For a good sleep – don’t camp here!


By Chuck Woodbury

You want a peaceful night’s rest? Then don’t camp by railroad tracks.

If you’ve been RVing for long, you know that’s no joke. Many RV parks are located right along the rails – it’s cheap land. I once thought years ago that every KOA was by a railroad track. That’s not true, but many are – and not just KOAs.

My worst RV “train” experience was in Pismo Beach, Calif. The RV park was tidy – lawns cut and manicured, well-maintained buildings, and far enough off the road so little traffic noise. Perfecto! I backed into a site right up against a 10-foot hedge. I could not see what was behind it, but no problem: I didn’t care. I just needed a piece of flat earth to call home for 18 hours to do some writing and get some sleep.

Twenty minutes after I arrived, the earth shook. And shook. And shook. Yes, there were train tracks right behind that hedge! And I mean directly behind – perhaps ten feet or so! That put me about 18 feet from the trains. Luckily, there was no street crossing nearby, so at least there were no loud horns.

Despite the trains, I decided to stay. Other nearby campgrounds were full or nearly full and I was too lazy to unhook and move.

DO YOU KNOW when you are half-asleep how sounds can startle you, and how your imagination can play tricks? Well, when the trains rolled by that night – about every half hour – I would panic. I would think, “That train is going to derail right into my RV and I will be dead!” I would hear a train approach in the far distance, and then it would be closer, and then it would be RIGHT UPON ME, roaring – shaking the earth and my puny motorhome. I waited for the impact – the terrible instant when I would be crushed like an ant. Death! If I were a little boy I would have put my blanket over my head, but alas, I learned at about age 35 that blankets are no help keeping away monsters, or in this case, derailed trains.

So that was the game my mind played with me as I lay half awake, half asleep. The night was long. It was terrible. But, as you have likely concluded, I survived.

The fact is, train traffic is a well-kept secret of the RV park industry. In RV directory listings for campgrounds you’ll learn about the good stuff – “pool, game room, shaded campsites, WiFi, clean bathrooms, ice cream socials, fishing lake, etc.” What you will not read is this: “Enjoy loud, disruptive sounds and feel the earth shake as diesel locomotives roll by your campsite day and night.”

So here’s some advice: Before you commit to staying at a particular RV park, check it out on Google Earth: you should be able to see any railroad tracks from the satellite photo. Or, call the park and inquire if there are tracks close by (busy highways, too). If so, ask if there are sections of the park away from the sound and rumble (there usually are). If so, make your reservation. Otherwise, find another park. If you wear a hearing aid, then maybe this is no big deal – just turn it off and consider the rumbling a gentle massage.


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2 years ago

We just assume every campground is by a railroad track, or gravel pit or blacktop crushing site or a busy highway. Then when we are lucky and it is a rare quiet campground we are very happy campers.

2 years ago

One thing every web site that reviews rv parks should have is a box to check if there are train tracks nearby. This should be right with the other amenities & features listed that you can check in your review. There should also be a sub box where you can enter how many trains pass in a 24 hour period .

Bill & Kitty BATEMAN
2 years ago

Along I84 in the Columbia River Gorge AND right on the river there are FREE overnight no-hookup RV camping areas. These many sites are kind of sandwiched between the heavily traveled freeway / railroad tracks and the river. Most spots are paved and shaded, some are gravel. Surprisingly not much freeway noise but we counted 9 trains of at least 100 cars each, some withe pusher and puller sets of engines, during one of our many 14 hour stopovers. We travel that route a few times each year and find ourselves in that area quite often at dinner time. We are in our late 60s but don’t mind the train noise at all… definitely beats the 1am bongo drummers in a remote Forest Service campground in northern Idaho!

Jim Ellis
2 years ago

We camped in a very nice county park in Grand Island Ne. last year. About 3:00 a.m. we awoke to a train making a delivery to the power station. It came back about 3:45. Wow, were we suprised. I would guess it was about 70 feet away.

Mike Arnold
2 years ago

For us camping near a railroad track would be about like being at home. We live about a half-mile from a very busy East-West rail line. We have neighbors who live a couple hundred yards from the track. They can feel the vibrations when the trains go, but they say most of the time they don’t notice.

2 years ago

I grew up as a daughter and granddaughter of a railroader. We lived for awhile beside the rail track and later 3/4 mile away. We could feel the ground shake while the over a mile long train rumbled by. We were lulled to sleep, by the rumble of the trains Yes I do miss that. But sadly there are more truck than trains in the area I live in. I understand it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Cal Bridgers
2 years ago

I was motorcycle camping with my Kompac Kamper pop-up and stopped to spend the night in Louisville, KY. Instead of going to the nearby military campground I opted to stay at the Metro KOA in the town. It being a Sunday night after a long day on the road I took a spot “away from the big campers” (as the clerk said).

I noticed some railroad tracks but didn’t think anything of ’em until 0400 Monday. That’s when the banging of the cars as they were being shuttled and shifted around to form a train started.
Had myself an early, early breakfast and left before the sun came up.

Mary Ihla
2 years ago

We spend the winter months in an RV park near Fort Worth, TX, that’s right next to double tracks with trains pulling oil tanker cars day and night and a crossing a half block away. We stay here because it’s cheap, decently maintained, and only 15 minutes from my daughters and grandchildren. The first couple of weeks we were here the trains drove of crazy, but we got used to the noise and even have grown to find the clickity-clack rhythm and yes, even the horns.

Don Callahan
2 years ago

We have stayed in numerous campgrounds with train traffic nearby. As long as there are no nearby crossings causing loud warning whistles and the tracks aren’t within 1000 feet we are not bothered. In fact a train whistle in the distance brings back memories of long ago.

2 years ago

We stayed in a Motel 6 once near Mohave, Ca. As we walked up to the desk there was a big handwritten sign….”WE HAVE TRAINS”. There is also a popular rv park near Edison, Ca. called Orange Grove RV Park. They have trains too but I don’t think they tell you. As it turns out, the place is wonderful and if you can use ear plugs you might be ok. The smell of orange blossoms in the Spring is one of the simple pleasures life offers.

Tommy Molnar
2 years ago

We camp in some boondocking places in Nevada where the train comes within a couple miles of where we are. We kinda like it, but it certainly is NOT as noisy as the one in the video. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my folks had a simple summer cottage in southern Wisconsin. The train was several miles away and we could only hear it at night – and the whole family seemed to enjoy it. But again, nothing like this video.

Even growing up in Chicago, the Northwestern RR was only a block away and after a while we never even heard the trains. I guess it’s what you get used to.

Joel Vinson
2 years ago

We camp at Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, MS. every now and then. There is a train that runs back there at night and we dig it. If it gets too crazy, we just crank up a box fan for noise….done deal.