Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Camp Disappointment

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


pennierich said...

Reservations are great, if you use common sense. Everything takes longer than you think it will.
My wife and her sister planned a trip up the Alcan. They had stops planned for each night. They didn't take into consideration, construction, animals, sights to stop and see and we wound up driving into the night, time after time, so as not to lose "our spot."

Anonymous said...

I would have no problem with reserving, (although I do like being open to being free to stop wherever), but the biggest downside is relying on the accuracy or truth in directories. Many directories seem to base their suggestions on advertising income rather than fact. Some (many) campgrounds are touted as resorts but when you get there they are horrible. How do you know what is a decent campground?

Anonymous said...

To pre-screen campgrounds, use

Ordinary people leave their reviews on campgrounds they have stayed at, so you get a pretty unbiased look at what a campground is really like.

Everybody is encouraged to leave reviews- the more campers the better!

Anonymous said...

We just try to be more flexible. We look out for dry camp spots along the highways where we can tuck in for the night and stay free. We try not to travel in states like California where the state locks campers out of public land so they have to go to the state (overpriced) parks where it may be as much as $35/night to dry camp. I agree it is a growing concern, but there are things you can do. We've recently downsized from our 12 year old 36' motorhome with a towed vehicle to a slide in camper on a truck with no towed that makes us more flexible in getting off the road and into smaller spaces. We often ask stores or restaurants we stop at if we can stay the night in their lot, and they often say yes. Doesn't hurt to ask. is also a good source.
We hate reserving and almost never do it, and anonymous is correct, the campgrounds that call themselves 'resorts' is growing. We often laugh at the thought that a place with a 20 year old washing machine is suddenly a resort.
Happy travels and keep your sense of humor and sense of adventure.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous points out that campground ads do not always depict reality, and asks "how do you know what is a decent campground?" Before deciding where to stay, I always check user reviews on the website This has saved us from many bad experiences.

Anonymous said...

We traveled last summer with out an agenda and found KOAs to be very consistant in quality and always seemed to have room. Prices vary widely. We are equiped to dry camp but have yet to do so since security is an issue....we are just not as trusting as we used to be. We are both in our 60s and are not up to taking on an intruder.

Anonymous said...

Reservations are a pain in the neck, but almost necessary. We full-timed for 8 years and kept a seperate log/calender just for our schedule. We MUCH prefer Ntl. Park/Forest campgrounds or Corp of Engineers. etc. More and more require reservations. Our rule of ALWAYS takes longer to get from one campground to another than you think...leave yourself extra time even if it means spending an occasional night in Walmart until your reservation date. Also, you may find something interesting to do along the way. Keep a log of all the best campsites at each park you go to for future reservations.

laurie from NYS said...

I am planning to go cross-country when I retire in 2 years. I am planning a travel route, but not a schedule. I prefer to dry camp when possible and I am looking forward to the beautiful national parks all over the US. I am upset to think that without reservations I will not get the opportunity to stay at many of the popular parks out west. I have no idea how long it will take me to get there, so reservations are out. I think that all public parks should be permitted to put only one half of their sites up for reservations. The other half should be on a first come first served basis. This would be fair to all. Perhaps reserved sites could be booked for a longer stay and first come sites could have a one week maximum stay. More people would have the chance to enjoy the public campgrounds. Another thought is to have a large overflow area that would enable those without reservations to dry camp. With all the acreage in our public parks it would not be too difficult or costly to create such an area. Then nobody would need to be turned away.