Choosing a campground will be one of the first things you do when starting to plan an RV roadtrip. Factors like your RV’s length, the length of your stay, your destination, amenities needed, and how much you would like to spend will influence your decision.
Fortunately, many campground options exist—each with strengths and weaknesses.
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, although you can research on sites like www.campendium.com.
What They’re Like
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, 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 least private option. These campgrounds often have no hedges or trees as dividers between campsites, and campsites may be very close together.
Also, 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, but they sometimes limit how old a camper can be 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 own shower to the ones on site, you’re going to probably prefer full-hookups.
For long stays (more than 14 days), this is also one of your best options. You may also 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.
However, if you are hoping for privacy or are hoping to look out at nature rather than a neighbor, these are not for you. Those looking to spend less may also wish to consider other options.
National Parks, Army Corps of Engineer (COE), USFS (US Forest Service), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are all federal campground options. They range from free to to mid-range in price, with National Parks being the most expensive.
What They’re Like
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 “in-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 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 ft 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 their 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 the state’s website.
What They’re Like
State Park campgrounds most often have a combination of pull-through and back-in sites. They often 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-up. 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.
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 They’re Like
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.
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.