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Are campgrounds suddenly uncrowded? Here’s what we found

We recently got an email from a reader named Drew. Drew and his family had just completed a more than 6,000-mile RV trip around the West. In a gentle chide, he used his trip experiences to point out something we might have missed. “You have been crying about RV overcrowding for three years (or more) and there is definitely some of that. But every RV park we stayed in along the way—and there were many with many different brands—there were always open spaces. Even in the KOA next to Mount Rushmore. Some were actually almost empty!” It got us to thinking: Are campgrounds suddenly uncrowded?

You gave us numbers

Tap to enlarge

We popped the question to you. Last week we ran a poll asking this: “Are you finding more available campsites in the last few weeks?” We got almost 2,300 responses. A chunk of respondents (48%) either hadn’t been out to see, or hadn’t paid attention if they were. But of those who had seen it for themselves, there was a telling story in the numbers. Those who said they had found more available campsites amounted to a 62% “yes” vote. In other words, nearly two-thirds of those who were looking said yes, campgrounds had more spaces than usual.

Of course, our poll didn’t take into account where folks were traveling. Perhaps there are some areas of the country where campgrounds are uncrowded, and others where there’s “no room at the inn.” So we set out to get a handle on it. Here’s what we found.

“We could have found last-minute space almost anywhere”

uncrowded
Upper Midwest and wide-open spaces. Tony Barthel.

From the viewpoint of some of our RVtravel.com writers, Drew’s experiences were the norm for them. Drew told us, “We pre-booked every stop, but could have found last-minute space almost anywhere.” Drew’s travels took him through the West, but even in the upper Midwest, things don’t seem tight. Our regular RV and gadget reviewer, Tony Barthel, has been on the road and he reported to us about his experiences. “We were in Detroit to visit the Henry Ford this summer,” Tony says, “and were one of two RVs in a park that had hundreds of spaces.” OK, that’s for one park. But how about the rest of his run? “I have yet to have any issues making a reservation,” Tony reports.

A potentially contrary view from the Midwest comes from Indiana. Matt Rose, with the Indiana Campground Owners Association, wrote to us: “I can only speak for Indiana campgrounds and will tell you that business levels have been, and remain, high. Many member campgrounds report having their best summer ever. I am hearing that due to higher gas prices, many Indiana campers are not traveling to national parks, the Smokies, etc., and are opting for trips closer to home, including our state’s private campgrounds and state parks and recreation areas.”

Deep in the heart of “TACO” country

uncrowded
Shook Photos on flickr.com

How about farther south—say Texas? We asked Brian Schaeffert, who speaks for the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO). Were there uncrowded campgrounds deep in the heart of TACO country? “It depends largely on where you want to go and when you want to go, as to the level of availability. Overall, our camping nights are very steady by summer standards. Many parks are still very full of folks (staying monthly) who are trying to find permanent housing, adjusting to a job move, or waiting for economic times to settle a bit.”

We got the feeling that those nights that are “steady by summer standards” might suggest spaces are fairly available. We base that on his further musings as to why there could be a fall-off in crowding. “There are some factors affecting daily-weekly travel. Certainly, fuel prices have shortened a lot of people’s plans, but not canceled them,” observes Schaeffert. “We are fortunate that fuel prices in the South are about as cheap as you will find in the country, with many stations now offering gas for $3.99.”

Inflation, too, seems to be weighing in as a factor. TACO’s Schaeffert also told us, “Overall inflation is also a factor, mostly how it is affecting new entries into our industry. The dealers have seen a real drop-off of traffic in their stores—rising interest rates and less discretionary income is weighing on people’s minds and pocketbooks.”

What about public campgrounds?

uncrowded
Friday before July 4th weekend, 2022. Resort on Lake Pend Oreille, ID. Randall Brink

What about government sites? Do they show uncrowded campgrounds? We called on RVtravel.com writer Randall Brink for his observations. He told us, “I checked into the usually busy USFS Sam Owen Campground [for reservations for] July 24. Recreation.gov showed the campground virtually empty.” Sam Owen is a usually popular park on the shores of Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille.

uncrowdedAnd other government campgrounds? “On June 25, out of curiosity, I logged on to ReserveAmerica.com,” Randall says, looking for spots at Idaho’s Farragut State Park. “I was immediately able to obtain a reservation for a full hookup spot at the state park campground, right on the lakeshore. There were many open spots throughout the campground through that weekend.”

Our personal experiences in trying to secure a spot in many Northwest Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds has typically been a “last minute disaster.” Here’s a screenshot Randall took of the Corps of Engineers Albeni Cove Campground availability for the Pend Oreille River in Newport, Washington. The requested dates were for mid-July. When Randall did his look up it was July 11—just four days before the opening date on this shot. Not jammed—maybe even uncrowded.

The Golden State says “Don’t give up”

One of the major camping states, California, advises things are changing—at mid-week. Dyana Kelly is with the California Outdoor Hospitality Association. She tells us, “There is definitely some loosening mid-week. Weekends are still pretty busy. One of the things we are seeing is cancellations of reservations from guests more than 200 miles out but back-filling those spots with reservations for guests living within 100 miles of the park.”

California park owners also report people taking a shot at last-minute reservations. They typically see a surge of phone calls on Wednesdays, trying to book into the following weekend.



“All the crying isn’t justified”

We wish we could get a definitive handle on the question. None of the responding park owner associations could give us hard-and-fast numbers. But the anecdotal evidence seems to point that in at least some large areas of the country, campsites are not near as crowded as one might expect.

Here’s how reader Drew summed up his experiences: “Our 65-day trip ended June 10, so we were just shy of peak season. But all the crying is not justified if the parks are only full for two months. Go early or go late, or stay an extra mile away from the big draw—but there are spaces out there.”

How about your experiences? The good, the bad, and the ugly—we’d like to hear about them. Fill out the form below and include “campground conditions” on the subject line. Please include photos if you have any. Be sure to tell us where you had your experiences.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

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Wayne
19 days ago

We’re full time RVers and decided not to go west this year and do Florida to Maine. All parks we have stayed at are very busy. Florida Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine. More so on weekends but there’s always a few sites open. Tourists Areas are jam packed on the east coast. Hard to find car parking at times and very expensive to park around coastal areas.

Bob A
20 days ago

I have been searching for 3 sites for our annual family camp, in central Oregon Coast. I can generally find something. But limited, during the week. Weekends are generally full.
Finally found 2 – USFS no hook ups, and the sites are all in different sections of about a 40-50 site campground. Summary week day Sun- Thur generally find something. Weekends hard to find here.

Eddie
21 days ago

7346 mile trip and found no park near capacity Va. NC.SC. Fl.Alabama Georgia Mississippi Tennessee Kentucky Ohio Pa.
Laurel Mississippi for Memorial Day campground less than 1/4 full
Louisville Kentucky July 4 less than 1/2
So I don’t think campgrounds are as full as people say

Chris H.
21 days ago

We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone. We stayed at an RV park in West Yellowstone. It was very nice. The week after the 4th of July the park was about 60-70% full. I was surprised to see this. In town we noticed that the hotels weren’t overly crowded either. Given the popularity of Yellowstone National Park, we were quite surprised.

Phil
21 days ago
Reply to  Chris H.

We are at Rainbow Point Campground 6 miles north of West Yellowstone. Very quiet park with well spaced out sites. There have been many empty sites every night for the last week. Another park closer to town, Bakers Hole, has many empty sites also. Also we have not waited more than 5 minutes to get through the gate any day. We were expecting to have to head into the park very early in the morning to avoid the crowds and have not found that to be the case.

Heather
21 days ago
Reply to  Chris H.

Guess you have that Yellowstone road flooding disaster to thank
for the slight drop in visitor numbers.

The smart & the quick should take advantage while the lull lasts.

Randy Lewis
22 days ago

2 sites available for an extended period is “almost empty”?

Sally Harnish
22 days ago

I think a lot of the situation has to do with what RV’ers “need” or restate that, think they need. Hookup for power, sewer, water, cigar smoking room, etc. We are “old school RVers’ and just need a spot to park.

KellyR
22 days ago
Reply to  Sally Harnish

Same here. We travel and seldom need more than one or two nights in a spot. Seldom have a problem at private parks. We don’t need swimming pools, community rooms, games, etc.

Vicky
22 days ago

I can only speak for the Pacific Northwest Area. I winter 7 months in Vegas, so I’m out of there no later then May. I spend 5 months of summer in the thousand Trails system between Oregon Coast and Washington Coast. If I don’t make my reservations 4 months in advance for each park up here for summer, I flat can’t get in. Now mind you I stay 2-3 weeks at each TT parks, so I have to allow for weekends also. As in summers past, they are super crowded this summer also, especially cause the dear Canadians can come across the border this season. You can pick up a couple days during the week here and there, but for somebody like myself, who spends 5 months of summer 2-3 weeks in each park, you must make your reservations 4 months in advance. In doing that, you get exactly where you want to be. I guess most people want to stay cool during the summer, and no place to do that except for the beautiful Pacific Northwest! Happy Camping😄

Julz H
22 days ago

Farragut State park is in Idaho, not Washington and has a 100% out of state upcharge. That penalty fee also may be playing into site availability.

Admin
RV Staff(@rvstaff)
22 days ago
Reply to  Julz H

Thanks, Julz! It’s been corrected. Have a great day. 😀 –Diane

Drew
22 days ago

My name is Drew but I didn’t write that piece, nor do I agree with it.

MrDisaster
22 days ago
Reply to  Drew

Please tell us why.

Drew
21 days ago
Reply to  MrDisaster

The usual instance is that it’s much harder to find vacant spots- as I’ve seen and experienced.

Sheryl Hendrix
22 days ago

We are in Texas stationary for several months because of a surgery. North of Houston in a rule area close to a lot of things to do and great restaurants. A nice park quiet peaceful no pool but it has a laundry room and a game room showers etc. In the medium of price range for the area. And it is half empty. Weekends in some areas are packed but for the majority during the week you would have no problem finding a site. We looked on very short notice for a monthly site found 10 to 15 in the area with open sites. I think it’s fake news. Oh and this is actually the nicest safest area 60 miles north of Houston.

bwo
22 days ago

I know for us, seniors on a fixed income, inflation and gas prices have definitely curtailed our travels. Add to that a rig that has been in the shop for the most part of this year waiting on parts which are going first to the rigs on order but missing parts.

The perfect storm.

FWRoo
22 days ago

RV sales and rentals are on fire in CA, contrary to the TACO comment about how sales have slowed. You can find a site if you stalk websites and get lucky.

MsSing
22 days ago

We are the camp hosts at that Albeni Cove campground you included a screenshot of (🙂) and I can add some context to it. All of our 14 sites are generally reserved for the weekend, with a couple being available most week nights. But our boat launch is still closed, so many folks have cancelled their plans to come here so they can go somewhere else with their boat. However, we OFTEN have a one night reservation turn into a no show. Frustrating!

Don Schneider
22 days ago

We are staying in Texas this year and all of the campgrounds are almost or completely full, especially on weekends. Based on license plates more Texans are staying closer to home also.

Kit Vargas
22 days ago

We are full time and move from campground to campground on a regular basis. We always make reservations, because we have to have a spot. Right now we are in a very nice, full hook up county park. Lots of spaces open over the weekend. Coming from Fl. this spring, every campground we stayed at had openings. Our challenge is finding a spot for more than a month due to husband needing surgery. We are in the mid-west. Most long term spots are booked months out, even the KOA. When we travel we always make reservations, but I can’t remember being in a park where every spot was taken. However, were they reserved? Don’t know.

Bob
22 days ago

Crowding on weekends is one reason we make reservations for during the week. This year I did make my reservations in Nov. and Dec.of last year, just in case. One campground we stayed at was only about 50% full during the week we were there. We had a great time and didn’t have to put up with all the noise and confusion. I did have to cancel one trip because of a medical problem though.

Heather
21 days ago
Reply to  Bob

You don’t have to say which campsite, but which state did you make your plans, if you don’t mind saying? Good planning reserving the year before. It’s great when you can do it that far in advance.

wanderer
22 days ago

I am not seeing any emptying out of campgrounds. Full to the brim on weekends, everywhere I go (South, Midwest) this summer. During the week, occupancy seems to vary depending on how remote, nice, or affordable a place is. If it has a lake kids and boaters can use, it’s going to be 75% full even during the week, and I don’t know how many of the 25% ‘vacant’ are actually no-shows to a booked site. One place in Illinois had a ton of permanents and seasonals, but those available to travelers mostly sat empty; unlevel crazy-quilt sites with screwed up power and low overhead powerlines, junky showers. Go figure.

I’m also a bit tired of hearing ‘there’s no problem’ from people who are traveling the country with the kind of budget that allows for KOAs and resorts to be part of the equation. Sure, I can travel around Florida at will and see vacancies, I just can’t afford $65 a night and up.

I do expect to see more openings out west, fewer ‘epic road trips’ this year.

bob
22 days ago

Last fall took an extended trip to the Pacific northwest from Indiana. No problems with campsites. Not one time were we turn away from a full camp ground. Stayed in private, federal and state campgrounds. Personally I think the overcrowded campgrounds and the unavailability of new rv’s have been overly hyped, especially by this web site.

Dan
15 days ago
Reply to  bob

I totally disagree….been traveling since 2018 and each year has been getting harder to book sites…last year we were on the road 3 months and 8300 miles and we stayed at COEs to Federal..State and local parks and while my wife found sites it was not as easy as the past couple years..this year quite a bit harder to book 1 to 3 night stays..maybe we are not as “lucky” as you…

Bob p
22 days ago

This goes along with what I’ve been saying the last 2 years. These web based reservation systems are messing with peoples minds. They are staffed by young people who don’t care about doing their job to the best of their ability. Keeping info updated on their computers would require them to pay attention to any updated info that may come in. I’m sorry if this upsets some but being born 79 years ago at the tail end of the greatest generation, I know the modern generations were never taught how to work. Basically they just attend their employers business. People who use their computer to make reservations are dealing with these people. Pick up your phone and call the campground and you’ll stand a good chance of talking with someone who actually puts an eye on the campground status. I’ve only had 2 times where I couldn’t get reservations over the phone but that was on the beach in Pensacola, FL in October. 5 miles off the beach I found a nice campground half full.

bill
22 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

I agree, with the caveat that I have 4 nieces and 4 nephews in their mid 30s to early 40s and have observed a great work ethic up close .. As well as 5 of the 8 being fanatic campers and generally “outdoors people”.
As for my wife and I we volunteer as campground hosts all over Oregon and haven’t seen anywhere near the crowding referred to in past posts
But I do think that the federally subsidized, privately owned campground reservation systems should be ended.

Last edited 22 days ago by bill
STEVE
22 days ago
Reply to  bill

What makes you think the on line reservation systems are Federally subsidized? They are probably owned and run by an association of campground owners. The Federal campgrounds have their own reservation system.

MrDisaster
22 days ago
Reply to  bill

Those reservation systems are not subsidized. They are operated by private industry under a contract with the agency. They make their money be collecting the fees charged for making a reservation.

STEVE
22 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

Times have changed. There probably isn’t anyone working the computer on the other end. There is technology readily available that can do everything necessary to manage a reservation system. No humans involved. I personally think that’s a good thing.

Anne T
22 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

To build on your comment, several months ago I cancelled an online reservation about 24-48 hours before my reservation. The day of the reservation, a very nice ranger from the campground called to see if I was on the way since the gates would be closing soon. When I thanked the ranger for calling and mentioned that I had cancelled, the reply was “They never give us the cancellations.” It left me wondering about the capabilities of the software & empowering the staff at the gate.

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