Thursday, September 16, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021

Campground Crowding: When living in an RV is cheaper than a house or apartment

By Nanci Dixon
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.

Here are a few observations from our readers.

YURTS, CABINS AND TINY HOUSES TAKING CAMPING SPOTS

We have heard about campgrounds adding more cabins and tiny houses and eliminating even more campsites from RVers. Now yurts are making campsites even harder to come by. This RVer is now thinking about just giving it up and selling their trailer.

Debbie M. wrote, “We’re located in Utah. The campgrounds we like to stay in have now put in yurts in a third of their best camping sites to rent out daily for over a $100. This causes more problems in booking in advance because there are fewer sites to book. We are thinking about selling our trailer. We’re tired of spending hours and days trying to book on recreation.gov.

Read about how KOA opened a new park last February… and didn’t leave space for RVers.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST DUE TO CAMPGROUND CROWDING…

Michael B. shared his frustration with campground crowding and thoughts of selling his rig too. “We did a trip to Texas from California in March. It was very difficult to find spots in National Parks (Death Valley and Big Bend). We had to settle for 2 days at each. Private campgrounds were easier but still fairly full. We found the first-come, first-served was best, but often came with no hookups. Ditto with Harvest Hosts – great fun but no hookups; and we often spent quite a bit of money with our hosts. We looked at going to Utah/Colorado in April/May, but found it near impossible to find a spot near Moab for more than a couple of days.

“We decided it’s not worth it, so we’re not RVing again until Fall (maybe). It seems to us you have to plan well in advance, which takes a lot of fun out of the experience we had just a few short years ago. Alas, if you can’t beat ’em, maybe we’ll sell our rig to ’em. :-)”

NEWBIES NOT NEWBIES FOR LONG

Donna P. thinks newbies will reconsider RVing, partially due to campground crowding. “My husband always makes reservations. He starts about three months out from when we want to travel. He’s had some trouble due to crowding. It took five campgrounds in Moab, UT, to find a place for us and the grandkids. And many places don’t have room for a 36-foot motorhome. He managed, though, but it took days of frustration. I hope it’s not like this next year. And as for newbies, I think you’ll find most decide not to RV anymore – too much of a hassle and expense. There will be a glut [of used RVs] on the market in the next few years.”

Alan F. also mentions the possibility of people giving up and selling out. “Unequivocally, CG crowding is omnipresent! We are currently in Calif. visiting grandkids and attempted to make reservations three weeks in advance of our return trip. Our favorite CG was full! We found a CG 100 miles away….warned our CG neighbors, and by the time they had reserved a slot in the same CG (both of us live in Wash.), there were only 3/100 slots available….three hours later! Times have changed! Consider all those folks who will eventually surrender RVing from frustration, try to sell their units, and be ‘underwater’ on their loans!

NO PROBLEM WITH CAMPGROUND CROWDING IN THE SHOULDER SEASON

Tom P. shares his strategy and success with getting sites. “My wife and I have been full-timers for almost six years and we have not experienced any crowding or inability to get a spot. Part of this may be due to only staying in “RV parks” and not “campgrounds”. Also, we workamp and are traveling in the spring and fall when demand may be less, and we generally set our route and make reservations about a month in advance. Wherever we go, people ask us if we have had any problem getting a site. Our answer so far is no, at least for now.”

PERMANENT RV RESIDENTS

Nanci J. says, “This week we stayed at a rather sketchy, run-down RV park that was mainly permanent RV residents. I did not want to stay, but as everybody knows, finding a campsite at the last minute is difficult if not impossible. And yes, I had read a lot of reviews and they mentioned that it was ‘older but friendly.’ My husband was more open-minded than me and said, “It is not a crime to be poor.” I looked around at the number of tarp-covered ancient RVs, Veteran tags, and a few folks in wheelchairs and was glad that the RV park existed as a place for folks to call home and I was also very grateful for our lifestyle of travel. The owner was friendly and although our site was tight, we were guided in and everything worked great.

Lee Ann B. mentioned the number of small RV parks occupied by permanent residents in her comments. “We are full-timers (4 years now) and this year has been the most difficult to find campgrounds with availability for more than a day or two. I spend time each evening trying to piece together the remainder of 2021 with frustration and disappointment. All the campgrounds, from small towns to State parks to resorts where we’ve stayed thus far this year have been packed. Not only are we finding lots of newbies, both full-timers who’ve discovered they can work remotely and families vacationing, we also experience crowding because of permanent RV residents. We’ve stayed in small RV parks where the majority of RVs belong to residents who work locally or are retired. That speaks to the economy when it’s cheaper to live in an RV on a campground than an apartment or house.”

DOES FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED REALLY WORK?

Last week a reader mentioned their great luck with a first-come, first-served state park in Nevada.

Dawn A. was not as lucky and shared her rather unpleasant experience with the first-come, first-served system. “Our experiences with the ‘first-come, first-served’ campgrounds… we have a 45-foot fifth wheel and all the big rig sites were taken by tiny rigs. We got to a campground (we had reserved ahead of time, where we have stayed before and loved) and all the sites that would accommodate us were taken up by teardrop trailers and 20-some odd-foot-long RVs. Even though the campground was not ‘full’ there was no site we could fit and they had a very strict no-refund policy. Needless to say, I had a meltdown at the office and did get our money refunded, but we were still left scrambling for a place to stay at the last minute.”

SETTING UP A HOME BASE TO AVOID CAMPGROUND CROWDING

Several of our readers have mentioned this solution and decided to purchase a “home base” spot so they know they always have a place to stay, no matter how crowded the campgrounds get.

Jack P. wrote us about his recent purchase. “The reservation window for a popular state park in Florida opens at 8 a.m., 11 months prior. I tried for 10 days straight to secure a site for three or more days at exactly 8 a.m. when the reservation window opened and was not successful. Your article last week about reservation bots explained why. I purchased an RV lot in a popular destination in Michigan last year with the intention of using it as a home base for our summer travels. It might just turn into our summer destination until, if, and when campgrounds become more accessible.”

Is this something you’ve considered doing?
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EVERYBODY WINS IF…

As mentioned so many times, people do not show up and do not cancel their reservations, leaving much-needed campsites empty.

Karen L. notes that everybody could win if people would just cancel and the park would remove the reservations. “There needs to be a solution to campgrounds that are ‘all reserved’ but the entire time you are camping there, only 1/2 to 2/3rds of the sites are really being used. If all campsites are being used, everybody wins.

Now, some questions for you:

• Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or are you having no problem finding places to stay?

• 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.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here

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Laura Wilde
4 months ago
Is this something you've considered doing?" Read more »

Yes, we bought a lot in a gated RV community and built a port to store RV and use as a weekender. We have now added a living quarters.

Jim S
4 months ago
Is this something you've considered doing?" Read more »

I have secured a former mobile home site in Maine with a rent/purchase agreement. I can rent for 12 months for the cost of 2 months in a campground, with 50% of the rental vested in a purchase agreement. If I like the location, I can purchase the property, one acre with electricity, well, and septic system. Rent is $200/month, paid quarterly. We have summered in Maine for 16 years, but sold our summer home last fall. Our cabin in the woods has been replaced with an Airstream and TV. We will continue to return to FL for the winter. We are planning on selling our FL residence and replacing it with acerage in northern FL to use as a base for the Airstream.

rvgrandma
4 months ago

I live in an RV park- have been here for 7 years. We were workampers until my husband’s health forced us to park. He has now died which leaves me trying to decide what to do. I have lived in our MH since 2004 – a long time. It is cheaper to stay in it than rent an apartment which would cost twice as much, even with upkeep. If I leave here getting into an RV park for long term will be hard since my MH is a 2000. I would say the park I am in is 75% long term – some work, some retired. We have more kids in the park than we did when we moved in – families who find it cheaper to live in an RV than an apartment. But, if you are making payments on your RV, add rent to that how can it be that much cheaper.

A couple months ago a lady moved a big 5th wheel in next to me. She said she was tired of living in a big house, so instead of buying a smaller house her son talked her into an RV even though she had never done any RVing in her life.

Cheryl
4 months ago

We are in the process of selling our Class A and parking a 5th wheel permanently at our site in Mesa AZ. First year will be driving a Uhaul to get our stuff down there. After that our choice to drive or fly.

Heather Smith
4 months ago
Is this something you've considered doing?" Read more »

Yes – we are in Canada but are considering this in southern areas of USA so that we at least have a place to go to. Then it’s not so bad to stay at Walmart, boondock, or whatever we can get as we make our way down there – either in a hurry or taking our time and meandering our way down.

Les Bergmann
4 months ago
Is this something you've considered doing?" Read more »

Yes, we bought a lot in a resort in South Carolina.

WEB
4 months ago
Reply to  Les Bergmann

“A lot” of what?  😉 

Tommy Molnar
4 months ago

In all our years of RV’ing (25+) we’ve only done what I call “destination camping” where we went to a camp area to see something or say we’ve been there, a minimum of times. We use our trailer to spend time together – period. After many years of trucking, we’re making up for the time I spent not at home. If we’re not boondocking (our favorite mode of RV’ing) we find RV parks off the beaten path. Well off in many cases, which means ‘rough’ amenities in some instances. I always check that the power is wired properly, but beyond that, we’re good in what some might call ‘lower class’ parks. As Anthony Bourdain would say, “no reservations”. Just drive in, pay up, and stay. Have met some really nice folks in these parks – like us.  😉   😉 

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