RV sales have slowed and fewer people are buying RVs than was 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.
No-show policy change! Yeah!
Craig B. wrote us about the change in Georgia State Parks’ no-show policy. What a win for campers! He writes, “Georgia state parks will now cancel the remaining days of a confirmed no-show and allow new reservations. I received an email from Reserve America but have not looked at the GA state parks website.”
Editors note: The new Georgia State Parks policy reads: “An overnight reservation is considered a ‘No-Show’ when it has not been checked in by noon on the day after the arrival date. Park staff should verify that the visitor is not onsite and attempt to contact the renter to determine whether the visitor is arriving later before marking the reservation as a ‘No-Show’. A reservation marked as ‘No-Show’ will be treated as a cancellation and will forfeit 50% of the use fee. Once a reservation is marked as ‘No-Show’, the reservation’s remaining days/nights are canceled, and the site is released in the system for new reservations to be made.”
Small towns have nice campgrounds
Dan P. did not have issues getting a campsite even over Memorial Day weekend. He explains, “We just returned from a two-week trip and didn’t have any problems finding campgrounds. We were concerned about getting a space on Memorial Day weekend, so we did call and make reservations, but after arriving there were plenty of spaces. We’ve found small towns have nice campgrounds. We stopped at a national brand on the way home but they wanted $60 for the night. I passed and drove 25 more miles and found one for $24. Not the best but for the night it was okay. I do understand the overhead cost for campgrounds that have all the amenities for kids. Some even have entertainment plus they serve breakfast. It’s best and cost-effective to stay here a week with the kids.”
Hot summers but free camping
Sharon B. is not going to pay high campground prices. She writes, “Pay $200+ for a campsite? You have got to be crazy or so desperate! Those who do that definitely don’t know about boondocking, but again there is far less of that on the East Coast. Out West, it’s all over the place. It’s beautifully free, but in the Southwest, the summers can be very hot.”
Burned for booking in advance and burned for not
Debbie B. has spent hours trying to get a site over the 4th of July. “If it’s a holiday weekend, you better reserve ahead. I spent HOURS on the phone trying to secure a campground over the 4th. We travel 5-6 months from summer through most of fall. If it’s a high-traffic area it’s harder to find reservations. We basically use campgrounds/RV parks but can’t ever seem to secure a state park and certainly not a national park. We no longer book way in advance because we’ve been burned. May get burned for not doing so, too.
“If one domino falls on made-way-ahead reservations, they all fall. Then, the parks may charge a $25 fee to change and cancellations can cost MUCH more. There are several websites we search. We don’t HAVE to have free wi-fi or cable but we do prefer cell service! We find many parks are only doing monthly reservations or only the entire summer or longer. We’re also apprehensive about parks that have full-time residents but have managed well in many. We aren’t there for the ‘park experience,’ although we like clean, safe, and no theft. We’ve had issues getting military parks (I’m retired DoD).
Prices have increased; discount clubs have issues
“Prices have increased. KOA is highway robbery, but we’ve had to use them here and there. The ‘discount clubs’ have issues. I’ve had Passport America for years and haven’t used it in TWO years. Haven’t heard great things about Thousand Trails lately but will most likely purchase the Northeast area when we travel there next summer because there are more in that area.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel because we love this style of travel, especially when you have pets. I’ve priced hotels because I thought maybe our RVing was coming to an end—holy moly! We did a two-week Alaska trip, land/sea, and we weren’t prepared for the number of tips, almost to anything that had nostrils! And then the food prices off the ship, plus the cost of those excursions. The airport, and flight rescheduling due to maintenance issues… what a nightmare. And living out of a suitcase nightly while on land? Give me my home on wheels!!! We’ll tough it out a bit longer, but we didn’t notice empty spaces in campgrounds last year when we toured the Northwest. Maybe some of those Covid purchases are backing out now and prices will decrease as more empty spaces are appearing. We can hope.”
“Bad business, but that’s life!”
Scot S. likes grab-and-go camping the best. They make reservations only when staying a while. He writes, “We have been retired and full-time RVers for four years now. There are places we travel that we pay more than we would like. That’s life. We try to use small Mom and Pops. They’re usually friendlier and have better service. We seldom use KOAs. They’re overpriced IMO.
“We make reservations if we know we are going to be in a certain place for a lengthy stay. Otherwise, we just head out and grab on the go. You’re not tied down with a time frame that way. We have never had any trouble. I plan our trips using RV Parky.
“We stay, once in a while, at rest areas. If you are just resting, why not? Use Welcome Centers. They are nicer and trucks park separately, usually.
“The people who say, ‘We can’t get reservations….’ Yeah, not sure I understand. The only time we have issues is if we want to stay a week or two. People will book the weekend and the site sits empty the rest of the week. That’s life, too. Bad business, but life.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Senior, Military, or whatever the case may be. Nobody offers. Just ask. City parks are another option. They’re first-come, first-served, and usually cheap. Most times FHU and shady. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. Safe travels.”
Investment firms driving out RVers
Mark G. comments on the corporate investment buys of mom-and-pop parks. He says, “Spent the last two years traveling from SW Florida, stopping at dozens of locations in August through Sept on the way to Tetons, Glacier, Zion, Coeur d’Alene and back. All stays with reservations. County, State and National Parks have rational pricing.
“But the New York City investment people have discovered mom-and-pop RV parks and are busy changing the dynamic. Investment managers only care about their return. So the concept of the great American outdoors is now miniature golf and water parks. Video game rooms and $120/night in the off-season. It Beats Disney but not much else.
“For us, the RV is what we come home to after hours spent hiking, seeing the countryside, visiting interesting places. The RV park may be the destination for some. In most cases, not us. Not to say Colter Bay or Lake Ouachita weren’t great destinations. But, then again, those are not parks run by investment banks.
“We are rapidly approaching leaving the RV behind. Between maintenance, covered storage, insurance, fuel costs, and utility costs—a quicker drive, a nice hotel, and eating out—it’s cheaper and easier not to use the RV. Wall Street is destroying RVing. Will the over-$100 site drive us out? It’s coming.”
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: It’s time to ‘extend the camping season’ and ‘build more campgrounds’!