Friday, December 8, 2023


Seeing through campground reservation “smoke and mirrors”


Dear RV Shrink:
rvshrinkWe are in Yellowstone National Park and are finding our RV is too big to camp in some of the campgrounds. We tried to make a reservation today at Madison Campground and they tell us we will only fit into a 40-foot-plus site, but there are none available. They combined our total rig length (motorhome and toad) and say we cannot fit in a 30-foot site.

We purposely bought a 30-foot motorhome so we could camp in smaller primitive campgrounds, but obviously we planned wrong. It really makes me mad. This time we have to travel so much farther to see the sights because we do not meet campground size requirements.

What do most people find a good length that offers them the best choices of sites? —Mad in Madison

Dear Mad:
The good news is you bought a perfect size. Even if you are pulling a toad, you should fit in most campgrounds just fine. I can say that for a fact because we have been doing it for years. Your only problem is buying into the BS (Buffalo Scat) that you are hearing on the other end of the phone when you try to make a reservation with a concession-run campground.

Unfortunately our government is not capable of running its own campgrounds and have found it more convenient to farm them all out to people who turn them into more of a KOA business plan. First thing they do is double the price, then they farm out their reservations to a company full of cubicles in New York, manned by people who have never camped in their whole life.

So, you do not need a new rig, you need an attitude adjustment. When you are on the phone you need to have a bit more chutzpah. It helps to have some experience under your belt, but until then stop telling them you have a toad. At 30 feet you will fit their requirements, and when you arrive you will find ample parking for your toad.

Let’s use Madison as an example. I am very familiar with that campground. When you call for a reservation you will be given the exact information you describe. You will be told you cannot park your toad somewhere else if you do not fit, you have to combine your total length to fit a site, and if you don’t fit you can’t stay.

You will also notice you are not issued a particular site. When you arrive they are going to give you what they find convenient.

On our last visit we booked a 40-footsite, the only size available. When we arrived we asked if we could get a couple more days. We were given a 30-foot site. We found that all the sites are about the same length, pull throughs and side by sides. If you can’t fit your toad in next to your rig you are told to park it outside the loop where there is plenty of parking. After walking all the loops and looking at all the RV sites, I found few sites I wouldn’t fit into.

So here are your choices. Fudge the truth or buy a shorter rig. My Irish grandmother always said, “A little white lie is always better than a big fight.”

If you arrive and find you truly do not fit, you will have to move on — instead of moving on before you know if you fit.

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in campground reservation systems. It takes some time before you will understand many of the nuances and learn how to weigh fact and fiction. —Keep Smilin’, Richard E. Mallery a.k.a Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his new eBook: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask.



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Connie Madia (@guest_2848)
7 years ago

We are volunteer camphosts in Yellowstone National Park. There are 7 National Park Service campgrounds and 5 campgrounds run by Xanterra, the concessionaire. The NPS campgrounds are staffed by volunteers. The reservation system for Xanterra hotels and campgrounds is located in Mammoth Hot Springs, the headquarters area for Yellowstone. At Indian Creek Campground (first come, first served as are all NPS campgrounds in YNP) the TOTAL length limit including toad/ towing vehicle is 35 feet. We measure. Mammoth campground (NPS, first come, first served) has many long pull-through sites. Remember the early bird gets the campsite!

Jim Prideaux (@guest_2809)
7 years ago

Unfortunately our government is not capable of running its own campgrounds and have found it more convenient to farm them all out to people who turn them into more of a KOA business plan.

Of course the government is capable of running a campground, NASA put a man on the moon. As a retired federal employee I recall pushes, usually by Republican administrations, to privatize many government activities that were not intrinsically governmental. Campgrounds fit into that category. It costs money to employ a sufficient cadre park rangers to cover all operations, including the campground, of a park. You get what you pay and vote for.

N Glenn (@guest_2806)
7 years ago

I merely say I have a 34′ MH, and don’t mention my toad. I don’t have slides, so that’s no problem. Little trouble getting a slot, but have to settle for back-ins, sometimes!

LMS (@guest_2763)
7 years ago

“Site” sizes are typically the pad size unless you are dealing with pull thru sites. My husband & I used to carry a 100 ft tape measure and a notepad with us. When we were in a public campground, we would walk around and make notes about the sites. Which was shadiest, which would we fit on, etc. We also noted what sites we could fit on if we pushed all the way to the rear of the pad, leaving the rear tires on the pad and the back end of the RV hanging out past (noting trees that may be in the way or if it was merely a long drop down the hillside). I know on my current R V that I have a 10 ft over hang so I can squeeze into a 30 ft pad if no obstructions behind me (and have).

John Connaughton (@guest_2744)
7 years ago

I’d say, “fudge the truth”. You could always unhook the toad before you get to the campground. Go in with the RV, get settled, then go back and bring the toad. Oten you can park it parallel at the front of the campsite (horizontal across the front of the motor home), or as mentioned, many campsites have additional parking spaces somewhere on the grounds

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