Thursday, November 30, 2023


RV Shrink: Campground reservation rip-off

Dear RV Shrink:
We just stopped for the night in Red Bluff, CA, at a campground run by the National Forest Service. We drove around, found a site with a tag that said, “Open.” Once we were all set up, the host showed up and told us the site was already reserved and that we would have to move to a different site. I pointed out to him the “Open” tag and he said he forgot to change it. Then he went on to say we had to make a reservation and pay online; they don’t take money at an iron ranger anymore.

It’s the newest twist to rip campers off. Our half-price senior discount was still accepted, making our fee $8.00, but the reservation fee was $9.00. Even if you come in for a first-come, first-served site, you have to pay a reservation fee. We booked another site and moved.

A bit later the host showed up and said, “You need to put your tag on your post.” So not only is the government annoying me with their new voodoo economics, they expect me to haul a printer along to produce a post tag for them.

I want to start a “resistance” movement, but my wife just tells me to put up and shut up. Am I being unreasonable? —Cranky in California

Dear Cranky:
I’m with you, buddy. We had a similar situation. I told the host I would come over to his place and print it off on his computer printer. He had no printer, no power, and no answers.

If you read the propaganda the government puts out, about making camping easier by using reservation companies, it doesn’t mention all the inconveniences, continual cost escalation, and lack of travel spontaneity. It is only going to get worse.

This was the first paragraph in a recent news article about changes proposed for NPS campgrounds, and you can just assume it will be the same for National Forest campgrounds:

“A committee that reports to the National Park Service (NPS) is recommending privatizing campgrounds within national parks, limiting benefits for senior visitors and allowing food trucks as a way to bring more money into the system.”

To add insult to injury, the Park Service only retains about 80% of fees it collects and is continually underfunded from tax dollars and natural resource extraction royalties, thus leaving them with a backlog of approximately $12 billion in maintenance projects.

Collected fees do not always end up benefiting those that pay. A recent example I have experienced was in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, the park service established a $20 fee to thru-hikers, by way of an online permit. They also expect a backpacker to carry a printer as they demand a printed copy be in the hiker’s possession.

Doing a little math, I estimated the park service takes in about $60,000 per year from AT hikers. I would think that would translate into trail amenities. My first stop in the park was a shelter on a ridge. A sign pointed off one side of the ridge to “Water,” and the other side “Toilet.” Anticipating a pit toilet, I was shocked to find about two acres of dysentery landfill. The park service couldn’t even provide a two-holer and hikers didn’t bother to bury their deposits.

Add to this scenario the fact that the RV lifestyle is growing exponentially, as is the world population. So fasten your seat belt – there will be an assortment of change coming on a regular basis that will expect you to hone your high-tech skills and assemble an arsenal of new gadgets to “get away from it all.”  —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-books, including Book 2 in his two-book series: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.




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TravelingMan (@guest_84458)
3 years ago

Reservation Systems are just so wrong on so many levels…

1) The website is just another way for hackers to gain access to your info. You have to put in a ton of personal information that is no one else’s business. How are they actually securing that information? And, to add injury to insult, they just sell that information to who knows who.

2) Pictures (if they are provided) are so misleading. They take one picture of a space and post it to every space as if they are just all alike.

3) They never tell you if water is in the back, front, or somewhere in between. Same for sewer, and electric. They never tell you to be sure and bring a water pressure reducer because their pressure is set to 90 psi. (I just install it each and every time). And for electric, they never tell you it has been there with no maintenance since the 1950’s. Many times, we have to move because the pedestal has low voltage or no voltage.

4) They never give you the true length of the space. They might indicate a space is 30′ but they don’t tell you that you can hang over the bumper stop 10′ since there are no trees or bushes that interfere. That reduces your opportunity to find a space.

5) As has already been pointed out, we don’t all have portable printers and internet connections that work in the boonies. We might make a reservation when the internet works, but maybe we have no way to print that out. We keep an HP All-in-One 250 with us (a small, portable printer). But what if the printer runs out of ink or we run low on paper? I’ve resigned to taking a picture with a smart phone and using that as my evidence but that does nothing to visibly attaching it on the post. And as some have pointed out, the Rangers are of no help.

6) EVEN IF the pictures looks right and a reservation can be made, you end up finding out that the campground has twisted roads that are too sharp for large rigs to navigate or tree limbs are so low that your rig is scratched to pieces. They don’t like giving refunds. Tough luck! We found that on in the Chickasaw Nat’l Park, Loop C, Space 82 in Oklahoma. A great spot for larger rigs if you can get there. The Ranger said when we arrive to let him know. He will allow us to back down to the space next time. REALLY??? Its only a 100 yards of backing or so from the main road. What if I had not been an experienced driver who risk the truck and rig to get round that curve? An in-experienced person would have had the road tied up for a long time trying to figure out what to do next. It’s not for the faint at heart. There is a significant drop off if you fail.

7) Then, you also find out your space is located in a gully hole so that when it rains, you’re swept away or at least flooded into a mud hole that you can’t get out of. Once, we had a spot on Lake Michigan. Beautiful the day we arrived. The beach was 10′ behind us. That night a thunderstorm came in with high winds and by morning, the rig tires were at the edge of the water. Be careful where you park and consider weather changes that are possible.

8) They NEVER tell you about low bridges you’ll have to navigate around once you are close by. We found this in Wisconsin. A bridge at 11′ 0″. We are at 12′ 4″. Luckily, a local pulled up and told us how to get around. It required backing up the rig for a block or so. Be sure to get a low bridge map before you go. Be careful of weight-rated bridges as well. We found this in a Park in South Dakota. We barely made it.

9) And then there are services such as laundry, showers, dump stations that don’t work…”Oh, we forgot to tell the Reservation System about that”. Again, good luck getting a refund.

10) Some websites are just hard to navigate. It was designed by a person that knows nothing about camping or how to clearly explain anything. And since the camp owner knows little to nothing about computers, it stays that way.

11) And there is the extra “FEE’s” for the online reservation. That’s ridiculous! There are no humans to train or pay or replace. It’s ON-LINE! With the exception of the initial setup and hundreds of thousands of upgrades, there are really no fees compared to human interaction. Electricity is a cost, but again really…How much are the campgrounds saving compared to humans?

I LIKE no-reservation systems but there can be issues with that. I always look for 3 spots at a time in the area that we want to stay. If one is full or not suitable based on the description, we have alternatives. We travel 3 to 4 hours at a time. We leave around noon. There is plenty of time to find another spot if it requires it.

I dis-like Reservation Systems for the above reasons.

To avoid On-Line reservations, we will make a reservation at a commercial campground over the phone so that we can ask a ton of questions before we arrive. We stay there for a day or two to scout out a boondocking location. We’ll return to the commercial camp to empty tanks, fill water tanks, do laundry, pick up groceries and fuel and then head back out. If we stay in a park, we reserve for a month at a time to reduce expenses (like when we are seeing family). Why pay for a week when you can get the whole month for the same cost? If you want to leave early, then you can.

mdstudey (@guest_55026)
4 years ago

I hate the reservation system for any public campground. County, State or National. There are so many times that someone will reserve the campsite and don’t show up. When we were at Pueblo Lake State Park, we were flying by the seat of our pants and arrived a day early. We were able to get a site with no hook ups, so that was o.k. When we moved to the hook up site where we did have a reservation, we were surprised at the empty stops. The campground host told us that it happens all the time. People won’t take the time to cancel and eat the cost of the campsite. We needed to stay a bit longer (working on some property we owned there) and our site was reserved so we had to move. We moved one site over and our old site was empty the whole time while still showing as reserved.

Something to be aware of on Reserve America is that while you are looking at a site on line it will “hold” it for you. If you don’t reserve it in a certain amount of time it goes back on the website as available. My husband cost us a couple of sites because we were unaware of this and we were both on looking on our cell phones.

With the NSF campgrounds if you look at the reserved sites it will have the dates it is being reserved on the post tag. You are allowed to camp in those sites but must move on the date stated on the post. Most NSF will have some first come, first serve sites.

When we are on the road, we are not in a hurry and most times don’t need to be someplace on a certain date or time. The reservation system is the result of technology. So we try to go to out of the way places and avoid areas with large populations (like around large cities) where people are getting away for the weekend. We also visit NP’s before or after peak season. We don’t have a problem with being out before the weekends. Then we can avoid the crazies.

Gman (@guest_84400)
3 years ago
Reply to  mdstudey

The hold is 15 minutes, website tells you when you select campsite. Is it fair for you to hold the site till you find a CG and or different site that best suits you? How many sites are you going to hold up? Look at campsite map, determine location you like and book it.

RW BAKER (@guest_54934)
4 years ago

Complain to to your Congress critter, often, and loudly. Every time something happens, even on good days…

Chuck B (@guest_84408)
3 years ago
Reply to  RW BAKER

HaHaHaHaHa….That is so funny. Does anyone think that would really make any difference? Chuck

Sink Jaxon (@guest_84427)
3 years ago
Reply to  Chuck B

I’m with you CB…anytime I complain to my Congress critter (love that term btw!) I get a pre-scripted canned response that is nothing short of total disappointment. They just don’t care.

TravelingMan (@guest_84487)
3 years ago
Reply to  Sink Jaxon

Did you bother asking for a phone call back? Did YOU make any attempt to call your Representative and ask to speak with them personally if it was that important? Do you know where the local Representative’s Offices are? Hmmmm….

TravelingMan (@guest_84486)
3 years ago
Reply to  Chuck B

Make no attempt to complain or add input…you get what you sow. Are you the one who never shows up to vote either? Good…That makes my vote and letters even more important. Keep thinking its a waste of time…

Donna Gibson (@guest_54917)
4 years ago

Been to the same Campground years ago, we made our reservation online. When we showed up they had over booked their sites and we were placed in the over flow area. The neighboring campers were loud and parted all night. We tried to find an employee to complain, but could not fine one. We even tried calling their phone number but only got a recording. We will never stay at that campground again.

want2racer (@guest_100082)
3 years ago
Reply to  Donna Gibson

I have seen this a few times, many state parks because of cutbacks have few employees in the park after dark. If a loud group shows up there is no one to call or fix the problem. I even stayed at a motel returning home on a trip a few years back that had the same problem after a certain time of night no one on site to fix problems or correct people causing problems. 95% of the time we encounter few problems but when you do it would be nice if there was someone there who could take care of it.

Bobkat3080 (@guest_54902)
4 years ago

The reservation fee of $8.00 for each reervation is a rip-off. The company writes a computer program once, puts it online and collects the $8.00 thousands of times a day for years. The return has to be far more than the cost. A buck or two would be much fairer.

bwodom (@guest_54878)
4 years ago

I agree that rates are getting to the point that we may not be RVing in the next year or so. We have volunteered for several summers, and that has allowed us to do more exploring than if we had to “pay all the way.” However, it has also allowed us to see the national campgrounds from a different perspective. Doesn’t change things, but it does give some perspective.

1. Our first observation is that those who “run” the campgrounds have never had any training in campground management and most have never been inside an RV. However, budget cuts at a higher level have pushed them from being environmental caretakers to being ill-trained campground managers…a job add-on that they neither wanted nor were prepared for.

2. Rules and regulations abound in any government facility and they often tie the hands of not only the management but the volunteers. Add to that the budget cuts that means keeping equipment running that should have been trashed years ago, and employees have their hands full…and are often as frustrated as the volunteers and campers at the lack of resources.

3. More and more “volunteers” want to be paid for their time. Few national parks pay — most are site for time. Thus, fewer volunteers. Those who are okay with the {bleeped}-for-tat arrangement are often newbies who don’t as yet have experience for paid positions, short-term vols who just want to stay in the area long enough to see the sites and then move on (which is what we do — but are told that even a month is better than nothing). And there are the year-after-year regulars who are stuck in the way things used to be done, but they are at least out there, doing something! Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds of great volunteers who just want to give back…but there aren’t nearly enough of them to meet increasing needs.

4. National resources are not meant to be Disneyland! Compare the NFS budget to Disney’s revenue projections…see a difference?

5. It costs more to maintain any facility when users don’t respect themselves or their host. We read frequently about the messes left behind by campers; about the disregard for property. There’s an old adage about rental property — folks don’t maintain rentals as they would their own homes. Well, folks, if you don’t think your rising taxes have anything to do with the extra cost of cleaning up your messes, you are wrong.

5. Federal agencies are tasked with protecting the environment — forest service, national parks, wildlife, etc. Their mission does not include making money; in fact, many are restricted from doing so, thus visitor centers, gift shops, etc. are run by non-profits who return the money as a donation, not as revenue.

6. The only agency that is even close to being focused on lodging/camping and similar guest facilities is the NPS, and even they are going to contracted services. So why not give the the USFS, Wildlife, and other national campgrounds to them…at least those with RV facilities? Leave tent sites to the preservation agencies where users usually leave the least footprint and demand minimal services? (Even that is changing…but that’s another story for another time).

THEN there is the other side…those of us who also are users of these facilities.

The topic has been covered often enough in this newsletter and all of us are feeling the pain of rising prices. I hate the added online fees. I hate the first-come, first-served policies. I despise when fellow campers trash their site, don’t pick up after themselves or their pets. I hate that many parks simply don’t have the staff of volunteers to maintain them. But what can I do about it?

For starters. I can volunteer (and do). Admittedly, both my husband and I have been saddened and maddened by the accommodations for volunteers in some parks; but we have been so welcomed and appreciated in others. In one small district alone, we were told that their volunteers added the equivalent of 16 FTEs to their budget! We have a minute impact, but we try to give back a little of what we have been given…some of the most beautiful forests, seashores, parks, historic sits, and monuments and in the world. How much is that gift worth to you?

RV Staff
4 years ago
Reply to  bwodom

Thank you very much for your insightful and informative comment, bwodom! And thank you and your husband for your ongoing volunteering. You are to be commended for your efforts. Take care. 😀 —Diane at

Douglas C Rutz (@guest_54863)
4 years ago

The reservation company is making more than the campground. I personally believe that concessionaires are ruining our national forests. Put the operations of the forests back in the hands of the rangers where it belongs. Raise rates if necessary. I believe that with the correct rate structure and proper management that the NFS and State parks could operate with a profit.

I am a senior and I think paying $8 for a campsite is not near enough to maintain our parks. Now if you paid $17 and eliminated the reservation company, it might help.

Glenn (@guest_54959)
4 years ago
Reply to  Douglas C Rutz

All certain parties want to do is privatize everything for profit. And that is corporate profit. As it continues, we are so screwed!

TravelingMan (@guest_84488)
3 years ago
Reply to  Glenn

And I have seen the government screw up so many offices its not even funny.

TravelingMan (@guest_84489)
3 years ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

Who do you think set up that Reservations System?

Ann Marino (@guest_84497)
3 years ago
Reply to  Douglas C Rutz

This past May all reservations for May were canceled and a full refund given because of the Corona virus. We were allowed to book anything we wanted for 2021. Our friends are in their 80’s and can’t get a reservation for their prefered campsite/space. How can they book ahead for 2021 given their age. Walk in reservation are no longer allowed. The Website for reserve America doesn’t work. I spent a half hour on hold to make a reservation for 2021. Something like $9.00 registration fee. Feeling ripped off at our State Parks that our tax dollars are spent on.

Glen Cowgill (@guest_99652)
3 years ago
Reply to  Ann Marino

The system is so screwed up that we are considering selling our motor home. Thank God we live in Florida so I don’t have to deal with cold and snow but we love to travel and see new things and meet new friends. For 53 years my wife and I and the children spent on the road during camping season has been great. I will be 80 next October and really don’t know how much longer I can continue. The reservation system is out of control. Our last experience with the NPS was a disaster. All the campsites were shown as full except for 1 site on a loop. In South Carolina in the mountains, that was not a good sign but, we ended up reserving the site.

This was probably one of the most challenging drives I have ever made to get to that poorly marked site and then, trying to maneuver a 37′ motor home between trees to even get in the site was a challenge in itself and the to come back to the motor home , after a day of touring, to find a home built trailer camping cross way 8′ from our entry door.

want2racer (@guest_100085)
3 years ago
Reply to  Glen Cowgill

I went to a park in the very northern part of MN this summer and the roads leading into the camping area were very narrow and tree lined I have a very small camper and didn’t have a problem getting into my site but wondered how someone with a larger 5th wheel or large travel trailer would do. Considering the park was fairly remote and in a heavily forested area I just could not understand why the road wasn’t cleared another 5 or 10 feet wider to safely navigate. With the high cost of any RV who wants to damage the vehicle running into tree limbs. One more thing that left me scratching my head was the park was at a very large and nice lake. Not a single campsite had even a small whisper of a view of this wonderful lake. Whoever designed this park should have been taken to the woodshed.

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