Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just finished a three month RV trip to the Canadian Rockies and down to the Canyonlands. It was incredible scenery and fantastic weather. The only problem turned out to be logistics with our accommodations. We are noticing that even during the fall that campgrounds in popular areas are completely full. Without reservations and sticking to a strict schedule it is almost impossible to stay in some of our favorite National Park campgrounds. It seems that everyone has discovered the late season weather window of fall travel. It makes my wife nervous when she thinks we will not be able to snag a campground site in parks we have always enjoyed. She says we might just as well stay home if we have to stay in commercial parks sardined in with a hundred other rigs in neat little rows. I tell her we should change our travel habits to take advantage of the reservation system where available. This would eliminate all the pressure of finding a site when we arrive. She is resistant to giving up our nomadic, no schedule, travel method. Do you think she is being too inflexible? I would appreciate any input.
--Out of site in Fargo
Dear Far Out:
You are experiencing the new norm. This situation seems to be harder on people who have been traveling for years during the fall. It used to be that once the kids went back to school and summer tourist season ended, the parks were uncrowded, and the weather was perfect for fall travelers. That is no longer true. It is simply a matter of demographics. People are still thinking the same way about fall travel, but the numbers have changed. You have heard me say this before, "The boomers are coming." Approximately 10,000 people hit retirement age every day, and will for the next 20 years. I'm not saying they will all buy an RV and hit the road, but the sales numbers in the RV industry seem to indicate the herd is growing rapidly. This will change the way we all travel, like it or not. I believe the Park and National Forest Service are already struggling with this influx of usage. Many mountain parks would begin shutting down campground facilities in the fall as camper numbers declined. Now they are finding the need to leave them open as the numbers are actually up for that time of year. Part of the attraction to travel in an RV is the flexibility of not being on a schedule. You may be able to cling to that lifestyle to some degree, but you need to face the issues and work the system if you want to be successful at RV travel in the digital age. That will mean reservations. Even taking that step will not guarantee the desired results in many areas if you do not plan far enough ahead. It has become so bad that there are people scalping campground sites in popular, national park, reservation campgrounds on EBay and Craigslist. I reported this to the park service a few years ago and they seemed unaware of the practice. Now they have put systems in place that discourage this scam.
I have no crystal ball and cannot tell you how the popularity of the RV lifestyle will evolve over the next two decades, but we will continue to see change as the numbers grow. Most of these popular sites offer no hookups, but are still in huge demand because of their locations to natural and historical features. This senior generation is much more active in outdoor recreation. They are attracted to biking trails, paddling waterways, hiking systems, golf courses, fishing, hunting and photography. I think we will see the development of more camping facilities in and around wildlife refuges. It could help solve budget shortfalls and fill a need for those looking for areas of solitude, wildlife activity, and various outdoor activities. So my advice as, it evolves, is to go with the flow. Play campground Bingo on your computer in the various reservation systems, collect information from other campers on where they go and when, and discover little known camping areas off the beaten path. If you're a senior you have to remember you are part of the problem not the solution. So just deal with it.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink