Thursday, September 23, 2021
Thursday, September 23, 2021

Campground Crowding: Crowds lead RVers to alternative camping options

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 FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED SITES OPEN ON WEEKDAYS?

You’ve all mentioned that weekday sites are easier to reserve than weekend sites, but does that apply to first-come, first-served sites too? Nanci J. thinks so. She writes, We are meandering our way up north, going to as many National Monuments and Parks as possible. I am finding, like so many others, that campgrounds are crowded, particularly on weekends but some are totally full on weekdays too. I have diligently booked destination campgrounds, those near tourist sites, but left the day-to-day travel ones unbooked and just called a few hours or the day ahead. So far so good.

“I have never liked the first-come, first-served idea. After driving all day I want to know that a campsite is waiting for us. Evidently, a lot of people think the same way. My discovery yesterday was that some first-come, first-served camping systems had a lot of sites open, at least on the weekdays, even in State Parks.”

FREE SPIRITS

Dean and Laurie S. are proceeding in a similar fashion – making few reservations and still having good luck despite campground crowding. They write, “We are shunpikers with 45 years of traveling most everywhere. (Editor’s note: I had to look up what a “shunpiker” is! For those of you not familiar with the term either, it is someone who deliberately avoids toll roads and/or the speed and traffic on the interstates and highways.) We have not made reservations except for our trip’s final destination.

“Our process has been: Leave camp at 10 and plan to park by 2. VERY SELDOM have we been skunked with no campsite at that time. And, lucky us, if we are parked by 2, there is lots of time for a hike and to explore the area. If the camp we thought we’d stay at is full or not open, off we head. There are at least 3 hours of daylight left. We’ll find something. Always have.”

PENNSYLVANIA RESERVATION SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Bob M. kindly forwarded us this rather lengthy but informative response from the Pennsylvania Reservation System in reference to his complaint about the state’s reservation system. It read, “Thank you for contacting Pennsylvania State Parks regarding the reservation program. I’ll be happy to discuss the program with you.

“The Reservation and Revenue System utilized by the Pennsylvania State Parks is an all-encompassing program that includes the public-facing reservation website, call center operations, and then an internal park operations module for campgrounds, marina, day use, whitewater ticketing, backpack permitting, Point of Sale, and reporting. The system also must interface with the Commonwealth’s accounting software. While most other state park systems have only a campground or daily admission component, Pennsylvania’s inclusion of a module for marina operations for over 7,000 boating slips statewide, with waiting list functionality, is unique. Many of the state park reservation service providers do not have marina operations included in their software.

“The program is competitively bid per the Commonwealth’s procurement guidelines with the most recent bid being awarded on December 1, 2020. The Bureau couldn’t in good faith reduce its services by going with a company that couldn’t do all that our customers expect (i.e. book a backpacking trip). As part of the recent competitive bid, ReserveAmerica, the leader in the industry with over 30 state park systems and providences, was awarded the contract. I am also pleased to say that the system is funded by the reservation transaction fees and not taxpayer dollars.

“As of today, the current reservation provider has processed over 283,000 reservations through November 2020. And while we’ve had significant volume in 2020, the Bureau has received very few complaints since we converted to the current website in 2015.

“Thank you for the opportunity to explain the system and how Pennsylvania’s reservation contractor is selected. I thank you for your continued support of Pennsylvania State Parks.” [Emphasis added.]

Editor’s Note: If we were Bob, this probably wouldn’t be the response we were hoping for. It’s informative, sure, but we don’t think it would make us feel better about our valid complaint… 

RESERVATION TIP

Debbie A. shares a useful tip: “In regards to campgrounds that do not take reservations within 1-3 days online, give them a call directly and a site can probably be booked. Worth a try!”

WORK KAMPER SOLUTION TO CAMPGROUND CROWDING

Tracy B. says work kamping  (KOA’s term) can be a great solution for crowded campgrounds. She writes, “For the past four summers, we have been work kampers at a KOA in Montana. Last summer we told them it would be our last year, as we are in our 70s and there is so much more to see. We were work kamping, in the first place, because July and August have always been busy and crowded at all of the places we want to visit. By work kamping, we had a guaranteed place to stay, for free, and avoided the lines and traffic everywhere.

“When starting to plan our travels for this summer, we started running into limitations (no availability, not as many days available as we would like, having to move campsites to stay longer). It quickly became clear to us that working another summer and traveling in the fall, with a shorter list of spots to experience, was what made sense for us. After talking with the campground owner, he welcomed us back, gave us a reduced work schedule and lifted a huge burden from our minds about how to deal with the campground crowding we were sure to have experienced this summer.”

HARVEST HOSTS IS ANOTHER CAMPGROUND CROWDING SOLUTION

All of us at RVtravel love Harvest Hosts. It’s a great solution to crowded campgrounds. Reader Mike C. agrees. He says, “It seems incredibly spacious sites are at Harvest Hosts places. Even in Arizona they have french vineyards competing with any winery. Stay a night with wine tasting. There are some incredible spots in Oregon and Washington state, too, with great wine.”

RVING IS EXPENSIVE!

Sdw has a warning for the newbie just getting into RVing. “I think some people are making a financial mistake. Going RVing while being quarantined is way more expensive than staying home. Most campground camping is going to run you at least $500 a month or more. Plus what you have to spend on expenses at home.”

Richard D. has noticed the difficulty in securing a place due to campground crowding and notes it is not as cost-effective as it may have been in the past. He has a 38-foot Class A. He states, “I am in the process of booking a 3-month trip, July – September, from South Florida, north to Nashville and Branson, MO. West to Black Hills and Yellowstone and down through National Parks in WY, UT, and NM, Texas, and back to FL. Parks are full and not getting first choices. State parks and Recreaction.gov more difficult than in past years. I’m finding I have to alternate between FHU and Boondocking. But the big difference this year is the little price increases and even some price gouging! Couple that with gas/diesel price going up and up, and it ain’t such a cost-effective way to travel!”

Read more about some hidden expenses of RVing here.

ALTERNATIVE PLANS DUE TO CAMPGROUND CROWDING?

Roger E. is not giving up travel altogether, but he is altering his RV travel due to campground crowding. “We have decided to not RV this year and are considering turning our 5th wheel into a guest house for our visitors. Getting reservations for us has been impossible. We can find a day here and there, but not for several days in a row. This and the cost of commercial sites has led us to the conclusion that RVing is no longer practical or affordable for us. We are electing to take mid-week trips within the Upper Midwest (our home) and hotel it with facilities that have kitchens. We are finding by the time you pay for a room, you have paid the same or less to camp if one is conservative. Plus we can usually get closer to attractions and enjoy a real bed, real bathroom, a real kitchen.”

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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Kamwick
5 months ago

If you have the leisure to leave at 10 and park by 2 pm, it’s a much healthier way to travel, less time sitting which is really tiring. Also, more chance to find a place for the night.

Kenny G
5 months ago

If you plan to stay at a state park, don’t take any chances and reserve at least a month in advance. They will fill up first, even on weekdays.

Bob M
5 months ago

I was not happy with Pa State Parks response with their reservation system, Reserve America. Last summer I tried to make a reservation for Pickerel Point campground at Promised Land State park. Around 6:30 in the morning when I tried to make a reservation. Reserve Americas site indicated I had to wait till 7:00 am. As soon as my iPhone showed 7:00 am, I hit the reserve button and the site was taken. Your article weeks ago about bots explained what probably happened. I did by accident weeks later get a reservation at the end of Sept this year. May have been because some one canceled out. Pickerel Point Campground is in high demand because the sites are on a peninsula with sewer water and elect for RV’s. Some tent sites are water front and seem to be more readily available.There are also two other campgrounds in Promised Land State Park that seemed to have available campsites for RV’s. One with electric and the other without any, but have water and a dump station available. Close to 1-84

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago

Go back to first come first served. That way, all the reserved sites will become available again.

wanderer
5 months ago

Regarding Nanci’s dislike of First Come First Served:

These sites are VERY helpful for cross-country travelers who want to see the country and stay a week or two without getting booted out for somebody’s weekend reservation after a few days. Not so good for weekends. Although if it’s raining, a reservation-only park will turn you away on Friday, although the park will sit empty with no-shows all weekend.

If you’re traveling using FCFS, you show up mid afternoon on Sunday or Monday, or even later in the week in a less popular area, and find a great spot, and stay thru the weekend, or until you want to travel on. If by some chance there are no spots when you arrive, fine, it’s a slack day, you can always find another option.

As far as empty spaces during the week; I see FAR more empty spaces during the week at the reservation-only parks. Local people book their one or two days on the weekend, and it is crickets the rest of the week. Not a good use of public parkland.

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