With increased frequency, RVers are reporting, with increasing frequency, that they are encountering difficulties finding available campsites. “All the sites are reserved.” "I looked everywhere and could not find a campsite." These are common statements, but how accurate are they? Are these "no vacancy" issues being encountered because all the campsites are full or due, at least in part, to where and how people are looking?
I speculate that it may be the latter as I have seldom been unable to find a campsite.
Below, I'll explore a number of campsite search scenarios, speculate on common obstacles and look at potential solutions.
Reserved vs. First-Come Campsite
Provincial, state and federal campgrounds are facing higher demand than ever before. This results in reservable campsites being fully subscribed within hours of becoming available. However, most government-operated campgrounds set aside a number of campsites available on a first-come basis. The uncertainty of not knowing if you have a site until you get there does not work for everyone but it does for many, especially those arriving early.
Near & Far
Campgrounds located close to larger cities and major attractions experience greater demand. If you “must” have one of these, reserve your site further in advance, taking care to note their cancellation policy. If no vacancies are available elsewhere, call back near the end of their cancellation window or ask if they have a waiting list.
If you still have no luck, move further afield until you find a location. Note their cancellation policy and hopefully, you’ll find something closer later on and you can adjust your reservations.
Need vs. Want
RVers often place unnecessary obstacles in their way by insisting on the ideal campsite when others may also serve their needs. Do you "need" a pull-thru site and 50-amp electrical or can you back into a site and make dues on 30-amps? By broadening your campsite criteria you can greatly increase the number of campsites to choose from.
Look for Hidden Gems
I have grown to enjoy municipal and community organization campgrounds. They are generally underutilized, well taken care of situated conveniently within the community.
Many of these are operated by organizations such as the Lion's Club.
These are often run by community volunteers or organizations such as Lion’s Club and looked at as representative of the community.
Being largely volunteer-operated, they are not well marketed and may not show up in campground directory services. Google Maps is good for finding these and looking at community websites is sometimes needed to spot a "Campground" listing.
Commercial RV Parks
Not all commercial RV parks are barren gravel lots with RVs packed in like sardines in a can. Don't overlook this opportunity. Seek them out and see what they have to offer.
RV Clubs & Campground Search Tools
In discussing campground search techniques I find that many RVers limit their search potential through their choice of search tools and resources.
Campground search tools provided by many “RV Clubs” are the greatest offenders in this area. You believe you pay a “club” membership to access quality resources and qualify for campground discounts. But, the reality is not always in tune with your perception. Some RV clubs steer your search results to campsites that have paid to advertise and others offer a discount on an inflated price.
Good Sam Club and KOA Rewards are two notable examples. Testing has shown Good Sam campground searches to identify only 35% of available campsites. Their search results are at least partially limited to campgrounds who pay thousands of dollars to Good Sam each year to be included in their search results, limiting your choices. KOA Rewards is clear that they identify only KOA franchise locations. What is not clear however is that these locations are almost always the highest priced campgrounds in an area and they are often still above the local market after the club discount is applied.
RV Clubs, Organizations & Discounts
Not all RV clubs and commercial offerings practice deceptive marketing and some locations offer discounts to non-RV-related groups. Here are a few I find to be of value.
☆ Escapees RV Club
Escapees is a commercial group that does portray itself as a member club but I have not observed any deceptive actions on their behalf. They have affiliate campgrounds plus co-op campgrounds that are more directly related. The base discount at affiliated campgrounds is 15% but some offer discounts of up to 50% or special first week rates at some of their own locations.
☆ Passport America
This commercial directory service touts 50% discounts at RV parks, delivering a quick payback on their membership. Some of the participating locations turn out to be a great deal but others, not so much. Many apply stringent restrictions that make the 50% discount unattainable most of the time. Others are pretty free and clear of restrictions — you have to read the conditions. We catalogue the places we stay and those with few Passport America restrictions typically are on our "will stay here again" listing.
☆ Seniors & Auto Club Discounts
Age and auto club memberships, which many of us have, will often garner a 10% discount at campgrounds — just ask.
Campground Search Tools
The following is an overview of the tools I have found to be free, both in terms of direct cost as well as marketing/corporate influence.
☆ Google Maps
This is, hands down, the most effective tool for locating campsites. You simply enter the search term, “campsite near X” with X being the closest town to your preferred location. Multiple tests have found Google Maps was able to identify more campgrounds and RV parks than any other search or directory service, more than twice the number of some of the most popular campground directories.
☆ My Maps
Another free product from Google. My Maps is ideal for storing campground locations and comments as well as other RV and travel-related information. The information is stored on an interactive map with editable map pins containing data automatically included by Google as well as your own input. With your campground map populated with map pins, just link them together to create a trip plan.
☆ RV Parky
This app and website are the second-best service for finding campgrounds and the best for identifying the amenities available at each location. RV Parky also provides information on locations such as Walmarts locations that allow overnight parking and its map system indicates low clearance hazards on roadways.
This app and website do not have the most polished interface but it is by far the best at identifying boondocking or wild camping locations. Locations are indicated on a map and opening a map pin brings up details on the location. GPS coordinates and a Google Maps link aid in using this data with other tools.