Campground Crowding: ReserveAmerica – Love it or hate it?

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crowded campgrounds

Updated weekly

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.

MORE BUSINESSES = MORE OVERNIGHT SPACES

What if there was a list, perhaps on an app or website, where businesses that RVers know and love, such as museums and tourist attractions, could list available overnight parking spaces. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Tony B. had this suggestion to combat the lack of campsites, particularly for overnight stops. “It would be helpful for businesses to step up and have a few sites for overnight RVs in their parking lots, preferably with power.”

ALLOW SAME-DAY RESERVATIONS

When people are trying to reserve a site and they know it is empty it really wastes what has become a precious resource. Richard H. notes. “Another problem with many reservable campgrounds (likely State, Local or Federal) is they do not allow same-day reservations – even if they have space. Why?!? I cannot imagine why they do that as it means the only option I have left is to travel to that campground and take my chances for a spot being open. Have seen some sites which only take reservations 2 or 3 days out even. What sense does that make?”

Editor’s note: The campground we hosted at this summer changed its system due to COVID and their office being closed. They started allowing same-day site reservations up to 3:30 in the afternoon. It helped everyone: the campground, the campers and the camp hosts!

SURCHARGE FOR OUT-OF-STATE CAMPERS

T. Will O. told us about Oregon’s policy: “Oregon State Parks recently started adding a surcharge to out-of-state campers. This has resulted in greater income for our state park system, better availability for us that live in the state/region, and a much-needed reduction in COVID-19 risk due to a drop in numbers of out-of-state campers.”

Chris A. also reported that his home state raised non-resident rates. “Massachusetts, my home state, raised the rates for non-residents very high, which seems to have discouraged some folks, leaving a bit more capacity for residents.”

Jeff P. likes that idea too but says, “I like the idea, and here in Ohio, ‘some’ of the state parks have a percentage of ‘Non-Reservable Sites.’ But, I must point out the obvious (as others have), that States, regardless of which one, are chasing the all-mighty (tourism) dollar: A full campground is better than a partially filled campground. They don’t care if you live in that state or you’re from out-of-state.”

RESERVATION SYSTEMS

We asked readers last week to comment on campground reservation systems and we got many responses. Lots of people had a lot to say, particularly about ReserveAmerica – some good and some bad. The reservation fees are high and the cancellation refunds are sometimes just not worth it.

Don H. shared his experience with us: “We had reservations for 5 different state parks in New Mexico for almost two months total. Because of the virus, New Mexico closed their campgrounds and issued refunds – sort of. ReserveAmerica did not refund the initial reservation fees, which totaled over $100. They also initially charged us a cancellation fee, but New Mexico was able to get that back to us. The National parks that cancelled due to the virus refunded us every cent. ReserveAmerica is the worst to deal with.”

Lisa B. knows that there is a learning curve with ReserveAmerica but does like one of the features. She has some suggestions for getting a campsite too. “Book early, be flexible and travel during the off-season. My favorite Ohio parks have had this problem for over 20 years, so this is really nothing new. When I book state parks in Florida, I book early and choose one of the less popular campgrounds. I’m just there to be in warmer weather. ReserveAmerica has a learning curve; however, a good feature shows the campgrounds that fit your specifications that are nearby. This will be OK!” Lisa, we appreciate your positivity! 

Shelley O. has this positive statement about navigating ReserveAmerica. “ReserveAmerica does let you change and modify your reservation dates as your plans change and the system works pretty well. We do make our reservations six months to a year in advance!”

Here is a suggestion from Roger B. “The problem isn’t always the campground being full. Many people make reservations and never cancel when plans change. This leaves sites unused when other people are looking for a site. The reservation system needs to change. Whether it’s time limits to show up or your site is given away, or restrictions on further reservations for people that don’t show or don’t cancel. Something needs to be done. We see unused sites at almost every campground we go to.”

Jane F. has an answer for the no-shows and the “full/reserved” campgrounds. She writes: “It’s very difficult to get a spot because sites are booked months in advance. Recently we found a spot in an AZ regional park BUT we had to move twice in a 10-day span because the site was reserved. Both times no one showed up for the sites. To make it worse, the entire park was only 30% occupied the entire time of our stay and we were told it was completely “full/reserved”! The problem is people don’t cancel because the cancellation fee is too high. Solution: Have a policy that if you are a 24-hour no-show, your site will be rebooked with no refund. Win-win for parks (site rented twice) and another camper can get in!”

What do you think about Jane’s idea?
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DEDICATED TO FINDING A SPOT

Everyone that is looking for a campsite and having trouble knows that it pays to be dedicated, despite dedication being so time-consuming! This comment from “newbie” Daniel J. writes, “My family and I are part of this ‘newbie’ RV crowd sweeping the scene. We were, and still are, avid tent campers, backpackers, and general outdoors fanatics. I’ve had years of experience with local state parks here in Texas that are typically hot spots for tourists. In college, we would dirtbag – err … boondock – Friday nights, and then take advantage of any no-show sites on Saturday morning to stay in the parks where we rock climb. Now with online reservation systems and a dose of adult morality (and reality with two small kids), I simply hound a campground for weeks before my trip date, looking for last-minute cancellations. We’ve been able to find reservations at two parks this summer that are typically booked solid for the entire year. All it takes is a bit of patience and a fast trigger finger when a site opens up. Happy hunting everyone!

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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Bonnie Dillenbeck
29 days ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

They already have this policy in most parks. THE PROBLEM IS, PARKS DONT ENFORCE IT!!! If you don’t call the park to say you will be late, they should cancel that reservation by 9AM the next day!!! I knew of a man that died, no one called his sites. He booked 2 weeks at a time and his sites sat empty each reservation. PRIME WATERFRONT SITES.

Irv
30 days ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

That solution is a no-brainer. That plus same day reservations would solve the problem.

Kathleen
30 days ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

Good i

Mark
30 days ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

I agree. I think you should cancel your reservation if you can’t make it, especially with a no show after 24 hours policy. We have been camping and found many people not show and not cancel and other campers want to camp but cannot.

Marv
1 month ago

Wisconsin charged $15 more per night to out-of-state campers about 8 years ago when we traveled from Oregon to Illinois for our son’s Naval Boot Camp graduation. After explaining we were spending tourist dollars, we left the check-in booth. It was nearly dark. A little while later we pulled into an off-road area across from a road side comfort station – nice and quiet spot from the other travelers and free. I see Wisconsin has decreased their out-of-state camping fees since.

Terri zodarecky
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

I think that is ridiculous. If some one has paid for their site and can’t make it the first day they should not be able to rebook it. That is double booking and stealing money from the people that booked it. Some times things come up and u can’t make it a day.

Irv
30 days ago

If you call, the reservation should be honored for another 24 hours.

dj
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

I definitely agree. This is what’s done at hotels, why not campgrounds?

Jeb
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

Great idea. No show whole reservation is cancelled.

Harry
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

great idea. now to get gov’t to do !

Nancy
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

great idea, but how to get them to do it?

travilenman
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

LOVE IT

Gary Smith
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

That’s pretty much what Washington does. If you don’t show up by 1PM on the day following your first night the entire reservation is canceled.

Toni Kaus
1 month ago

Good idea. Might work if reservation cancellation fees were minimal or non-existent. As 62+ campers, we find cancelling often costs us more than not showing up. We grumble and cancel anyway, then grumble about reserved but empty sites in “full” campgrounds.

Donald N Wright
1 month ago

Perhaps the problem is RV’ers who will not leave when their reservation time is over. Imagine the problems when the campground owners have to summon law enforcement and maybe a heavy wrecker to move someone’s motorhome or trailer. Personally, I have reserved a site at a RV storage area that I cannot move into. Someone parked their motorhome there, and no one can find the owner.

Robert Harrington
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

I think this is a great idea. I would suggest a change though. Provision should be made for keeping a site reserved if the “late” camper calls, explains the delay, and agrees to pay for the day(s) the site remains empty waiting for them to arrive.

Kathleen
30 days ago

Yes!

Gil
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

Okay, if people are not cancelling due cancellation fees being to high, are they not also losing out on their reservations fees? What am I missing, you pay in advance for the reservation. Your “Solution” is already in place at CG’s.

Thomas M Mason
1 month ago
Reply to  Gil

Could it be the amount of refund isn’t worth the effort?

Jeanette
1 month ago
Reply to  Gil

We encountered this a lot comp hosting at a NF campground in AZ this summer. If you did not cancel within 24 hours you lost your 1st night site fee, then you paid a cancellation fee. To cancel you had to deal with Recreation.gov, and during a COVID summer this was often difficult, so people wouldn’t bother as their weekend refund would only come out to $8.

Irv
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeanette

Agreed that they make canceling too hard,

Donald Chamberlain
1 month ago
What do you think about Jane's idea?" Read more »

Excellent. It is frustrating even before the pandemic to not be able to get a site because the person who reserved it might show late. 9times out of 10 they noshiw

wanderer
1 month ago

This. Lots of people staying home because they can’t reserve a site, then these idiots don’t show. We need a deadline. If you don’t show by 5 (winter) or 6 p.m. (summer) or make a call from the road explaining yourself, the reservation is cancelled. If somebody else can then use the site, you get a 75% refund. If not, you’re stuck paying for the site 100% for that night, and it’s open for new campers the next night. It’s not rocket science. For those who like to show up after dark, use the truck stops, nobody trying to enjoy a peaceful night in the woods needs you clanging in at 10 p.m. because you like to drive 700 miles a day.

Tom
1 month ago

Really need to develop “just tonight” RV spots. Electric, water, and dump site. No frills, and move on in the morning. Automated pricing. $20 or less.

Diane Mc
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

This👆

wally
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

AMEN!

Irv
30 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Yes! Especially along interstates.