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.
RV park manager speaks out
Carol S. has seen profound changes in the RV parks, too. She writes: “The changes in campgrounds and RV parks have been profound in the past decade. As a retired RV park manager that works part-time now, I have first-hand knowledge of these changes. RV parks are expensive to own or to operate—most must make a year’s expenses in just a few months. This is true both in the Pacific Northwest (summer) and the Desert Southwest (winter), where we share our time.
“Just as inflation and migration have affected us personally, the RV parks have been equally affected while additional costs like insurance, permits, upkeep, and taxes add to an already tight budget. As for reservations, in the not-too-distant past, we made our phone calls to the owner or manager and secured it with a promise of coming on a certain date. That was great for the camper, but not so for the park when you were a no-show without paying for the site first.
“Now it is all online, rarely talking to a person. This has guaranteed the park or campground gets paid, but no more just showing up and getting a site. It also adds to the cost—reservation systems usually charge per reservation and it can be significant.”
Have you looked at motel prices lately?
Bill J. took a cross-country trip and motel prices were high, too. He writes: “I haven’t had many problems at all booking any sites for this summer’s 5-month travels. I honestly don’t stay in state parks often but use private parks. My go-to when full-timing was KOA, not for the amenities, but I’ve found in 7 years of travel that they almost always have large pull-thrus. I had a 41’ motorhome plus a car hauler. I have more flexibility in sites now that I am 35’ with a toad.
“Prices are indeed much higher at all parks. Many seem shocked, but I would ask have they looked at motel/hotel prices lately? I’m afraid if they did, cardiac arrest might be a possibility. I took a cross-country car trip to get my niece’s car for her. Oregon to Florida and $135 a night in a Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere was my cheapest night! Open your eyes, RV parks aren’t in a vacuum! Everything costs more … much more. Why would you think running an RV park is any different?”
Not leaving it to chance
Mike M. has traveled extensively and has experienced issues with crowding, too. He says, “Having traveled/camped to Alaska from Pennsylvania twice for three months (once via the Southwest in 2022 and once through the middle of the U.S in 2018), we have experienced all of the issues mentioned previously by people that camped for many years.
“We learned early on for these long trips to plan a year in advance so as to have campgrounds where we wanted to stay and not leave it to chance while on the road. Gone (mostly) are the days of many sites available when on the road. Planning ahead also allows you to choose the price range you want to spend and not leave it to chance.”
Searching more, but that’s the fun!
Richard B. has a great attitude about finding campsites. He tells us: “We’re on our trip back east from Arizona and, as with last year, no problem finding sites. Have to search a little more but that’s the fun of it. It would be pretty boring if everything fell into place. Prices are what they are. As for kids, they’re no problem. Most are noisy but that’s what kids do.”
Just waiting for this generation of campers to move on
Nancy S. is just waiting for folks to drop out of being campers. She says, “The Northeast is awful as far as pricing, available spots, and folks not caring about leaving a site better than they found it. We’re just ‘suffering through it’ until this new generation of campers moves on to the next shiny thing. We don’t camp during holidays and know what we’re in for if we go on the weekends. I didn’t realize how much I’d prefer winter camping!”
Campsite reserved but empty equals less crowding
Mike V. has a twist on the empty sites. He writes, “What’s funny to read is complaints are 1) campgrounds are too crowded, 2) campsites are ‘reserved’ but are empty, causing campgrounds to look 1/2 filled—pissing people off that they can’t get those sites. You would think the ‘crowded’ folks would be happy there are so many empty ‘reserved’ sites? My experience has been more people and families that don’t respect others and the environment. More toys and gadgets are brought cluttering up the sites.”
Saving $100 a night dry camping
Joseph B. is opting for dry camping more and more often. He remarks: We just returned from a 5,600-mile trip. Many camps we checked were now in that $100-a-night ‘resort’ model. We went dry camping for most of the 4-week trip except for three days in Indiana while our 5th wheel was being serviced and seven days in New Mexico due to the heat there. Our mode is now dry camping as often as possible. It will pay for our solar installation in no time at the $100 a night we are saving!”
Change in access to Military Parks
Stephen W. let us know that the change in access to Military Parks opens it up for more people. “As retired military, we have started using military campgrounds as an alternative to the more expensive private campgrounds. Since DOD changed their access rules, ANYONE who has a DD-214 now has access to DOD/Military facilities. Hopefully, with the slowdown in RV sales and more people giving up the RV lifestyle, fewer people will RV, and campground prices will decrease.”
Writers note: I will admit I had no idea what a DD-214 is so looked it up. It is the military discharge paper. It certifies release from military service and is also proof of military service.
Robert V. shares a great tip for finding campsites: “I find if you can go camping right after a long weekend campgrounds aren’t as busy.”
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: Yes, dear reader, ‘crowded’ campgrounds ARE different from ‘fully booked’ campgrounds
From everyone I have been able to determine, the DD-214 is NOT the magic ticket to accessing military campgrounds. However, the new rules would allow those with a VHIC card because those added include those with service-connected injuries/disabilities and the VHIC card gives them access to military health facilities.
One little-known access trick that some may not realize is that many military campgrounds allow sponsorship. When we travelled with friends last summer, we stayed at two different campgrounds where we sponsored our friends. There is some form-filling, brief inspection, and a bit of red-tape. And the rules for them differ: some are allowed to come and go on base with just their temporary pass while others require guests to be with their sponsors when coming/going.
As noted by other readers: each installation has own rules and the current commander decides who gets in.
Having a DD-214 does not entitle you use of the US Military campgrounds.
Active duty, retired military, and 100% DAV were the primary users that were authorized to utilize MWR facilities (includes campgrounds). However, this all changed. The Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 became law in August 2018 and will take effect on January 1st, 2020. This bill will now allow the following veterans use of commissary and exchange stores, and MWR facilities (includes campgrounds):
Veterans Awarded the Purple Heart
Veterans Who Are Medal of Honor Recipients (already authorized)
Veterans Who Are Former Prisoners of War
Veterans With Service-Connected Disabilities
Caregivers of Veterans
Specifically, the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018
So if you served 3 years and just have a DD-214, you need to take it up with the local commander of the base.
NOTE: DD214 does not guarantee you access to military “FamCamps”. Each installation has a commander that makes the decision of who can enter the base and what priority they have in using facilities. Active duty military (almost) always have priority. Some bases may even ask you to leave if you are not AD and a family PCSing in (Premanent change of station or moving to) requests a space. And this is as it should be.
Many are FCFS (except for AD) so for those I don’t bother. I’m not going to get off the freeway/highway, drive through traffic/town to arrive and discover there isn’t a space and have to turn around and try to find someplace else.
Each military base/post/station commander has some leeway in making the decision to allow or not allow more or less of the veterans discussed in the article. One additional item that may be required is having a Veterans Health Identification Card issued by the VA.
I don’t know where the “dry camping” person has looked for sites so that he thinks he is saving $100 a night. None of our sites this spring have topped the $50 mark, and mostly they were in the $30 to $40 range. If you want a fancy resort, fine, but you’ll pay for it and the cheaper sites are out there. You just have to search and plan ahead.
Julia, you are very fortunate to have consistently found such nice prices for a campsite. Perhaps part of the issue in this discussion is that there may be regional differences in pricing. My husband and I most frequently camp off grid and love the peace and quiet it brings but we have to stay in RV parks now and again and although they have all been far from what one might consider a “resort”, none were less than $65/nite. We travel in Az, Ut, and the Pacific Northwest. Happy travels!!
Just having a DD 214 will not get you in a military campground. You need to be on active duty, retired, 100% disabled or a DOD employee.
Sorry Richard, I’m only 80 percent and have stayed in several military campgrounds in the last year. Each base has different qualifications. At one, they actually checked their data base using my VA Card.
Disability is one of the categories, but 100% disability? – No. Not since The Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 became law in August 2018 and took effect on January 1st, 2020.
It’s amazing how much misinformation there is about this out there. Just google the militarycampgrounds web site for the actual eligibility tables. It’s run by a former Air Force officer and it has information on this and all the military campgrounds as well.
Also if a veteran is rated with SERVICE CONNECTED DISABILITY rated at 0% to 90% they are eligible to use military campgrounds and a few other facilities. There are some restrictions because not ALL military installations have the same rules. Always check with first.
Please issue a correction or source to Stephen W. statement that ALL DD-214 holders can use military campgrounds. Over an hour of on-line searching and I find no indication that this is true!
Your note on expanded military campgrounds access. A word of caution, the local commander has a lot of discretion here. You may be allowed some places and not others. The best “centralized” resource is probably https://www.militarycampgrounds.us/authorized-users for general information. For info on the specific campground, check the campground on https://www.militarycampgrounds.us and look at the eligibility requirements. If you have questions, contact the campground. Also, many of these campgrounds are located inside the military base. You may need to make sure you meet the requirements to get on the base, too.
As a 4 year Navy Veteran with no military disabilities I do not meet the criteria to camp in a Military RV Park. Do a search or read these articles.
I commented last week about crowding, but it did not appear. I do not know why. They should at least say why.
I don’t think all responses are used.
We had almost no issues booking last minute from Minnesota to Corpus Christi, TX and back last fall (Dallas/Ft Worth was hard) and my comments of how we did it were not published. Only so much space, I assume.
I guess it did not send. I referenced a comment from someone that said some people act like animals, and I said that was an insult to animals if they meant the four legged kind. I never knew a four legged animal to do the horrid things some humans do. I saw a sign on a trail I was on with my dog child. It said, IN THE FORESTS AND MOUNTAINS ANIMALS DO NOT LEAVE TRASH, HUMANS DO–
PLEASE BEHAVE LIKE ANIMALS
Hi, Lorelei. I just looked at all of your comments and see five from last weekend, but none of them are for the Crowded Campground feature. I even checked to see if it somehow ended up in the Trash file, and there’s nothing in there from you. You did have one comment regarding Gail Marsh’s post on “greedflation,” but that was the only comment we received from you regarding camping. Sorry it didn’t show up, for whatever reason. We publish everyone’s comments unless our Spam filter holds them for moderation, and then we’ll either publish the comment or trash it, if it’s just bashing someone or something, for example. Have a good day. 🙂 –Diane at RVtravel.com
Oh, thanks. Well, I repeated part of it above as a reply. It must not have sent for whatever reason. I don’t remember what else I said. I think I also mentioned that I got my favorite spots if I get six months out, which is hard in the Pacific Northwest because of guessing about the weather. If it’s bad, all I can do is cancel and lose money because I pay $10 to make a reservation and another $10 to cancel, plus they keep the first day. I don’t go to RV parks, as I don’t know how one can camp in those. Even my dog would be bored.
You’re welcome, Lorelei. We were also having some issues last week, so maybe your comment got tangled up in that mess as we were sorting things out. (I forgot about that.) Have a good evening/night. 😀 –Diane
Thanks for your emails and comments! I wanted to let you know that every week I receive hundreds of email comments as well as the comments people post here. I read every one but can’t possiblly print them all. I do save for possible future use. Keep sending them in!
I think Stephen W. has it a bit incomplete. The ‘new rules’ (adopted in 2018, implemented in 2020) expanded access to commisary, exchange and MWR for veterans with documented service connected disabilities.
Yeah, I would like clarification on this too. Would be nice if you just needed a DD-214 to get on a Base and camp there. I’ve always resented the fact that even though I was in the USAF for six and a half years , and got shot at for year and a half of that, the Government doesn’t think I can be trusted or deserve to camp on their Base.
Yep 7 yrs and 7 mos Marines with a year in Vietnam and couldn’t even get on a base to show my family where I was stationed, so I know using the campground would be out.
Correct. Stephen grossly overstated the eligibility for access to military MWR and campground facilities.
That was my question also, with the millions of honorable discharged veterans military based campgrounds would be so full active duty and retirees would never get to use them. I would like clarification of this change or where to access this info as our next door Air Force base doesn’t allow veterans access to their campground.
“Since DOD changed their access rules, ANYONE who has a DD-214 now has access to DOD/Military facilities“.
I too am interested in this ‘option’. We just did a search on this topic and found on “veteran.com” the following. “Honorably discharged veterans are not authorized unless they meet the additional criteria”, which was listed above this statement. So. a simple DD-214 will not allow you to camp at military base campgrounds. Good point Bob!
Back to the campground vs. hotel comments:
As a snowbird, we towed down to our winter location, had to do a round-trip return in the winter using hotels due to a family death, and towed back this spring. Our ‘rolling hotel room’ is a SUV towed 21 foot self-contained trailer. The SUV averaged 10 mpg towing vs. 25 mpg not towing (fuel was about the same cost per gallon). On the flip-side, we spend MUCH less on food bringing our breakfast and dinner meals with us (lunch was on-the-go fast food for either travel type). To simplify things, we used our same multi-day route for the funeral trip using mid-level hotels near our usual campground stops.
Darn near apple to apple comparison as possible. The result? Towing cost us about $300 less in each direction.
What SUV do you have that gets 25mpg by itself and 10 towing a trailer? Just curious, is that from the dash readout or actual using miles traveled divided by gallons used? Remember dash computers are programmed by manufacturers employees, and can be programmed to give you any numbers they want. Our Toyota Camry hybrid readout says we are getting 47.8 mpg on the highway but when I stop for gas and do the math I’m really only getting 42, which I don’t complain about, thats an example of how optimistic computers can be.
My 2009 ram1500 got 22 not towing on the highway. I would not be surprised by these numbers given newer tech since then.
My Yukon got close to that. Now I have a Ram 2500 getting just under 9 towing and 11 not towing!
That I believe.