RVers have many choices about where to camp from official, amenity-paced campgrounds to barebones “boondocking” sites in the middle of nowhere. Campsites can cost $50 a night or more, or they can be free. Most are in the $25 to $50 range.
Reservations with private campgrounds can be made with individual campgrounds or through a central number for campgrounds with many locations (like KOA). Reservations for more than 2,000 public campgrounds can be made on the Recreation.gov website that repesents more than 100,000 campsites.
The major types of U.S. campgrounds:
National Parks: There are more than 300 parks, many of which have campgrounds. The famous ones, like those in Yellowstone and Yosemite, fill up fast in the summer season and may need to be reserved a year ahead. Others, in lesser known parks, are great places to get away from it all in beautiful settings. Most National Park campgrounds are primitive, meaning there are no utility hookups for RVs. They are generally reasonably priced and often have flush toilets, showers and evening nature programs.
National Forests: The U.S. Forest Service maintains 156 forests covering more than 190 million acres of land, 150,000 miles of trails, 57,000 miles of streams and rivers, and about 10,000 developed recreation sites. RVers looking for solitude enjoy these campgrounds, which are most often in beautiful forests. Most do not fill except in popular tourist areas or right outside National Parks, and are among the less expensive public campgrounds. Many are very basic, with only pit toilets. Those in more popular areas may have flush toilets, but seldom showers.
National Wildlife Refuges contain limited campgrounds, where they do not interfere with wildlife preservation. Usually, there are private campgrounds nearby.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees 280 million acres of scenic outdoor recreation sites in the western U.S. and Canada, with many camping sites. Until recently, many BLM campgrounds were free, but now cost a few dollars. BLM campgrounds are often found in the desert and scrublands. For stargazing, these campgrounds are very often the best, and gentle on the pocketbook, too. The most popular areas are in southern Arizona in the areas around Quartzsite and Yuma, Arizona, where thousands of square miles of “boondocking” lands are free.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains 53,000 campsites on projects near lakes, rivers and oceans, and are reasonably priced. A good directory of these campsites is the book RV Camping in Corps of Engineers Parks.
State parks: These are among the most popular camping areas in America. Many state parks have campgrounds, which range from primitive to more sophisticated ones with full or limited utility hookups, and very often hot showers. The quality of state parks varies from state to state, with some offering more than others. But, generally, state parks are wonderful places to spend a night or a week and are priced in the mid-range of all campgrounds, typically from a few dollars to $30 or more.
Local parks: There are thousands of these campgrounds, ranging from very nice to very crummy. Prices are usually reasonable and sometimes even free. The best source of information on where to find these is the website OvernightRVparking.com.
Commercial Campgrounds: The nearly 8,000 private campgrounds nationwide vary from the very basic to luxury resorts with golf courses, swimming pools and other amenities. Prices range from $20 up.
The most popular commercial parks:
KOA Kampgrounds, with hundreds of locations, are the most popular commercial campgrounds, and are normally safe, convenient, and clean. They are popular with all types of campers from those in tents to those with luxury coaches. No membership fee is required. In the summer months, KOA campgrounds will be densely populated with families, who will often find plenty of activities, from ice cream socials to free evening movies and even mini golfing (and swimming in the park pool, of course). RVers who plan to spend more than a week a year at a KOA should purchase a KOA Value Card, which knocks 10 percent off the cost of a campsite.
Yogi Bear Jellystone Park campgrounds are similar to KOA in that they provide a clean, safe and fun camping experience. The company was founded in 1969, utilizing cartoon character Yogi Bear and his buddies in its advertising and signage. By the end of 1971, there were ten franchised Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts in operation. Growth has been steady ever since, and today there are more than 70 locations in 24 states and Canada. The parks are especially popular with families, with many social and recreational activities. No membership is required, just a nightly fee for a campsite. To make a reservation call the Jellystone Parks’ toll-free number, 1-800-558-2954.
Good Sam Parks are not owned by the Good Sam Club, but rather are most often independently owned RV campgrounds that receive a stamp of approval from the million-member club. Good Sam endorses these campgrounds much the same as AAA endorses motels, only accepting businesses that meet certain standards. Generally speaking, Good Sam campgrounds are among the most desirable independently owned RV parks. Members of the Good Sam Club receive a 10% discount on campsites, one of the biggest benefits of membership.
Membership campgrounds are for members only. Members pay a fee to join, which may be in the hundreds of dollars or even the thousands. After that, they pay annual dues and sometimes a very small fee to stay in some of the organization’s parks.
Thousand Trails (800-328-6226) is the best-known membership campground. The advantages of owning a campground membership is that the parks are generally attractive and secure with plenty of activities and member interaction. Members typically have no problem getting a campsite; some RVers travel from one park to another, spending a few days or even weeks in each. Membership campgrounds only make sense if a member uses them a lot, to justify the cost of joining and annual dues. Membership campgrounds are not for everybody. Most RVers prefer to go it alone, camping at public campgrounds and private ones like KOA.
Boondocking and Dry Camping: Boondockers are RVers who camp for free off the grid without the benefit of hookups, often in areas not officially designed as campgrounds (dispersed camping). Dry camping can include Walmart parking lots, truck stops, or highway rest areas. The deserts of the American Southwest are popular long-term boondocking areas, most notably around the dusty town of Quartzsite, Arizona.