RV sales have slowed 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.
“True campers don’t care about fancy RV sites”
Milton L. is a lifetime camper and is unhappy. Here’s why: “I have been camping my whole life, as a kid with parents and as an adult camping mostly KOA. My VIP is no. Pm7. That tells you how long I have camped. Camping was a cheaper way to travel. I have stayed at KOAs in 45 states, and some more than once.
“I am almost done with camping, it is getting too expensive. $100 to $130 a night is outrageous! Campgrounds are catering to the glamming ($5 millionaires) who will only camp for a few years and then are done. I have had discussions with many others saying that camping days are pretty much over. Retired campers are doing the nomad, free locations. True campers don’t care about fancy RV sites. A level full-hookup at a sensible rate ($40-$50) is plenty. Unhappy lifetime camper!!”
One snowbird couple’s camping system
Steve H. tells us about a couple he met and their camping system. He writes, “Most snowbirders want to stay in a single RV ‘resort’ for the entire season. But we met a retired couple who had a completely different approach to snowbirding. They had a pickup and a 25′ Airstream and made a series of reservations for a dry national seashore campground and a full hook-up RV park 25 miles up the coast. The public campground had a 14-day stay limit, but no monthly or seasonal stay limit. So, they reserved a National Park Service campground for 14 days, then the private RV park for two days, then back to the National Park Service campground for another 14 days for the entire winter.
“The National Park Service campground had a dump with potable water, so they would fill the Blue Boy, haul it to the dump behind the truck, fill two 5-gallon plastic jugs with fresh water to pour into the trailer’s tank, and run their generator to recharge the batteries.
“During the two days at the RV park, they grocery shopped, did their laundry, and ate a nice dinner at their favorite restaurant. Then repeated the whole 16-day process all winter. They loved their lifestyle of hiking the dunes, beachcombing, birding, riding their mountain bikes, and enjoying the warm weather!”
55+ RV park won’t let his 47-year-old wife in!
Steve S. is 57 but can’t get into a 55+ RV park with his 47-year-old wife. He explains, “We want to go full-time in 2024. I’m 57, my wife is 47. The RV parks we want won’t let us in because they are 55+. Most good ones are. We have no kids, no pets, don’t smoke and are quiet. It’s hard to find any good places.”
Parks get a lot of cancellations, so stay flexible
William H. tells us to not give up: “Here in Michigan, we have a reservation system with two windows per year, each covering six-month period. The navigation of the system is tedious but works well. I just managed to lock in sites at five different parks without difficulty. Having said that, I’m retired and traveling alone. I’m always flexible as to dates and length of stay unless I’m trying for a special set of days or stringing stays at different parks together. I’ve stayed in rest stops and in private parks to take up a night or two between reservations. Yes, it’s crowded out there, but parks also get a lot of cancellations, so my advice is to be flexible as possible, be calm, plan ahead when you can, and don’t give up on a site that may open at any time. Happy Camping!”
Unruly kids and inattentive parents
Bill H. totally avoids holiday weekends. He says, “Campground crowding can be a real issue, especially once school is out and families can finally get away. I nearly (I mean nearly!) struck a kid riding his bike through my campsite. It was almost dark and he was moving at a high rate of speed. Someone could have been seriously hurt. I completely avoid camping during the summer holidays. Too many unruly kids and less than attentive parents.”
A technique that (surprisingly) works
Nancy T. just finds a site when her husband is done driving and it works for them. “We started RVing about two years ago when it was going crazy. Maybe we are just used to how it is now. We usually go to the SW for winter (Nov.–Mar.). I usually make reservations for our end destination, when we decide, about 3-5 months in advance.
“On our way, we stop when hubby is done driving. He lets me know to start looking as he’s exiting the highway, lol, so I start Googling. We like F/U’s, but have a 27-foot trailer, so easier sometimes. We then check for openings, then drive by and sometimes through. If acceptable, we stop at the office; if not, try the next one with decent (4+) ratings. We have always had luck with this method. Sometimes we stay more than one night if the price is right. Absolutely prices have gone up. Maybe they will go down when the people that found out they hate this stop coming. One can hope.”
Require a confirmation and end no-shows!
Jim H. has an idea to deal with no-shows. He explains, “If ALL campgrounds would REQUIRE a confirmation two or three days before arrival or else the reservation is forfeited and the site becomes available to others. Folks are making MULTIPLE reservations for the same timeframe at different campgrounds, for multiple weekends particularly if no deposit is required, showing up where they choose, and letting the other reservations they made go unfilled. I have been at campgrounds that show booked solid online but with many vacant sites. It’s unfair to the campground owners as well as the folks who desire a long-term reservation.”
Renting a home was even cheaper than camping
Mike M. has found campground and short-term home rental prices going up, up up. Here are his thoughts: “Camping used to be an economical way to travel with family and friends. As prices rose to camp, we started to rent homes as it was a less expensive option. Now the cost of renting homes has risen so much that we are back to camping, but the price umbrella for homes has allowed (and in some cases justified) camping costs to rise and now become less attractive at campgrounds and resorts. Now, when traveling, we stay at ‘truck stop’ camps, Walmarts, or state parks and only stay at campgrounds when extending our stay to a week or more.”
Called “RV resorts” but no resort updates. Have others seen this?
Donna P. has noticed that campgrounds are calling themselves “resorts” with no resort upgrades. “Recently we have noticed campgrounds are going to the ‘resort’ end of the camping experience but have not really upgraded their campground to reflect that. Right now we’re staying with family who has an RV hookup. However, the campground we used to stay at close by has raised their rates to $75 a night, a ‘resort’ but no pool, no playground, or other ‘resort-y’ amenities. This is not the first one we’ve seen do this. Has anyone else discovered this?”
Debbie S. is a traveling nurse and has no interest in becoming a permanent RV park resident. She says, “As a traveling nurse camping both in the southern Gulf states and Northeast, I find all the parks have about 50-75% permanent residents. To get a site you must be diligent to get in early if in the Northeast, especially before the season begins.
“I think permanent residents take away the culture of outdoor camping as it was meant to be. I stay for 13 weeks only, then move on to another site states away. The permanent residents build add-ons to their campers, add large decks, sheds, fences, you name it. It is more like a trailer park than a campground. Again, it takes away the beauty of camping. Hopefully, camping will return to its natural state. I am doing the traveling camping for the next few years then retiring to a brick and mortar house. I have no interest in being a permanent resident of a campground.”
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: Weekenders are hogging the parks, making longer reservations impossible
Tell Steve that his wife just became 55 when they go to those parks. She can just look young for her age. That’s nonsense. When I was in my 40’s my Mom and I built a place in a 55+ community. All they cared about was that one member of the household was over 55 and no one was 18 or younger.
My husband and I have been full-timing for over 9 years and we discovered many years ago that RV ‘Resorts’ are not necessarily better at all than ‘Parks’. Other than possibly to charge more money.
Dear Steve S.;
Get with the times. You wife only need identify as a 55 year old. Age, gender and race are all fluid in 2023. Once your checked in and hooked up the sewer and power, she can be 47 again. If she prefers once your settled in, to identify as a 28 year old, no problem. Stimulating conversation will be lacking however.
If that doesn’t work, have her identify as an emotional support animal. They can’t keep you out for having an emotional support animal.
Good luck and happy travels.
I told my wife that not telling her true age would catch up with her at one time or another.
55 and over places, in most states, cannot restrict spouses of those 55 and over. Check the state law. I was 50 when I moved into a 55+ community. By Oregon law they had to allow a certain number of under 55s if they meet the other requirements such as no children.
When parks want you to be a certain age to enter, or want your RV to be a certain age, you simply tell them what they want to hear. I’m guessing they aren’t going to go out and check your VIN.
Tommy, my thoughts exactly… especially the age thing.
Reading about 55 and older
My little girl is now a senior
Got her first copy of aarp yesterday
Finally old enough to live at our 55+ resort
Tell Steve’s wife to stop dying her hair…most folks don’t ask a gray-haired lady to show her ID!
I am not a fan of requiring confirmations at every park before arrival! We are almost finished booking about 5 or 6 nights on our way from Florida to NY this summer, mostly in state or regional parks. Between the campground research and actual scheduling, that’s taken a lot of time. And we actually have other things to do in life. Maybe that’s perfect for someone retired with nothing else to do. But we think that is ridiculous. However, at state parks, and locally at private parks near our home, we either pay in advance (state parks) or pay a hefty deposit. That is fine and should be enough. We wouldn’t mind if we had to pay 100% ahead of time then had the option to get a refund within a few days of the reservation, like for really bad weather, which is the only reason we normally cancel.
If it was something like my Drs do…text message two or three days before: “you have an upcoming appointment. text “Y” if you plan to keep it, “N” to cancel.”
We have found resorts or campgrounds advertising 55+ is just an advertising slogan and NOT anything they enforce or maintain. We have found families with 2 to 3 kids, young adults, etc all staying in these parks. We are told although the resort/campground advertise they are 55+ they are not allowed to turn away anyone below that age. We also concur the change in campers today. Walking thru sites, playing loud outside music or their TV’s, letting their dogs do their business on every site, running golf carts up and down the roads, lighting on all night, etc. It’s no longer about getting out in nature and enjoying the quiet. Based on the trend occurring in most campgrounds, things are not about to change. We now try to boon dock as often as we can. Getting unplugged and being able to recharge was the reason we started camping. We are finding it harder but with a little effort we can still find that special spot.
Bill H is typical of the children-hating old fogeys out there. To them I say go to 55+ parks and leave us families to enjoy the rest of them. Kids & camping go together like graham crackers, chocolate & marshmallows.
Kids still need boundaries and to be taught respect. Just because they’re camping doesn’t mean rules go out the window and they can be allowed to run wild and do as they please.
Re the 55+ park and the under 55 spouse, we’ve never run across an issue with that. Heck, we’ve stayed in 55+ parks in FL when neither of us had hit that milestone yet. Generally, as long as one of you is over 55, that’s all that matters, if they even confirm it.
But yeah, we totally resonate with the “inattentive parents and unruly children” problem. We spent several months this winter in a SoCal resort that seemed to be a magnet for homeschoolers. While I get that having your 3 kids cooped up in your RV can get old, letting them scream outside unattended under our bedroom window was no bueno. Same with the weekenders who think the entire campground wants to hear their blaring music and non-stop party. That’s where the noisy roof a/c’s come in handy to drown that out when this old person wants to get some sleep.
My experience has been the same with 55+ parks. The few we have stayed in say as long as 1 is 55 or older, that’s all. It’s just more of a lifestyle they are trying to maintain. We aren’t retired yet so we have stayed at a few in the off-season in Arizona to visit relatives and never a problem.
I’ve never even heard of an over 55 park requirement that both people be over 55. That’s a first for me.
A 58 year old polygamist with 3 wives goes camping. The first wife is 54, the second wife is 53 and third wife is 52 making 75% of the married occupants under 55 then maybe the agrigate of the ages is just too young but in marriages where only half of the particpants (one of 2) are over 55 this simply does not pass the sniff test…. FISHY.