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Campground reservaions complicate traveling more freely


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  My wife and I traveled around the country mostly in 2010 and 12 to 16 and never really worried about making too many reservations and as a result we never planned more than a couple of days out. These days I have learned the hard way that you need a reservation for every night and so have to stick to a regimented schedule being committed to staying someplace on a certain day. I have booked a trip from NH out to Yellowstone and back. Wanted to also do Grand Tetons but couldn't find a spot anywhere. As I made reservations out and back I found many campgrounds full even on weekdays and when I did get a site usually at my 2nd or 3rd choice I found that there were only a few left available. I surveyed the campgrounds and they all said that they have been absolutely slammed whether or not it was a "destination" spot.
This brings me to my question for those of you have been out on long trips in the last month or so. Logistically how did you work it ( or think you would work it)if you got to an interesting place and decided you wanted to spend an extra day or two or suffered a breakdown or other mishap? Seems to me that the ripple effect to the reservations made would really be an issue since you might not find availability and in my case it could mean calling 10 or more places to change things up. Makes me think maybe I should just stick to shorter more localized trips and hope things calm down for next year. Thoughts?

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We left Florida in March and have stopped at 16 places so far. Right now we are doing 8 days outside Bryce leaving Sunday. We basically do not do reservations more than 1 or rarely 2 days ahead and often a few hours ahead. And so far we got turned own once, our first night out in the Florida Panhandle. But we got a place a few miles away from there.

There are boondocking spots outside every major park with the exception of Glacier. We boondocked in the Tetons, had a fantastic view of the mountains, outside Grand Canyon, outside Bryce and outside YNP in the last three years.

 

Last summer 8500 miles, 32 stops, no reservations. One turn down outside YNP.

If you want FHU or some fancy resort then that will limit you of course.

 

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If you are relying on campgrounds then you have found what the current situation is.  

We travel frequently.  I spent 100 nights out last year and less than a week of that was in a campground.  I am not against campgrounds but for the most part they have nothing to offer us. 

Setting up to boondock, even if only for a day or two will really open up your options.  

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We do a majority of nights in membership parks, so booking months in advance is part of the way we have traveled the for years.  Plus we go to the Pacific Northwest for most of the summer and between Memorial Day and Labor Day everything is always full, especially weekends.    We don't boondocks because I don't like to "rough it", I didn't work years taking no vacations, etc., so that I could do without when we retired.   

We have noticed that we aren't having any problems without overnight stays that we are booking a day or two ahead along the highways as we head north.  We also only do about 200 miles a day, then stop and relax for the evening before heading out again.  And interspersed will be longer stays at membership parks, which are plentiful along the west coast.

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We are flying into Anchorage in June and traveling in a rented Class C for 15 days.  I made reservations for every night of our itinerary back in January.  We wanted something we can count on with no surprises.  Plus we got to pick out the site we wanted based on prior experience (this will be our 3rd time doing this in Alaska), campground maps and campground reviews.  Worst case if we change our plans is we’re out one night reservation fee.  I can handle that and feel peace of mind comes with a price.  Alaska likely won’t be as crowded this summer with the Canadian border remaining closed so that should help too.

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We've been traveling in the East where boondocking is harder to do.  We are leaving Sunday on trip up the Mississippi Valley to Northern Wisconsin, and then east across the northern tier to Maine.  It will take about 13 weeks.  After two months in Maine we will spend 8 weeks or so going back to FL in the fall.  I made reservations for most stops a few weeks ago.  When I made the reservations I inquired about general availability.  For Memorial Day and The 4th there were only a couple of spots left (Branson, MO and Manistee, MI) that fit us (37' 5er).  Other places on non-holiday weekends were filling but had more available spots.  The only places for which I have not made reservations are a couple of travel night stops where we drive until we feel like stopping.  I'm hoping to make them that day and have a couple of large parks in mind for that.

We were scheduled to leave FL last Wednesday but a medical issue arose last week delayed us.  Yesterday we found out the medical issue is minor and will allow us to continue.  So we are delayed a couple of days.  We cancelled our first stop and are currently revising our travel plans to include an extra stop and to get back on schedule.  I will report back on the success of that process.  So far we were able to book two parks without problems - short travel-day stays both.

One way I have dealt with the possibility of delays is to schedule some longer stays (more than a week) at a couple of points.  That leaves room to shorten the longer stay and modify or get back on schedule rather than having to cancel everything.

If you do plan ahead be very sure to be aware of the particular cancellation policies for each park that you book.  We make a travel notebook which gets park information, turn-by-turn travel directions and destination information such as activities.  Cancellation policies are a prominent part of that book.

Wayne & Jinx
2017 F-350 diesel, dually
2006 Carriage Carri-Lite 36KSQ

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10 hours ago, Barbaraok said:

We have noticed that we aren't having any problems without overnight stays that we are booking a day or two ahead along the highways as we head north.  We also only do about 200 miles a day, then stop and relax for the evening before heading out again.

We too rarely dry-camp anymore as we have been there & done that. The T-shirt was worn out years ago and in our late 70's, to paraphrase Allegro, roughing it isn't easy. We are just over a week away from the start of a 10 day trip which will be our first ever RV trip with every night's stay already reserved. Since we will only spend 1 night in route each way and then a week at Turkey Creek RV Village, it isn't too bad but to me the idea of having to make a reservation far ahead for each night of travel pretty much destroys the freedom of the road. I can well see why that situation if true, is pushing more and more to get equipped for dry camping most of the time. Younger I would likely do that as well. I will be following this thread very closely as we are anticipating a circuitous route from TX to Escapade, to start in another month and the idea of being tied to specific stops each night is not the style of travel that we have done when RVing.

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I've booked the rest of the year, reserving all but a handful of nights.  Reading about all the campground crowding I started early.  Most of the time, planning as I was, I had no problem getting a spot.

  • Near Sturges, SD, the guy told me I was booking just before the motorcycle rally.  I was able to get a w/e site, but not a sewer site.
  • In Casper, WY I ran into an airstream rally...had to move to my second choice (gravel parking lot campground).
  • For the winter stay in Arizona RV Parks were filing up, but I had several to chose from because I was working so early.  I was told that by June 1st, though, that many would be booked.

I always ask about cancellation policies.  They are all over the place - some wanting just a day or two's notice.  Others (longer stays mostly) want a couple of months and even with that they are hanging onto some of the deposit. (Moab is really bad about that.)  

Frankly, I think this is just the way it is going to be.  Boondockers and Walmart, etc. campers will be the only ones just wandering around without a real plan.  Fulltimers who stay in campgrounds will either constantly "settle" for whatever they can find  or they will spend some time planning ahead.

Edited by GR "Scott" Cundiff
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We've been fulltiming for the past year (since March 2020, NOT Covid related, I always feel the need to explain).  In addition, we went from "zero to hero".  Fulltiming is ALL we've done!

My wife is a planner.  (Her business is as a cruise agent, she's not been too busy for the past year and a half.)  As a travel planner, this is all a no-brainer to her.  We say "we would like to see X" or "attend this motorcycle rally" or "see this family member".  And when.  From there, we use tools like Campendium, The Dyrt, etc. to determine campgrounds around the area.  Since we don't care too much about the campground quality beyond having water, sewer and 50amp, we generally get a good deal, especially since our stays are almost always a month.  Anything in between two stops is usually a Harvest Host.

We haven't felt the need to stay longer at a location because that month gives us the ability to really explore an area.  Since we ride, some days are rainy, some days require more work hours, etc.  If we only stayed a single week, we would miss out.  Plus, uprooting the rig once a month means far less fuel usage.  (Though we're in a fifth wheel, and we do take the truck to go places almost as much as the bikes.)

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Also, forgot to add, that we are generally planned out for at least 8 months, if not longer.  Since we build our itinerary around bike rallies, family visits, other events, it's easy to know where we need to be.

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I know boondocking/dry camping means lots of different things to different people.  My RV is fully self contained and we can easily spend 5-7 days in a location with only power/water awareness, not conservation.  If we want to get conservative then we could probably go 2x as long. 

My suggestion for the OP was not to full-time boondock, but be set up where being able to adjust the reservations by a couple of days and not be dependent on others.  

I see lots of comments about boondocking being "roughing" it.  We get to shower every day, cook all of our normal food, run heat or A/C as need, I am able to telework all day and we get to stay at the places we are actually traveling to.  If that is roughing it I must be missing something.  

I know each of us has a way they like to travel.  To me being self contained provides freedom. 

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We aren't close to full-timing so we always make reservations.  The smart way to do it and get your choice of site is to look at the campground website, find out when they will take a reservation and call when that day arrives to get your choice.  We have a couple of short trips this year before a longer, for us, trip in the fall.  We have already made reservations for all of those stops and have confirmations.  For next year we are planning on our longest trip ever and it will cover the southwest USA.  We've already made half of the reservations and most of the rest will be done by the middle of this summer.  Until the travel world gets back to normal, and people feel safe to stay in hotels and travel by other means, we've been told this will be the way to RV travel and obtain the sites you want.

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30 minutes ago, Nwcid said:

My suggestion for the OP was not to full-time boondock, but be set up where being able to adjust the reservations by a couple of days and not be dependent on others.  

I see lots of comments about boondocking being "roughing" it.  We get to shower every day, cook all of our normal food, run heat or A/C as need, I am able to telework all day and we get to stay at the places we are actually traveling to.  If that is roughing it I must be missing something.  

I know each of us has a way they like to travel.  To me being self contained provides freedom. 

We are back at the old 'there are two sorts of people' theme. I just cannot imagine reserving spots for months solid. It would be like a straight jacket. Right now we have the freedom to pack up and leave today or stay another four days or four weeks. We aren't as well set up as NWCID but we are working on it.

We don't feel that we are roughing it either, its a choice between this:

 

FR 121 Cg 3.jpg

Or a crowded CG.

I not saying either camping style is the 'best' it's just what you prefer. And actually boondockers are much better off if more people would rather stay in developed camps.

 

Edited by agesilaus
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4 hours ago, GR "Scott" Cundiff said:

Fulltimers who stay in campgrounds will either constantly "settle" for whatever they can find  or they will spend some time planning ahead.

I think it makes some difference what type of rig you travel in as well. Our longest rig was a 35' motorhome towing a car but before that our longest righ was 24' and not towing so we fit in places other people couldn't use. That's actually how we got into Sam's Town when it was full. They had one 37' spot the 40-footers wouldn't fit in.

Linda

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4 hours ago, Nwcid said:

I know boondocking/dry camping means lots of different things to different people.  My RV is fully self contained and we can easily spend 5-7 days in a location with only power/water awareness, not conservation.  If we want to get conservative then we could probably go 2x as long. 

My suggestion for the OP was not to full-time boondock, but be set up where being able to adjust the reservations by a couple of days and not be dependent on others.  

I see lots of comments about boondocking being "roughing" it.  We get to shower every day, cook all of our normal food, run heat or A/C as need, I am able to telework all day and we get to stay at the places we are actually traveling to.  If that is roughing it I must be missing something.  

I know each of us has a way they like to travel.  To me being self contained provides freedom. 

I totally agree on your positive comments for boondocking.  It's certainly a LOT easier to do than RV parks; your yard is in beautiful areas - quite often by a lake or stream and all to yourself; you can pick up and move whenever you want; no wasted time and money spent on reservations and RV parks - it's FREE.  If you don't want to do it often at least try it and work it inbetween the reservations.  To us, it's certainly not 'roughing it' or 'difficult' to do.

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17 hours ago, wtmtnhiker said:

This brings me to my question for those of you have been out on long trips in the last month or so. Logistically how did you work it ( or think you would work it)if you got to an interesting place and decided you wanted to spend an extra day or two or suffered a breakdown or other mishap? Seems to me that the ripple effect to the reservations made would really be an issue since you might not find availability and in my case it could mean calling 10 or more places to change things up. Makes me think maybe I should just stick to shorter more localized trips and hope things calm down for next year. Thoughts?

We seem to have wandered off to debate other things so I'll try and bring things back as I have some of the same questions. We are starting to make plans to head from TX to Rock Springs, WY for Escapade and have rarely made advance reservations, but are considering it now. Your experience seems to indicate that reservations will be needed, at least in any popular areas. Can anyone offer more information about stopping in RV parks along the roads while traveling for the coming summer? 

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14 minutes ago, 2gypsies said:

I totally agree on your positive comments for boondocking.  It's certainly a LOT easier to do than RV parks; your yard is in beautiful areas - quite often by a lake or stream and all to yourself; you can pick up and move whenever you want; no wasted time and money spent on reservations and RV parks - it's FREE.  If you don't want to do it often at least try it and work it inbetween the reservations.  To us, it's certainly not 'roughing it' or 'difficult' to do.

I think this depends on location.  Some States have very little public lands.  Lot's of public lands are rather remote and take quite some time to get to.  There is certainly an amount of time spent researching and locating these boondocking sites.  I think it also matters if you want to go somewhere and spend a couple of weeks or if you're just traveling and need a spot for overnight.

I just think that both methods have their advantages.

 

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I had been looking for a park opening not too far from our granddaughter's house for a small family event the weekend after Memorial Day with no luck. A few minutes ago I was checking a nearby state park for another date, and decided to recheck the June weekend we wanted even though it had been fully booked except for some tent sites. To my surprise, four adjacent sites were now vacant, so I snapped one up right away. Since they were adjacent sites, I'm guessing a family or friends gathering of some sort must have canceled. Whatever happened, I'm glad I checked at the right time!

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recheck the June weekend we wanted even though it had been fully booked except for some tent sites. To my surprise, four adjacent sites were now vacant,

That brings up another problem, the cancellation plague that currently exists. Reportedly many people are making reservations long in advance and then life happens and they cancel. Often with little or no penalty.

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7 minutes ago, agesilaus said:

That brings up another problem, the cancellation plague that currently exists.

Is there, in fact, a cancellation plague? 

Wayne & Jinx
2017 F-350 diesel, dually
2006 Carriage Carri-Lite 36KSQ

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1 hour ago, agesilaus said:

That brings up another problem, the cancellation plague that currently exists. Reportedly many people are making reservations long in advance and then life happens and they cancel. Often with little or no penalty.

NY does have a modest $7.25 cancellation fee, but I'm sure it's not enough to make much difference. Even Florida's $17.75 cancellation fee probably isn't much of a deterrent.

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23 hours ago, wtmtnhiker said:

This brings me to my question for those of you have been out on long trips in the last month or so. Logistically how did you work it ( or think you would work it)if you got to an interesting place and decided you wanted to spend an extra day or two or suffered a breakdown or other mishap?

We have been RVing about six months a year (March-May, August - October)  since 2004.  My experience is that it has been getting more difficult to find campgrounds/RV parks for the past few years. We prefer not to make reservations more than a couple of days in advance, but the past two years have found that for week or longer stays in a specific location it is a good idea. Our current trailer included a Thousand Trails Zone Pass. Getting a spot in their parks in Florida and Arizona seems to require making reservations as soon as the sixty day window opens. Although, we were able to change dates at 2 out of the 3 parks this year as repair issues with the trailer and Covid issues delayed our departure for a month.  We normally only travel 200-250 miles a day when on the move. So far we have still been successful in finding overnight stops during the week by calling ahead before noon and making a reservation if necessary.  We prefer to travel the Blue Highways and it seems that the campgrounds/RV parks are less crowded during the week than those along the interstates. Fairgrounds are often a good choice for overnights if there is no event scheduled.

This year, we travelled to Central Florida starting the beginning of April. We took the coastal route (US-17) instead of I-95. Overnight stops during the week at our preferred locations were not a problem. Some campgrounds were pretty full, others not so much. We stayed 2 weeks at the Three Flags Thousand Trail Campground in Wildwood, FL. There were quite a few vacant spots the entire time we were there ( I think mostly due to the inability of Canadians to travel). Heading back North, the county park in Brunswick, GA that we like to stay at was booked for the weekends. It was the same the past 2 years. We stayed Sunday- Thursday nights. The campground was about half full during our stay. Searches of the Florida and Georgia State Park websites showed few vacancies for more than one night and often only for the shortest sites (25-30'). Going North we stopped at the Carowinds campground in Charlotte for the weekend. The amusement park was closed so there were lots of sites available which I doubt is normally the case. The Thousand Trails park in Lenoir, NC had vacant spots every night.

As someone else stated every area is different and sometimes hard to predict. Knowing when big events like Bike Weeks, Nascar, state fairs and festivals is helpful to avoiding issues if your are not planning on attending the event. Big construction projects can fill up campgrounds/RV parks in an area for up to months at a time. We have been surprised by a few of these over the years. In those cases, government parks that had short stay limits were usually available for overnights during the week. 

Most of the times we have had to have repairs done on the road, mobile repair companies have been able to do the work and the campgrounds have been able to extend our stay when needed.  The one time our Class C required a transmission replacement, the manufacturer paid for a motel stay.   

 

Edited by trailertraveler
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UPDATE

I had no trouble re-booking the first part of the trip.  This may be due to the fact that:  1- no holiday weekends were involved and 2- it is in the Deep South so it is off season and summer vacation has not begun.

Wayne & Jinx
2017 F-350 diesel, dually
2006 Carriage Carri-Lite 36KSQ

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The internet has made trip planning and finding stopovers so much easier than the days of the Woodall Directory and looking for signs along the side of the road.  When planning and researching a trip, I search for the possible overnight stops along our most likely route. I bookmark those that have real time online reservation systems. As our trip progresses and plans firm up, I will check these websites to see if sites are getting in short supply. This lets me decide whether to make a reservation or even rethink the route or timing. Reserve America now includes some private campgrounds. The few I checked out seem to show the same information that they do for the public parks in their system letting you see site by site and day by day availability.

Good luck with your travels!!

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