Campground Crowding: Is camping becoming a “luxury” item?

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crowded campgrounds

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.

ARE CAMPGROUND FEES GOING HIGHER AND HIGHER?

We are hearing about campgrounds and RV parks raising their camping fees this season. Is it fair to raise fees when campgrounds are the most crowded? Aren’t campgrounds making enough money? Is this a case of supply and demand – or is it just plain greed?

I just finished a three-day ordeal of booking campsites for our meandering trip back to the north woods and was shocked – yes, shocked at current campground costs. I was also surprised that so many private RV parks are already booked up for April and May. Unfortunately, we are too big for most of the state and national parks, and those sites were gone months ago anyway. At a certain point I just said okay, I’ll book it and try to justify that it is still less than a motel…barely. Has camping become a luxury just for the rich? We certainly aren’t rich, and will be less so after three months of travel!

READERS’ RESERVATION EXPERIENCES

Teresa B. writes: “Getting ready for our summer season here in the NE. I always book in early January and avoid the May rush. Most places were booking at a 3x rate than last year. I even had a hard time getting a spot for Columbus Day 2021.”

Joseph B. also found the rates higher: “As far as what I can currently see, the campgrounds are counting on being fully booked and up-charging a night’s rent. Some of the places we stayed at last year are up by 10-15%. Although, I’m not sure if last summer’s loss of revenue has much to do with it or supply and demand is driving it.”

YOU HAVE TO SPEND MORE MONEY IN ADVANCE

Having to make reservations so far in advance because of campground crowding means you’re spending money so far in advance too. Brenda O. comments, “When we do plan a trip to a tourist destination, we plan a year in advance, often more. Several years ago, three to six months ahead would have been sufficient. The one issue I have with having to plan so far ahead is tying up my $$ for a year. Many campgrounds are requiring larger and larger deposits, some even requiring the entire reservation to be paid in advance. If you are a frequent camper, that can add up quickly!”

RV PARKS OR TRAILER PARKS? THERE’S NO DIFFERENCE!

Gail D. wrote: “More and more of what used to be economical family campgrounds like KOAs are catering to the long-term and permanent resident ‘campers.’ We made reservations last summer at an RV park outside of Salt Lake City. When we got there we found ‘Tiny Homes’, park models and some old rigs with skirts and porches that had been there for 10 years or more, leaving fewer sites for the casual 1-, 2- or 3-night stay people. We’ve seen some whose websites say they have 85 sites but only 20 are available to book. The rest are full-timers or 6-month seasonals. Used to be a difference between campgrounds and trailer parks. No more.”

Steven B. mentioned the same thing regarding the West Coast: “Don’t you people realize RV parks are people’s new full-time home? Most parks on the West Coast don’t answer their phone anymore! They are full with monthly renters!”

RV MANUFACTURERS SHOULD INVEST IN RV PARKS

RV manufacturers that are so happy to meet the enormous increased demand of people buying RVs during the pandemic should help address the scarcity of campsites for them to go to with all of the current campground crowding. Shouldn’t they?

Kathleen S. thinks the manufacturers should step up: “ I think RV manufacturers should be invested and investing in creating campgrounds and improving existing campgrounds, public and private.”

Do you agree?
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HIDDEN KOA BENEFIT

One of our readers let us know about a hidden KOA benefit. I didn’t know this and am glad to hear about it, though I wonder if it could differ from campground to campground.

Chris L. says, “I’m a KOA value cardholder. A little over a year ago I had no trouble getting a spot (usually just overnight). Not so last year. However, as a member, I could still get in to use their dump station & fresh water refill! That worked great because I use Harvest Hosts a lot and they usually have no hookups. A lot of the hosts are more than willing to have you stay an extra night!”

LIKE RESERVATIONS OR NOT?  SOME PEOPLE DO!

There seems to always be a dispute about reservation systems. I have always been a proponent of all the reservation systems until this week. I consider myself an expert in navigating websites. After all, I had gotten my husband and me COVID vaccine appointments online after 4 full hours of refreshing and entering in all the information multiple times. But ReserveAmerica stumped me. It showed no spots available at a certain campground for an entire year… not even for a single night. After a half-hour of back and forth, I finally found the campground’s phone number through Google search and they kindly took the reservation over the phone.

Terry L. likes the reservation system too, especially with the current campground crowding: “I’m a firm believer in the reservation process. Nothing worse than pulling into a campground and being told there’s no room at the inn. At least you will be guaranteed a spot.”

PRAISE FOR RECREATION.GOV SITE

Andy B. has success with the Recreation.gov site. “We live in Oklahoma and try to go out every other week and a couple of full weeks each year. Through November most places were full. We stick to Corps of Engineers parks as they seem to, overall, be better than any other. Very happy with the Recreation.gov site. You can book 6 months out and as soon as the dates open, we reserve. We already have our schedule from April thru June filled.”

Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?
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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 Crowded Campgrounds column here

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Brenda Odom
4 days ago
Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?" Read more »

We prefer not only reservations, but site-specific reservations. However, the public campgrounds at which we volunteer usually have both. One park at which we camp host has two campgrounds. Both use the same reservation system, but one campground allows specific site reservations and the other is non-specific (you can reserve a place in line but not a specific site). While this is a good system to meet the needs of 99% of campers, I do think a few sites should be walk-in. We remember all too well those emergencies that required us to find a quick site for a night or two: road delays, auto repair, illness (food poisoning!), et al. Even having a spot or two with no hookups for those who just need a quick respite would be nice.

Brenda Odom
4 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

If the quality of the campgrounds they created are anything like some of the units being rolled off the line, then please, NO! However, a recreation tax on each unit sold that would specifically support upgrades for public campgrounds could help.

Don Kisler
4 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

Although I see the point it is silly talk to expect RV manufacturers to create RV parks any more than auto manufacturers to create parking lots. RV parks are Huge investments requiring many employees and skilled management at each location. Not enough money in manufacturing to create RV parks all across the country.

Dan Eubanks
4 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

I think RV dealerships should invest in campgrounds as they are spread out around the country. Manufacturers would only help in a few states but dealerships are everywhere.

Mike
5 days ago
Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?" Read more »

Reservations. Nothing like traveling for hours to not have a spot available.

Mo
5 days ago
Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?" Read more »

I think Reservations are the way to proceed, but would like to see Improvements to the Reservation websites making them easier to use & to allow more Flexibility as far as Reserve Windows are concerned. For us Seniors, specific Dates are not as essential as the number of days & amenities provided…

MrDisaster
5 days ago

RV owners (and all campers) need an advocate for more campgrounds. AAA used to lobby for better roads, but now they seem happy pushing cruise and auto travel staying in hotels. Good Sam was a voice until it was neutered with the acquisition by CW. There is no national voice. As important there is no local voice to advocate for new campgrounds. Local communities need to know the economic advantages of an RV park, The community can always impose restriction to prohibit long term stays. Until we develop a voice there will be a shortage of campsites.

Bernie Turner
5 days ago
Reply to  MrDisaster

I replaced my Good Sam membership with an Escapees membership.

Chuck
5 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

Monaco did this, I believe, in the 2000’s.

Howard Schiller
5 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

It would be great if the manufactures invested in RV parks for their customers, but I’m sure that isn’t in their profit plan.

Howard Schiller
5 days ago
Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?" Read more »

I prefer the reservation system. With first-come-first-served I’ve found that you need to stop for the night very early to get a spot.

TW
5 days ago
Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?" Read more »

I think a mix of reservable and non-reservable is appropriate. You don’t want people to drive a couple of hundred miles and pull in after dark to find out there are no spots available. But last minute trips and people who can’t plan time off far in advance also need options. You do see these types of mixes in some USACOE parks but commonly only about 10% are non-reservable. That is too low.

Steve Sayer
5 days ago
Would you rather have a reservation or have spots be first-come-first-served?" Read more »

We understand that reservations mean less flexibility in changing your travel plans, but it is way less stressful knowing we’ll have a place to camp and have the hook-ups we want. For us it’s about travel; the camp site just helps with comfort along the way. We’d rather spend our time sight-seeing, food, hikes and other activities; and not waste time looking for a place to camp tonight.

Steve Sayer
5 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

Suggesting RV manufacturers “should” invest in campgrounds may not be the best use for their invested capital. Guessing most won’t. More likely, entrepreneurs will be “investing and creating” more RV parks as they see the demand. And, larger companies have already began snapping up smaller RV parks as they have the capital to invest in improvements and expansion. Prices will go up in the short run, but eventually there will be more places to camp.

Donald N Wright
5 days ago

I had a head slapping moment in South Dakota June 2020 when I learned I could of stayed at a Motel in Walls for less than a local KOA. I stayed at the KOA anyway, More space, more fun.

Megan Edwards
5 days ago

My wife figure with the cost of gas and campgrounds cheaper to stay in hotels and drive the car.

Rick Sorrenti
5 days ago

Hats off to KOA! 2021 reservations deposits are only $25.00. Normally it’s the first night’s fee. All during this pandemic KOA had their “lights on” for us. Very very few parks closed and those that did were mandated to close by the state.

Steve O
5 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

Monaco did years ago. Then they sold them all.

Graybyrd
6 days ago
Do you agree?" Read more »

We live in a market economy based on supply and demand. It’s all about ROI: return on investment, and maximizing profits. RV parks have become excessively expensive to build, especially in the face of a hostile regulatory environment. Surprised? Don’t be. Pay, or don’t pay. That’s the choice.

Mojo
5 days ago
Reply to  Graybyrd

Right on re: the regulatory environment – and brutal property and equipment taxes, licenses and fees. Then add the amenities that some campers feel should come for the same fee as 25 years ago. Still a fun but far more difficult business.

Jason Marshall
4 days ago
Reply to  Graybyrd

Simple supply and demand. Why is it “unfair” to charge market price for any product?
Like Graybyrd says,”Pay or don’t pay”.