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.
Need a backup plan—Camping in National Forests is virtually impossible
Peni H’s. plans have gone astray. She’s finding that first-come, first-served state parks, and boondocking in parking lots are just not working out. Peni writes, “I’m currently on a trip in Angels Camp area in California. I’ve tried to do the National Forest campsites. Go online and all it says is first-come, first-served, and by the time I get to the campsite, usually by 1:00 or 2:00, all the campsites have ‘Reserved’ signs on them.
“I go to another campground and the same thing happens. Right now I’m up in the big trees area and discovered that the National Forest has closed some of the campgrounds early for the season. These campsites were first-come, first-served, but the campsite is closed even though on the website it does not show that. Trying to stay in National Parks versus a campsite on this particular trip has been virtually impossible.
“California state parks are not an option because as of now they do not allow dogs. The new no-dog policy went into effect throughout all of California state parks. California lands are not BLM lands, so staying on them and trying to dry camp is not an option up here. Therefore, I’ve been stuck with trying to find at least a campsite because in this section of California, you cannot go to a parking lot and park overnight.
“The stark reality is if you don’t have a backup plan from boondocking in a parking lot or staying in a National Park, you have to stay at an RV park, and that is if you can get in. I paid $75 for one night at a rundown RV park because we had been driving for two hours to find a place to park. We travel in a Winnebago Travato, so it’s not like we have to have a lot of space.”
Plans ahead and still spends hours on the phone
L B. struggles with getting sites, particularly on the weekend. “We’re full-timers. On average we reserve our spots as soon as we have a travel plan. There are two things we struggle with, one is finding parking on a weekend night, and the second is finding a park that has no cancellation fees. This leads to hours on the phone to find a park outside our route that belongs to a nice mom-and-pop. The rising costs are ridiculous and cramping our lifestyle, but we added solar a couple of years ago so if needed we can boondock. We still work full time so it helps to have 50 amps, but we’ll be okay with just solar.”
The most RV-UNfriendly state
Debbie L. has been traveling a lot and says Nebraska is the most unfriendly state for RVers. She wrote, “We are almost home after leaving on May 15 and driving to Alaska with our travel trailer. I only made one reservation for the entire trip and that was for Denali Park. The most we paid for any site anywhere was $75, in downtown Anchorage over the 4th of July weekend. We boondock when we can but are limited by the size of our fresh water tank. In our opinion, the most RV-UNfriendly state is Nebraska. No boondocking allowed and payment required just to enter their wildlife preserve areas/parks/etc.”
Quit camping after 20 years
Kathi W. just camped for a month but is now calling it quits. She says, “We just returned from a month-long trip to the UP. We had reservations almost a year in advance. We stayed at state parks, county parks, city parks, mom-and-pop places on this trip. There were issues on the road and missed one night at a county park. We called to let them know we would be a day late getting there. When we pulled in there was a couple discussing moving to our site because they thought it would be a better site. If we had been any later getting there we would have found someone on our site. At a mom-and-pop campground, a family was camped a few spaces up from us and the dad and young son would go to the bathroom behind the RV. With the type of ‘campers’ out there we decided to quit camping after 20 years. Too much entitlement and ‘rules-don’t-apply-to-me’ attitudes.”
Forced to leave
Carl B’s. rig is over 10 years old and he may have to leave his site because of it. He shares, “Here at Horn Rapids RV Resort in Richland, WA, rates are also going up from $510 a month to $625 a month. All RVs that are 10 years old are being asked to leave. We have a new owner. I would guess rates will be going higher than $625 in the next few years.”
Quit staying at Sun Outdoors
Michael R. wrote about overcrowding and overcharging. “We are finding campgrounds are overcharging and overcrowded. On the East Coast, a lot of campgrounds are being taken over by Sun Outdoors, and their prices are ridiculous and the grounds are a mess. Our site two years ago had 12″ of grass and large holes in the roads and campsites. We had made reservations for the same time the following year and canceled. They asked why we canceled. We told them the price was too high and the grounds are a mess. So we have eliminated staying at any Sun Outdoor parks.”
Covid campers thought RVing is cheap… NOT!
Stephen M. says that it is the cost slowing them down, not crowding. “It’s not so much the overcrowding that slows my wife and me down, it’s the price of gas! Couple that with increasing campground fees and you could be looking at a daily increase of nearly $50 for your budget. Just as no one really wants to pay $5 for a Big Mac when it used to cost less than a dollar, no one wants to pay for increased camping fees. Owner/operators have no choice either. It’s pay up or shut down! Rising energy costs and other increased fees are passed on to the consumer. Everyone has their hand out and it’s up to us as consumers to fill those hands, like it or not! Covid campers looked at camping as a ‘cheap’ way to live. I don’t think they really sat down and thought it through very carefully.”
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: RVer warns: Just because you have a reservation doesn’t mean a park can’t change the price last-minute!