How to find the perfect campground has become a challenge in recent years. With the RV boom in the last 5 years, there is much more competition for campsites now more than ever. We have been camping over 12 years and recently the need to book campgrounds earlier has become the new norm.
If you’re relatively new to RV camping you may not remember a time when you really didn’t need reservations and if you didn’t like a campground where you were staying you just moved to another campground in the area.
Well, those days are over.
Everyone’s expectations of what is their ideal campground are different. Some want lots of activities while others want peace and quiet. So what do you look for in a campground?
How do you find out what is offered before you go? If you travel like us, you go to different places all the time so I do a lot of planning so we can enjoy our stay.
So here are some tips to find that perfect campground.
Figure out what is your perfect campground
The first that to do is figure out what is the best campground for you. Many look for privacy with large sites and lots of trees. Are clean bathrooms and shower a priority or are you looking for a full hookup? Do you want cable at your site? Are you looking for a pool, lake, boating at the campground? Are you looking for family activities/theme weekends? Or are you looking to be in certain areas or parks?
Figuring out exactly what you are looking for in a campground will determine where and what type of campground to look for. Here is a list of the different types:
National parks and state parks are considered campgrounds. They have few amenities but what they do offer is sites with the room, privacy, and trees. Some have lakes and mountains.
There is usually adequate space between sites and the park will be mixed with tent camping and RVers. They are usually limited on-site size as most are older and are not big rig friendly.
For seniors and the military, you can get the American the Beautiful Pass for discounted campsites and entrance fees. Many states also offer discounts for seniors and military. Even without discounts, these types of campgrounds offer affordable camping.
Privately owned campgrounds/RV Parks
These campgrounds are privately owned with no chain affiliation but can be AAA or Good Sam recommended. Amenities vary from campground to campground but they usually have at least electric and water hookups, some have pools and some have activities but not as extensively as the chain or resort campgrounds.
Chain or franchised campgrounds
Such as KOA and Jellystone Park/ Yogi Bear, these campgrounds need to meet the criteria of their chains. They are full-service campgrounds, in most cases, sites are right next to each other. They can accommodate most RVs, have full amenities and usually pricey.
Resort Style Campgrounds
Resort campgrounds are more “big rig” friendly with many offering pull-thru sites and can accommodate vehicles up to 75′. These campgrounds offer full hookups with several 50 amp service sites including wifi and cable. Some of these sites offer patio furniture and concrete pads for your vehicles. They are much more pricy than an RV park or campground with sites ranging over $100 a night in many areas.
They also offer theme-weekends, daily activities, pools with jacuzzis, bars, nightly entertainment, and snack shops.
Find all the campgrounds in the area that you want to visit
Unfortunately, campgrounds are not opening up at the same rate as the RV industry is growing and the RVs seem to be getting bigger making it even harder to snag a site when your camper is over 30’. You see, the national parks and state park campgrounds are older and were not built for larger rigs.
I usually go to the local chamber of commerce or area visitor’s websites to what is available in the area where I want to stay. You see, we use campgrounds like most people use hotels, so we like the campground to be centrally located to all the places we want to visit. But here are great resources to finding campgrounds in a particular area:
Recreation.gov is where you can make your reservation when visiting national parks and Corp of Engineers Campgrounds (limited on the east coast). Our first choice is to always stay at the park campground as you can’t beat the surroundings and we don’t mind not having hookups or amenities.
Also, it makes it much easier to explore the park without the extra daily travel time. It’s inexpensive enjoyable camping.
Just keep in mind that some national parks (such as Rocky Mountain National Park) don’t have showers so if you don’t want to go into town you will need to be self-contained for the number of days there.
Reserve America is similar to recreation.gov except it’s for state parks. Reservations can be made to many state facilities between 9 months and a year depending on the state.
On their website, you have access to the many campgrounds in the area, maps, and amenities. Also a detailed description with most having pictures of each site.
Note: Some states are not on this site, such as Michigan, as you need to go to their state site for bookings.
Campgroundviews.com is a website where you can put in a town and state and it will show you the campgrounds in a radius and the amenities that you choose. It will give you directions and tell you about the campground.
I sometimes look here when planning however I find it isn’t a complete guide as I’ve stayed in many campgrounds that are just not listed here.
There are many RV apps available for you to research campground information. RV Parky and Allstays are two of the most common ones.
I personally like RV Parky because everything is in one place. You put in a city and state and campgrounds in a 50-mile radius appear.
They list all the amenities, price, star rating and reviews. They also tell you what discounts are offered by the campground.
A map of each area is included as well as pictures of each campground. They even have a button to press to get to the website of the campground.
Allstays Camp and RV
Allstays Camp and RV is another app designed for iPhone and iPad with over 30,000 campgrounds including national and state parks. There are many filters you can add to customize what amenities and sites you’re looking for.
What I like about this app is without even having to click on each campground it shows you the maximum length of trailer for that campground. This makes it easy for me to find a campground faster since my trailer is 35′ and isn’t accommodating at all campgrounds.
Another thing I like about AllStays is that it even tells you where you can do a quick overnight such as in a Walmart parking lot, Casinos, Cracker Barrel, etc. When traveling we do utilize these areas instead of pulling into a campground every night.
Check out each campgrounds website that interest’s you
When looking on the internet for which campground to stay in a particular area, the first thing I do is look on the campground’s website to see if it something that appeals to me. I always look for privacy and a more secluded site but that may not be what you are looking for. So figure out which campgrounds fit your needs and make a list.
Look at Reviews
I go to Trip Advisor and Yelp and read all the comments on the campgrounds I’m looking at. Depending on what others write will determine if I’m still interested in that campground.
Sometimes a negative review to one person may be exactly what I’m looking for. An example is someone might say that there were no activities at the campground or has no pool which really doesn’t bother us.
Call Campground Directly
When I’m done with all of the above and narrowed it down to a couple of campgrounds, I always call the campground and get a feel for what it will be like to stay there. I make a list of questions from my research to ask. Sometimes you are surprised that people are rude or extremely friendly and I take this into consideration when making my choice.
Keep in mind, Sometimes you won’t find your Perfect Campground
Sometimes you can do all the research you want and you just won’t find that perfect campground for you because the area you’re going to just doesn’t have what you are looking for.
When this happens and we really want to visit that area, we just settle for what we think is best even though we know its not “our dream” campground.
We found this out recently when visiting Chincoteague Island in Virginia, a place that was on our bucket list. I’m not a resort-type campground person (even thou I’ve stayed ay many and enjoyed them) and will not pay over $100 (especially off-season) for a campsite and that’s what we found there.
All the campgrounds were expensive and resort type with sites right next to each other. So we settled at a private which cost us over $60 a night and when it rained almost all the campground got flooded! Crazy, right? So we weren’t thrilled about camping but were glad we went to the area.
There are many resources on the internet and apps that allow you to do your research before booking a campground. A little bit of work before you go can make your stay a better overall experience. After all, we all want to be a “Happy Camper”.
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Thanks and Happy Camping Kathy xoxo