You’ve loaded the trailer, packed the kids’ stuff, fueled up the tow vehicle, and remembered the dog. Now what? Surely you have a destination in mind (Disney World, the Grand Canyon, due south), but proper thought should be given about where you’re going to stay when you get there, namely a campground. But how to chose, how to chose?
The first thing to remember is that finding a campground in a popular area during the peak season can be as hard, if not harder, than finding a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast in a similar environment. Good RV parks fill up fast, and you don’t want to spend the night playing the “If-Only-I-Had-Made-A-Reservation Game.” Not much fun, believe me. Sure, there are more than 16,000 campgrounds in the United States, but according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), there also are approximately 10 million RVs on the road, full of road-weary travelers itchy for lodgings. When your RVing plans call for travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it’s a great idea to reserve your campsite ahead of time. Autumn travel is also very popular, so don’t be surprised if finding accommodations proves a challenge during prime fall foliage. And not every campground is open year-round, so keep tabs on their season to avoid begin stuck out in the cold.
Campgrounds are everywhere, which makes choosing one a sometimes time-consuming task. Some travelers are simply paralyzed by the number of choices. Start by purchasing a good campground directory or picking up a free copy of the KOA Directory and Road Atlas, which will give you all of the specifics on what the campground has to offer. Listings often contain the total number of campsites, pet policies, prices and discounts offered, as well as a description of the terrain, recreational offerings, and directions from major highways.
If you’re more cyber savvy, an evening online should help narrow the field. The Internet affords many park owners a relatively cost-effective advertising source and the opportunity to woo potential customers off the Web. Spend a few minutes surfing for suitable accommodations, using your search engine du jour to locate prospects. More sophisticated websites allow customers to make reservations online and chat with owners via e-mail. While this selection method is a free and relatively easy process, less Internet-savvy campgrounds won’t be discovered, thus limiting your choices somewhat. Did I mention that koa.com is a great place to start?
Personally, I think the most underrated method is word of mouth. As we’ve been told, listening is a skill, and one that never fails to pay off when chatting with fellow RVers. Eventually, the conversation turns to campgrounds. Soon after, the hyperbole starts flying about that free little federal park next to the ocean or the New England resort with the 250’ water slide. RVers are as opinionated about where they stay as what they drive, so expect lively discord about places to accommodations – and the ones to avoid. The next time your itinerary leads you into uncharted territory, open up your ears, go online, and ask around – you may just find a can’t-miss recommendation.
Campgrounds vary from small, mom-and-pop operations with bingo and potlucks to five-star corporate run resorts with all the trimmings. Start by deciding what’s important to you, and if you or any member of your group has special needs, such as handicapped-accessible facilities, level sites, or a dog run for your pooch. If you’re just looking for a place to spend the night, cost, member discounts, and late-registration are probably more important than a swimming pool, full-time activities director, and slew of shuffleboard courts. Conversely, if you’d like to spend a few days taking it easy, then a park with loads of amenities, a full-service store, and a weekend package might be necessary.
Types of hookups are also important. If you’re the type who wants it all (electric, water, sewer, Cable TV and phone service), not every spot can accommodate you. This is certainly the case with state- and federally-run facilities, which usually only offer electric and water. Those traveling for business or who want to stay in touch via e-mail should call ahead to see if modem hookups are available, either through an on-site phone connections or available in the office or rec. room. If backing up your large trailer or motorhome is too daunting a task, reserve a pull-thru site, or opt for an upscale RV resort with valet service. Go on, pamper yourself.
Now for the fun part. What kinds of things do you want to do while you’re there? Again, if you’re only staying the night, this probably won’t matter much. Otherwise, it’s enormously important, and sure beats channel-surfing the day away in the RV. Do you want a swimming pool or a refreshing jump in the lake? Or both? What activities are important to you? Dying to try out that new bamboo fishing pole? Can’t wait to rollerblade along the paved roads or hike a scenic path nearby? Looking for boat or bike rentals? Preferring a more natural vacation consisting of cross-country skiing or bird watching? Every campground has their specialties – it’s just a matter of matching them up with your preferences.
Most of us bask in enough goodies onboard as not to rely on a campground for a bathroom, shower, or potato chips from the camp store. However, such aspects are important to some, especially those traveling in smaller trailers, truck campers, and camper vans where floor plans are tight. If hot showers or sewer hookups will make all the difference between a good stay and a soured experience, make sure the park has them. Furthermore, features such as laundry facilities, dump stations, planned activities for the kids, or 24-hour security are important to most, so make sure the park has them before you arrive.
Remember, no campgrounds are truly alike, so it’s best to shop around to secure your ideal camping experience. A little research goes a long way in uncovering a pleasant stay with no surprises.