The problem with camping for free becoming the ‘baseline’

By Andy Zipser
Owner, Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park

Andy in his KOA garb, now gone along with his KOA franchise.

Reading the comments on this and other websites about boondocking, over-nighting in Wal-Mart parking lots and various other strategies to avoid putting money in our bank account,  I’m struck by the insistence that camping should be free — or if not free, at least really, really cheap. At such times, Oscar Wilde’s remark about “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” comes to mind.

Don’t misunderstand me. I spent many years camping in the most rigorous sense, backpacking into remote areas for up to two weeks at a time. I’ve not infrequently slept in the back of our minivan at rest stops and in parking lots, most recently en route to seeing the solar eclipse in Tennessee. I’ve thrown a sleeping bag and small tent onto the back of my touring bicycle and reveled in the utter sense of freedom and mobility they gave me. And just to be really, really clear, I have absolutely no problem with campers spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

WHAT BOTHERS ME is when these perfectly acceptable means of saving a buck or of “roughing it” become a baseline against which all other options are measured. Instead of being viewed as a trade-off between cost and convenience, the minimalist approach becomes the new normal and anything requiring actual spending is a rip-off. And so we have campers who complain about spending $40 or $50 for a site, or who try to argue that they should get a price break because they won’t use the cable/wi-fi/swimming pool/amenity of their choice, or who proclaim that next time they’ll camp at the state park down the road, where they can get a “real deal.”

Common headline theme these days.

Except we’re seeing how that’s worked out, with the penny-pinching “real deal” resulting in billions of dollars in deferred maintenance and crumbling infrastructure at state and national parks all across the country. Entrance and site fees everywhere are being jacked up because taxpayer support has evaporated, and how else will those expenses get covered? And so what was once a public good becomes a user-supported commodity, just as toll roads displace public highways and public museums charge “donations” for admission.

The fantasy that we can get something of value at minimal or no expense has many gradations, one of them being the public’s fascination with discounts. At Walnut Hills Campground, we announce right from the outset that the only discount we offer is for Good Sam cardholders, but that doesn’t deter the hard-core bargain hunters. I’m a senior citizen, some will persist, to which I reply, “So am I. And?” Others will play the military card, with its implication that this career choice is more worthy of a business’s recognition than those made by police officers, firefighters, inner city social workers or underpaid school teachers. The most extraordinary claim was made by a young Mennonite, who when asked why he should get the discount he was insisting was his due, replied, “Because we do good works.”

The park lake.

Old folks, soldiers, Mennonites and people from all walks of life do all sorts of virtuous things, but none of that pays our bills. And while it may appear that a campground offers little more than a flat (sometimes) piece of dirt on which to park your motorcoach or fifth-wheel, there are in fact dozens of costs that go into making that dirt serviceable, and dozens more to provide the amenities that campers demand. Our electric bill runs to more than $5,000 a month in season, our insurance bill exceeds a thousand dollars a month, and it costs $1,200 each time we have our septic tanks pumped out. Refilling the swimming pool runs to more than $2,000. Dredging our lake—on which we already spend a thousand dollars a month for algae control—will run to six figures, which is why we haven’t done it yet. Installing a new wi-fi system, which we did take on, cost us $20,000. And on and on.

YET THE DISCOUNT MENTALITY is hard to avoid. One of its most egregious promoters is Passport America, which periodically woos us with the pitch that we’re simply losing money by having sites sit empty, so why not offer them at a 50% discount to its members? An online couple of brokers specializing in RV parks also hypes the program, conceding almost parenthetically, “Of course, the only problem for the RV park owner is the giant discount. However, if the lot is vacant otherwise, does that really matter?”

Yes, actually, it does. For one thing, our operating costs don’t diminish when we lower the price of admission — that $5,000/month electric bill won’t get smaller in deference to our discounted price, even as bargain-hunting campers use just as much electricity as the ones paying full freight. For another, any discounted item or service raises a question of value: if we can afford to sell something at half price, does that mean the full price is inflated? More to the point, does that mean the customer who pays full price is a fool?

Some campground owners, aware of this dynamic, play the game by inflating their base rates, then offering every possible kind of discount to ensure that almost everyone qualifies for one or another. The camper feels he/she got a deal, the campground owner gets what he needs, and everyone is happy. Other campgrounds may leave the base rate at an uninflated level and offer the usual discounts, but tack on all sorts of ancillary fees that quickly drive up a camper’s overall bill so it more than offsets the discounts. Either way, the campground is going to get what it needs—or it won’t, and the long-term result will be the kind of deterioration our state and national parks are experiencing.

As the country’s RV fleet keeps expanding, the number of added new RV campground sites is hardly keeping pace. You might think market economics would change the balance, with supply rising to meet demand, but the fact is that those spaces cost a lot to build—anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 a site if added to an existing campground. Build a campground from scratch and you’re looking at $25,000 to $30,000 a site for a Jellystone Park, while KOA advises prospective campground builders to budget $1.8 million to $2.25 million for a campground with 75 RV sites.

That’s a bunch of money to spend on a business vulnerable to an increasingly volatile climate, and anyone who makes the investment is going to expect a reasonable rate of return. One way to do that is to offer a quality experience and charge what it’s worth, notwithstanding the complaints about high prices and refusal to “make a deal.” Or there’s always the “budget” approach: build cheaply, jam in as many sites as possible, forgo maintenance, hire too few employees and pay them rock-bottom wages—and ignore the complaints about dirty facilities, surly workers and inoperative amenities.

It’s true that you don’t always get what you pay for. It’s also true that you’ll get what you’ve paid for if you’re paying next to nothing.

The Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park gets five stars from RVtravel. It’s one of the nicest campgrounds we’ve found in our travels around the USA. To be clear, the park does not comp our stays or advertise with us. We rate the park highly because we feel Andy and his crew should be commended for their dedication to providing an exceptional customer experience.



155 Thoughts to “The problem with camping for free becoming the ‘baseline’”

  1. Walt

    I understand the author’s overall message – he has to make a living and is worried that cheapskates are the new normal (newsflash – they aren’t new).

    But his attitude kinda sucks. As I said earlier – maybe lay off the caffine. LOL

  2. bob farabaugh

    we stop at a campground near Roanoke Rapids NC that has a row at the front where you can pull in and spend the night for 25$. Much better than 50. You have to be out at 9am. We actually do have hookups too. Dont use amenities other than the bathrooms. Its a nice place with pool hot tub and clubhouse. Since we are going thru at the end of December these things are closed anyway. I’m happy to pay a reduced rate and not park at Walmart. Never done that.

  3. Kevin Hogle

    I sent a link to Chuck a year or two ago regarding this park. At that time my son and family lived fairly close to this park. It’s called pricey land and high taxes. The thing is, this place sells out.

    Should give sticker shock to some of the commenters.

  4. R Mathews

    If I’m going camping I don’t mind paying the $40/night. However, when I’m on the road heading to a destination and need a layover for just the night I would appreciate having a safe place to park. I think campgrounds should have at a minimum a parking lot or open lot for travelers to park overnight when passing through the area. No hookups or restrooms, just a safe place to park. Charge a modest $10 fee (which would be all profit for them) and allow only one night. (In after 6pm, out by 9am the next morning)

    1. R j Buchheit

      Total agreement. I have felt and stated that for many years being a camper / RV’er. Would gladly pay the smaller no frills fee other than the Wal-mart or the dangerous roadsides. Been doing this lifestyle since the late 60’s and had this topic in discussion Coast to Coast. Don’t recall anyone who disagreed. Often wondered what they are waiting on.

    2. Roger Parsons

      I also am in total agreement. Travelling across country we were hard pressed to find places to overnight without paying $40-$50. Walmart and truck stops are great, but also noisy and sometimes just not safe. A secure place to spend the night for a modest fee would certainly be welcomed.

      1. Phil McCraken

        News flash, with record RV sales again this year, you are sorely mistaken if you think Camping facilities will implement a two tiered system. There in it for the money, and I don’t blame them one bit.

        It’s simple economics 101, supply and demand. Oh, and the part about the gov’t facilities deteriorating, throw those bums out of office. Oh, wait a second, it’s starting to happen, who woulda thunk.

    3. Andy

      Thanks for all the comments, all of which I’ve read carefully. Although by training and inclination I believe in letting what I’ve written stand on its own without further explanation, I do want to comment on this idea–it’s popped up a few times in the threads below– that the private sector might somehow provide a basic no-frills camping facility at $10 (or so) a night. In a word, no.
      Every added service–water, electric, sewer–costs to build and to maintain, in addition to the operating costs involved. So do roads in and out of a park, lighting or other features that create the safe space everyone wants, and (for those who use their showers as closets, or don’t have showers because they’re in a van, or who want more than a 2-minute shower fed by their 6 or 10 gallon water heaters) bathrooms.
      In after 6 p.m., out before 9 a.m.? Never happen.Our check-in time is 1 p.m. and we still get campers arriving at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. because they’re tired and decided to show up early. And even though we have a noon check-out time, it’s not at all unusual for us to end up calling campers at 2 ask if they were planning to extend their stay, only to be told they’re off somewhere having lunch and will be leaving as soon as they get back. Which, of course, is cold comfort to the early arrival who has booked that particular site. . . .
      I’ll say it again: I don’t have any problem with people choosing accommodations that are more Spartan than the ones we offer. My problem is when they attempt to use our facilities on an a la carte basis so they aren’t paying–as they see it–for services they’re not using. Those campers are indeed better off camping elsewhere.

      1. Walt

        I have a funny story to add – at the military famcamp we were recently staying we had to change sites during our stay (why is a different tale). The motorcoach in the spot we were to move to wasn’t leaving – then we noticed that they kept eyeballing our coach. Turned out we were just swapping spots and were waiting for each other to move.

        We all had a good laugh over that one.

      2. Darrel

        Charge whatever the market will bear and what you need for your family. However your attitude and whining sucks, and you will never see one dime from our family.

        I’ll pay more elsewhere rather tan give one dime to you.

  5. Darrel

    We carefully selected our rig with large generator, water tank, and sewer tanks. After that we added 1440 watts of solar. Added both Verizon and ATT internet capability, with a booster in fringe areas. It gives us OPTIONS on where we stay.

    In campgrounds we have no use for campground/public restrooms, showers, pools, hot tubs, campfires, social centers, Wi-Fi.

    All we personally desire in a campground is stable correctly wired 30/50 amp electric, a level space, safe potable water, sewer connection, and a place for trash. Since that is all we personally use, we seek out parks where we do not pay a premium for things we never use.

    I understand those things WE do not use are what some other RVers seek out. However, we do not, and don’t wish to subsidize what others use. Freedom of choice. Many options out there for all of us.

    OUR choice is we will not pay extra for a “resort” , with resort amenities we will never use tacked onto the price of the stay if other decent choices are available nearby. We fulltime, and are not on vacation.

    As to discounts, we have Passport America, Good Sam, Escapees, FMCA, where offered senior citizen (never been offered that by the way except at National Parks and COE with a pass), and where offered a military discount. Then there are parks that offer discounts for booking for a week or a month versus night by night.

    We take those discounts (where offered) into consideration when we book RV parks. We stay in places with NO discounts, and places WITH discounts.

    Reading RV Park Reviews and other review sites help us choose which park we will use.

    “Andy” will never get our business due to his attitude. I don’t care that he offers no military discount, I do however care about his snide comments on discounts in general, military in particular, and overall entitled attitude. . Bad move Andy to insult potential customers.

    Andy, I hope your business is a success with those you cater to and don’t look down on. I wish you no ill, but you lost our potential business.

  6. Paul

    Well said, Andy! I hope to read more articles from you in the future. I think $40-50 sites are a bargain these days and I’m happy to pay that. However so many want large level sites for their $100k+ rigs, FHU, lightning speed Wi-Fi etc etc etc for pennies a night . Well guess what – it’s not 1975 any more. Around here a “state” or national park with no hook-ups will cost well over $30/night. Taxes, insurance, utilities etc are all going up in price. People continually complain about the lack of camping sites, but then aren’t willing to pay for them.

  7. Vic

    I have a friend staying in a campground located in northern Washington. She is paying $50 a night with no hookups and they charge her .50 cents for a 3 minute shower. Who is taking advantage of the situation this time?

    1. Neil Schmidt

      Who is forcing your friend to stay there at that inflated rate? I would say that she alone is responsible for her being “taken advantage” of.

    2. Phil McCraken

      Sounds like someone who never ventured into a Wal-Mart to me. Hey, if she’s willing, and there are businesses out there charging, it’s her right to part with her money, as fast as the reserve allows.

  8. Mike Sherman

    One factor not mentioned. Government taxes. Especially in California. I work in a small well-kept campground. The owner is required to charge a 14% “occupancy tax”. 14% adds a chunk to your nightly camp fee…..same rate the government charges motels/hotel. We rent dirt, you bring your residence, yet soaked for more because they can. But then, it is California…..which has already run off the rails! The owner could level the land and building a hotel and make 3+ the amount from the campground, but it’s been in his family since 1964 and loves providing a clean, well-maintained campground in a beautiful area.

    1. Phil McCraken

      Not for long. Kiss that campsite goodbye.

  9. Philip H. Wood

    It costs in the neighborhood of $21-$24 /day to for the site. The owners have to show a profit or go out of business. The day of making it with overnight/vacation type business is history or at least it is in my neck of the woods. You have to have a mix of long term and short term business to maintain your cash flow. I have done several financial analysis for parks mostly for financial institutions. The RV park business can be a good business but I have observed many with real problems and these are the ones that give us a bad name in many communities.

  10. Jim

    I am sorry, but, I too have a problem with demanding a military discount for anyone under sixty years of age. You volunteered and chose your line of work. For the ones over 60, I am guessing 98% had no choice but for military service. And then when they got home they were spat upon because of it.
    Yes, I do appreciate your service and thank you and everyone I see. But I just get tired of people demanding everything because of their choices.
    I am sorry for running off topic.

    1. Cecilia

      Military discount is a benefit that some businesses honor. They either do or don’t offer it. Not once have I seen anyone demand to have a discount. When I have used it, I was always appreciative and pleasantly surprised to get it. It never hurts to ask just like AAA, AARP, Good Sam or seniors discount, union affiliated discounts, employee discounts or what ever discount membership people may be a part of. The military as an employer provides it in appreciation for their employees and families. BTW firefighters and teachers get tax discounts in my county. I’m sorry if he got flack from the few who may have given him a hard time about it. Don’t put us all in the same basket. Learn to smile and say, “I’m sorry we don’t offer it”.

    2. Neil Schmidt

      I agree. I spent four years in the military, but would never ask for a military discount. I remember once being asked if I had been in the military; when I answered, “yes,” the counterman took a few bucks off the bill, and I expressed my appreciation.

      1. Phil McCraken

        Neil, well said. And I thank you for your service as well.

    3. Walt

      “Demanding” is not the same as “asking”. I’m active duty and usually ask if they offer a discount. If they do, great. If not well that’s fine too. I don’t force anyone to give a discount nor do I base my camping on whether or not I get a discount.

      What I don’t get is the attitude that asking is somehow wrong or “entitled”. If an owner gets angry because someone asks about a commonly offered discount then maybe they should cut down on caffine or take up yoga.

      And FYI when one says they appreciate your service “but…” we know they really don’t. That’s fine – we’re often a little rough around the edges, but at least be honest.

      Finally a military discount is different than a veterans discount. Some places offer both but most require an ID which someone who isn’t active or retired typically won’t have.

  11. livingboondockingmexico

    National and state parks have become what they were exactly meant not to be. Now they are Disneylands, filled with pavement, buses, trains, laundromats, video game rooms, concessions, well the list goes on.

    I don’t mind paying entrance fees but prefer to boondock outside of the park. Eliminate discounts, everybody gets one nowadays to the point that someone has to make up the difference.

    Do as the hotel industry has done. Create parks that fit the needs of the population. Motel 6 style RV parks. I’ve never understood why an RV park couldn’t provide dry-camping spots for a much-reduced price. Electric can be metered, pay as you go. There are even coin-operated meters.

    We’re boondockers and we prefer to be out on our own but it’s not about money.

    1. Douglas moss

      This is a good point. For those long hall Rv runs motels could have spots for over night Rv stay were you pay for power you use then move on . This would help with over full parks, wall marts, truck stops.

      1. Rory

        I agree with the concept of a short term park for RV travelers, probably only Power and city water with Dumpsites at entrances or exits, That could be done for a nominal fee. But just to clarify a point, several commenters have referred to “Motel 6” type prices. Just in case no one has checked lately, but Motel 6 although cheaper than most “nice” motels, are no longer cheap. Gone are the days of $19.95, it is more like $69.95 or more in most areas. And most are still places that many traveelers don’t want to stay…….

  12. frater secessus

    Mr. Zipser,

    Blaming customers (or non-customers) indicates one has unrealistic expectations of a market. RVers are not entitled to a space in a park at their preferred price and park owners are not entitled to customers at the asking price. Both parties have to see themselves as better off from the transaction or it will not occur.

    Boondockers see more value in a $0, zero-amernities boondocking spot than a paid RV park spot or they just wouldn’t be doing it. A capitalist who wants to sell to those people will find a way to provide value to them. The first step would be to ask what would make them want to stay in a park, at least sometimes. What do they want? What would they be willing to pay for? A subset of more primitive facilities might also attract less-established young folks one might grow into premium-paying guests in the future.

    Chiselers and discount-seekers will do what they do. Having a lower-tier service to offer them for their desired price point may help with that conversation.

    As for me, I have zero desire to be near loud, smoking, drinking people with outdoor entertainment systems blaring, dogs barking, and feral children yelling. I wouldn’t take that deal if it were free. And I have no interest in underwriting amenities I will never use.

    BTW, I played the military card by enlisting. I don’t know how other people do it.

  13. Rory

    I have a question, If so many people prefer boondocking, why don’t they just boondock and count their saving? Why do they have to try to convince everyone else that boondocking is the way to go, whether others want to hear it or not? Boondockers, don’t you realize that the more people you convince to boondock, the more crowded your favorite boondocking spots are going to get. Then you won’t have that peace and quiet in the the pristene wilderness. You will have fellow boondockers complaining about the smoke from your BBQ pit or your campfire. There will be more campers who don’t know how to or don’t care to pick up after themselves. My advice is to keep quiet and enjoy your pristene wilderness while you can….LOL

    1. frater secessus

      > Boondockers, don’t you realize that the more people you convince to boondock, the more crowded your favorite boondocking spots are going to get.

      Same process applies to RV parks.

      1. Rory

        No one is loudly touting the lure of RV parks, and there are a lot of crowded RV Parks, more this year because of the number of Parks in hard-hit hurricane ravished areas, where parks have been forced to close. So the many snowbirds who usually go to those areas have to go somewhere else.You missed the point. In plain english I’m advising boondockers to protect their pristene wilderness and peace and quiet by not bragging about it. The more you do, the more the numbers of rver’s turning to boondocking will increase. But apparently my advice was taken as an insult by some. .

  14. G. Wagner

    One of the first things I was taught in writing a business plan was to identify your customers. From the above comments, I believe we can agree that the needs of RVers are absolutely diverse. So the question is, do we segregate those needs or combine them?

    Campgrounds already differentiate between tents, water/electric only, and full hookup. Different prices depending on different needs, which seems to reflect a mixed-use model. However, the same campground then builds a pool, community house, hot tubs and assumes EVERYONE should pay for them even if they do not need or use them? Seems a little contradictory.

    Finally, one additional concern about rising costs: the mandatory use of web-based reservations systems that add as much as $8-10 dollar to the base campground fee. We stayed at a state park last week whose base rate was $40, but then added an out-of-state resident fee (so much for encouraging tourism!) and a reservation fee. That $40 spot was quickly a $53 spot — before taxes. We only stayed one night until we could find something else.

    Bottom line for us as retired RVers is that we will be looking into other alternatives to traditional campgrounds.

    1. Michael McCracken

      Totally agree! I will not be staying at a RV Park asking $40-$50 a night just because they have chose to have a pool and now call it a “RV Resort”. I am a full-time RVer. From where I sit, RV Parks are goldmines. If anywhere near a popular area, they are over flowing and reservations must be made far in advance of your stay. I agree that to establish a new park is very expensive, however the established rv parks should be doing excellent. Boo Whoo Whoo to the owner of the Walnut Hills park. If you are not making money why do you stay in business?

      1. Sonny

        Well said Mike, the walnut hills owner is a whiner. Maybe he should sell and find some other venture to invest in. Hopefully one that doesn’t have to do with dealing with the general public.

  15. Stuart Sachs

    As both a landscape architect and former professor, my assessment of a good RV park needs between 60 & 90 spaces to be profitable, but the attendance peaks and lows are so variable you have to carefully develop a business plan to support the owner/investors, 2 laborers (min.), septic, elec, water, cable/wifi, etc. When you get that business plan, unless you’re planning to carry “freebies or discounts,” you’ll be out of business sooner than you think. Incidentally, I do not normally recommend pools because of liability, insurance, lifeguard training & labor, plus “public pools” in some states require far more regulatory agency review & upkeep – that’s a good thing, but is it in your business plan. It’s just costly.
    Getting back to “freebies and discounts”, the $1.75MM to $2.5MM has been a budget number for the “moderate, well-chosen site.” I just had my first company that’s picked location-location-location based on demographics, nearby amenities, and traffic. Then they asked, “what’s it gonna cost?” Coupled to that was, “How can we extend the season?” “What needed activities can we provide?” Answer: Not much for families during the school year; but seniors & retired couples want things farther north – not as much driving is a big target. They also have an amazing amount of discretionary income.
    Times are changing. Better run facilities will not have to offer bargain places. You can book a space and pay online, maybe even pick out the spot on the site’s Google Map. One of my latest suggestions was having concierge service waiting for your guest’s arrival with groceries, show tickets, admission tickets, or even a filled cooler chest. Some of these items are advertising, lost leaders, or have a huge markup and will easily become the perks offered to the better customers.

    1. Penny Heist

      Stuart, not all seniors have “an amazing amount of discretionary income”. Many live on their Social Security incomes only and after paying for their gasoline, groceries, insurances, meds, and other asundry necessities, they need those parks that offer discounts.

  16. Kevin Hogle

    Here is an article ifrom our local paper that indicates $62 million in postponed maintenance for Zion alone. So you can imagine the extent of this problem nationwide. Get prepared to pay. The party is over.

    1. frater secessus

      Generally speaking, dispersed camping / boondocking isn’t allowed in National Parks It’s not like folks were camping there for free and will now have to pay.

      1. Kevin Hogle

        The fees do not match the parks expenses is the point. Never came close. It’s just like a business at some point, unless the taxpayers subsidize it. Those days are coming to an end as mentioned previously. It’s not a secret, we are tremendously in debt and parks are at the low end of priorities.

        1. Bob Farabaugh

          national and state parks were built with taxpayer dollars and are there as a service to taxpayers. Its reasonable to charge fees to help operate them but they need to be affordable to the average person. We just had a governor who wanted to sell of some of our parks to private developers. Thank goodness even his own party didnt support this.

    2. Tom Oney

      $62 million in deferred or postponed maintenance. Is that in real money or Fed money? $62 M it’s US Govt. rates figure real cost is about 10% of that once you cut out the politicians brother in law fee.

      1. Kevin Hogle

        Probably true, but I’m quoting the article. If you read the entire article, the deferred maintenance figures are staggering. Regardless, the fees don’t match the expenses.

  17. Curtis Dowds

    Thought I’d add one curious thought. Everyone seems to agree that if you need an RV park you should pay a fair price for the amenities that you use. A large number of participants in this thread want the freedom of “boondocking” which mostly means getting out and away, by inference in nature. I’m totally the opposite although I’ve configured my rig for what amount to boondocking. Big batteries, multiple chargers, big inverter. But in my case what I want is to get close to the big cities (L.A., San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Chicago, as examples in the West) and sample the culture I can’t get from my remote suburban home right up against the border in San Diego. I love my small RV that pulls a car that gives me the freedom to move when I’ve found a safe place in an urban setting, more and more a challenge because of homelessness. Main point. We RV’ers are a very eclectic bunch.!! Good luck to everyone, including the RV park owners whom I only need every once in a while.

  18. Kevin Hogle

    I guess I’ll take Andy’s side. I’m willing to pay a fair price to keep him in business. Maybe then he can buy one of my $80,000 trucks I helped to engineer.

    I’m also not insulted by anything he said. He has many valid points. Walmart looks to be in the process of eliminating staying in their parking lot overnight. As I previously emailed Chuck, the store here south of Zion posted “no overnight parking” signs here this last winter. Probably invites trouble.

    I’m afraid the future holds many more “pay to play” items including the national and state parks. We had years of taxpayer supported parks, but with the finances of the national and state government being in shambles, more of these “nice to have” items are going to be supported by user fees.

    PS: it would probably take a week to explain why trucks can cost 80k! Let’s talk emissions, safety, regulations certification and compliance.

    1. Rory

      Don’t blame Walmart, the official policy is to allow overnight stays on their parking lots. Municipalities and County governments are passing regulation which forbid overnight parking for Trucks and RV’s. Sometimes these laws are being passed to disallow the “homeless” access to parking and setting up a home on the parking lot. Lousy way to treat people who are down on their luck, but this is real life. Rver’s are getting caught in the crossfire. In other cases A smaller Walmart store may have to share their lot with other stores and can’t authorize overnight parking.

      1. Kevin Hogle

        Not always true. Sometimes the local store Walmart mgt. decides the lot will not be used overnight. Too many abuses, many not by homeless. I live 20 miles from Zion, many of the people I witness abusing the local Walmart parking issue have expensive rigs pulling RZR ATV or boats.
        Doubt they can’t pay, just apparently don’t want to. There are a few that are homeless. I see them parked elsewhere now.

      2. Neil Schmidt

        It should be up to the business to decide on who parks on their property. The flip side is that if problems become the norm, the business should handle it by either refusing to allow overnight parking or hire security personnel. It should not be up to the government to force their own no-parking laws. Re the homeless who are “down on their luck,” far too many are career players who are nothing other than life-long parasitic welfarians who are a social and financial drain on those of us who have to work and pay taxes.

    2. Snayte

      Why cant we still have taxpayer supports parks? we have more people now than ever thus more taxpayers. This parks are often a boon to the nearby economy so the return on investment is there if one chooses to see it.

      1. Kevin Hogle

        Go look at the 21 trillion debt and counting. If you think the parks are getting any more money, not likely.

      2. Neil Schmidt

        With taxpayer “support,” one can expect that the government will demand a certain percentage of ownership of those parks; as a result, government will demand to make decisions on how the park is run. It’s called, “Socialism.” The private sector pays for governments, not vice-versa.

        1. Rory

          Shayte was referring to National Parks campgrounds, not private parks…..

  19. Jerry X Shea

    Running/managing an RV Park is no different from any of the 6 businesses I have owned. It all comes down to profit and “cashflow.” What Andy (the owner) is missing is his lack of understanding of playing “the numbers game.” To say he would not make a profit offering Passport America 50% off discounts is without merit. We have been staying at a 10/10/10 RV Park every November for over 12 years. Of the 225 spots, Monday – Thursday they would have about 25 spots filled. On the weekend it would fill up. Then, about 4 years ago they signed up with PA offering the 50% discount from Monday night till Thursday night (4 night). Ever since then the park is just about full on those weekdays. Filling 200 spots, even at 50% off would equal 100 full fee payments to the park. That, guarantees “cash flow.” Everyone pays the full price Friday – Sunday night. Andy – try it for one year and see what happens. You can always cancel.

  20. rvgrandma

    When we traveled we usually would boonedock for 2-3 nights then stay at a park to empty tanks and fill up fresh water. But we would choose an cheaper park because we did not care about all the amenities they offered.

    I have also workamped working in RV parks and campgrounds. Yes people will get upset over the prices. Some will even come in late and leave early never paying.

    Due to my husband’s illness we have been at our current park for 5 years. We are in a high demand area due to workers coming in who work at Hanford and other businesses. Plus, even if making RV payments, staying in an RV is cheaper than apartments. Families can no longer afford apartments so buy an RV which results in too many children running around the park – IMO. But due to my husband’s illness moving is out.

    Because of supply and demand, the park changed from their almost yearly $10 increase on monthly to $25 increase and almost doubled the w/d charges (which is a lot on fixed income) this year. This is the first year they did not increase electric. With just monthlies, that comes to around $78,000 a month income. They advertise free wi-fi but for most of us it does not work – too many for too little bandwidth. If you want internet you have to pay for it yourself which adds another $65 a month. The manager even admits we are in a ‘dead zone’ but will not give any credit on our internet fee.

    This is a resort, offers clean bathroom, pool, hot tub (which many do not use because the cover over it is so heavy it take two to remove it), club house, etc. Their website advertises full time activities director but the 5 years we have lived here we have never heard of or seen one. Rarely are there activities for the monthlies, only when groups come in. The pool is rarely used. They resurfaced it this spring and left the bottom rough which is hard on feet.

    If I ever won the lottery I would buy land and set up boondocking for a night or two. Just a safe place where people can stop for the night with no amenities.

    I believe there is a need for both the free camping and pay camping. The reason I like staying in my RV vs hotel – it is my bed.

  21. Marty

    I’m stunned by all the comments to this article. Let’s say you want to rent your RV. You first have to determine what it costs you to do so and factor in some type or profit. Without a profit why would you take a risk on renting it? Do you discount your RV rental rate because people could stay at a Motel 6 for less? No and I’m sure many people would think $250 a day to rent an RV is crazy. My point is everyone looks after their own money but react as though the writer is greedy for protecting his. Heck, I feel like I’m getting a bargain at $40 a day and honestly spend way more than that at state parks I like.

  22. Jim Anderson

    Andy’s perspective is from that of a Campground Owner, and from his perspective he makes a lot of sense.
    The challenge of any RV Park owner is that he see’s life and his business from the park owners perspective and a lot of RV’ers have no idea what he goes through just to make a living..
    However Andy’s perspective that “roughing it” is the “baseline” doesn’t fit any of the RV’ers that I know. We all know what it costs to RV and understand for a nice park to stay in business they need to turn a profit that reflects their time and level of investment.
    My issues are with parks that sound terrific but turn out to be dumps. Thank goodness for the apps and web sites that post the user reviews like RV Park Reviews and even Trip Advisor whose users both give Andy’s Walnut Creek good reviews.
    Andy’s remarks about guests playing “Playing the Military Card” is a big disappointment.
    I am sure Andy “shops” for everything he does for his family and his RV Park, and if there is any extra discount that’s available, he wants it. And I am sure He Asks…Just like I have learned to do.
    The end line here for me, is, that as a consumer, I get to choose where and how I spend my money. Sometimes I love the choices I make and share that with others and other times not so much… So I just don’t shop or go there again.. Simple….

  23. Philip H. Wood

    I retired as a company manager. After retirement I worked as a workamper (never take on of these jobs is you really need the money) and always ended up as park manager. Any park can be profitable assuming have a location that provides sufficient traffic and there are enough sites and you have sufficient long term campers. The day when is gone (at least in this part of the country) when you could be profitable with only short term vacation type campers. You will find it difficult to get much more than #300/month per site for the monthlies. I have had to do the financial workups on several parks with most being financia; institutions.

  24. Mark Sandeers

    $40 – $50 is hard for me to justify when a discount motel room could be had for around $50 in most locations…..

    1. Ed Wullschleger

      My wife and I have traveled by car on separate trips, from the Denver area to: New England, San Diego, and Florida during the past two years. These “average” hotels cost between $50 and $110 a night. We’ve also taken our 22′ trailer out about 6 times a year for the last four years to places in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The price for the better campgrounds ($50-60) overlaps the low end of the hotels. We also stay in Colorado State parks ($28/day with electric) and National Forest campgrounds ($10-21, no hookups) and have boondocked overnight twice while traveling longer distances and unable to find a campground. We don’t use the trailer to save money. We use it to enjoy the freedom and have some of the amenities of home while out exploring the West. If we were going East with the trailer, I would expect things to be different and more expensive.

    2. Chuck Woodbury

      A motel room is not an RV. Who slept in that motel bed the night before? You gonna make your own dinner in the motel room, breakfast, too? No, it’s off to the coffee shop, etc. — add that the cost of the room, where in an RV you could prepare your own (healthy) meal. Not everyone enjoys a stay at a Motel 6 or something even cheaper. To each their own.

      1. Jim Beirlein

        Last Motel 6 we stayed at ($65) was so filthy we chose not to use the shower, so now it’s only better hotels $100-$200. Makes that $40 price tag look pretty good. Stopped at Walnut Hills several times for overnight going North or South and Andy gives a good value and I can walk to my own shower in my bare feet without fear. We just need more parks like his.

    3. Neil Schmidt

      Then why don’t you stay in motel rooms that offer that rate?

    4. Natravellers

      You can keep your $40-$50 night motel rooms. I’d rather have clean sheets and sleep on a mattress with no bugs and gawd knows what bodily fluids have dried on.

  25. David Hagen

    I stayed at a campground once where everybody got a 10% discount. If you were military, senior, AAA, Good Sam, AARP, etc……. But you could only use one discount.
    And Mr. Zip, I would pay up to $10 for a no-hookup, no frills pull-through space in a safe place for the night when travelling through your town. Don’t even need room to put my awning out, just slides.

    1. Sailing Jet

      Of course I would want to empty my tanks and fill up with fresh water before I left that $10 @ night campground.

      1. Rory

        Does anyone realize that places to dump holding tanks and fill your fresh water tank for free are slowly disappearing. I have paid anywhere from $5.00 to $10.00 dollars for the priviledge. So If i can get into an RV Park and pay $30.00 to $40.00 per day, seems like a bargain to me. It seems it is the same for purchasing RV’s, many complain about the condition of domestic RV’s and say how nice it would be to get some of the European RV’s here, but they are really not willing to pay the price for them either. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is paying for it…..

  26. Captn John

    I enlisted in 1966, a time when most young men enlisted or was drafted. I’m a disabled vet, none of that makes me special. In nearly 50 years I have never spent a night in Walmart or any business lot. I have spent 5 – 7 nights along the road.
    $30 – $40 is cheap even if I’m only pulling in for the night and not unhooking the 5er. Have a pull through with electric at $50 ~ fantastic. I did more boondocking in jungle to take care of all the boondocking I want. How about a nice CG in a good location south of Tampa during Jan-March for $70 – $75, that is a bargain. Prices are going up, supply and demand. Give me a pull through with FHU and WIFI and I’ll pay. Not wealthy, just want to be comfortable while exploring the area before I move on. On our last trip called for an overnight, construction delayed arrival but the office remained open an extra hour. They were so nice and the CG clean we stayed 3 nights.

  27. Roger

    The premise of this article is flawed. Free camping will never become the baseline. In fact, true free camping is and always will be a tiny part of camping overall as most rigs and owners are not equipped or capable of handling it. The author makes the leap to “free camping” to bolster an argument against anything that cost less than he thinks camping should cost. I get it. He’s in it to make money. Not a thing wrong with that. What I do object to is criticism of good people who take the time to consider his business and are just trying to keep their own costs down by considering more economical options than his or by having the collossal nerve to ask what discounts are available. In the end, the free market will prevail.

    1. Michael McCracken

      Could not of said it better Roger. I and wife are retired senior citizens. We live on a moderate fixed income. It is imperative that we keep our costs down. We own a motorhome and travel fulltime. It concerns me that RV Park owners seem to find more reasons to increase their prices. During my travels throughout the U.S. , it has been my observation, rv parks are flooded with travelers. They have no problem keeping their parks full and many require reservations far in advance or your stay. I don’t need pools, club houses, spas, etc. Just give me a good clean park with full hook-ups at what I consider reasonable $35.00 nightly. .

  28. Alpenliter

    Wow. Andy touched a nerve with this article! While the article itself was interesting, the comments of th readers really provided an insight to the RVing mindset.

  29. RetiredChip

    Perhaps I’m just missing Andy’s point, but his comments seem elitist offensive … despite sugar coating it a few sentences later. Specifically the ‘military discount’. I’m not a veteran but appreciate one reason we as American citizens can own RV parks is because of the freedom granted to us by the blood of our soldiers.
    On a separate note, isn’t the reason RV’s are ‘self contained’ is so they can function off the grid? Otherwise, why have generators, inverters, water storage and waste tanks? RV parks allow us the luxury of duplicating those same services in a safer or nicer environment.
    Andy, the free market decides your worth and value.

    1. Rory

      It all depends on your own preference, do you want to boondock, and pay for dumping tanks and getting fresh water, or do you prefer to gather with other RVer’s and take advantage of some of the amenities. I myself do both, but I will not get a campsite in a NP in season. I do not want to put up with the crowded conditions, the noise and the unruly/inconsiderate campers, who may be in the minority, but spoil it for the majority. I prefer docking in a rv park/resort near one of the entrances to a NP, use my NP card and drive my toad in and take advantage of whatever the NP has to offer. I can then go “home” to my RV and have a good night’s sleep…..

  30. Tommy B

    My wife and I just completed a 30 day trip. 3 nights at Wal-Mart 7 nights in a RV Resort($24 a night) misc private campgrounds,state campgrounds,and one night in a private driveway. Two memories,$40 a night for nothing but electric (dump was on the way out) no water at site green algae swimming pool. And the other a Wisconsin state park that charged $13 a night for electric. Don’t mind paying for value but give me some$40 seems to be my max comfort zone

  31. Sam

    Let’s say you have 100 sites…baseline. SO if your KOA is 100% full….X $40./ night=$4,000./ night X 30 days=$120,000./month.

    I went to an RV place once. Had the “Good Sam’s” card. Gave me the rate, then showed him my card, guess what….Oh, you have a dog (-25lbs), that will be $2.00 more…there goes the “discount”.

    However, RV parks have many perks, if that’s what one wants.

    I prefer to Boondock…solar power rocks!

  32. Joe Dobry

    A lot of interesting comments/info here. A question for Mr. Zipster: Why no longer a KOA franchise? Probably know the answer, but wondering about it.
    My wife and I are now full-timing in our fifth wheel, and on the ever-mentioned “limited income” and we need to work within this income. To that outcome, I have equipped the fiver with sufficient solar and have enough water on board to last for over a week. To replenish water and clean tanks, very willing to pay for 1-2 nights at an RV park. However, the use of the word “Resort” is beginning to take on new meaning: charge more for a space and hope the customer does not care.
    There are several sides to this story as I am seeing it: the cheapskate who wants something for next to nothing; and the CG owner who charges way too much for too little–then everything is in between these extremes.
    My current ‘baseline’ for charges is around $30-$40/night and I expect 50amp/water/sewer and a well-kept campground. If the CG can’t operate with that fee, then it is their choice to charge what they need and my choice to stay or not.
    As I note the rising fuel prices, can’t help but wonder when the bubble will burst–I am already paying at least 40% more than last summer and have to consider that when looking for places to stay.
    Agree with Mr. Dowds’ comments above.

  33. rottenrollin

    When I was younger I’d stay at cheaper motels at a rate now equal to these $40-50 a night campground spots…….excluding inflation, of course.

    Now if I stay in a decent motel, I feel like I am buying the room rather than renting it for the night.

    I don’t want to have to feel the same way for a RV site.

    But I know all the rationales, and I suspect a good many of them or realities as well, like them or not.

    So I’ll boondock when I can, BLM and Walmart when I can, and pay the piper when I must.

    I will say, boondocking on BLM in the Moab area, by the third or fourth night I’m ready to pay the piper, to be able to dump the tanks, re-charge, and take a REAL shower!!!

    Rollin in SC

    1. rottenrollin


      …..a good many rationales are realities………

    2. James Beirlein

      When I was younger, Days Inn was called 8 Days Inn cause the rooms were $8 a night. The times they are a changin’, and always have been. For those of us on fixed incomes with little or no inflation adders, eventually we’ll get priced out of everything. If an RV park seems overpriced to me, I have a simple solution. I don’t stay there.

  34. Robbie

    RVs are expensive houses on wheels that can be self-contained and support life for many days without hookups at $40-$50/day. We consider every day boondocking as a day we save money…..and get to enjoy peace and quiet, one day ($40-$50) at a time.

  35. Finley Willis

    Regretfully, my draft notice during the Vietnam war did not mention that I was making a career choice. Surely a college degree was worth more than $98 monthly and the opportunity for travel to a foreign jungle. Besides, I enjoyed watching my peers build their careers and family while I went wherever the Army ordered.
    Andy is a bit burned out, it appears. Maybe he should consider moving on to one of those military careers that some of us enjoyed so much.

  36. David Brunk

    Clearly a sensitive subject judging from the comments. Supply and demand will Ultimately prevalent and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” is fully inforce on this topic.
    The campground ownerr/investor must police their own kinsman to offer an experience consistently inline with this gentleman’s article.
    The RV buyer who’s sucked in by the bling mentioned in Chucks comments are not apt to understand any of this and lest you troll me a snob please remember when your rig is camped, unusable, for months at a “RV Service Center” you didn’t get a deal.
    It’s said when someone with money ecounters someone with experience, the individual with the experience gets the money and the individual with the money has an experience. If it were that simple it might be OK but unsuspecting uninformed RV purchasers who finance their rig for and extended period are upside down with their head in the sand. That’s a pretty pathetic experience. I guess my point is buyer and seller, if you’re an RV park owner, beware.
    ca·ve·at emp·tor
    [ˌkavēˌät ˈem(p)ˌtôr]
    the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.

  37. Monty

    Let the free market reign.

  38. Mark Poth

    You lost my business at “Play the military card”.

    1. Sandra

      I feel the same way.

      1. E Disbrow

        Mark I have to agree with you. That was a lousy comment and yes, others serve in many ways but our military families give so much, including months and more away from their families. He may feel that those who have served and retired don’t deserve it more than anyone else, but for heaven’s sake, he could be kinder to those serving actively today.

    2. Roger

      Yep, same here. I do always ask about a military discount, but that’s just because so many places offer it. It would be foolish not to. I certainly don’t “play the military card” because I think my service was any more valuable than police and firefighters. The comment shows a real lack of tact for someone in a customer service role.

      1. Patti Lounsbury

        I definitely have to agree. Excuse me…play the military card?! That is about the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. You bet, my husband and I spent 24 years in the Navy just so we could get a 10% discount at some rinky-dink RV park with an owner who has no idea what customer service means. Just another place to add to our “no fly zone.”

      2. Walt

        Agree. Our service is different than first responders. For instance I haven’t seen too many firefighters talk about PCSing every 18 months – 2 years.

        The author does seem to have a problem with military service. That he feels it is just a “career choice” speaks volumes. I don’t see many teachers (my mother was one btw) dying in a foreign jungle or sandbox.

    3. Military spouse of wounded vet

      Same here. I was going to say more, but why waste my finger tapping energy.

    4. Darrel

      Me as well. I wouldn’t stay at his park for $10 a night.

  39. Joel Vinson

    I try my best to research my campgrounds well before we go. We’re roadtripping vacationers and I like having my spots at the end of my drive. We just unhook and venture out from there. Paying more for amenities, services, and location isn’t a big deal to us. It will always beat paying $145+ to sleep in other people’s DNA and competing for “put back” bagles, or spittle cereal at a continental breakfast. It’s also way better than a disease riddled cruise ship, or your junk getting a TSA pat down, only to get bumped, or sitting next to a coughing sweathog; so $40-50 is a very small price to pay…..IMO. Campgrounds are still cheaper than Hell, copartively.

  40. Ed Fox

    Waited a long time to buy a small travel trailer. When I was younger, camping off the back of a motorcycle or a pickup camper worked well. Now, my body does not handle those modes of travel well.

    Spent a month and a half last summer-to Michigan and then back to the west coast. Reservations every night at various RV parks, some really nice, some struggling. One thing I discovered, with my small rig, I am an anomaly. Were the parks worth the $30-$50 each night. Almost always they were preferable to a motel. Some were just hardscrabble dirt, but most tried to accommodate traverlers decently. Based on my brief experience, until we are willing to pay for what we want, we will not see the necessary new parks being constructed to handle the glut of new RV units being sold.

  41. Doug Rutz

    Maybe the writer is missing the point about what a lot of RV travelers want. I don’t look for RV parks to be my destination, I look at RV parks as a place to hang my hat while I am touring my true destination which is outside of the park.

    I would be fine with Walmart having electric hookups in their parking lots and charging $15 to $20 per night stay.

    Reading between the lines tells me that the article writer may need to think about selling to someone with more optimism.

    1. Roger

      I’m surprised Walmart or some other enterprising entrepreneur hasn’t gotten on board with a nationwide system of basic overnight campsites near major thoroughfares just as you described. Limit – one or two nights. No homesteaders. Just a clean site with an electric and/or water hookup – whatever works financially. High volume – low maintenance – low cost. Would do this in a minute vice a truckstop or this campground. Great idea!

      1. John Krussow

        The biggest problem with your suggestion/idea are the local municipalities that don’t want “trailer trash” using their terms, in their community. That’s why many Walmart’s are no longer offer overnight parking. I agree with your concept but it would have to be outside of local control which means 50-100 miles outside major city limits.

      2. Snayte

        Yes. Think of all the vacated maills and bix box retail stores with vast empty parking lots. The problem is getting the power put in for such an enterprise would be a big upfront cost. But this would be a good use of otherwise abandoned land.

  42. Terry Duffy

    I read the article about Walnut Hills. The problem with the industry today is that there are RVers who want to stop enroute and sleep and there are Rvers who want to spend a week or two at a park with all the extras. I don’t think they should both pay the same amount. Parks should offer to allow RVers to park with no hookups for a low price like $10.00.
    Walnut Hills web site needs a lot of work. I could not figure out were it was. This should be on the Home page. Some of it did not work.

  43. brian jewhurst

    After reading the article I came away knowing I will avoid this campground NOT based on price BUT attitude since when does good sam more valuable to our country than police,miltary,fire etc.

    1. Chuck Woodbury

      Geez. . . Brian, you missed his point. He’s not saying that at all.

      1. brian jewhurst

        that was pretty much my take ,sometimes thing are better left un said. would have been more palatable if he said I give good sams discount or better yet if some one asked for a military discount just say sure same as GS discount , but obviously we only apply 1 .

  44. Katherine Canady-Murdoch

    Wish for a spot 30 or under just for electric. No water no dump no leaving garbage.

  45. Mary Shade

    Your article is spot on. Paying $40-50 is my standard for a cg fee. That being said, you get what you pay for, BUT if im going to pay more than $50/night, it better have some amenities not found in the $40-50 range. I agree with you about rver’s with the “free camping” attitude. They’re cheapskates!

    1. Rebecca

      No we are not cheapskates! We only want electric during the summer, we just need a spot for a place to sleep. We do not use the pools or even the restrooms and showers, that’s why we have a Self contained rig. If we will be staying 2 or more nights we still look for back, no frills. That’s ourway choice!

    2. frater secessus

      > I agree with you about rver’s with the “free camping” attitude. They’re cheapskates!

      What about people who bought a smaller RV than you — are they cheapskates? People who buy a Corolla instead of a Lexus? People who walk in the park instead of buying a gym membership?

      What if I have a better solar install than you? Are you the cheapskate because I spent more than you?

      No, you are a person who makes choices appropriate to your needs and desires. Just like the free campers.

      1. Neil Schmidt

        “Cheapskate” has a negative connotation reserved for those who merely wish to exercise their choices under a free-market system. It’s fine with me if people wish to pay MORE for goods and services than I do, but it’s unfair to accuse those of us who wish to pay LESS as being “cheapskates.”

  46. Tommy Molnar

    I think typical “boondockers” don’t fit into the normal RV catagory here. We boondock because (as someone else mentioned) we like to be out in the hinterland well away from campgrounds and other RV’ers who have dogs and kids and other things that we’re done with. Not that we have anything against dogs and kids – we ‘did’ that long ago and now have moved on. We don’t do Walmart and seldom do truck stops. If we want to visit a particular attraction that requires one or more nights we’ll pay the money to be near that attraction. We’re just lucky to be living ‘out west’ where boondocking is readily available in most areas – and that’s what RV’ing is for us.

    1. Tumbleweed

      Exactly! We boondock to experience nature in the raw. If we were young and vigorous, we’d be backpacking with tents.But at a certain point in life, that’s no longer an option, so the next best thing is boondocking in an RV. You’d never expect a backpacker to want to go to a campground, so why should RVers who want similar experiences be considered cheapskates for boondocking?

      RV parks are great for those who want camaraderie, amenities, and a tidier interface with nature. So parks/campgrounds vs. “free-range” camping is merely a matter of what your goals are. RVers come in all varieties, and so should their camping options.

      1. Mush Sheridan

        You both nailed it. I am a ful time RVer and am NOT a cheapskate. When I do go to an RV Park I expect to pay a reasonable amount for the experience and expect a decent experience in return. I almost always forget to ask for a discount (even though I carry all kinds of cards – AAA, AARP, Escapees, GS, etc).

        BUT I prefer to be out in nature away from other campers most of the time. I appreciate the quiet and solitude. To each their own.

      2. Neil Schmidt

        Exacto Mundo!

    2. Robbie

      Tommy, once again, you mirror our thoughts, exactly.

  47. Anderson Rich

    I do agree with the article. You get what you pay for, usaly. I’ve paid up to $90 a night at a resort and I’ve paid less than $20 at a state park. It’s up to the individual what they are willing pay for. If you can’t afford it, sorry, go someplace else. Additionally I’ve stayed at Walmart while in transit. I don’t put out my awning and camp. I put my slide out, (so I can get to my bedroom), get some sleep, and get back on the road. My biggest problem with Campgrounds is seasonal campers. Frequently I’ve seen refrigerators on decks, junk and trailers on blocks. Huge turn off And I likely won’t be back

  48. Linda

    Among our friends, there are two kinds of RVers: Roadtrippers and Staycationers. I appreciate the cost of running a campground with each site having the equivalent of a home’s worth of utilities. But, we have wondered why owners don’t set aside part of their campgrounds for roadtrippers–no amenities, no bathroom, just a parking lot with one night only parking. We sometimes travel 600 miles in a day and will be traveling another 500 miles the next day to visit our grandkids. We only want a place to sleep. Let us use your parking lot and charge accordingly because many travelers want to support private campground owners but just don’t need anything more than we get at a commercial parking lot.

    1. Elaine Schuster

      We are also roadtrippers. Love that expression.. A ten dollar overnight spot in the right place would be golden. I’d pay extra for just a 15 amp electric hook up.

      1. Chitty,chitty, Bang, Bang

        I think that you have a great idea.

        1. Neil Schmidt


    2. Patricia Seaton

      I agree. It would make perfect sense. I believe the organization “Boondockers Welcome” came into being so that travelers would have exactly that, an overnight safe stop but perhaps with some comeraderie thrown in,

    3. ldonabed

      Yes, sometimes all we need is a legal, safe place to sleep for the night. Nothing else needed…no electric, no water…just legal & safe for one night. We’d be happy to pay a small rate.

    4. Karen

      Linda, absolutely. Just need a space to park and sleep when traveling from one place to another. No pool, clubhouse, nor hookups. Just a place to sleep.

  49. Tony Sestrich

    I couldn’t agree more with your editorial.
    I too wish that the nightly cost of a nice RV spot wasn’t pushing 50 bucks, but I also understand what the electricity, water, sewer, insurance, maintenance on my own home costs, and those costs are not decreasing each year.

    Folks should understand that at the end of the day, RV parks are a business, where owners work very long hours and have a limited season to make earn income to carry them through the off months. It is not unreasonable for a business to expect to make a modest profit after paying their bills. They are not a public non-profit organization.

    I’ve also learned about what value I get for the money. I’ve stayed at cheap parks, and got what I paid for. Poorly maintained facilities and often, a certain type of clientele that I’d just as soon not have as my neighbors. I’m willing to pay a few bucks more to weed out the riff raff and have them stay at the “cheap” place down the road.

    Thanks for providing your readers a healthy dose of reality.

  50. Sharon Mathie

    Well written and very true. All campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts have a bottom line. Being new to the RV world, I appreciate the differences in the categories and choose the site that meets our needs. The pricing follows the amenities and location, so we expect to pay more close to a natural wonder that everyone else wants to see, too. But, for whatever I pay, I expect appropriate upkeep. I do not think Andy is blaming boondockers for anything, rather he sites the very real issue that the “paying nothing” mentality effects how we view the expense of camping at established parks. We should be so lucky to find a nice, well maintained camp site at a reasonable price. A price required to keep it that way.

  51. Kevin

    I agree with many who have already stated that as campground prices increase due to supply and demand, there will be a point where it is much cheaper to leave the RV at home and stay in motels. One campground near me has just this year increased their monthly start prices $100 Plus electricity. I’m wondering if we are in for a series of yearly increases? When will it level off? Time will tell.

    1. PeteD

      Have you priced a decent motel/hotel lately. The days of the $49.95 deal is gone unless you want to stay in some grease ball flea bag joint.

      Besides with my RV I don’t have to haul things out to the room and back, I have everything I need at hand, I can get something out of the refrigerator in the middle of the night, I can go out for a walk in a relatively safe environment and most important to me is I have my own bed. No bed bug worries or pubic hairs on the sheets but mine. That in it’s self is worth $50 to me.

      1. Kevin

        Agreed but you missed my point. We aren’t there yet. I’ve seen 20% increases in just this past year. If that continues, we’re looking at $100 a night in five years. At what cost per night would be your stopping point?

  52. Fernweh Ric

    While I agree with many points you made I did a quick numbers crunch. $60 a nite × 365 days is $21,500 & now multiply that by 10 years $219,000 for only one spot. Multiply that by 60 sites and that’s 13,140,000 that’s an outstanding gross for that small pieces of retail space. Sign me up! That’s a god investment

  53. Russ

    I have no problem with paying $40-50 or more for a camp site, provided the RV park provides a full quality service in all regards. If I am in transit and only making a quick stop for sleep then I will try to get the cheapest site available that meets those needs. In 8 years of camping, I have only spent 1 night outside a truck stop and that was because there were no campgrounds available.
    I have spent many nights at Walnut Hills and it is one of our favorite campgrounds but sometimes difficult to get into as it is fully booked. Only stopped there the first time because traffic was backed up on I81 and we ended up spending a week.. Liked it so much we go back often.

  54. robert kelly

    RV parks should increase profitability by adopting dynamic pricing as hotels chains do.

    1. Mush Sheridan

      Agreed. But that may be shall we say “above their pay grade” especially when most can’t even maintain a decent website.

      I am more than happy to let the weekenders have my space if I can get a discount for staying during a lower demand period.

      1. MiataReese

        Interesting that someone wants to judge what someone can or cant do just by a poorly designed web site.
        I have been a software engineer for more than fourty years, yet I can’t design a great web site. I’m not a UI coder jyst as I am not a RV Park owner. Need a device driver written for an embedded application?
        I spend a lot of time helpiing people who did not grow up with a computer in their pocket and I don’t think less of them.

        1. John Krussow

          Most campground owners are not experts in many fields except maybe customer service. With that said they hire plumbers, septic system service people, electricians, laundry machine techs. So why is a website designer pr of the picture? Any one of these trades can be bypassed but the campground and it’s patrons suffer.

  55. Martin

    I just couldn’t resist making a comment concerning camping conditions, specifically at Walnut Hills. We have camped there on three different occasions. The last one will be the last time. I do rate the facility each time we use it, and the last one was so far from a 5, it was shameful. As usual, we had a reservation, and they knew we were a large motorhome. We were “stuck” on a true tiny site sharing water hookups with the camper beside us. it had rained hard a few days before we arrived, and we were in a mud pit. I was told by our neighbors that it was necessary for the camp owners to get the tractor to pull out the unit renting the site the night before we arrived. The neighboring campers said the site had over a couple of inches of water on the lot we got! We only stayed one night, and when we left, we left deep tire marks because our coach kept sinking down in the soft mud. We had asked for a different site, but were told there were none for our size coach. Needless to say, our coach needed special washing after being there, because we had to back out, and the mud slung all under the coach and on both sides. I guess according to Andy, I shouldn’t complain – I got the 10% KOA discount!

    1. Chuck Woodbury

      Knowing Andy was well as I do, I suspect there is another side to your story. — Chuck/editor

  56. SFC Dennis R Strope, USA, RET

    “Playing the military card” ? How denigrating-

    1. Kelly Maguire

      I agree ! We’re both military and surely didn’t enlist for future discounts.

      1. Randy

        You enlisted? Hum…

        1. tumblwede

          I too took offense to the “play the military card’ comment. It’s obvious he doesn’t want veterans.

    2. brian jewhurst

      actually the whole 19 months I served in nam I was thing yeah some day ill get a discount (typed with my best sarcasm keys) if I were the ownwer I would offer military ,police etc. with the good sams discount and my reponse would be good sam or military same price ,thank you for your service sarg.brianj

  57. Smithbrother

    My camper I pull with my car. It is only 14 feet long yet I pay the same rate as a 40 foot RV with many slide outs. In addition comparing : A man who served in the military has a far better chance of death that does a fireman and especially a social worker. what a ludicrous example. Lastly why is it 450 /month but $50 /day. Yes daily rates are a huge ripoff. I plan my trips to include mostly Federal parks. which my taxes pay have already paid for.. The options for me, as well as many others, is not to save the money but to either go cheep or not afford to go at all. :

  58. Clwpierce

    We stopped at Walnut Hills on our way to the Hershey RV Show last year. It is an excellent campground and very convenient, with nice people. Well worth whatever they choose to charge!

  59. Tom M

    Its a free market, don’t like the fees don’t stay there. As for us we prefer state parks, with trails and nature, that’s why we camp and are willing to pay our share, and around here parks are paid for by hunting and fishing license fees not tax dollars. Overnight on the road we will camp Walmart, combined we gave them 40 years of our lives. Frankly, a lot of private campgrounds that emulate Chucky Cheese’s would have to pay us.

  60. mike

    $40-$50 a night would be a deal in Pa. Most sites around here are getting close to $70 a night. And I can see that if the place is a resort and everything is well kept. The problem I have with paying that is when the campground is unkept. Grass a foot high, water pressure low, low voltage, and the buildings behind the store are literally taped off with caution tape because they are falling over. Then they want $10 a day for wifi. This is what it’s like at a cg near me and they are $67 a night.
    If it’s well kept and loaded with amenities, sure, I can see the higher cost.

  61. James

    Right now I am reading this from the bed of a motel. I have a perfectly fine motorhome sitting in my driveway 100 miles away. I will be working in this area for a week and a half, I really don’t need a pool and I’m not on vacation. This almost new Extended Stay location has everything I need including a kitchen with a full size refrigerator, Wi-Fi, full cable and cost less than any of the campgrounds in the area.

  62. Eric Ramey

    I appreciate a RV Park that offers a fair price, clean facilities and friendly workers. Also, after driving for a few hundred miles, I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to haggle for the cost of my site.

    Thanks to all of the campground owner/operators out there…Keep building and expanding 🙂

  63. OnWeGo

    Nothing has any intrinsic worth. Not your house, your motorhome, your labor, or grandma’s flower vase from 1897, must less a campsite. All those items are worth what buyer is willing to pay and a seller is willing to accept. No more. No less.

    Tens of millions of people have died, and millions more live in misery every day, because of people’s unwillingness to accept this basic principle of liberty.

    “Gouging” can be translated as, “This resource is scarce and in high demand, so it commands more in a free market. However, fairness, whatever that means, must trump that, even at the cost of the freedom of all concerned.”

    And then we wonder….

    1. PeteD

      What you say has great depth. I wonder how many grasp it?

    2. MikefromAlaska

      Sorry OnWeGo, respectfully, but nothing trumps my freedom. Nothing.

      1. frater secessus

        You misunderstand his point. Those who call a market price “gouging” are the ones willing to curtail freedom by preventing consenting adults from completing a private transaction.

    3. George

      “Gouging”. An interesting word. If the oil companies and governments weren’t ‘gouging’ us on the cost of gas and diesel there would lots of $ left to pay the $50 nightly cg fees.

  64. B McDonald

    Good article and a business man side of owning a park. We are boondockers because we love the quiet, nature, no neighbors with RV lit up like Xmas. Plus what we do save boondocking we do not mind at all spending at nice RV Park if necessary.

  65. Darrel

    ” I’ve not infrequently slept in the back of our minivan at rest stops and in parking lots” but don’t you DARE skip my RV park to sleep somewhere else for free or a discount.


    1. John

      It seems, Darrel, that you entirely missed the point. He seems to be happy for you if you stay at the parking lot, if that’s what you want to do. Just don’t expect to pay the same price to stay at his RV park with all it’s amenities.

  66. LarryD

    Boondocking is a life style, so is being a cheap skate.
    In our experience for every decent family owned RV park that manages their business in a cost effective way, providing a decent service at a cost they can make a living at, there 5+ more RV parks that are gouging travelers for the last who knows how many years with parks that are very much in need of updated services.
    What goes around sooner or later comes around. I find it hard to believe that owning and operating an RV park when run efficiently can not provide a Family with a good steady income. We certainly know it’s going to be a while before there is a shortage of customers. Safe Travels.

  67. TimL

    My idea of RV travel is to just pick up an go, staying as long as I want in a location and then move on. Boondocking grants me that freedom. RV parks on the other hand, typically require reservations which assumes a set planned schedule. Being subject and slave to a schedule is not what appeals to me.

    1. James

      I agree with you Tim, but I have found that unfortunately in the eastern part of the United States it is becoming more and more difficult to be able to do that. It seems that more and more RV Park owners feel that if you can afford an RV you can afford to stay at a resort.

      1. Mush Sheridan

        I CAN afford to stay at an RV Park, but truly despise having to be a slave to a schedule for others’ convenience. I chose my freedom over having to make advance plans and checking out/in at their appointed times

  68. Retired firefighter Tom

    Staying in a motel – as we’ve had to do when a family member’s death happens in winter in northern Wisconsin – is nothing like getting into your own RV bed. Take off your shoes in a motel room and walk with white socks to the bathroom and see what color the bottom of the socks is when you take them off. Why go millions of dollars into debt and build a campground? Because 99.9% of campers are great people and you enjoy meeting them. There’s always someone that you can never please – regardless of what you do for them.

  69. Curtis Dowds

    Probably all true as far as it goes. But explain to me why anyone with common sense would spend typically well north of $100K for a mini-home on wheels and then pay the equivalent of a Hotel 6 overnight for a park, when with a bit of skill in batteries, chargers and inverters, not to mention intelligent management of your tanks you can live on the road for months at a time. I hope your business thrives but you’re blaming “boondockers” for managing their costs. I’m missing the logic. Sure, every now and again a night in an RV Park makes sense on a trip. But no way I’m paying for a hotel on a regular basis when I’ve got a perfectly functional off-the-grid RV.

    1. Robbie

      Right ON Curtis!

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