Campground crowding. Discussion for September 5, 2020

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crowded campgrounds

More people than ever are taking up RVing. These newbies have determined that RVing is the safest way to travel in our pandemic times. The result is campground crowding like never before. In this weekly blog, RV Travel readers discuss their experiences. Maybe we can make some sense of this and find ways to work around the problem.

This week, we present a letter from reader Daniel Briggs, who has some ideas not only about the overcrowding, but possible solutions.

Dear Chuck,
I am a fellow RV’er and real estate developer, focused primarily on hotels and apartments. For some time now I have been convinced that a real opportunity exists to pursue campground development. Not only are existing campgrounds becoming more crowded as you point out in your article, but the majority of the campgrounds are functionally obsolete, having been built years before the existence of slides and 40+ foot motorhomes and towables.

I believe also that there is a need for a national chain of campgrounds, similar to Hilton or Marriott, that have strict facilities standards, consistent amenities, a central reservation system and a frequent traveler program. Like a Marriott Courtyard or a Hilton Garden Inn, no matter where the property is located, you would have a good idea beforehand of what to expect in terms of quality and features before you arrived. No more unpleasant surprises like we so frequently encounter when we pull into a campground for the first time.

However, as you know, real estate developments, be they hotels, apartments, shopping centers or campgrounds, need to make economic sense. You cannot build a new campground today with the amenities and modern site characteristics/conveniences that are expected by the RV consumer and only charge rental rates typical of the older campgrounds we are used to.

There is no way to make a new campground with a clubhouse and meeting space, fitness center, swimming pool, dog park, usable WiFi, water feature, etc., work at $40, $50 or even $60 a night. More than likely, rates would need to be $75-$100 a night to generate the type of returns that would attract investors and generate interest from bankers willing to lend money for the project. Those numbers would be applicable to year-round campgrounds. For seasonal campgrounds, rental rates would have to be even higher.

I would really be interested to hear your perspective on this and maybe even the opinions of some of your readers..

And a few observations from our Crowded Campgrounds Group at Facebook.

LOCALS BOOKING UP WEEKENDS

“What should we do about public campgrounds that locals reserve every weekend for entire seasons, shutting out those who want to stay for one or two weeks, leaving the CG mostly empty from Sunday night through Thursday night?” —J.H.

GOOD LUCK FINDING A SITE IN WASHINGTON

“We re-routed our plans last minute due to smoke-filled skies and are heading to Washington State — good luck getting a site at any of the state campgrounds, even after Labor Day. We are heading farther north, since we are due to arrive in Kalispel later, and I am not re-routing those plans.” —L.W.

NOT EVERYONE EXPERIENCING CROWDS

“Just letting everyone know we have only traveled for two days now, on our way to Colorado and Utah. We have had no problems finding spots at RV resorts yet. We stayed overnight in Perry, Ga., and Cropwell, Al. ( I know not the most requested stays.) They have been very nice resorts but as others have stated most spots have long-term residents. We reserved ahead but finding it would not have been a problem had we not. Hopefully our luck will stick with us.” —S.N.

Read last issue’s column on Crowded Campgrounds.

Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or are you having no problem finding places to stay? Please use the form below to tell us what you’ve experienced.

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23 Comments
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Deborah Mason
9 days ago

We just don’t use most of the amenities at RV parks. We’re often looking for an en route single night with electricity. Unless our black & gray tanks are near full, we don’t need anything more. We really hate to pay amenity-based prices just to stop for dinner, sleep, walk the dogs, breakfast and go. When we stay for a while, we still don’t use most of the amenities – we don’t need/use a clubhouse, exercise room, etc.We shower in our RV. Once in a while we use the laundry. So, the $80/night, swimming pool, playground, tennis court, golf course places really never appeal to us.

John T
13 days ago

I’m sure that most RVers do not want more glamping resorts. They want clean, bare-bones campgrounds, with a choice of dry camping, water-electric or full-hookups at affordable prices. The type of thing that Chuck was trying to promote a few months ago. What happened to that?

On the subject of overcrowding, I’ve spent the whole summer in eastern Idaho and western Montana, now moving down into Nevada. I have not made any reservation more than 2 weeks in advance, have not had a single response that they were full, and have not seen a full RV park or campground. The place I’m at now – Cathedral Gorge State Park – is half empty on Labor Day.

PennyPA
15 days ago

Except for the “glampers” most people don’t NEED or want “a clubhouse and meeting space, fitness center, swimming pool, dog park, usable WiFi, water feature, etc.,”. We just need (or want) a park where we can feel safe…although WiFi is high on most lists.

Goldie
15 days ago

We’ll be in the minority here and say that it’s not unusual for us to pay $75-$100/night for some of the resorts. We’re not thrilled with that price but if we find a resort we really like in the area we want to be, we’ll pay it. We’d hope for a break with a weekly or monthly rate. But where we see the biggest need are for decent short stay stops. We would love a national chain of parks with FHU’s, decent spacing and either paved or hard packed level sites. We don’t need showers, pools or other amenities. Without all the frills perhaps we could get to the $60-$75/night range. That’s a price we’d be willing pay to be sure of a decent site. Half the time we pay that or more now since there are some areas where our only choice is to stay at a KOA in one of their “deluxe” sites in order to get a site where we will fit.

Bill
15 days ago

I did some mental gymnastics and came up with a cost of $30 a night just to cover the acquisition cost of the land for a campsite in a typical desirable (not rural) location. Then you add the pad, hook ups, landscaping, access roads, buildings, whatever amenities, staffing, insurance, taxes, licensing, advertising, franchise fees if you want to be part of a national organization, and of course you’d like to make a little profit. That makes $90 to $100 a night reasonable. Hotels in similar locations are always multi-story, so they get more units on the same piece of land. Public campgrounds don’t have to pay for the land, and may get some other services from the general (taxpayer) budget so can be less expensive.

Captn John
15 days ago

Paying $20,000 to $200,000 or more and expect a $30 fhu site is silly. Most KOA are over priced at $30. Decent size fhu site pool available should easily be $55-$65. 2 people and 1 pet or a surcharge for additional. Weekend 3-4 night minimum. CG owners are too slow to change due to supply and demand. If you want to play expect to pay and the sooner. CG owners need to address prices soon. Always have boondocking , driveways, and Walmart. No reason for a CG to be less than Motel 6 locally.

Captn John
15 days ago

Supply and demand. $55-65 a night for fhu pull through is fair. Only a pool, nothing else. Decent size site. 3-4 day minimum on weekends! Snowbirds are used to $2000 and up monthly, 3 month minimum. If You want to play expect to pay. Camper from $20,000 and far higher and want a cheap site is crazy! Boondock or driveway is the alternative or Walmart as long as they put up with the mess left by some. More 55 and older CGs would also be great. CG owners are slowly waking up. Places like most KOA are hardly worth $25 a night. All should be 2 and 1 pet. Additional people and pets need a daily surcharge.

Linda
15 days ago

I’m pretty sure RV Travel has done a survey on how many people actually want a rv park with all the amenities. It would be interesting to see those results along with this article. I’m guessing the majority aren’t interested in all of the “extras”.

wanderer
15 days ago

Sigh. Here we go, the upper crust is going to rush to the rescue with new campgrounds designed for people in the upper 10-20% of income. Our country is full of empty ‘luxury’ condos nobody wanted, needed, or could afford, now being acquired by wealthy foreign investors. During this pandemic, it is full of empty luxury hotels which draw $3-500 a night during normal times. Building more $100 a day ‘resort’ sites only puts a burden on people trying to travel on average incomes, or pushes them out of RVing altogether.

What we need is investment in our public parks systems at every level; town, county, state and national, and many of them just need expansion via weekend overflow sites. You can have a park which spans 20 or even 100 square miles of land but all the sites are crammed into 6 acres of ground. Umm, could we actually USE some of that public land?

Vincee
15 days ago

I disagree with the Hilton or Marriott model for nation wide camping. Nationwide chains mean high prices and fluctuating prices like hotels. That would mean a cross country trip would require an app like Hotels Tonight, or Campgrounds Tonight to check the going rate of the day.
My wife and I pretty much have a limit of $60 per night as we “shop” campgrounds for an area we are interested in visiting. That being said, would I pay $80-$100 a night to stay at Fishing Bridge Campground in Yellowstone, absolutely! Or, $75-$80 a night in the Florida Keys, you bet. But those would be exceptions. If the nightly cost approaching $100 per night became the norm for a decent campsite, I would leave the lifestyle. You can find many quality roadside motels within that amount traveling by car (truck, SUV etc.) quicker covering more miles per day, at a third of the fuel costs. Yeah, we know about having your own bed and amenities etc. when I say that.

Ken
15 days ago

I’ve long thought the future lies in improved rest area type RV stopovers. Not so much as a eight hour limit, but more long term, like, 3 days. These RV stopovers would be bare bones, parking lot style, pay as you go, central dump station, cashless utilities, with a small fee to enter. About the only amenity you’d need would be a set of restrooms, a dog area and maybe a picnic area. You park on your own, nothing is assigned. You walk up to a pedestal, insert your card for electricity and water, only if you need it. Hook up and take that 12-72 hour break. These would not be final destination spots (no fishing, bingo, line dancing), just stopovers. Maybe some sort of in/out privileges for a vehicle, say if you were in need of groceries, repairs or attending an event (college football game, wedding, graduation). No need for a full time host, just a maintenance type person. When you’re done, pull out, dump at the exit, for a fee, and you’d be on your way.

Joy Hobbs
15 days ago
Reply to  Ken

yeah but there are too many adults that act like children break the rules and that’s things out there’s no way you could have it unattended. I would have thought the same as you before I worked in an RV park and seen how disgusting humans can be.

tim palmer
15 days ago

I disagree on the prices. A hotel has a building to maintain and comes furnished and heated and A/C. $75 to $100 a night for an upgraded parking space? Even with a pool or other amenity, you are still bringing your own room, bed, cooking, shower, etc.

Marie Dalzell
15 days ago
Reply to  tim palmer

I agree with you. We’re new to all this but since we aren’t looking for things to do, we aren’t paying big bucks. An in state campground got bought out by Jellystone and now their RV sites for next year are $133 to $173 a night. Tent sites will be $120-127 a night. Crazy.

Tommy Molnar
15 days ago
Reply to  Marie Dalzell

$120 for a tent site??? I’ll be polite and just say NO WAY! I don’t care WHERE it is.

Marie
15 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Yup! It’s crazy. I honestly can’t imagine many signing up for that but who knows.

Ellen
15 days ago
Reply to  Marie Dalzell

Just what town is this Jellystone Park in? I’d like to avoid it… Thanks!

Marie Dalzell
14 days ago
Reply to  Ellen

Hi Ellen, it’s in Glen, NH

Tim Burke
13 days ago
Reply to  Marie Dalzell

This gives the surrounding parks a good reason to up their prices.

Marie Dalzell
13 days ago
Reply to  Tim Burke

I hope not!

Andy Zipser
15 days ago

You wrote: I believe also that there is a need for a national chain of campgrounds, similar to Hilton or Marriott, that have strict facilities standards, consistent amenities, a central reservation system and a frequent traveler program. 

I suspect that KOA believes this is their business model, although many campers would disagree. The problem is that the great majority of campgrounds are individually owned, which means that creating a consistent, high-quality experience across the whole system is worse than herding cats.

With time, as the current slow pace of industry consolidation continues, this will change. But as you imply, it also means everything’s going to get a lot more expensive. . . .

wanderer
15 days ago
Reply to  Andy Zipser

Good insights. But it’s travel, and it’s camping, some of it is remote places and tiny towns. It’s never going to be as homogeneous as McDonalds. And it shouldn’t be. This is one industry that does not need the ‘advantages’ of a giant chain, and KOA is a great example of how it doesn’t work, but it does tack a big surcharge on the rent.

The very few times I’ve stayed a a chain resort, it was a joke. Overpriced tiny sites, with the same (or worse) raggedy ‘maintenance’ of utilities and common areas. If people want to pay up for 5-star parks, it is easy enough to find them using the find-a-site apps out there, no need for a Marriott chain.

PennyPA
15 days ago
Reply to  wanderer

Note to wanderer: stay out of the “resort” type campgrounds! I cannot believe the number of campground now calling themselves “resort”. I wouldn’t even consider stopping at a “resort”.