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Old 02-20-2019, 12:22 PM   #1
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St. Petersburg , Florida
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Smile Criteria for choosing a campground...

Hi everyone. Our family is “new” to the RV lifestyle and we are wondering what life is truly like when you roll into a campsite. Do you avoid certain campgrounds/areas, use the RV equivalent to Trip Advisor, stick to tourist destinations (National Parks), etc.?

I am very curious to know what your criteria is for choosing a site. What things are top priority? (Ease of access, safety, age restrictions, pet policy, amenities, access to wifi, etc.) I am thinking that just like hotels there is a wide spectrum; how does a newbie distinguish between a five-star camground and one that’s going to be on an episode of LivePD? Have you ever shown up, reservation in hand and changed your mind? Are ther places you would NEVER go to again?

Thank you in advance!

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Old 02-20-2019, 12:26 PM   #2
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Welcome to the forum WindyCityGal!

Some good information to consider here:

And here:


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Old 02-20-2019, 12:36 PM   #3
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2013 28' Flying Cloud
Penn Yan , New York
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Recommend “Allstays “. I look at the reviews in the app plus the images. Have been pleased so far.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:41 PM   #4
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Knoxville , Tennessee
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I find that I worry less and less about the individual campgrounds the more I travel. Location, avalibility, and price are the variables I can somewhat control. Woodall’s ratings work for me. I tend to do a lot of KOA’s when “making tracks” because of their reservation system and in/out and general quality.
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Old 02-20-2019, 01:18 PM   #5
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2017 25' Flying Cloud
2015 22' FB Sport
Kansas City , Missouri
Join Date: Apr 2014
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Good question!

I tend to be a planner.

I keep a file in Evernote (which is a great tool to organize travel info-free for a basic plan).
It's called RV places to stay (or NOT)

When I see a place that looks like a place I might want to stay sometime I clip it and save it there.
When I hear not good things from others, I also put those in there.

A lot of places have very similar sounding names, so this helps keep it organized.

When doing research for trips, we look at the location on google earth to note any things in the area that may be red flags. Internet reviews are usually also a good indicator if there are issues.

I agree with Bill above that KOAs are pretty reliable and their reservation system is easy to use. I think it can be harder to tell with private RV parks because some of them are more mobile home park than traveler parks. That' where the reviews and google earth photos come in.

I also have a folder on Evernote where I keep pending reservations, and another for completed trips (so you can see the site you stayed at previously, etc.).

Also, there is a great website to check out called Campendium. Sign up for their emails and you get lots of great reviewed sites.

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Old 02-20-2019, 01:42 PM   #6
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Good info. I started out on my own last year. I stayed at KOA first because I was familiar with them from camping as a kid. They also have a site map on their app so it's pretty obvious they have nice sized sites. They are pretty consistent in how they operate, they guide you to your site and will help you back in if you need to. I've stayed at 2 that I would not go back to. That led me to my best way to evaluate a campground....I like to see evaluations that state "we will be back or we wound not come back." Some private campgrounds are very nice and some are trailer parks as mentioned. I stayed one night at a "trailer park." I was uneasy, but it turned out to be safe. Air streams stick out like a sore thumb at those places. Now, in my second year and with more experience, I will leave if I get to one and it is not acceptable. Boondocking, I prefer cracker barrel to Walmart. Cracker barrel gets quiet after they close and you can get a nice dinner and breakfast. I use all the apps mentioned and recently joined harvest host and I'm really looking forward to that. I also bought the good Sam directory because sometimes you just want to see what's along a certain path. I really like the Evernote idea....will work on incorporating that in my travels. It's fun. It's an adventure!
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Old 02-20-2019, 02:03 PM   #7
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Walnut Creek , California
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The answer to your question is that your happiness with an individual campground is directly related to your intended use, budget and personal RV lifestyle boundary conditions.

Examples - We stayed in a Pasport America park in New Hampshire. It served our purposes. About three hours before we arrived, My brother and his wife rejected it and moved on to another park, because the laundry was too rusty. We visited the park they picked to see them the next day and we rejected it. Entry road was too rough for us. Different requirements.

We have found that it is difficult to tell if you will like a place until you try it. So, we pay for a night and see how the stay goes. Note - muntiple night bookings are normally not refunded if you want to leave early. Not booking may put you at risk for losing the site, but we have been burnt enough that we will take the risk. Note - weekends are more busy than weekdays. We have also just hunkered down through Saturday night to insure we have a place to stay. Different tactics for different strategic objectives.

We are travelers. The length of stay is often one night so we can rest and get back on the road toward our next objective. Every few days we will want to rest for a couple of nights. That campground is somewhat a destination type place in that we want to put out the chairs, extend the awning and sleep in the next morning. We always want it quiet, but the ambiance needs a bit of charm if we want to stay a few days.

Some folks just grab a spot in the local Walmart to get a free night. We would rather have full hookups and pay a reasonable nightly rate. We stayed at a Walmart once. It met our needs for that night. We had planned to stay at a park that we thought might be quite expensive, so when we were very late arriving we just pulled into the Walmart. When we returned home we ended up in the same town. So we checked out our target park and found that it honored the Passport America discount. Do all your reasearch early and understand your options.

We stay at a lot of KOAs. They are predictable. However, part of the business model is to be close to the highway. That makes them noisy. So we are starting to shift our preference and practice.

We tried a COE park this year. It was about 15 minutes off the highway, but was quiet and relaxing. We stayed three days and feel we will use them when available. COE honors the Senior National Park discount pass. That gives us a COE park for half price. Can't get much better.

The right site can be much better than just any site. If you like quiet, ask for a site that is quieter. Hiding behind a hill or several 5ers can make a difference. Even a CG beside the highway can be quiet if the line of sight is blocked. Don't forget to look at the Google map images. Seeing that a train runs behind the park is better to know before hand.

Good luck with your travels and camping. Experience is the best teacher. Pat
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Old 02-21-2019, 09:40 AM   #8
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2012 30' International
Dallas , Texas
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Posts: 63
I find to be very helpful. They also have an app for the phone called RV Life.
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Old 02-21-2019, 09:48 AM   #9
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Portland , Oregon
Join Date: Oct 2009
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choosing campsites

Before we go on a big trip, I spend a ton of time online looking for spots and evaluating reviews. Finding the campsites is my job, my husband's job is to get us there - he prefers to drive all the time which is OK with me for now. This is true in the fall and summer. In the winter and early spring, I spend far less time because reservations are less necessary. I use a number of resources - Campendium is one of my favorites, campground park reviews (formerly RV park reviews), Harvest Hosts, All Stays and state park reservations systems. Another often overlooked resource is county and city parks (you can find them on these resources as well but keep them in mind - sometimes great campsites). We will use KOA in a pinch but for us, they are a bit crowded and noisy. We LOVE the Corp of Engineers parks and with a senior card, you can stay for as little at $6 a night. For me, where we end up sleeping is important. I want to feel safe and we want a place where our two labs can run and play so dog parks are valuable or somewhere near a field or park or school yard is something we look for. And we pick up every bit of dog poop the girls produce! My husband Hal and I have an agreement: if we pull into a place that either one of us dislikes a lot, we leave and move on. And it's happened for sure. We've never stayed at a Walmart parking lot. I suppose in an emergency we might do that but we would probably try hard not to. If you belong the the Wally Byam Airstream Club, there is courtesy parking available in many locations - other members offering a free place to park your trailer at their home. If you don't belong for any other reason, courtesy parking, when you use it, can pay for the membership many times over!
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Old 02-21-2019, 10:19 AM   #10
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Napa , California
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Be flexible but know yourself, try different things, and learn to just say "No" if you have qualms about a particular place. Everyone one is different and has different ideas of what will work and what won't. Sometimes, places you don't think you will like will surprise you and you can always move on if they don't.

We've discovered that RV parks (KOA, Good Sam, City or State Parks, privately owned RV stops) on the outskirts of "National Forests and Parks" are often far superior to those inside the parks, quieter with more amenities. And, often they have room even if the big parks are solidly booked. With our current trailer we've also learned that while we can boondock, we'd rather have water, electricity and sewer when possible. And, as long as the wildlife isn't boaters drinking into the wee hours of the night, it's fine by us.

So much also depends on the area and you, time of year and your trip goals. Are you right next to the big highway, but craving peace and quiet? Is it 5 miles down a gravel road and another 3 hours of driving and that is just too far? Do you need to do laundry? Are you concerned that a moose is laying in the site you were assigned or the smell of skunk is on the wind? Time to make a decision and know yourself (we waited for the moose to leave...she took her sweet loving time, it was 2 hours before we could set up).

One trip we decided to stay only at places with "water" in their names (water, lake, stream, bay, creek) -that was the only criteria and it was a fantastic 3 week trip. Couldn't have done better if we'd plotted and planned every single stop. It was mid-summer, and while we did stop early on the weekends, the rest of the time finding a place was no problem.
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Old 02-21-2019, 10:23 AM   #11
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2014 20' Flying Cloud
Watertown , Massachusetts
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several things. . .

We have two dogs, so pet policy is important, and availability of full hook-ups. I look up the address on google earth to avoid places where they clean cut all the trees down since I don't want to camp in a parking lot. It's also helpful to see how much off the beaten bath the place is, since we use the site as a hub for day tripping.

I check reviews - I'm looking for places that are hard to get to. For example, if there are warning to take this route there rather than that route because it's too steep to tow on. Those I just don't go to, even if there is another way in because sometimes the roads get closed for one reason or another. And obviously if there area a lot of bad reviews, we skip them.

Once we camp in a place, I take notes on which sites I like the best. That way if we return, I know what I want. I also avoid places that won't tell you which site you are getting. That is a red flag to me.
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Old 02-21-2019, 11:35 AM   #12
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Washington , Washington, D.C.
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Lots of great recommendations above. I recommend carrying a hardcopy Woodall's RV directory to locate campsites in a pinch because sometimes there is no connectivity, rendering the apps useless. This happened to me last summer when I was crossing from the east coast of northern California going west on a narrow little windy road. Even if you can't make a phone call, you can at least show up at an RV camp and get a spot.
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:14 PM   #13
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2019 30' Classic
Canfield , Ohio
Join Date: Jul 2015
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One thing we learned early was NOT to book a campground several weeks or months out. When you call a campground for a date some weeks out, they will tell you they have 2 spaces left. This happened to us real early in our Airstream travels and when we got there, it was us and the guy down the way and 60 empty spaces in between!

With normal travel, we learned to book a space the night before or the next morning. Never have had a problem.

Learn to ask the right questions. This will come to you over time. "We have a nice place close to the office and the pool" means, they are putting you in overflow parking in their office parking lot next to 4 others all on the asphalt.

Don't be afraid to ask for a very nice site. Tell them this is a special night and if you can find something that will be away from the crowd and accommodate our puppy, I would really appreciate it.

Tell them you found them on (whatever campground program you have) and that they have great reviews from many of their guests. If you can get us a great site, we will write up another great review.

All this may sound a little goofy, but remember, they are just gonna find the first open space if you don't ask for something special. We consistently seem to get very nice sites most of the time. We stayed in Palm Springs for a week and we decided to stay another week. We made it a point to get to know the office staff so when we ask about keeping the wonderful site on the lake, they came back with, "Oh, it looks like we booked it for a week already. But I tell you what, the people coming in do not know what site they are getting, so I'll move them!"

Now before everyone gets ticked off cause I took your site on the lake, we have also stayed at mobile home parks that were horrible with tenants fighting and police called, to Walmarts, Cabellas, and boondocking in the desert and have in some way enjoyed them all. I will say if you feel uncomfortable with a location or campground, do not hesitate to get out of dodge. It's one thing to realize that the campground you picked is horrible, but use your common sense when you feel it is unsafe for your family or pet and get out of there. This will not happen often as most places are pretty nice.

You will find new RV parks and old. Most are very old so don't hold your expectations so high that it gets to you when you pull in. You're just visiting. You're not going to live there.

You will meet a lot of different kinds of people. We have friends all over the county now. We've enjoyed making new friends. Campers can be the friendliest bunch. Just remember, you will meet a lot of different kinds of people.
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:27 PM   #14
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Universal City , Arkansas
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Originally Posted by rowiebowie View Post
Welcome to the forum WindyCityGal!

Some good information to consider here:

And here:

Just made that run to San Diego on I-10. Depends on how much time you have. Definitely stay a couple of days at Davis Mountains Stat Park. 40 miles from I-10. Visit. Ft. Davis National Park. Beautiful restoration of late 1800's cavalry fort. Also McDonald Davis Observatory is close by. Go to a star party and dress for cold. We stayed at Rock City State Park in Demming NM.
Try Irma`s Mexican Food in Demming.
Kartchner Caverns State Park east of Tucson is very special. If you have trouble finding camping near Tucson, go to Pima County Fairgrounds.
Wide open but friendly and clean.
Enjoy the journey!

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