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At our second RV park, we stopped at a cheap $13/night park—knowing absolutely nothing about how much RV parks should cost per night. When we turned on our sink, the water came out BROWN.
Lesson learned! We quickly honed our process for how to find better places to lay our heads at night.
There is no single great listing or website for RV parks and campgrounds across the country, so it can make finding the best spot a little tricky.
Let’s talk about how we find great RV parks first.
How to find RV Parks
We usually type “RV parks/campgrounds near me” into Google maps to find RV parks. This will pull state and city campgrounds along with RV parks and mobile home parks. Google has not yet learned the distinction between mobile home parks and RV parks, so you’ll have to filter through those options.
Most higher-end RV parks are owned by corporations or franchised. The best place to find these parks will be on the corporate websites, like KOA.com, rvonthego.com (Encore Resorts), and CampJellystone.com. Google will also pull them up, but if you know what brand of campground you’re looking for, going directly to their sites will be faster!
Passport America also recently released an updated app available free in the App Store too. When we’re looking for stopover sites or trying to save money, we’ll check Passport America first.
Once we have a map view of parks in the area, we reference the parks’ websites to check out photos and details like rates and amenities. Then it’s time to check the reviews on Google, Facebook, and RV Park Reviews to see if the park is worth visiting. It’s important to always take reviews with a grain of salt, but for the most part, reviews are pretty accurate. We always look for notes from other visitors on how easy the park is to get to and how friendly the staff onsite is.
What to look for before booking
In addition to cost, there are a few things to look at when it comes to picking the right RV park, whether you’re staying for a night or a few months. You can usually find this type of information on the park website or in reviews.
This is a matter of principle for me. We mostly use our own internet, but if you don’t have a hotspot, be sure to make sure the park you’re visiting has free wifi. You can also ask for spots close to the router if necessary. We travel with a Winegard wifi extender to boost the RV park signal too.
Ability to accommodate large RVs
Even if your rig is only 35 feet, look for mention of the maximum length allowed in the park. Even in our old 29-foot rig, we drove down narrow, winding roads to RV parks that seemed too dangerous for our rig.
Beauty & Space
There are so many beautiful RV parks right on the water or tucked in a forest. There also plenty of RV parks that are nothing but a parking lot where you can see straight into your neighbor’s windows. I don’t have to tell you which one is better.
80% of RV parks are near train tracks. I made this stat up. But a shocking number of parks are feet away from railroad tracks which can make sleep a nightmare. Ask before booking, especially if you’re a light sleeper.
Check-in & Check-out
Most RV parks have standard check-in and check-out times like hotels do. Three o’clock check-in and noon check-out are fairly standard. However, those hours are observed very loosely.
Since check out simply means driving away, you don’t have to worry too much about someone knocking on your door and kicking you out if you leave at 12:15. However, some campgrounds will charge a fee for early check-ins, especially if you’re arriving before noon.
You can’t tell if the sites will be level until you arrive, but it’s worth requesting a level site over the phone. These can be hard to come by!
Last year, we had a six-inch difference between the left and right side of our RV. It took all our leveling blocks, plus borrowing 2x8s from the campground to level our rig. It was incredibly frustrating to set up the rig because of this…BUT we were lakefront and there was a bald eagle that hung out by our rig every day. It’s all give-and-take.
The little things
Great service, inexpensive washers with powerful dryers, clean restrooms with locking doors (not just shower curtains), hot tubs or indoor pools, and gift shops are all wonderful amenities at any RV park. Bonus points if there is a dog park or walking trail!
Reserving Your Site
When you call an RV park to reserve a site—because yes, you’ll have to call since most RV parks do not offer online booking unless they are a chain or corporation like KOA—if they answer the phone, they will ask you two questions right off the bat:
- How big is your rig?
- 30 or 50 AMP?
Then they follow up with asking how many slides you have, if you have pets or kids, and if you want full hook-ups (electric, water, & sewer) or partial hook-ups (electric and water only). Often times you can save a few dollars by using partial hookups and stopping by the park dump station when you leave.
We rarely make advance reservations while camping, because we like the freedom to change our plans. If you prefer spontaneity like us, you should consider making advance reservations for holidays and weekends during the summer when parks will book out. We’ve parked in a few Walmart parking lots because we failed to make advance reservations!
If you’re the make reservations ahead type, you generally will want to give a few weeks or a month’s notice ahead of your reservations to ensure you get the dates you’re looking for. For reservations in national parks especially on holiday weekends, you’ll want to make reservations as early as possible!
How long should you stay in one place?
When you’ve never been somewhere before, it’s often hard to estimate how long you’ll want to stay in a particular area or at a particular park. Some of this will depend on services and the allowed length of stay.
At most RV parks, you can stay for months at a time. This is great if you’re trying to save money, considering moving to that area, or if you’re looking to escape weather (i.e. snowbirding).
If you’re dry camping or boondocking, you’ll eventually run out of water or need to dump your tanks. We never boondock for more than 4-5 nights consecutively, but have friends who have boondocked for up to 3 weeks before refueling. How long you can boondock largely depends on your tank size and any modifications you’ve done to your rig, like solar. Many national and state parks, including national forest or public land for boondocking, will have an enforced two-week limit for your stay.
When we make our travel plans, we typically stay in an area for a week before moving on. This is about average for full-timer travel. In the past, we’ve traveled much more quickly, staying no more than three or four nights at a park, but this becomes exhausting. If you’re working full-time or even part-time in your RV, I’d recommend staying places a minimum of a week at a time so you can easily balance work and play.
In the winter, however, all this changes.
Most RVers winter in Florida or the Southwest. Because these areas are so populated in the winter, it can be difficult to find short-term camping. Most people we know opt to stay in parks for a month or two at a time. We’ve rarely stayed in one place longer than two months, and those longer stays are always in the winter months.
Your pace of travel is totally up to your preference. The slower you travel, the less money you will likely spend. RV parks will be cheaper and you’ll spend less on gas. Fast travel will allow you to see more, but will be pricier. You can check out this post for more on how much we spend each month RVing full-time.
My Top Three RV Parks of All Time
Writing this list was nearly impossible. There are so many amazing parks out there. But if I had to choose a top three, these are it!
1. Sunshine Key Resort & Marina, Florida Keys
Beachfront campsite? Check.
Ridiculously beautiful area of America with a ton of things to do in the area? Check.
This campground is currently closed after Hurricane Irma, but should re-open in 2018. Hands down, this was the most beautiful campground we’ve ever visited.
There’s another nearby RV resort on Fiesta Key that is run by the same company, but I didn’t want my whole top three list to all be in the Florida Keys! Fiesta Key did, however, have an awesome tiki bar on the beach with killer piña coladas, so I’m kind of confused as to why I don’t live there full-time.
2. Normandy Farms Campground, Foxborough, Massachusetts
This campground is insane. We’ve stayed here twice in our travels and each time I visit, it blows me away.
Four pools, three hot tubs, sauna, gym, tennis courts, 18-hole frisbee golf course, softball field, and the crowning glory: their spa.
During our most recent stay, I pampered myself with a 60-minute massage and it. was. glorious. This was my first time visiting an RV park so luxurious it offered an entire spa and it didn’t disappoint.
And to make it all that much sweeter, this giant park is only $50/night, a steal for the amenities. Plus, even though the park itself is huge, there are lots of trees, fields, and ponds to make it not feel like a giant parking lot.
3. Myrtle Beach Travel Park, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This is the ideal summer vacation RV park. There were multiple pools, a lazy river, two restaurants on site, and our site had a view of the lake from our front window and the ocean from our back window. We loved this park so much we made a video about it:
But most importantly, this park was north of the crazy, packed beaches that Myrtle Beach is known for and incredibly private and quiet. We visited in May and the weather was perfect. With miles of beach stretching in each direction, I instantly fell in love with this park.
- Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park, Fredericksburg, Texas
- Miami Everglades Resort, Miami, Florida
- Narrows Too, Bar Harbor, Maine
- Nugget RV Park in St. Regis, Montana
How to Find Campgrounds
Finding campgrounds follows much of the above process, although campgrounds are typically easier to find. National park websites will have web pages listing all the available campgrounds in the park, along with pertinent information like length limits and hookup options. Many state parks will only offer one or two campgrounds within the park, which makes finding campsites easy.
Many RVers worry that they will be unable to visit parks due to the size of their RV. For the most part, you will not have to worry about this. We’ve visited 16/59 national parks in America (plus many state and national parks in western Canada) and we’ve always been able to take our 33-feet rig through the park. While size may restrict which campground you can visit, most parks can accommodate you at one or more campgrounds.
If you have a larger rig and are nervous about visiting a park, I highly recommend calling a ranger before you visit. They can answer your questions and give you directions to help you avoid any limited access roads. We had to do this once when we ended up at the wrong entrance to Grand Teton National Park. Rangers are full of helpful information and can give you suggestions for how to maximize your visit.
Reserving Your Site
Most state and national park campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Some parts of some campgrounds are reservable online, but the reservation process is clunky and confusing. We opt for first-come, first served, and we can usually find a campsite if it isn’t a weekend. However, this is stressful. If you’re planning a road trip and want to guarantee a stay at a certain park, book ahead! Campgrounds at state and national parks book out before RV parks, so as you’re planning your next trip, start booking your campgrounds first.
Our Favorite Campgrounds
1. Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Sorry America, but Banff is the most beautiful in North America and this campground offers incredible mountain views. Go to Banff. You will love it.
Plus a bear casually strolled by while we sipped on our coffee one morning. Nature is wild.
2. Kirk Creek Campground, Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, California
Campgrounds along the Pacific Coast Highway book out six months in advance. We didn’t know that when we started our scenic drive three years ago. We passed dozens of campgrounds, all of which were full.
But we lucked out when a ranger took pity on us. Someone had paid for a three-night reservation but had never shown up. So the ranger gave us the last night (though he still made us pay). This campground is on the cliffs of Big Sur, and you can listen to the waves hitting the rocks while you fall asleep.
3. Signal Mountain Campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
This campground has crazy lake and mountain views—if your RV is under 30 feet. We camped here in our first rig, which was 29-feet in length. Two deer came up to our window while I was cooking soup (in July, because it gets COLD in the Tetons) and Heath jumped in the lake as his “shower” since we didn’t have hookups. He said it was the coldest water he’s ever been in, but with the best view.
Finding RV parks and campgrounds can be stressful, but hopefully this gives you a little insight into how we find our destinations! Where are the best places you’ve camped? Give us your recommendation!
This post is an excerpt from my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV, available on Amazon.