When it comes to finding a
campground, RVers have many choices, from elegant RV parks with
swimming pools, saunas, libaries and entertainment halls, to state
parks with limited facilities, to barebones "boondocking" sites where a
level plot of dirt is about all you'll get. Campsites can cost $50
night or they can be free. Generally, most are in the $10 to $40 range.
Reservations with private
campgrounds can be made with the individual campgrounds or through a
central number of campgrounds with many locations (like KOA).
Reservations for more than 2000 public campgrounds can be made
throughReserveAmerica, which offers more than 100,000 campsites.
Here are the major types of U.S. campgrounds:
National Parks: There are more than 300 parks, many of which have campgrounds.
The famous ones, like those in Yellowstone and Yosemite fill up fast in
the summer season, but others — in lesser known parks — are great
places to get away from it all in a beautiful setting. Most National
Park campgrounds are primitive, meaning there are no utility hookups
for RVs. They are generally reasonably priced and often have flush
toilets, showers and evening nature programs.
National Forests: The U.S. Forest Service maintains
156 forests covering more than 190 million acres of land, 100,000
million miles of trails, 70,000 miles of streams and rivers, and about
4,500 developed campgrounds. RVers looking for solitude enjoy these
campgrounds, which are most often in beautiful forests. They typically
do not fill except in rare cases, and then only in popular tourist
areas, and are among the less expensive public campgrounds. Many are
very basic, with only pit toilets. But those in more popular areas may
have flush toilets, but seldom showers.
National Wildlife Refuges
contain limited campgrounds, where they do not interfere with wildlife
preservation. Usually, there are private campgrounds nearby.
Bureau of Land Management campgrounds: This federal agency
oversees 280 million acres of scenic outdoor recreation sites in the
western U.S., including Canada, with many camping sites. Until
recently, many BLM campgrounds were free, but now cost a few dollars.
BLM campgrounds are often found in the desert and scrub lands. For star
gazing, these campgrounds are very often the cats meow. And gentle on
the pocketbook, too.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
maintains 53,000 campsites on projects near lakes, rivers and oceans,
and are reasonably priced. A good directory of these campsites is the
book Camping With The Corps of Engineers.
State Parks: These
are among the most popular camping areas in America. Many state parks
have campgrounds, which range from primitive to more sophisticated ones
with full or limited utility hookups, and very often hot showers. The
quality of state parks varies from state-to-state with some offering
more than others. But, generally, state parks are wonderful places to
spend a night or a week, and are priced in the mid-range of all
campgrounds, typically from a few dollars to $20 or more.
Local parks: There
are thousands of these campgrounds, ranging from very nice to very
crummy. Prices are usually reasonable and sometimes even free. The best
source of information of where to find these is the website FreeCampgrounds.com.
The nearly 8,000 private campgrounds nationwide vary from the very
basic to luxury resorts with golf courses, swimming pools and other
amenities. Prices range from about $15 to $30 a night in most cases. The Happy Camper Club,
we should point out, offers a program for half price camping at more
than 600 private RV parks for a $49.95 annual membeship fee. The best
guide to commercial campgrounds is the annual Trailer Life Directory, which also lists most of the other campgrounds mentioned in this article.
THE MOST POPULAR COMMERCIAL PARKS
with hundreds of locations, are the most popular commercial
campgrounds, and consistently offer clean, easy-to-locate sites. They
are popular with all types of campers from those in tents to those with
luxury coaches. And no membership fee is required. In the summer
months, KOA campgrounds will be heavily populated with families, who
will often find plenty of activities, from ice cream socials, to free
evening movies and even mini golfing (and swimming in the park pool, of
course).RVers who plan to spend more than a few nights a year at a KOA
should purchase a KOA Value Card, which saves 10 percent off campsite fees.
YOGI BEAR JELLYSTONE PARK
campgrounds are similar to KOA in that they provide a clean, safe and
fun camping experience. The company was founded in 1969, utilizing
cartoon character Yogi Bear and his buddies in its advertising and
signage. By the end of 1971 there were ten franchised Jellystone Park
Camp-Resorts in operation. Growth has been steady ever since, and today
there are more than 70 locations in 24 states and Canada. The parks are
especially popular with families, with many social and recreational
activities. No membership is required, just a nightly fee for a
campsite. To make a reservation call the Jellystone Parks' toll-free
Good Sam Parks are
not owned by the Good Sam Club, but rather are most often independently
owned RV campgrounds that receive a stamp of approval from the
million-member club. Good Sam endorses these campgrounds much the same
as AAA endorses motels, only accepting businesses that meet certain
standards. Generally speaking, Good Sam campgrounds are among the most
desirable independently owned RV parks. Members of the Good Sam Club ($19 a year) receive a 10% discount on campsites — one of biggest benefits of membership.
Membership campgrounds are for members only. Members pay a fee to join,
which may be in the hundreds of dollars or even the thousands. After
that, they pay annual dues and sometimes a very small to fee to stay in
some of the organization's parks.
(800-790-2267) and Thousand Trails (800-328-6226) are the best known
membership campgrounds. The advantages to a owning campground
membership is that the parks are almost always attractive and secure
with plenty of activities and member interaction. Members almost never
have a problem getting a campsite; some RVers literally travel from one
park to another, spending a few days or even weeks in each. Memberships
campgrounds typically only make sense if a member uses them a lot, to
justify the cost of joining and annual dues. Membership campgrounds are
not for everybody. Most RVers prefer to go it alone, camping at public
campgrounds and private ones like KOA.
Boondockers are RVers who camp for free without the benefit of hookups,
often in areas not officially designed as campgrounds. This can include
Wal-Mart parking lots,
truck stops, or highway rest areas. The deserts of the American
Southwest are popular long-term boondocking areas, with the dusty town
of Quartzsite being Ground Zero. The best book on the subject is RV Boondocking Basics by Russ and Tina DeMaris.