Sunday, September 19, 2021
Sunday, September 19, 2021

Campground Crowding: Missing the good ol’ days

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.

SHOULD RV MANUFACTURERS BUILD CAMPGROUNDS?

A couple of weeks ago a reader suggested that RV manufacturers should step up and help build RV parks since they are creating a lot of the campground crowding problem. More RVs, fewer campground spots – it would make sense, wouldn’t it? Someone then mentioned that RVs are being built so poorly that perhaps we wouldn’t want RV manufacturers to build campgrounds too.

This week Tony V. writes: “From what I’ve seen of the quality of many existing CGs, those built by the RV manufacturers would be an upgrade!”

Interesting! Now we’ve heard from both sides. What do you think? 
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THINKING OF SELLING DUE TO CAMPGROUND CROWDING?

Melissa K. was one of the many folks that bought an RV on the cusp of on the pandemic and is finding that campground crowding may alter their future plans. “We bought right when COVID hit… managed to make do with ‘what’s available this week’ for the summer, but it’s so hard to get a reservation at any woodsy outdoor camping spots (state parks). The resorts are nice but get super pricey and lack the whole nature experience. We have debated on selling our camper.”

Char S. blames campground crowding for thoughts of selling too: “I am finding more campgrounds booked, and therefore I am thinking of selling my RV. Plus, places are charging more and not really keeping the sites clean and maintained. I have looked for the least-popular sites in hopes I can find a place that isn’t too far from where I really want to go.”

READER APPRECIATED “WHERE DO THE CANCELLATION FEES GO”

Norman K lost a lot of money when COVID hit and he was forced to cancel upcoming reservations (and we’re sure many of you experienced the same). He wrote, “I had 38 reservations at NP, ST Parks. I left on April 12, 2020, drove 352 miles to Montgomery Bell State Park in West Tennessee for a week. While there, COVID struck the country with a vengeance and everything started closing.

“A week later, rather than going west, I had to head back home. I personally canceled some and some were canceled by the parks themselves. For every cancellation, I was charged $5. I was charged $185 in cancellation fees. To say I was upset is not very honest. I was MAD, HURT, and very disappointed that all my planning, budgeting, saving for this trip of a lifetime fell thru – let alone costing almost $200 for what I felt was a waste of money.

“As a widowed 74-year-old disabled veteran living on a fixed income, this hurt. I was relieved to find out that the Government wasn’t sticking it to me but the reservation is run by a non-government agency and it was actually covering the transaction fees from the credit card processor. At this point in life, now 75, and gas prices rising faster than the floodwaters from Katrina, I don’t know if my dream will come to fruition.”

Norman, we hope you don’t give up on your dream.

Do you have any advice for Norman or anyone in a similar situation?
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FLORIDA UPDATE

Readers often comment about Florida campsites being full, full, full. It looks like Florida is opening up. Are the snowbirds going home? Are people overbooking and not showing up? Or did COVID stick a wrench in everyone’s plans?

Dick K. wrote in about his experience: “We winter in Florida. For the past 10 years we have stayed at the Lazydays RV Resort in Seffner, FL, just east of Tampa. Normally this resort is full during any local or special events. This year, during the Tampa RV Show, the Super Bowl and now during the Florida Strawberry Festival, there are sites here to be had. Yes, this resort can be pricey, but with my Military discount it becomes reasonable based on the many amenities provided. If you can travel, do it. If you can afford it, do it. Stay safe, stay well, safe travels.”

Diane M. also found Florida campsites open. “Currently in FL, where we have/will stay at four different parks. Made reservations for two when we were at them in 2020. Other two a few months ago. None have been full, when normally they have been. Current park with many snowbirds has more sites open than we’ve ever seen. Coming out from CA, we had reservations. Parks were pretty empty, so didn’t even need reservation. Will see what it’s like going home next week. Only made 1 other reservation so far.” Diane, please let us know what it’s like when you head back west to CA. Thanks!

James F. found openings in Florida too. “We started for Florida last November and we had no trouble finding campsites coming down from central New York. We already had our site reserved in Florida. They only have 12 sites but when we got here we were the only campers. At this time there are 4 sites still open. We are thinking about selling our trailer just because of everything we have read and heard from other people. We will know more after the trip home.”

MISSING THE SPONTANEITY OF IT ALL BECAUSE OF CAMPGROUND CROWDING

While reservations have become such a necessity, Cheri M. misses the days of spontaneously camping. “Reserve-only spots have sure dampened our spontaneity. Plus there are fees to reserve, usually $10, so if we go one night here, one night there, it doubles the National Park fees. For instance, if we want to go to different campgrounds within one NP to hike different areas, listen to different ranger talks, and so forth, that costs us now. Also, we can’t just find these treasures as much on the fly. We miss that. We haven’t stopped RVing and we still have a ball doing so, but it’s very different now and we miss those carefree days.”

Dirk S. is camping less due to a number of things. “I would definitely say it’s harder to find a campsite these days – more people looking, and more reservation-only sites, with bookings happening months in advance. It’s definitely affecting our camping habits and plans. We find that we’re looking for more boondocking sites away from regular campgrounds, as it’s all we can find. Being able to just hop on the road at the last minute and head out for a trip seems to be a thing of the past. It’s leading to us to go camping less, which is sad.”

Kevin C. echoes that sentiment. “We used to travel in our motorhome freely and camp spontaneously. We would start out in the morning in a particular direction and by noon or early afternoon we’d decide where we wanted to land. We’d call ahead to book a site or just check on availability with nary a problem. Once we arrived, we would decide if we wanted to stay a while or move on. Not any more. We can still do that in the ‘off season,’ if there is such a thing anymore, with most RV parks but not public campgrounds. We are finding that we have to book months, and in some cases a year, in advance. No more spontaneity. No more freedom to move around the country.”

Carol L. had the perfect life for 23 years. “We were full-time RVers for 23 years and very much enjoyed it. We’ve seen the cost and availability of sites go a bit crazy over the last few years. We decided it was time to see the rest of the world so bought a home just in time for COVID. So glad we do have a house now. Would not have liked to spend the winter in an RV. Great timing on our part, it turns out. If it is really as bad as it sounds, then I am very happy that we were able to do it when it was easy. Stayed as long as we wanted in one spot, never made reservations. Perfect life.”

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

Related:
Free RV Camping: the West edition and the Heartland edition.

##RVT991

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Goldie
6 months ago
Interesting! Now we've heard from both sides. What do you think? " Read more »

We have found that there are very few middle of the road campgrounds any more. There are older campgrounds with many long term residents. They are usually cheap to stay and poorly maintained. They are also rarely big rig friendly, even tho many claim to be. Then there are the high end resorts, big and beautiful sites, lots of pavement, lots of amenities, high prices. They cater to the big rigs with many allowing only Class A rigs. Very few nice, family oriented, mid priced parks that will fit larger rigs and have activities for all age brackets. KOA’s used to fill this slot but they are also running hot and cold and are getting expensive. We’ve been charged over $100 a night at several KOA’s. At least with them, we know there will be sites large enough to accommodate us.

Gene Cheatham
6 months ago
Do you have any advice for Norman or anyone in a similar situation?" Read more »

We have been planning since long ago in our 42 years of married life retiring to RV travel full time and have been a subscriber here for quite awhile. About 3 years away from retiring and owning a 42 ft 5th wheel, our 6th camper, we are beginning to wonder if it’s even feasible.
In 2003 we seriously considered build a CG from scratch and did all the proper due diligence. At the time a residential building boom was going on in the St. Louis region driving up land prices pushing our spacious 200 site place out of reach, to say nothing of regulatory hell. I could barely imagine what per site build costs are now, and the rate to charge to keep our own lights on. Discouraging to say the least.
Sadly we may have to home base it and camp once in a blue moon, unless the whole thing bombs and all the recently new and really new newbies quickly tire of it, sell the rig and create a massive glut of used RV’s.

Tommy Molnar
6 months ago

As I’ve mentioned many times before, since we live “out west” (not CA!), we’ve not run into the campground crush most RV’ers east of the Rockies seem to face. In fact, we’ve never not been able to set up camp at any state park we’ve gone to without reservations. We’re prepared to boondock if we do have an issue but to date, we’ve not had any problems.

On a recent trip from Houston, TX to northern NV, we drove until we were tired (usually five or so hours), then looked around using our ‘smart phones’ to see what was nearby. We would just drive into an RV park, get a site, and spend the night. Never had an issue. Granted, these were usually not “Five Star Resorts”, but nice clean parks. One was right next to some railroad tracks so the fee was $20. But, we love trains so this was actually a plus. And when we’re tired nothing short of an atom bomb wakes us up . . .  😋  😎 

Ford Marshall of Airdrie, AB
6 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Enjoyed your observations concerning camping. We have rarely RV into the States as we here in Alberta has so much to offer. With our self contained PleasureWay Excel we mostly boondock enjoying the summer months in less crowded areas on the eastside of the Rockies. However, seeing fields of all the winter storage of RVs is frightening around Calgary if all decided to go camping on the various long weekend would certainly make it very difficult to find a spot up here as well. Having the large RV manufacturers stepping up to the plate in doing their share in providing campgrounds is a sound idea.

Philip Sponable
6 months ago

More people on the road, more cancelations. This is an opportunity for a new profit source.  As I have overcome and adapted so can you. Yes it stinks :wpds_chuckle: but loss is worse than a profit… :wpds_mrgreen: 

Gil B
6 months ago
Do you have any advice for Norman or anyone in a similar situation?" Read more »

When my reservations were cancelled, I was then refunded the full amount. The cancellation fee was waived due to the pandemic but yet again, I didn’t cancel, the CG did.

Gil B
6 months ago
Interesting! Now we've heard from both sides. What do you think? " Read more »

C’mon, CG’s that were built some time ago is like comparing the Model T to a Tesla. Of course it’s gonna be a 360. The over crowding is gonna be at the more well known NP and more traveled destinations. The RV manufacturers aren’t gonna go spend their net proceeds, look at the cheap products they’re selling. They cut corners to save a buck and now you suggest they build CG’s. Sure I’d like to see that happen but let’s get real.

Donald N Wright
6 months ago

I expect to see more specialty campgrounds in the future. Airstream only. Teardrop trailers only. Slide in pickup campers only. Maybe even a popup trailer only campground. Everything designed around smaller RV’s that do not need full hookups or a quarter acre pull though campsite. How about a minimum or maximum stay ? No diesels or generators ?

Cheryl Bacon
6 months ago

That sounds more like your wish of what would happen, than reality. An Airstream campground, that is possible but the others nope. On the other hand, there are more Class A only campgrounds. Simple reason for this $$$.

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