to make your reservations six months in advance.
“We are now staying at a private park crammed in with some of the worst water we have ever seen. We have to change our triple filter setup every week and can only use the water to flush toilets and the shower. Also, we have lost our water five times this month and one day we lost our power for eight hours as the power company was replacing transformers. Never is there any advanced notice given.
“The parks don’t seem to care as they don’t have to worry about finding tenants anymore. On a trip to Montana last summer, we stopped at a park only needing an outlet for the night and were charged $99. Gouging is rampant. Greed seems to be the problem these days. It is not uncommon to see hotel rooms cheaper than parking on asphalt in your RV. The park we are now in is owned by a corporation and they simply don’t care.
“I am investigating solar panels so we can start boondocking. The only way to camp affordably anymore in parks is to stay a month or more. The premium sites are available to folks who want to stay a minimum of five months. If we do that, then we might as well purchase a home in the area. The nomadic lifestyle has come to an end.”
Big mistake to live in an RV
David C. compares the appreciation of RVs and houses. He writes, “I feel that someone who sells their home for living in an RV in retirement is making a big mistake. Just like cars, RVs depreciate in value, unlike your home, which probably appreciated big time in the past few years. The term ‘recreational vehicle’ always sticks in my head. RVs are built for recreational use. Not permanent living.”
Debi K. loves KOAs! “We love KOA campgrounds and stay strictly there unless there’s nothing nearby as an option. They are cleaner than other campgrounds. They are charming and usually have amenities that the other campgrounds do not have. Of course, the weekends are typically sold out, but as a couple that can travel any day we want, that’s not a big deal for us.”
Campground crowding forces you to be a better planner
Bobby S. plans his trips well in advance. “Yes, they (campgrounds) are booked. I have given up going last-minute camping. No such thing. Book my four trips a year plenty in advance and have gotten used to that. Campgrounds are the same to me. I camp during the week. Never on weekends, so crowding isn’t usually a problem. Not seeing more seasonal or permanent, but I really don’t notice that. Non-resident fees will force me to stay within the state of California. Too bad because I really wanted to see Glacier and Bryce Canyon. I won’t go to campgrounds that charge you a fee to camp and then an entrance fee at the gate. Yes, crowding will affect me, but, as I said, I book plenty ahead of time and for weekday camping. It forces you to be a better planner.”
“It’s all what you make of it”
Dawn L. books one weekend a month for the season. “We camp here in central Pennsylvania and still love it. The average price is $55-75 a night, which is reasonable, I think. No problem getting a single site or booking for our group of eight. We have been looking for new campgrounds to stay instead of old faithfuls. We are booked for one weekend a month for the 2023 season. Most sites are plenty big enough and have all you need for a great weekend. It’s all what you make of it.”
The pandemic changed many things
Suzanne W. has noticed a lot of changes, particularly no refunds. “Hi. We full-time RV; we started in 2017. We started small and worked up to a bigger camper. It was fun the first couple years, then the pandemic hit. It has changed many things. We do have to get reservations made long before the stay. In the summer especially.
“We also noticed the big corporations buying the smaller RV resorts. They raise rates for seasonal people and put no money into the infrastructure. Many parks have sewer problems! And it smells! The one we are at now. You pay upfront for your stay, too. No refunds. You are stuck. It’s not good. We are looking for a place to want to live year-round. It’s not here in Yuma. California got too expensive.”
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“Said enough for now”
Tom M. sees the changes in RV parks, too. He writes, “Yes, you are correct. You must book far in advance if you want a spot or you’re out of luck. Yes, you see the same as we do, campgrounds are getting less attractive as they change their amenities. One used to offer cable TV, now they don’t and they just raised their monthly rate by $100. They no longer have paper towels in the bathroom, they installed a rest area hand dryer. Now they changed the shower heads in showers so it takes twice as long to get the soap off. That is one campground I’m getting away from. There is more but I’ve said enough for now.”
Investment in a new trailer a mistake?
Larry L. has been reading about the issues that a lot of people have had finding sites and wondering if they made a mistake. Here’s why: “We have been exclusively boondocking in National Forest Service areas in Colorado with virtually no problems the last few years. Mainly, because it was very hard to reserve anything during Covid. But, given the cynicism about reservable sites I keep seeing here, I’m beginning to wonder if our recent investment in a new trailer will come to be a mistake. We want to travel the country, but I can’t imagine going on long trips without securing sites in areas we’re not familiar with. And that looks to be a big problem moving forward.”
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: Rates tripled for full-time RV residents in less than a year
There is a diff between the classic RVer and using RVing as an alternative housing situation. A distinction between campgrounds and RV Parks should be made. I like RV parks because it keeps my homeland undeveloped and yet people can stay long periods with their amenities without destroying my homeland with vacation housing. That is a huge pro for RV Parks. When you CAMP that entails much less amenities and a tent not watching Netflix which you can do at home or in an RV park designed for that. But RVing is not just squatting like people are doing since COVID giving the average RVer a bad rap. There is an increase in rude, unprepared, overly demanding people. The nomadic RV life is fun but should not be the same as squatting or housing alternative to inability to get housing. I think RV Parks should be geared for those longer stays and campgrounds reserved for just that: camping for a week, no Netflix.
Living in an rv park for 10 months is a ‘nomadic lifestyle’? Hmm good to know hahah
Lol, normal people live in a house…
I went full time Aug 3,22, so, going on 9 months. The only reservation I’ve made was for when I picked up my new ’13 Scamp up in Minnesota. I boondock as much as possible, which isn’t hard at all. COE,BLM,National Parks, some National Forests. I do have “overnighters” sometimes for when I’ve toured or driven too long to hunt a good spot, in Walmart, Cracker barrel n truck stops. By the way, I LOVE the truck stops, laundry, showers, gas, propane n usually a restaurant. There’s also road side n historical site parks that allow you to stay overnight, in addition to some states visitor centers. Unless you’re wanting fancy amenities, pools, games, or right at/or on top of an attraction, there’s plenty of campsites available. It is what you make it.
That is exactly the spirit of nomadic—RVing. I just loved it. I wasn’t sitting around in one campground for months watching Netflix. I was out there living life and seeing the local diversity of different places and truly appreciating it. I had the ability to move around a lot. Amenities weren’t a huge ordeal because like you said some of those truck stops are the bee’s knees
I disagree with your comments on selling our home and full time rv’ing. We are retired so this is our idea of taking the comforts of home with us AND being able to see the country. We invested the proceeds of our sale so that if we leave this lifestyle..we can invest in another sticks and bricks.
Wow! Just WOW!!! I’m somewhat new to this. Pray I don’t run into you! I’ve had a total blast! Guess attitude dictates what you get in return. I’m free at State Parks (Purple Heart and 100 % Combat Disabled). People have been great!!! Maybe you should stay home for the rest of us. God Bless and Happy Easter! WOW!!!
The best decision we made was to jettison our class C and get into a Coachmen Beyond 22′ Ford Transit van. We had to make concessions on “stuff” but with solar, inverter, etc., it’s a way to camp anywhere when traveling and while most people were searching for campgrounds in FL this past winter I was enjoying the space, solitude and beauty of Tate’s Hell and Apalachicola state forests along with many other out of the way, unimproved campgrounds. For us, traveling nimble and unfettered beats having an RV that’s equipped like a suburban home.
We find nice campgrounds outside the major parks, usually within an hours drive, that charge reasonable rates, and usually have available spots open. Drive into the parks in the tow behind early in the mornings, and get out before the large crowds show up.
I hope no one’s disappointed, but I’m not going to complain. There are a plethora of camping options and opportunities to be had. At this moment we are at a COE campground for a fortnight, full hook-ups, $12/night (with senior discount), and very content.
This is our style: Upon arriving at a campground on a Monday the first thing we do is log into recreation.gov, select the filters of choice, look for a place to stay for two weeks beginning two weeks hence, make our reservation, and enjoy the two weeks where we currently are. It’s an intentional choice to be random. We’ve had excellent experiences that couldn’t have been had by the best laid plans.
Congratulations on the perfect program for you both. Inspiring.
We have several Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama state parks within 3-4 hours by RV. We are retired and have been largely successful in finding available campsites Sunday to Friday. I’d sooner be home on the werkends anyway, given how crowded campgrounds tend to be on those days. We try to travel somewhere every 3 or 4 weeks and the availability of utilities rarely constrains us.
If camping is this bad, then get out, but quit bitichin.
I second that comment sir.
Our ‘drive in and hope for a spot’ camping style has worked well for us over the years. Of course, we don’t drive into high end resort-style parks to get a spot next to the golf course or near the five-star restaurant either. State parks and out-of-the-way mom and pop campgrounds fit our lifestyle much better.
I know it’s only April, but we’ve been doing okay and have been “winging it.” We do a lot of boondocking (staying on BLM land in AZ at the moment) and mix in a night or two of a campground in a less popular area to dump and get water. But we’re not planning more than a week in advance and have never struggled to find somewhere to stay the night. I guess we’ll see as we get into summer.
Unfortunately, very early planning is now required. enhanced profit without enhanced facilities really hurts.
Enhanced profit is a beautiful thing for private park owners. Happy for them. Enhanced profit for state and federal parks, we are in agreement.
Because governments need no money to operate?
They don’t need profits. Government is not a business. They need money to operate as you say, not to turn a profit. I was purely referring to “profits” and “enhanced profits”.