By Andrew Robinson
KOA Kampgrounds fulfill an important need for RVers: a clean, quiet and safe place to spend a night, or maybe even a week. More than 500 KOA Kampgrounds are located in the United States and Canada, with a handful in Mexico and Japan.
No other “chain” of campgrounds comes close to KOA in number and convenience of locations. And no annual dues or membership fees are necessary, although frequent guests should purchase a KOA Value (discount) Card. Campers, whether in RVs or tents, pay by the night although some parks offer discounted rates for weekly, monthly or even seasonal rates.
Before I began RVing I viewed KOAs as the “Motel 6” of campgrounds. And, in a way, they are. Like Motel 6, KOA has locations just about everywhere. And, like Motel 6, each is predictable. You know as you drive toward a KOA for the night that you can expect a pleasant stay. You know that the utility hookups will work, that the campsite will be level (at least most of the time), and the bathrooms will be clean and the showers hot. There’s always a playground for the kids, swimming pool and coin laundry. And you know that you will always find a general store on the premises. Most KOA’s offer WiFi, although whether it works is questionable. About half of all KOAs are open all year.
Critics say, however, that the quality of the parks is not what it used to be with some parks unkempt and even dumpy.
Some KOA’s aren’t much more than flat parking lots with a little grass between campsites. Others, however, are beautiful destination resorts with fishing lakes, onsite restaurants, evening movies and even live music performances. Most parks are labeled as Journey, Holiday and Resort, which some RVers interpret as “Good, Better and Best.”
STAYING AT A KOA will never be cheap, but will usually be in line with other local private campgrounds. Those in popular tourist areas will get top dollar. Those in small out-of-the-way towns that serve mostly overnighters will cost less. Full hookups cost the most with partial hookup sites (water and electric) a little less.
Anyone who plans to stay more than a few nights a year in a KOA should purchase a KOA Value Kard, which entitles the cardholder to a 10 percent discount on all regular daily registration fees. Good for a year, the cards can be purchased at any KOA Kampground and apply toward that night’s stay.
KOAs appeal to all campers, retirees, families and even travelers who camp with tents. All campsites include a picnic table and an outdoor barbecue. Nearly all KOAs have cabins for rent, most basic, others luxurious. The smaller rustic cabins are popular with travelers who want a “camping experience” but do not have an RV or camping gear.
KOAs accommodate all sizes of RVs as well as tent and car campers. In the off-season, reservations are seldom required. But in the busy summer months (or winter in the snowbird areas), a reservation is sometimes the only way to ensure getting a spot.
The first KOA Kampground was founded in Billings, Mont., in 1962, to serve travelers headed to and from the Seattle World’s Fair. A small group of businessmen reasoned that many of these motorists might be looking for an overnight place to pitch their tents or park their travel trailers. The name they chose initially for the campground was “Indian Joes,” although they ultimately opted for Kampgrounds of America instead. A campsite, by the way, went for a whopping $1.75.