In our six months on the road, I’ve come to learn a lot about campgrounds. There are a wide variety of types and amenities, so I thought I’d share some of what we’ve learned, and what we look for in a campsite.
Here’s how I break it down:
- National / State / County Parks: These are usually rustic campgrounds in beautiful natural surroundings. Most were built in the days before monster big-rigs, so the roads and sites often cannot accommodate the larger RVs. Also, the sites are typically 30 amp electric only, or electric/water only – it is rare to find full hook ups (sewer) or 50 amp service. A very basic (think concrete block) bath house and dump station are likely the only amenities besides a campsite. But, you have the entire park at your doorstep. The cost is usually modest ($20-30/night) and most offer online booking options. If you can fit, these sites can be wonderful. Recognizing the need, some Park campgrounds are upgrading to meet the needs of big-rig sites, so I always check. I love to stay in parks where we can, but it is often just not feasible for us.
- Basic (bare-bones) RV parks: We’ve stayed in a few of these. Often located just off the highway, they will offer a long pull through site with full hookups, a bath house, and not much else. They are fine for overnight stops or a few days stay. Prices are usually moderate in the $30-40 range/night. If the campground is in the right location for our travels, we’ll stay there. We have to watch for unpaved surfaces, though. Once we stayed in a campground that had been carved out of a cow pasture, the gravel was inadequate and soft and our jacks simply sank into the ground.
- Upscale RV Resorts: These can be really, really nice. Typically newer and built with the high priced big rigs in mind, they offer paved roads with ample maneuvering room, concrete pull through sites, and full hookups including cable TV and wifi. The grounds are usually manicured. There is a club house, pool and often a hot tub. Bath houses are hotel-like; tiled, spacious and immaculately clean. You may have daily garbage pick up from your site and there may be organized activities offered. Of course, you pay for the privilege – $50-$75/night, depending upon length of stay. We have found ourselves often gravitating to these parks simply because they are so easy to get around. We don’t have to worry about shoe-horning ourselves into a too-small spot or bashing the rig on overhead tree branches. It’s just easy.
- KOA’s: I’ve made this a separate category because we’ve ended up staying in KOA campgrounds several times due to their locations. The closest campground to the kids in Orlando is a KOA, for example, but we’ve also stayed at others around the country. What we’ve found is the campground quality is wildly variable as these are “franchised” facilities. Many are older with big-rig-unfriendly characteristics. Although many do have resort features such as pool and organized activities, the cost is typically higher than private campgrounds with similar amenities. I’ll stay at a KOA if it is the right location, but only if there isn’t a better value nearby.
- Membership campgrounds: I’ve stayed at exactly one “Coast to Coast” campground and one “Thousand Trails” campground and was not favorably impressed with either. Both were older campgrounds with limited big rig sites. Both memberships required hefty up front buy-in plus annual dues, for limited campground options within their network. Both campgrounds had the “show up and find your own campsite” system, rather than assigning a suitable site during the reservation process, which makes me very nervous. At least the C2C campground let us stay for 5 free nights as a promotion to try them out. I paid a premium price for the TT campground experience and that was for a 30 amp site that put our slide-out 4 inches from our neighbor. I’m sure these membership programs work admirably for some, but it’s not for us.
We knew going in that buying such a large motorhome would limit our camping choices. Since this is currently our full time home, we chose our motorhome for the daily luxury and cargo carrying capacity it offers. The downside is that we rarely have the “wilderness camping experience” that can be had with a smaller rig and the camping cost is higher. But, we budgeted for that.
We find that we can mitigate the cost by staying longer in one place. Campgrounds often offer weekly and monthly rates that are discounted, so we try to stay at least one week anywhere we go. We have several “monthly” stays booked as we go forward, and that can be quite a discount over the daily rate. Also, when you move less, you burn less diesel fuel.
Our primary search tool for campgrounds is the AllStays app. It’s fantastic! It gives you campground locations, facility information, and a link to the facility website. It also gives location of rest stops, truck stops, low bridges, and steep road grades. We look for campgrounds with pull through sites, or back-in sites with lots of maneuvering room. We look for easy access into the campground, and satellite-friendly (open) sites. We check the Google Earth satellite view to see if tree limbs may be an issue for our 13.5 foot tall bus. Full hook up is preferred, although we can do without sewer for a week or more if a decent bath house is nearby. Once we zero in on a campsite, I’ll also check reviews on Google, Yelp, and RV Park Reviews.
Campground we avoid are those we won’t fit (obviously) and those with poor reviews. In today’s economy, there are increasing numbers of people who are choosing to live in RV’s because it is cheaper than other housing options. Many of the parks we’ve visited allow long term residents, which is fine as long as the sites are kept tidy. However some campgrounds are allowed to get trashy, or are in unsafe neighborhoods. Fortunately, having access to campground reviews allows us to screen out those less desirable options.
So, what type of campground do I like the best? I like …. variety! It’s nice to stay in a park and experience nature. It’s also nice to stay in a fluffy resort and enjoy the beautiful bath house, hot tub, pool, and activities. The best thing about this lifestyle is that you can try all sorts of places and have different experiences. That’s what it’s all about.