Membership Campgrounds & Campground Memberships
I am going to try and provide you with some information and possibly a few comments but mostly information concerning campground memberships. Since I do not belong to any "Membership Campgrounds" I am probably NOT the best source of information. With that said individuals who do belong to various "Membership Campgrounds" have graciously provided me with some of their cost data. So this will for the most part be a presentation of data/information so that you can make a more "informed" decision concerning the "cost-benefit" of joining one of the "Membership Campground Organizations".
Camper A is a full-timer who joined CRA (Campground Resorts America) in November of 2004. Camper "A's" costs and benefits to date are as follows:
Camper "A" has spent 251 nights in his CRA (Campground Resorts America) Membership Campground in the nearly 4-years he has been a member (Nov 2004 through mid-July 2008). For the most part Camper "A" has camped "free" when staying in his CRA campgrounds. However, one night he did have to pay $18.40 for something and then 7 nights he spent $14 a night. I do not know the reasons for camping with CRA mostly being "free" but occasionally having some out of pocket expenses. The fact of the matter is this camper was able to stay "Free" for 243 nights (other than his fixed membership fee and yearly dues.)
If this camper would have just stayed in those "free" CRA campgrounds his cost per-night would have been: ($6,000 +$350,$350+$350) divided by the 243 nights that he stayed in the CRA campgrounds or $29.20 per-night.
If we calculate the actual cost per-night this camper expended while staying in CRA campgrounds we have to add the cost of those 7 nights at $14 a night and the one night at $18.40 plus increase the number of days camped to 251. Thus ($7,211 divided by 251) equals $ 28.73 per-night.
Realize that with this membership the cost-per-night is going to continue to decrease since he can actually stay for free while his annual dues remain at $365. It is pretty obvious that this camper could and probably will get more and more value out this membership in coming years.
This is Camper "A's" Passport America experience:
Camper "A" has paid a total of $135 for dues to Passport America PPA while staying in PPA parks for only 31 nights. Camper "A" has paid a total of $412.76 to the campgrounds for spending those 31-nights for an average of $13.70 a night.
In order to calculate what PPA campgrounds actually cost Camper "A" we have to include the $135 dues he has paid in addition to the $412 he has paid out to campground owners. That would be $559.76 divided by 31 nights or an average of 18.06 per-night. Not bad and it could only get better by spending more nights in PPA campgrounds. Note that Camper "A" did not have to pay "Dues" in 2008. That should make Camper "A's" nightly cost become cheaper yet.
The following is my experience with Passport America PPA:
Camper "A" and I keep different records. It is easier to analyze and present my cost on an annual basis so that is what I am going to do.
So far in 2008 I have stayed in NO PPA campgrounds, but thankfully we did not have to pay dues this year.
In 2007 I stayed in PPA campgrounds a total of 24 nights and spent $333.44 on campsites plus my $45 PPA Dues. Adding the $333 & $45 I get $378 as my total cost divided by 24 nights gives me a per-night cost of $15.57.
In 2006 I stayed in PPA campgrounds a total of 3 nights and spent $41 on campsites plus my $45 PPA Dues. Adding the $41 & $45 I get $86 as my total cost divided by 3 nights giving me a per-night cost of $28.66. One thing for sure we did NOT stay in enough PPA campgrounds in 2006 to make it a profitable investment. VBG
In 2005 I stayed in PPA campgrounds a total of 11 nights and spent $161.20 on campsites plus my $45 PPA Dues. Adding the $161.20 & $45 I get $206.20 as my total cost divided by 11 nights giving me a per-night cost of $18.75. I am not staying in PPA as much as I would like but at $18.75 PPA is still a value.
In 2004 I stayed in PPA campgrounds a total of 8 nights and spent $148.80 on campsites plus my $45 PPA Dues. Adding the $148.80 & $45 I get $193.80 as my total cost divided by 8 nights giving me a per-night cost of $24.22. When I look at that $24.22 I think --- that isn't too hot but then I see where we were staying in a PPA campground in south Florida during January and the cheapest camp sites anywhere were $40 and up. We stayed there with our PPA for 6-nights paying only $20 a night. Remembering that makes that $24.22 a night look much better. VBG
In this bit of information Camper "A" has provided us with some cost information concerning RPI (Resort Parks Inc.)
Over the almost 4-years Camper "A" has been an RPI member he has stayed in RPI campgrounds a total of 106 nights spending $980.41 for an average of $9.25 a night not including his dues. When you add the $450 in dues to the $980 you get $1,430 and divide that by the 106 nights you get $13.49 as his cost per-night.
Now folks averaging $13.49 for a full-hookup campsite is a good deal in anyone's book. I think the key to this particular membership campground being such a good deal is the fact that there was NO initial "membership" fee. If he had paid several thousand dollars for a membership fee then the savings would have been significantly different.
This Camper had the RPI membership thrown in for free when he purchased his CRA membership. I guess it could be said that some of the CRA membership cost should be allocated to RPI as "membership" costs. You can do the math for yourself. I chose to just consider the membership cost as a CRA membership cost.
Camper "A" just happens to be over 62 years old and qualifies for a "Golden Age"/"Senior Pass" card. For those of you that are not familiar with a "Golden Age"/"Senior Pass" card once you turn 62-years old you qualify for a Golden Age/Senior Pass card issued by the National Park system. In a nutshell once you pay $10 for the card you have FREE entry for life to all National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands. In addition, it "entitles" the holder to 1/2 price camping fees in National Parks & Federal Recreational lands which includes COE (Corps of Engineers Campgrounds).
Over the past almost 4-years Camper "A" has taken advantage of his "Golden Age"/"Senior Pass" card a total of 93 times spending a $804 for a cost per-night of $8.65.
To give you an idea of the types of campgrounds available under the "Golden Age"/"Senior Pass" program here are the ones Camper "A" has utilized in the past 4-years, note that they are a combination of COE (Corps of Engineers) Campgrounds and National Parks. Also note that they vary in costs and the hookups available.
Camper "A" has also taken advantage of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) camping sites when it was advantageous to do so. BLM sites are available throughout the western United States on Federal Lands. Sometimes they are free, other times there is a small fee. Sometimes the fee is by the week or the month. That is why you may notice that Camper "A's" cost for staying in the same BLM camping area is different. If the BLM permit is $25 a month and he only stays 5-nights then the nightly cost for him will average $5 a night. Thus, the average nightly cost will vary by the number of days that the BLM camper utilizes the "fixed-cost" permit. You will notice that Camper "A's" BLM stays have been confined to Arizona, but BLM campgrounds can be found throughout the western states. They are extensively utilized during the winter months when snowbirds flock to the area.
In the almost 4-years Camper "A" has been keeping records he has stayed in BLM campsites a total of 39 nights spending $115.10 or an average of $2.95 per-night.
That is obviously a "cheap" way to camp but remember that you are dry camping and will need to dump as well a obtain water. Dumping & water will cost you something. Some people just go to a commercial campground and spend a night. Others employee other tricks of the trade. Recharging batteries will also require either large solar panels or a generator requiring (gasoline or diesel). Another down side is that many BLM sites are not conducive to camping in during many times of the year. For example Yuma, Arizona is NOT a place you would want to be "dry-camping" during the summer. Amen! However, under the right circumstances BLM dry camping can be a cheap way to spend the night.
Now let's look at an Elks Lodge membership:
Being a member of an Elks Lodge can also be beneficial. Camper "A" just happens to be an Elk. During the past nearly 4-years he has overnighted in Elks Lodge parking lots a total of 72 times. The amount each Elks Lodge charges for overnight guests varies but is generally between $10 and $20. Camper "A" spent a total of $856 over the course of his 72 nights in an Elks Lodge parking lot for an average cost of $11.89. If you are an Elk anyway, you may not want to include you annual Elks dues as part of your camping expenses. If you are interested Camper "A's" dues for the 4-years amounted to $285.25 or a little over $70 per-year. If you add the Elks membership dues to the $856 for nightly camping fees the total cost would be $1,141 divided by the 72 nights, or $15.85 per-night Camper "A" stayed at Elks Lodges.
Either way you figure it Elks Lodges provide a fairly cheap place to camp.
Another way to save cost on campgrounds is to stay with friends, vendors, WalMart, Casinos, "Free BLM sites" and other places such as this. Camper "A" has stayed with friends and these other "free" sites a total of 116 in the almost 4-years of his record keeping.
The more of this "FREE" camping you can work in the more you can save on your campground costs. I would say Camper "A" is a rather "normal" fulltimer. Do the math and you find that 116 days is less than 30-days per-year. I would guess that a fulltimer would normally spend 10 to 15 days in vendor supplied places. That is just the way it is when you live in a motorhome -- things happen, the oil needs to be changed, etc.,.
Camper "A" is not always able to stay in a free or membership campground however, he is very good at finding and staying with those places. During the past nearly 4-years he has only spent 70-nights in regular commercial campgrounds or state parks where he did not have some sort of membership discount. Those 70 nights cost him an average of $27.54 per-night. Again, I think $27.54 is pretty normal. Some of those nights were in the Florida Keys during the winter "high-season" and that cost him dearly (4-nights @ $65 and 3-nights @ $95). Of course in order to compensate for those very expensive campgrounds he stayed for longer periods in much cheaper campgrounds where he received weekly rates.
The thing you need to take from this information is the average cost of $27.54 over a 4-year period for staying in commercial campgrounds and state parks is what I would say is fairly typical.
This is a link to my personal campground cost data with no analysis just raw cost information: My personal Campground cost information.