Choosing a campground will be one of the first things you do when starting to plan an RV road trip. But it can be hard to know where to look for a campsite, and many factors can dictate where you can stay: your RV’s length, the duration of your stay, campsite amenities, and how much you would like to spend will influence your campground selection.
Fortunately, many campground options exist for all budgets and travel styles—each with strengths and weaknesses. Let’s discuss where to begin as you determine how to choose a campsite.
How to Choose a Campsite
- Write down the specifications of your RV.
- Write down your “must-haves.”
- Include all travelers in your plans.
Start by putting your RV details on paper. How long is your RV? How tall is your RV? What amp plug does it take, 15, 30 or 50?
Then elaborate on what you “must-have” at your campsite. Water hook-up? Beautiful views? A firepit? Sewer hook-ups? Privacy from neighbors?
Finally, bring together who you’re traveling with to finalize your search parameters in campground selection. Make sure everyone’s needs are heard and considered. Will someone want a hot shower at the end of a long day? Keep this in mind when looking at campgrounds and search for shower facilities or water hookups so your party’s needs are met. Maybe you’re traveling with young kids. Think about looking for campgrounds that have fun things to do on property.
Types of Campgrounds
- Private Campgrounds
- Federal Campgrounds
- State Park Campgrounds
- County Park Campgrounds
Let’s look at these different kinds of campgrounds one by one.
Private campgrounds can be the most luxurious of your options. KOA and Jellystone campgrounds and the Good Sam Network of campgrounds are some examples of well-known campground chains across the U.S. Some private campgrounds don’t have online reservation systems, so you may need to call in order to make reservations.
What to Expect at a Private Campground
On the high end, private campgrounds will have more amenities than any other type of campground. Many will have hot tubs, pools, gyms, mini-golf courses, on-site propane, laundry facilities, pickleball courts, and an on-site convenience store. Most often they will have a mix of pull-through and back-in sites with full hookups (water, electric, and sewer), a picnic table, and a fire ring.
Although the amenities are often great, they can be your most expensive, and may not offer much privacy. These campgrounds often have no hedges or trees between campsites, and sites may be very close together. Though private campgrounds can be pricey, be aware that not all private campgrounds are high-end. Depending on your comfort level and how budget-friendly the private campground is, you may wish to assess the campground before you stay.
Some private campgrounds allow long-term stays at monthly rates. You might also encounter restrictions at private campgrounds that prohibit older RVs in poor condition for longer stays.
When to Choose a Private Campground
If you absolutely need full hookups, private campgrounds are the way to go. If you are doing laundry in your rig, wash a lot of dishes, or prefer to use your RV’s shower to the ones on-site, you’re going to prefer having full hookups. For long stays (more than 14 days), private campgrounds are also one of your best options. You may prefer a private campground if you’re traveling with children as they’re likely to have pools, playgrounds, and mini-golf or other games.
Owners of large Class As, Fifth-Wheels, or Toy Haulers will want to consider private campgrounds, as they excel at accommodating large rigs. They’re also among the most beginner-friendly campgrounds as sites are often level and they usually have many pull-through sites.
For exploring urban areas or traveling for concerts and sporting events, a private campground may be your best, or even only, option. If you’re looking to stay at a private campground, but want to save money on nightly fees, become a Good Sam Member and receive 10% off nightly rates at the Good Sam network of Campgrounds.
National Parks, Army Corps of Engineers (COE), USFS (US Forest Service), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are all federal campground options. They range from free to mid-range in price, with National Parks being the most expensive. The best websites to research federal campgrounds are www.recreation.gov and www.campendium.com.
What to Expect at a Federal Campground
National Park campgrounds are campgrounds inside National Parks (like Yellowstone) or National Monuments. These campgrounds are as convenient as you can get if you are looking to explore a National Park. Unfortunately, they can be tight and almost always have RV length restrictions.
The amenities at these campgrounds can vary widely. Grand Canyon has a large convenience store on site. Yellowstone has impressive shower and laundry facilities, while Arches only provides a campsite. Privacy also varies, but often there are trees or hedges that divide the sites and you will feel more “one with nature” than at many private campgrounds.
Corps of Engineer campgrounds, USFS campgrounds, and BLM land are other federal campground options.
- COE campgrounds usually have robust amenities and water and electric hookups.
- USFS campgrounds are very often primitive (no hookups) and may or may not have picnic tables. Some USFS campgrounds and campsites are free and others charge a small fee.
- BLM land is public land and it is free to camp but there are no amenities and the sites are primitive.
When to Choose a Federal Campground
National Park campgrounds are best for those with a small rig. If you have a Class A, a Fifth-Wheel, or a larger travel trailer (25 feet or more will often be too big), this is probably not an option for you. There are usually less-expensive campground options outside of the parks, so this is your best option if the National Park is very remote or vast. Many of these book out months in advance so often times this is only an option if you can reserve far in advance. A few do have some sites that are first-come-first-serve.
COE campgrounds are a great option if you’re RVing out East. They are reasonably priced and they are also a great option for almost any rig size.
Forest Service campgrounds are among the best options along scenic byways and drives. They are more common out West and are a great option if that’s where your travels are taking you. Some USFS roads can be rough and sometimes the campsites are small, but this varies. Overall, USFS campgrounds are perfect if hookups are not a must for you, you enjoy being more immersed in nature, or are looking to spend less.
BLM land is perfect for boondockers, the best option for privacy, and, like USFS campgrounds, is more readily available out West.
State Park Campgrounds
Most states will have a network of parks and campgrounds. These campgrounds are state-funded, so the experience will vary according to how well that state funds its parks. Some states have their own website specifically for camping at their State Parks (like Tennessee), so it may be a good idea to check each state’s website.
What to Expect at State Park Campgrounds
State Park campgrounds most often have a combination of pull-through and back-in sites. They afford campers more privacy than private campgrounds and many have sites that are roomy with a picnic table and fire ring. Sites are usually level, and the pads can be dirt, gravel, or cement. Sites are most often partial hook-ups. They often do not have sewer hook-ups but have a central dump station available for all campers’ use. They may have both water and electric hookups, or just one of the two.
When to Choose a State Park Campground
State park campgrounds are generally a good middle-ground—they are affordable and often can accommodate rigs of all sizes, including Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. Many state campgrounds have showers and laundry facilities. They’re also a great option for those who want some recreation opportunities—many state parks will have hiking trails, lakes, and boat launches on-site.
If you’re looking for a quintessential camping experience (think nature and s’mores) state park campgrounds are the way to go. State parks will often have some first-come-first-serve sites, making them a good option for last-minute needs, especially if it’s not Friday.
County Park Campgrounds
County park campgrounds are part of a county park system. The experience at these is also determined by the level of funding. County park campgrounds can be found on www.rvparkreviews.com, www.campendium.com, and you can also search on google maps.
What to Expect at County Park Campgrounds
Some county park campgrounds afford more privacy than others, and some have a more ‘In-nature” feel than others—it really depends on what county park you are in. They will often have partial hookups and amenities like showers and a playground. Sites are usually very level and come with a picnic table. Some will have fire rings as well.
When to Choose a County Park Campground
County park campgrounds are an excellent option for Urban exploration. San Francisco, for instance, is a very difficult city to RV. Nearby Santa Rosa has a county campground that serves as a good “home base” to explore San Francisco and Napa.
They’re also a good fit for RV travel to a concert or sporting event. Prices at county campgrounds tend to be reasonable and these campgrounds will often have options for large RVs. Because they are often in more urban settings, they tend to be beginner-friendly, with level sites that are easy to pull in and out of.
Learn about and discover more campgrounds:
- 25 Amazing Campgrounds Near National Parks
- RV Campgrounds Near Dreamy Florida Freshwater Springs
- 4 Awesome RV Campgrounds Near Hot Springs
- 7 Romantic Campgrounds Calling for a Getaway
- The Best Campgrounds for Fairytale Fall Foliage
- 8 Unbelievable Golf Course Campgrounds
- 20 Incredibly Pet-Friendly Campgrounds
Part of the fun of RVing is discovering all the different RV camping options. As you stay at different campgrounds, you will develop your preferences, and eventually your RV travel style. With all the options available, there is a campground for every budget and every camping need. Whether you’re looking to find a campground, seeking help in planning your next trip, interested in renting an RV, or break down on the road, Good Sam has you covered! You’re never alone on the road.
We are still at the dreaming stage for beginning full time (hopefully for a year) roving. We just bought a 2015 Buick Enclave with the tow package, and have been reading, dreaming and checking out campers in the 18 ft. Range hauling up to 4500 lbs. I have camped in my sister’s camper for a week, but that’s it for camping except tent camping over the years. Your articles here have given me so much information to ponder and plan and dream on. Thank you so much.
Will be checking out your blog. My hubby and I are both retired.