Figuring out how to choose a campground can be overwhelming. With variables from amenities to convenient location to things like price, reviews and WiFi quality, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here’s a guide to help you choose the perfect campsite.
The easiest way to start finding campgrounds can be as simple as googling the town or city you want to stay in (or near) and the words “RV campground.” You may also have campground memberships with listings, and you might find the local chamber of commerce or your state’s tourism bureau has a listing of campgrounds to reference. If you know you’d like a state park or a national park, include that in your search.
Decide what’s important to you
The first step in choosing a campground is to figure out what aspects of the campground experience are important to you. Start a list with your priorities. For example, is it important to have full hookups? Should your kids have activities they can do by themselves? Do you need campground WiFi? Want a food option on site?
Once you’ve articulated your priorities, you may start to realize they can’t all be your priorities—and that’s okay! If the list is too long to be realistic, order them from most important to least important. The ranking will help you when you’re debating between a few different campgrounds later in the process. And if there’s no ranking, and they’re all absolutes, fantastic! You can use the list to knock out contenders for your campground stay.
What’s your budget?
To narrow down your list, looking at your budget for the trip can be really helpful. If two campgrounds seem equally in line with your priorities, but one costs 2/3 the price of the other, that may mean it ranks higher, because it will allow you to stay longer, or allow you to spend more money on activities and dining.
When you look at your budget, you may also realize that some of your priorities aren’t as important as you originally thought. A hot tub would be wonderful, but if it means paying double for your campground, consider whether that’s an appropriate splurge or a nicety that isn’t important for this trip.
I always recommend reading reviews before booking a campground. Sometimes that beautiful resort’s website won’t tell you they recently had a storm and lost all of their trees—or that their pool is only heated to 70 degrees and their bathroom facilities are never clean.
My favorite reason to read reviews is actually to check on the usability of the wifi or the strength of the cell phone signal I can expect there. Word to the wise: Campgrounds are notoriously optimistic when it comes to their own internet capabilities, but campers aren’t nearly as nice.
I’ll be honest; my favorite way to find campground reviews is to google the name of the campground plus the word “reviews.” TripAdvisor, Yelp and RVParkReviews are all review websites I read regularly, and I’m particularly partial to RVParkReviews. Do take note of how recent the reviews are. If they’re all five years old, I’d be reluctant to assume what’s listed is still accurate—and I’d make sure the campground is still in business too.
Consider campground memberships
Some of the most popular campground memberships include Good Sam and Passport America, but there are many others, and some corporate chains like KOA have their own discount cards too.
Good Sam only gives a 10 percent discount, but lots of people purchase it for other reasons besides their discount program. So while it’s a nice way to save a few dollars at many campgrounds, it probably isn’t reason enough to choose one campground (that accepts Good Sam) over another (that doesn’t).
I recently purchased Passport America. I had an RV trip planned from Florida to Colorado, and with my house battery on the fritz and a cat in the RV, I knew I’d be paying for a campground almost every evening. When you set your mind to staying at Passport America parks, you’ll be able to make back the fee in just a few nights of camping in most parts of the country, so with its 50 percent discount, I saved a lot of money quickly. That being said, there are lots of details to pay attention to, including limitations on how many nights you can use it, which days of the week it’s valid, even what time of the year it’s blacked out. Occasionally we saw other limitations, such as a park that wouldn’t allow us to use their campground WiFi if we booked the Passport America rate.
In any case, this is really another priority to add to the mix, and it’s a great way to help you choose between two campgrounds you’re equally interested in.
Call the campground
When you’re ready to book, or you’re almost ready but need a little bit more information, give them a call. For most campgrounds, you’ll find that booking over the phone is the only way to book a site. For those with online booking, it’s still a great idea to talk to them over the phone. It will give you a good sense of their customer service and you can confirm that those amenities you’re really excited about are indeed there before you book. They may also have insight into which part of the park will have better WiFi, a better view or be better for families or dog owners, for instance.
When it comes to choosing a campground, do your research and trust your gut. If you follow these steps, you’re almost guaranteed to make a selection you’ll enjoy.
Jamie Feinberg is a blogger, musician, theater artist and educator traveling the country full-time in her RV. She performs with her husband Ross Malcolm Boyd as they travel, and they co-own Tiny Village Music, offering private music lessons online in guitar, piano, ukulele, voice and more.