Every RVer in this country would love to book that ultimate campsite in Yosemite National Park with views of the beautiful waterfalls and majestic granite formations. We’d all love to pull up to the edge of the Grand Canyon and spend a night (or many) sleeping along the ledge of the world’s most panoramic hole in the ground.
Alas, we are—all of us—stuck with the same campgrounds as any other one of us. Many of these campgrounds are owned and operated by the parks we visit (since they exist within park boundaries), but there are many more options that exist outside of a park’s entrance stations.
In fact, many RV campgrounds exist entirely independently of state- or U.S.-owned parks, especially around coastal areas where the signs that adorn beach houses are as likely to include messages like “trying to sell my motorhome” as they are to include messages that in some way reference Margaritaville.
Without further ado, let’s get into the nuances of finding the right RV campground for your family’s next vacation.
Availability of Sites
First and foremost, you won’t be getting into any campgrounds if there aren’t any spots available. In high-volume sites (like many national parks and the more scenic state parks near well-populated areas), you often need to schedule your vacation quite early, perhaps even a year or two beforehand.
In privately owned fringe campgrounds or the ubiquitous KOAs (Kampgrounds of America), scheduling your arrival is hardly as difficult. In fact, many KOAs and similar businesses are there to take the overflow from park-owned RV camps.
By the way, most public and private campgrounds leave first-come-first-serve sites for those who didn’t make reservations. Tip for novice used RV buyers: arrive very early in the morning.
Amenities and Activities
If you’re traveling with kids or pets, your needs will be different than if you’re traveling alone or if you’re a senior citizen.
Keep that in mind when deciding between the public campground with primitive privies and generator noise restrictions and the private campground with an on-site pool, arcade, and concession stand.
Plus, private grounds like KOA generally have hookups and cable and even Wi-Fi for your rig. Don’t expect the same in the primitive conditions of the park’s own campgrounds. (Still, some are equipped to provide these things, do research on your park of choice and see!)
Cost and Proximity
A basic axiom of life is that you generally have to pay more to get closer to the action. This isn’t true of camping; in fact, if you park in a public campground, you’ll pay at least half the price that a private campground charges. However, you probably won’t get electric hookups.
Still, the lower rate is often ideal, especially to be within walking distance of all the beautiful places you came to see in the first place. Though you won’t be able to actually sleep next to waterfalls or on the canyon rim, you’ll be able to get there in no time at all.
Once you get your spot and get settled, the pristine panoramas and existential environment will make you start thinking about trading in a Winnebago and becoming a park ranger.