Campground Crowding: It’s all about the journey, not the destination… right?

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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.

THE GOOD OL’ DAYS … BEFORE CAMPGROUND CROWDING

We often talk about “the good ol’ days” of camping … before campground crowding. They seem like a distant, unobtainable, and nostalgic past. We like reminiscing with our readers about those days. Will we ever see them again?

Lee C. writes, “I first started camping with my parents as a child in the 1950s. I bought my first RV, a pickup camper, in 1970 and have been RVing ever since. In April and May of 2016, my wife and I went cross-country from the Atlantic Coast through the southern states and up the West Coast. We returned along the northern border, crossed into Canada in Michigan and returned through Canada to Vermont. All the while with no reservations and no trouble finding campsites. This year, I am planning an April trip. I am trying to make reservations and finding many campgrounds are full. Some places want two nights’ minimum stay during the week and three nights on the weekends. Guess I will have to change my traveling ways.”

Kay F. has hung up the keys but remembers the good old days of RVing fondly, prior to campground crowding. “We have been full-timing RVers for 8 years but a year ago decided to give it up due to health and age. Now we are glad we did. We never planned ahead. Just went where the mood took us. Our last year on the road we went solar and hit the national forests. The quiet and beauty were great. Never a problem finding a spot, but we don’t miss it now with the overcrowding.”

JUST BECAUSE OF CAMPGROUND CROWDING, DON’T BEGRUDGE THE NEWBIES!

Susan R. tells us about seeing a lot of newbies in brand-new trailers on her recent travels. She writes, “Was at the Grand Canyon last week. Lots of newbies in brand-new trailers. One was a 40ish man from Los Angeles with a high-pressure job on Spring Break with his family. It was their second time in their new RV. He told me he loved camping because no phones, so no way the office could reach him. He could totally relax and enjoy his kids. Can’t begrudge someone for that. Us boomers need to be a little more tolerant and learn to adapt.”

Another reader, Barbie P., also has some sage advice for us: “RV’d as a child/teen for many years down in SoFlo, specifically the Keys, and yes RVing has changed just as the world has. This has existed forever – with more people come more issues. Take a deep breath. Don’t let people (or blogs, YouTube, etc.) influence your plans or beliefs. You’ll find there’s plenty for everyone. You just have to plan and be respectful.”

REALLY BOOKING AHEAD…

Robert C. told us that has made his winter 2021/2022 reservations already! That kinda puts me in a panic! I am not done with my summer reservations yet…

Robert says, “Just yesterday I booked our Winter 2021 to 2022 sites from Jersey to Alabama. No problem getting a site where I like to stay on the way down. Only have one more night to book on Monday.”

…OR NOT?

While Robert is booking ahead, Jim C. isn’t. He has noticed a disturbing trend and with his current small 25-foot RV refuses to book out 6 months not knowing what the park will be like in months or even years ahead.

Jim says: “We’ve been RVing for 27 years. We full-timed in our Winnebago Journey for 8 years while pulling our Wrangler after quitting our jobs in 2004. Those were the best years of our lives as we only used RV parks once every 7 to 10 days to dump and refill water. Now we have a 25′ Tiffin Wayfarer and still pull a Jeep. With solar and lithium batteries, we can dry camp for 5 days easily. Now, finding available RV parks when needed is becoming more challenging. We’re noticing more and more PA parks are going downhill and filling up with full-time residents who look like they can’t care for their rigs nor the area around their sites. It’s not a pleasant picture. Because of this, we are spending more per night to stay in nicer places when we need to.

“There is no way I’m going to plan 6 months in advance for any RV park. If we do find ourselves unable to find a last-minute park due to full campgrounds, we have been able to find a Walmart or Harvest Hosts.”

Do you share Jim’s concerns? 
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LOVING VAN LIFE IN SPITE OF CAMPGROUND CROWDING

Patti P sold her Class A and Jeep and is enjoying the van life. “I sold my class A and jeep and travel in a van conversion with all the comforts of home. Currently, I am on a trip from NM to MS and my only expenses have been gas, food, and a shower. I stay in Wally parking lots, truck stops and rest areas and public land when available. It is the only way I can afford to do what I want to do. And I love it.”

EMBRACE THE POSITIVES!

Charles F. had to make many changes to their travel plans during the rise of the pandemic but gives us this positive reminder: RVing, despite the frustrations and campground crowding, is a wonderful life.

“We retired in Dec 2018. Bought our truck and 5th wheel and hit the road in Feb 2019. I started immediately to book places 6-12 months out. The farthest out I’ve booked is 11 months, but it’s for our winter destination this next year at a really nice campground/resort. We’ve done some boondocking along the way, but again, I always plan for that several months out.

“The most challenging time for us was in the spring of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. We made significant changes to our travel plans, cancelled the first three months of our travel away from our winter respite on the coast of Mississippi, and made a beeline to a relative’s place in western Iowa. There we had the luxury of semi-drycamping on their land – they have 10 acres out in the country.

“We resumed our previously booked travel in August and were able to complete our planned travels (some RV parks, some boondocking) and got to see some great National Parks in CO, UT, AZ, and NV. We pulled into Yuma to spend our winter here in mid-November and will be heading out for a camp host gig in Camp Verde, AZ on April 2nd.

“Yeah, you can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been out to eat at a restaurant in the last year, but hey, we are still having the time of our lives. Don’t dwell on the negatives, embrace the positives and remember, it’s all about the journey – not the destination!

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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Carole Carr
14 days ago
Do you share Jim's concerns? " Read more »

Yes, we share those concerns! We have always done better “winging” it. All of our reserved weekly campground stays in past years were misleading and disappointing. We are going to head out across country for a couple of months soon, and take our unreserved chances!

Don Osborn
14 days ago
Do you share Jim's concerns? " Read more »

I’m concerned too. We started fulltime 2 years ago while I was still working as a caddie staying basically 3 months in NC and 3 months in WI and then back to NC. We took 4 to 5 days to travel each time and booked a week ahead most of the time but winged it sometimes too, without any real problem. The whole time the end plan was to be able to wander the country at leisure when I retired, which is now. We don’t want a “plan” or an itinerary, we want to be free to enjoy roaming. Now it’s looking like being “free” is going to be a lot of work. I’m concerned because we leave Wednesday for, as Gene Wilder said in Blazing Saddles,…No Place in Particular. I hope it will be as easy as we thought it would be the last few years.

Diane Mc
14 days ago

Already booked our trip out & campground for 10 days in Indy, months ago, for the INDY 500. Leaving first part of May. We dry camp 4 days at track and then head West. In the past we have just decided almost day to day what we wanted to see and do before getting home. No schedule. So a bit nervous about what will we find, or not find, on return trip. Especially since it is end of May and some schools may have already started summer break. May have to resort to Walmart’s or Truck Stops….haven’t done that in years. Once upon a time, when F1 race was held at IMS end of June, we would attend Indy 500 in May. Then, instead of heading home to CA, we would travel Canada or parts of US we hadn’t seen in between the races. With no reservations. Ahhhhh, the good old days. So glad we took our 2 month trip to Florida recently. We had a great time. Been home 3 weeks and can’t wait to leave again in May.

wanderer
14 days ago

It’s not just Passport America parks that are changing. So many parks go thru this aging process. They discover it’s easier to be landlords: lock in seasonals or permanents at 1/3 the price, then charge travelers top dollar to make up the difference. They staff down, stop keeping the office open in the afternoons, and gradually they turn into trailer parks.  There are so many parks which are at this stage in their lifespan. You have to keep searching out new ones that actually want travelers, or boondock.  Unfortunately this means avoiding congested areas of the country right now.

Rob
14 days ago

I honestly believe our traditional camping days are done, I don’t enjoy all the noise and people these days, not to mention the cost of camp grounds have increased beyond my willingness to pay. However that said. We are planning a trip through eastern Canada and will be boondocking hopefully 90% of the time. Nova Scotia & Newfoundland have a vast amount of open space and our setup will be a 4×4 truck and small off road camper. After this trip most likely will park the trailer on a seasonal site for the summer and go south in the winter and park again for 3 months in the winter. We are lucky to own a house with a nice quiet backyard with a fire pit which combined with some friends beats camping with a bunch of noisy generator using strangers.