Locating Campgrounds and RV-Parks
How do you locate campgrounds?
There is NO comprehensive source of campground information and locations. Travelers have to rely on multiple resources. Once you become familiar with what is available you will start relying on some sources more than others. Three of the more comprehensive ones are the printed versions of: Trailer Life, Woodalls & Wheelers. Trailer Life & Woodalls both tend to have a good cross section of commercial campgrounds---especially those that spring for additional advertising in the publication. If commercial campgrounds are what you are looking for then these two publications will probably become your preferred source of information.
We've used Trailer Life campground directories as long as we have been RVing. There are other ones namely Woodalls, Wheelers & PPA but that's the one Joyce is familiar with. I'd get a copy of that for the area you plan to travel in. The web based directories are pretty limited in what they cover and aren't really accessible at 3:30 in the afternoon when you'd like to stop driving within the next hour or so. Remember, you are not going to be tethered to the WWW as you motor down the road, you are not at home anymore.
Wheelers will list municipal campgrounds and smaller campgrounds that traditionally do not have advertising budgets like County Campgrounds, City Campgrounds and other campgrounds not advertising or listed in Trailer Life & Woodalls. For those looking for campgrounds costing roughly 1/2 what the commercial campgrounds cost Wheelers will become a preferred source.
PPA Passport America publishes a directory that we check with to see if we can find a park where the rate will be 50% of normal cost. In order to get this directory you must be a PPA member. If you are interested in becoming a PPA member or just want to learn more about PPA I try my best to explain it here: Passport America Information
The COE (Corps Of Engineers) publishes a listing of their campgrounds or you can purchase a book of COE campgrounds. The bad thing is none of these publications contain up-to-date information. In many areas of the country you will need COE information because COE campgrounds are the only ones available.
And I wouldn't try to plan too far ahead now - have a general idea
of where you are going to go and what you will do when you get there
but keep it really flexible. RVs have wheels under them which means
they were meant to move, sometimes on the spur of the moment. Keep
in mind that you may have planned to drive 200-miles but when you
approach the planned stopping place it is early in the day and the
sky is overcast so you decide to keep on driving. When that decision
is made you need to be flexible enough to locate another campground
further down the road. There are myriad reasons to keep on driving,
conversely you may see an area that you would like to spend more
time exploring. That is when it is time to pull out those resources
and locate a campground in the vicinity.
In addition to the above we stop at tourist info centers and get area/state campground information. Some states publish a listing of their Municipal Campgrounds, some only their State Parks. Campground owners associations in Florida and a few other states publish a listing of the association campgrounds in the state these tend to be the better and more expensive parks. Most states publish a "State Tourism Guide" that has campground information. You will find campgrounds listed in tourism guides and packets that for some reason are not listed in other publications.
We also use Delorme's Street Atlas Mapping Program. In Street Atlas multiple huge data bases are just a click away. If we do not readily find a suitable campground in other publications we refer to the data base in these programs. While Delorme's Map & Go program has been discontinued it contained the AAA database for campgrounds and other places of interest like museums. It is another good source of information even if the database is dated.
In the beginning days of our RV'ing experience we used to be timid
about going into an area with NO campground listings in the major
publications. After a while we realized there were generally plenty
of campgrounds in the areas they just were not covered in those
major publications. This was especially true in some areas out west
where there were no large cities and no campground listings for
any of the small towns. We learned to go anyway! Only a small portion
of campgrounds are listed in publications like Trailer Life and
Woodalls especially in those small communities out west. If I could
offer advise I would say worry less about finding an RV-Park and
making reservations. We have found that reservations are just not
necessary unless it is for a summertime holiday weekend or you are
visiting a big resort area-----in those situations you need reservations.
It also may be advisable to make reservations if you are planning
on wintering in South Florida as things get pretty crowded down
there during January, February and March.
Wheelers has a web site: http://www.wheelersguides.com/ that has a search button (look for the search button at the bottom of their home page). Prior to visiting areas I like to get online and search for campgrounds along our intended route. I like to do a search for 25-miles around places we intend to visit. Once a good looking campground is found I insert a "map-note" next to the location in our SA-2007 mapping program. When we get in the area that note is on the map complete with phone number and the location. It is difficult to tell where places are located when dealing with the paper publications like Trailer Life & Woodalls. This takes time, but I locate suitable campgrounds that we otherwise would not know about. I would rather be doing this than watching the talking heads on TV so it is a simple matter for me.
Another online web site is: http://www.roadcamping.com/
More and more we seem to be relying on information obtained in mapping programs like Street Atlas or Streets and Trips. We even locate campgrounds in our old Map and Go program that is over 6 years old.
One thing I do when planning a trip is to do some internet research. County and municipal campgrounds are generally MUCH cheaper than commercial campgrounds. However, County and municipal campgrounds rarely advertise so you will not find many of them in the traditional campground directories. To locate these "sweet spots" requires a little work, preferably in your leisure time. Google is your friend in this endeavor. Google for Campground & the City or County name. Many times this will help you locate a municipal campground at a local park, or fair ground. I make a habit of Googling for these "cheaper" campgrounds before we start out on one of our long trips. Of course I can and do "Google" when on the road also.
Now that I have shared many of the possible ways to locate a campground I will try to rank the ways we actually use these resources.
1. We are experienced RV'ers and have stayed in many places thus we already know where we want to stay ---- because we have stayed there before.
2. I like to keep my expenses down so we look for PPA Campgrounds, COE Campgrounds, State & National Parks and Municipal Campgrounds.
3. If none of those are campgrounds are available or convenient we fall back on Wheelers, Trailer Life or Woodalls and settle into a full-price commercial campground.
4. When looking for a campground in a particular area Joyce generally looks in the printed directories like Trailer Life, Woodalls and Wheelers as well as the printed material we may have collected from state and local tourist information centers. While she is doing that I generally search for campgrounds on the computer using my Street Atlas Mapping program (Delorme's Street Atlas). In addition I have access to huge database files of campgrounds that work with our Street Atlas Mapping Program. In short I can see two to three times as many campgrounds as Joyce can.
Keep in mind that campground preferences are very personal issues. Some, even many, RV'ers would cringe at the thought of staying in a commercial campground with EWS (Electric, Water & Sewage) connections. Others prefer to have utilities. Still others DEMAND full-hook-up utilities every night and would not dream of staying in a campground that did not have a concrete pad and have cable TV. We are all different. It is hard for one RV'er to recommend a campground to another RV'er for that very reason.
We avoid KOA as many other seasoned RV'ers do. KOA's have their place, it is just not our place. They tend to have amenities that we do not wish to pay for. However, they have a Campground Catalogue of all the KOA Campgrounds.
It would be so nice to have ALL campgrounds listed in one publication ------------- but there isn't a publication like that. The best you can do is be prepared to search a variety of sources.