Campground Crowding: Should reservation systems be changed?

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crowded campgrounds

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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 our inbox was full of comments and notes from our readers. A number of people mentioned the reservation systems, particularly Reserve America, and had some suggestions for improvements.

Here are a few observations.

GIVE THE HOSTS AND RANGERS MORE OPTIONS

As it is, camp hosts don’t have much say in the reservation system. If they’re the ones running the campground, though, shouldn’t they have more of a say?

Jack P. has this idea for improving the reservation system and also opening unoccupied sites. He writes, “I have found that most state parks use Reserve America to handle their reservations. This is probably a cost-effective option. However, at least in some state parks, the individual state park does not have the ability to change or modify reservations if, for example, the rangers see an empty spot that has been reserved. Some, perhaps most, state parks require the site to be occupied at night so if someone parks their camper several days before the weekend unoccupied, there is little the ranger can do.
To correct this, the park rangers should have access to the reservation system for their park and cancel any spots unoccupied or without a person occupying the site. Also, perhaps a fix would be to prevent anyone from using the reservation system for a month or so if they reserve a spot and don’t cancel.”

Do you think park rangers should have more of an input in the reservation system?
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Kathy B. also has some recommendations that could help with the crowding and reserved, but unoccupied, sites: “I’ve been camping for many years, mostly in California; rarely boon-docking.
1. I am grateful for reservations; it helps with peace of mind.
2. Visits should be limited to 2 weeks PER CAMPGROUND; no moving around.
3. ReserveCalifornia™ etc. need to have options to CANCEL reservations on the website, so others can use the site.
4. Camp hosts should be able to open unoccupied sites to first come for no-shows after 48 hrs.
5. Reserved sites must be continuous and occupied to prevent the “holding” of sites for the weekend.”

EXORBITANT CANCELLATION FEES

One camper mentioned that it is not the hassle of canceling reservations that can keep someone from canceling, it is the high cancellation fee. James D. writes, “As Florida seniors, we get attractive rates, sometimes $20 for a couple of nights. The cancellation fee is $17.75. If I can’t use the site for whatever reason I’m not going to go through the trouble of canceling just to get $2.25 back. I don’t object to a cancellation fee but it shouldn’t be punitive. $17.75 is.”

SITES AVAILABLE!

Thom R. wrote in, telling us that he knows of some sites available, but he’s not telling where! “We are freshly retired (Aug. 31) and are on our dream trip that we’ve been planning for years. Currently ‘somewhere in AZ’ (not telling) and the large park we are in has many vacant spots. The staff tells me that most of the vacancies are from Canadians who are not here, or maybe folks are just not moving around this year. We have made reservations after this stop into mid-February, just to be sure we have a spot. Some are in CA, we’ll see if we are allowed in when those dates come.” Editors note: We’ve heard of sites in Arizona being open because Canadians are not coming down this year.

Michael G. has a few tips on the subject: “To almost always have somewhere to camp, join the Elks. 600+ lodges with RV sites and 1400+ which may let you dry camp. To find dry camping spots: Overnightrvparking.com. For regular sites and much more: AllStays.”

NO SPOTS AVAILABLE? BOOK AFTER A HOLIDAY!

Holidays booked solid? Morris W. lets you in on a secret: “It is especially easy to find vacancies after a major holiday. This past Thanksgiving in Bodega Bay, the weekend immediately after Thanksgiving we were surrounded by about 50-60% empty sites. We found the same thing in Sly Park after Memorial Day.”

THOUSAND TRAILS AND ESCAPEES CROWDED? A READER WANTS TO KNOW

How are these camping clubs and organizations managing their sites? Les C. would like to know. “Please see if members are having a hard time finding a spot in the Escapees and Thousand Trails parks before people spend money on memberships. Are they crowded too? What about Passport America?”

Have an answer for Les?
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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 Campground Crowding here.

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Mark and Vickie
4 months ago
Have an answer for Les?" Read more »

A lot of the 1000 Trails campgrounds are closed for the season after Holoween esp. on the East Coast with the exception of Fla.

John Crawford
4 months ago
Have an answer for Les?" Read more »

Passport America is well worth the money for the membership if you understand its not for long term stays. It is great for one or two nights as you are Traveling maybe even a week at different times of the year. They have a lot of restrictions.

pursuits712
4 months ago

Dear Fellow Campers

For those of you who have concerns about how our national, state and local campgrounds are managed and the role of our park rangers, I would like to offer a suggestion. Please read the article in this month’s newsletter about volunteering. Take a few months to enjoy a FREE campsite (reservations not needed once your application is accepted); learn first hand how the systems work and what the rangers, staff and volunteers do.

I can ensure you that you will leave with a wealth of knowledge about our park system and it’s operations along with an appreciation for the employees who deal with these “broken systems” every day. If you are very lucky, you may even see a change in your own attitude about how things should be done. At the very least, you will be in a position to offer your suggestions from the inside!

Sincerely,
Lifetime RVer, former private campground manager and long-time park volunteer/camp host

Mo11
4 months ago
Do you think park rangers should have more of an input in the reservation system?" Read more »

Yes! Locals should control the system!

Chris Collins
4 months ago
Do you think park rangers should have more of an input in the reservation system?" Read more »

Rangers and Camp Hosts should ABSOLUTELY have the ability to make use of campsites that are reserved but vacant. I am so tired of being unable to score a reservation at a popular campground, only to discover later that the campground was half empty during the period that I wanted to camp there.

Ron
4 months ago
Have an answer for Les?" Read more »

We started using Passport America this yr & it paid for the membership after a few stays. It’s 1 of many tools to find 1 night rv sites while traveling

Bill T
4 months ago

For the public, state, national and other parks that have onsite rangers or site managers/hosts, can we not just call them on the phone and they can look directly at their campsite boards and say yes or no for requested stay dates? Onsite personnel will have the ability to book or cancel immediately so the next caller may be able to book that cancelled spot. Sometimes it seem there is too much automation and not enough hands on. Centralized reservation systems are quirky, subject to timed-out problems, “Bots” booking multiple spots at initial opening dates etc. I don’t know how many times I have been ready to book, at 1 minute after midnight, for a spot 6 months out and have selected it an available spot only to lose it because the system was overwhelmed and timed-out or my credit card took to long to process from the “check-out” page.

Michael Gardner
4 months ago
Have an answer for Les?" Read more »

In the southwest TT parks are full or nearly full on weekends. Make reservations as early as allowed. Nicest spots taken up by annuals. Often as not end up in “make do” sites.