By Dave Helgeson
Are you one of the thousands of new RVers or looking to become one?
Are you discouraged by the headlines and statements you read in this newsletter and elsewhere like the following:
- Crowded campgrounds
- The need to make reservations a year in advance
- “Not in my backyard” objections to proposed RV parks
- RV ownership at an all-time high and millions more planning to buy
- The ability to go where you want, when you want is a thing of the past
- RV shipments set new record
- Campground Crunch
Reading statements like those above are likely to put a damper on those looking to become new RVers. They might even give up and say why bother if there is nowhere to go camping?
“There are a lot of different ways to go camping without making a reservation weeks or months in advance,” states Nattie, of Nattie on the Road.
I agree that the ability to go where you want, when you want on short notice is not as easily accomplished as it once was. But I, along with others, believe it is still possible.
Here is how confident I am
My wife and I recently found ourselves with a nearly three-week opening in our schedule. We had nothing to keep us from hitting the open road. So we decided to spontaneously load up the RV and leave home with no set route and no campground reservations. Our only objective is to head south from our home in Washington state. We’ll continue until we find warm, sunny weather to our liking.
In our case, the “where we want” is somewhere sunny and warm away from the dreary wet and lingering cold spring in the Pacific Northwest. The “when we want” is now! Of course, along the way or when we reach the warmth and sunshine we seek, we will take part in our normal pursuits. These include exploring unique geological formations, and forgotten mining camps and ghost towns, ferreting out geocaches, riding our off road vehicles, etc. These activities mostly occur on state and federal public land.
New RVers – Let your RV be a base camp
Our RV serves as our base camp from which to enjoy said activities. Fortunately, we live in the West. Here there is a copious amount of federal and state land on which to recreate and camp*. Campsites might be in the form of low-cost primitive campgrounds, a staging area, or most likely dispersed camping aka “boondocking.”
I also firmly believe (and surveys confirm) that many looking to become new RVers also enjoy active lifestyles, like my wife and I do. They see an RV as a means to enhance an activity they already enjoy. Several of these are rock climbing, fishing, snowshoeing, kayaking, bird watching, cross country skiing, hiking, biking, hunting, snowmobiling, geocaching, ATV riding, mountain biking, etc.
What many new RVers don’t realize is that overnight camping is often allowed by the governing administrative agency such as United States Forest Service (USFS), Department of Fish & Wildlife (both state and federal), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Army Corps of Engineers (COE), etc. on the land where they enjoy their favorite activity. Click here to watch a video** outlining all the different agencies that allow dispersed camping.
Where can I camp outside of traditional campgrounds?
Allowed “camping areas” might be at trailheads, staging areas, boat launches or dispersed camping most anywhere the activity you enjoy is allowed. Therefore, I encourage new RVers to start their RV ownership by thinking outside the box when it comes to places to camp. Don’t be dependent on conventional campsites like campgrounds and RV parks. Remember the definition of a campsite per the experts at Merriam-Webster is “a place suitable for or used as the site of a camp”
Next, I encourage new RVers that fit the above profile not to buy into the myth that an electrical hookup (aka shore power) found at campgrounds and RV parks is essential for “happy” camping. With the advances in lithium batteries and solar, most any RV can be equipped to meet the power requirements of the occupants.
Some RVs are coming off-grid ready right from the factory these days. Yes, there are significant costs involved. But they can be quickly recovered by what you will save in conventional campground and RV park fees. Why give up the freedom RVing can provide by the perceived need to be tethered to an electrical pedestal?
Don’t let others discourage you as new RVers
Finally, don’t let others discourage your dream of joining the ranks of new RVers with their bemoaning of what once was. Look at what is now possible, making it your normal and enjoying it to the fullest!
*Public land diminishes as you head east across the United States. But opportunities to recreate and camp still exist for those new RVers willing to seek them out. Every state has a Department of Natural Resources and /or Department of Fish and Wildlife. These were established to provide recreational opportunities for the public on state lands.
** U.S. Public Lands shown in the video no longer display the boundaries of state and federal land agencies via their website, but still do so on their app. I suggest laptop and desktop users utilize Outly in its place.
Part 4 –
continuing – the best CG policies:
* Designate overflow areas for FCFS RVers who cannot get a spot when they arrive. Virtually all CGs we have visited have more than enough space on which to do this. Especially appreciated the Grand Teton Gros Ventre Campground last summer because not only were they entirely FCFS but they utilized the large amphitheater parking lot for overflow overnight dry camping – really helped a lot of travelers. More CGs should do the same.
* Do not use reservation systems which do not allow same day reservations! Seen mostly in State Park reservation systems – just an insane policy for RVers. There were times we identified a park to go stay at that night, only to find that reservations must be made 1,2, or 3 days before an arrival date! This policy makes no sense – at all. And it means the CG is losing a lot of $$ from leaving sites empty which might have been easily sold that night.
If I’m not mistaking Grand Teton Gros Ventre is now reservation only also.
Part 3 – continued –
(based on changing weather, enjoyment/dislike of current site, learning of new places to go from other RVers, etc). Travelers like that have nothing against reservations (if used), as we do need them ourselves sometimes.
The best CG system should employ a range of policies:
* Have a mix of reservable sites and FCFS sites in order to accommodate travelers of all types.
* Have no cancelation fees – as those only discourage those with reservations to cancel. Give reservees the ability to cancel their reservation (with full refund) up to 2 PM of their 1st arrival day. And when they do so – that site should be opened up to FCFS arrivals throughout the remainder of the day.
* Remove the reservation – with no refund – if the reservee does not show on the 1st night and has not contacted the park about their change of plans.
Continued in Part 4 above .
Part 2 –
During our travels we found that virtually all Nat.Park CGs which required reservations had a huge number of no-shows. Easy to spot because in most of these CGs they have a little placard attached to the Post by each site, displaying the name of the reservation and the reserved dates. So we know when someone is supposed to be there. Easy to count the no-shows as we walked/drove throughout the CG each evening and AM to see which sites remained empty – by our count in many CGs -as many as 70%!
Understand that travel plans will change, especially if reservations made 6 mths earlier, but it is extremely dis-respectful of other campers to not cancel and free up your reserved site if you cannot come. Appears that the cost of the unused reservation may be trivial to you (you obviously have more $$ than I) but there are many RVers who travel spontaneously and enjoy that flexibility (based on changing weather,
continued in Part 3, above . .
Part 1 –
Good, comprehensive article. But in terms of the extreme number of CG reservations booked up many months ahead, I offer the following:
Traveled in our Class A MH all last summer and fall throughout the Pacific NW. Had a fantastic trip and stayed in many unbelievable places. Never let fear slow us down as we knew that living and traveling in our own RV was by far the safest way to live – safer than even staying in our crowded suburban neighborhood house. And we were not alone – finding many CGs full (mostly National Park), but we were able to stay in many BLM spots and in more Nat.Forest CGs.
Now seeing so many articles (like this one – again) and posts about people booking RV reservations well ahead – throughout the year – so my strong recommendation to all of you who have made reservations – PLEASE CANCEL them if you cannot get there.
Continued to Part 2 – above . . .
You are indeed fortunate to live out West. The boondocking opportunities are endless. Here in the overrun, overbuilt East coast, we’re fortunate to find Cracker Barrels, Flying Js and a steadily dwindling supply of Walmarts that allow overnights. Not what I consider worthy of the term “boondocking” and hardly the stuff of an enjoyable trip. There are some USFS areas few and far between. Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Host offer some other options. Still quite envious of your opportunities in the west. We are planning a couple big trips out there.
All the “don’t be discouraged, you can find a space and here is how to do it” involve boondocking. I wish someone would come up with a “you need electricity at night so can’t run your generator. Here is how to do it.”
Huh? Solar with inverter and batteries? 12 volt whatever appliance you can’t live with out?
Those videos abound!
Yup. There are tons of informative videos on the college of YouTube. Ask and ye shall find . . .
Yep, charge up the batteries during the day with our solar, and propane for heat if we need it. We have never needed a generator yet, but we don’t run much either. Many years of tent camping have taught us how much we can do without.