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RV parks and campgrounds are already booked solid for summer

If you’ve been having a hard time finding a place to park your RV, it’s not your imagination. In what may be the first comprehensive effort to inventory the nation’s supply of campgrounds and campsites, the RV Industry Association (RVIA) released a survey on May 18th in which the number one finding—ta-da!—is that campgrounds during peak season are basically full.

No surprise, right? Yet, while the study’s conclusions are unremarkable, what’s interesting are their underlying data and the fact that it’s taken this long to assemble them. KOA (Kampgrounds of America), The Dyrt and others have been taking the pulse of campground demand, and ARVC (the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrouds) periodically samples the universe of private campgrounds. But an overall understanding of the supply side of the equation has been so primitive that the industry hasn’t been able to agree on even how many privately-owned campgrounds there are. (CHM Government Services, the Massachusetts-based consulting firm that did the RVIA’s legwork, cited four sources that had a 40% spread in campground census numbers.)

Private campgrounds: The numbers

CHM eventually settled on 12,290 private campgrounds, of which 12,118 have RV sites. Those campgrounds, it further concluded, have 1.4 million RV sites, yielding an average of 116 each. Yet apparently more than a third of the private RV sites can be considered “primitive,” since only 63% have water and electric hookups; roughly half (51%) also have sewer connections.

Public campgrounds: The numbers

Public campgrounds—comprising federal, state, county and municipal facilities—meanwhile, outnumber their private counterparts, at 15,119. But because on average they’re significantly smaller, they have a total of only 607,014 campsites. More to the point, fewer than half of the public campsites—264,861—can accommodate RVs. Of those, only 30% have water hookups and a mere 8% have sewer connections. That latter statistic is especially telling at federal campgrounds, among which just 11.3% have dump stations.

The numbers combined

Smushing all those numbers together and contrasting them with camper demand in 2020, the RVIA report concludes that overall campground occupancy during the summer was 76%, and 54% for the year overall. Keeping in mind that these occupancy figures are an aggregate that doesn’t distinguish between weekends and mid-week, summer and winter (for the annual rate), or by region, that suggests that, yes, RVers overall would have had a helluva time finding a camping spot—and even more so if they needed utilities, especially sewer hookups.

Boondocking by default

The space crunch, according to Margaret Bailey, CHM’s project manager for the survey, has been a significant factor behind the recent explosion of boondocking. Dispersed camping, she said, “is partly a choice but partly a default” because of a lack of alternatives. And while some significant amount of funding has recently been devoted to public campgrounds, that money “is going to fix what’s broken” and not to expansion. Any growth in RV sites, she added, “has to come on the private side.”

An RVIA spokesman said he hoped the report will further encourage investors to view campgrounds as more than just a niche market. Campgrounds, he noted, are just another segment of the hospitality industry, comparable to hotels. Indeed, one of the study’s more telling observations is that the national hotel industry had a peak season occupancy of approximately 70% and annual occupancy of 66% in 2019, the most recent year of normal operating conditions.

In other words, you stand a better chance of booking a hotel room this summer than of landing an RV park reservation.

Read the full analysis here.

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park. From the book: “While campers are out to experience fresh air, bucolic surroundings and the easy-going camaraderie of fellow travelers, the people who create that environment are often over-worked, under-paid and stressed out. And to make matters worse, their efforts are too readily dismissed as just ‘renting dirt.’” The fascinating book is available at some bookstores and at Amazon.com.

##RVT1054b

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Donald N Wright
1 month ago

Perhaps we can set up our rigs on empty parking lots. Seriously, most shopping centers I have seen have vast parking lots which are never full. go behind a Home Depot to find acres of empty concrete. Some vacation destinations are other cities.

Rose Kanoldt
1 month ago

How many rvs ..motorhomes,trucks, have had their catalytic converter stolen? We have. Our RV storage site alone had 12 or more. Our insurance said nationwide over 14000. Takes 90 seconds. We are getting a theft deterrent put on. Would love to find some poison ivy spray,bet that would stop them. Thefts are happening in campgrounds, as well as driveways, and, according to our insurance agent..in broad daylight.

J Hope
1 month ago
Reply to  Rose Kanoldt

I drive a white Ford van and catalytic converter was stolen a few weeks ago. Cost $1017 to replace.

Carol Camper
1 month ago

After 9 years of working at a private campground outside of YNP with about 85 sites, I can tell you for a fact that we are booked for the rest of the summer season. Folks are already trying to make reservations for next year.

Dr. Mike
1 month ago

I am not all to sure about the information stated here. I am getting into super nice campgrounds with a day or two notice (Traveling north from FL to PA, and now, back to FL). When we arrive, the campground is about a quarter full.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dr. Mike
Ray
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr. Mike

Same here from Louisiana to Michigan we have had no. problem, although KOA really has jacked up their prices.

Tracy Barnett
1 month ago
Reply to  Dr. Mike

It’s not peak season

some beach
1 month ago

I’ve been on 3 different camp grounds this year (popular ones) and they say full. When I arrive to them their is still plenty of spaces left. I understand canceling in the last min or no shows, but when their is more sites then fingers, their is a reason.

Todd L
1 month ago

Our favorite private RV campground (really a resort) in WI has no openings this year until fall. We just booked Memorial Day and July 4th trips there for 2023. Only 3 sites left for Memorial Day, and maybe 10 for July 4th. I thought I was being early in reserving spots, apparently not!

Last edited 1 month ago by Todd L
David
1 month ago

The biggest problem I have seen is that public campgrounds that are supposedly booked solid are not nearly fully occupied on any given night. The problem lies with the reservation system and with abuse of the system by people.

David carlson
1 month ago

I’m retiring this summer and the wife and I are waiting until after Labor day to hit the road and plan to be back at home base before memorial day 2023.Our summer camping trips have already been booked.

John harpel
1 month ago

I know our 3 rv parks were not included in this survey. We have 95 full hookup sites available in port lavaca Texas. In Aransas Pass we have 30 fhk available.
Redfish bay rv park. 370$ plus electric. Free WiFi , pet friendly. Close to all the gulf coast of Texas has to offer for the great vacation

BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago

Will somebody please do an honest article and find out how many cancellations are in, compared to the recent past. This is all nonsense stuff, unless somebody in the industry does a deep dive.

So, gas prices are at the highest price ever, RVs are gas guzzlers, and everything is Hunky Dory, sure.

Eileen M
1 month ago

Two things we have seen or are experiencing as seasonal campers. First, since Covid, owners have raised daily prices to the point of being unaffordable for campers. No longer the poor man’s vacation. State campgrounds are more affordable, but obviously don’t offer seasonal camping. Secondly, the transients, monthlies, or pipeliners, as we call them have infiltrated private campgrounds. They bring more money into a campground than seasonals. The one we are at…they are in at least 60% of the spots. They live there under different rules, and some are just as bad as bad renters. If you complain about one of their buddies, you are blocked from many things. Our beautiful spot is surrounded by them. We request to move to a quieter section, and constantly denied. We used to love it here, but since this change, not so much. Will move, pull out, or sell at the end of the season.

Last edited 1 month ago by Eileen M
Steve H
1 month ago

In our experience, “seasonal rentals” seem to be almost exclusively located in private RV parks in the US, but relatively common in Canadian national and provincial parks. Most US public campgrounds have 14-day, or similar, camping limits, and some even limit it to 14 days in any 30-day period. This means that there is considerably greater turnover in renters in public campgrounds than in private RV parks during the peak summer season.

For those reasons, the relatively small amount of summer camping we do is exclusively in public campgrounds or boondocking. Our major spring and fall camping trips are primarily in public campgrounds and our winter snowbirding is nearly exclusively in private RV parks. Works for us and we seldom have problems getting reservations.

Martin
1 month ago

I would guess the vast majority of these reservations were made pre-$5 per gallon gas prices. I feel confident that many, many of these reservations will be cancelled. I think it is possible that small, local camping facilities will benefit by RVers staying closer to home instead of traveling long distance to beach and mountain resorts. As diesel has gone over $6 in many areas, even owners of larger motorhomes are questioning whether it is worth $1/mile to travel this summer.

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin

That would be nice. But the congestion is on weekends and holidays, and it is 90% families RVing very close to home. We may have wind whistling through emptier campgrounds midweek, but don’t count on breathing room on weekends.

Ron
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin

Unfortunately there will be plenty of spaces because inconsiderate people will not cancel their reservation when they can’t show up.

Ed Gonsalves
1 month ago

After going across the US twice in two years, once from SoCal along the gulf to the bottom of Florida, then from the top of US through the Great Lakes into Maine. We have found a good 20 to 30% of parks filled with full timers not that it was bad but it create problems finding space, we get it people are more mobile with there jobs and RV space is very affordable but I do see a problem between overnight, destination vacation, and people seeking out affordable housing and how it changes the landscape of the parks.

Rob Kelly
1 month ago

I can’t stomach crowded and hot, so I stay home during the Memorial Day – Labor Day window. But happy travels everyone, and happy Memorial Day!!!

Ron
1 month ago

Need to raise the prices of camping to thin out the herd.

David
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

Gas prices are doing that!!!

Betty
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

Raise them are u crazy..the average for a decent site now is 70 plus per night..and they are NOT worth it!! Selling my motorhome!! Todays campgrounds are no more than open free run day care!

Mark O.
1 month ago

According to the owners of the campground where we have our seasonal in Vermont they are completely booked for the season (every non-seasonal site). And this week-end shows it, every single site is full. Was like this last season too.

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