Would you believe me if I told you that I have found the ultimate hack to avoiding crowded campgrounds? What if I told you that this hack is 90% fool-proof?
You would probably tell me I’m full of it.
And I wouldn’t blame you. I would have the same reaction. But it’s true.
I don’t mean to sound like one of those infomercials you come across while you’re channel surfing at 2 a.m. But Kellie and I have been dealing with busy campgrounds for more than 20 years. And through some trial and error, we have found strategies for getting around the crowds at our favorite camping destinations.
Camping is supposed to be a getaway, an escape from the busy city streets, the job, and the everyday hustle and bustle of life. It’s kind of hard to get that much needed break when most campgrounds are so busy.
In this article, I am going to break down the top 8 strategies we use to avoid those crowded campgrounds that feel like everyone is in each other’s pocket, if you know what I mean.
Let’s jump in…
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- Why Are Campgrounds So Crowded?
- How To Avoid Crowded Campgrounds
- Final Thoughts
Why Are Campgrounds So Crowded?
The first step to avoiding crowds at the campground is to figure out why they’re so full in the first place. For some people, being packed into an RV park like sardines is fine, although I would bet that number is low. For others, we tend to put more value towards personal space and privacy.
We stayed at a campground last year where our neighbor was close enough to share our awning with us. Yes, it really was that close.
The campground allowed tents to be pitched in the RV sites, which has never been an issue for us. On this particular trip, some fellow campers came in overnight, and we woke up to a tent that was set-up not 10 feet from our door.
It all worked out fine that time, but there is still a bit of privacy you tend to lose in a crowded campground.
Allowing tents to occupy RV sites doesn’t explain the overcrowding issue you finds at many RV parks across the country. So, what other reasons are there?
Most people head to the campgrounds when the weather is nice. Think about it, there are hundreds of other people just like you looking to kick back, enjoy the weather, and spend time with their families.
We have found that June, July and August tend to be the busiest months for camping. With schools being out for the summer break, parents have a chance to take time off of work for family vacations.
Trying to find an RV campsite around a holiday can be next to impossible unless you book your site 6 months or more in advance. Plus, if you do happen to get lucky and score a site, it’s going to be somewhere between the public toilets and the dumpsters.
Holiday weekends bring more people to the campgrounds because people may have an extra day off work, depending on which day the holiday lands.
The most popular holidays for folks filling up the campgrounds are Labor Day, The 4th Of July, and Memorial Day. RV parks and campgrounds also tend to be crowded on other holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s weekend.
Increase In RV Ownership
Another reason for the campgrounds being so crowded is the rise in RV ownership over the past few years. People have found out just how fun and rewarding it is to own, and travel in an RV.
And when you factor in the number of campsites that are available, there just aren’t enough to go around. New RV resorts and campgrounds can’t be built and opened up fast enough to meet these demands. So, you get overcrowding.
Popular RV Destinations
In addition to the rise in RV ownership, popular RV destinations are hot spots for congestion. These are places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier National park, just to name a few.
There are other destinations that become more crowded due to things like annual festivals, concerts, or special gatherings. For instance, in Round Top, Texas, there is a huge semi-annual antique show that attracts people from all over the state.
The folks coming in town for this event will reserve their RV sites up to a year in advance. So, as you can guess, the local campgrounds and RV parks are extremely crowded for those weekends.
If your travels include popular destinations or where there are special events happening, expect the RV parks to be at, or near, maximum capacity.
Double Booking Sites
Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to find an RV site, then when you show up to the campground there are so many unoccupied sites?
There seems to be a growing trend among some very inconsiderate campers that will make reservations at multiple campgrounds for the same weekend.
The only explanation I can give is because they want to keep their options open. In other words, these folks aren’t sure which RV park they would rather stay at. They haven’t nailed down their plans and will decide at the last minute.
In turn, when they don’t show up to one of their reserved sites, they simply lose a deposit. In some cases, it is cheaper to simply not show up than it is to pay the cancellation fee.
Whatever the case may be, someone else misses an opportunity to fill that site and spend the weekend with their family.
I’m not suggesting that all of the empty sites are because of this. When you have to make reservations so far out, some people will simply forget they had reservations. Life happens, right?
How To Avoid Crowded Campgrounds
Now that we know some of the factors that lead to overcrowding at the campgrounds, what are some tips you can use to avoid them?
Below I have listed the best ways to avoid the crowds with the last tip being our go-to-strategy that works 90% of the time.
1. Plan In Advance
One way to avoid a crowded campground is to plan in well advance. In fact, the sooner you can make your reservations, the better.
If you’re wanting a weekend of peace, quiet, and serenity, try booking a site that is away from playgrounds, swimming pools, campground bath houses, or other busy places in the park.
By planning in advance, you will have more RV sites to choose from than if you were making reservations a week before your trip.
Read the park reviews to see what fellow campers are saying about the campgrounds. They can provide valuable insight on areas that are quiet, and which areas to avoid.
2. Study The Campground Map
When making your reservations, check out the campground map online. To get a better view of the landscape, try looking up the park on Google Earth or in satellite mode on Google Maps.
This will give you a better perspective of the campground so you can choose a site that is away from the crowded, congested areas.
If you live close to the park, take a day trip to scope out the sites and choose the ones that will keep you away from the busiest parts of the campground.
3. State Parks And National Forests
State parks and national forests tend to be less crowded than private RV parks and the sites are generally spread out more to give you that extra “elbow room” you’re looking for. So, if you want to enjoy your morning coffee or eat dinner at the site picnic table, you can have the privacy you need.
Even if these parks are at maximum capacity, you can enjoy activities like hiking or biking that are away from other people.
In addition, state parks and national forests are typically cheaper than private campgrounds.
4. Avoid Tourist Hotspots
You can find much less crowded campgrounds when you avoid places that attract a lot of tourists. For instance, if you book a site near Disneyland or the Grand Canyon, you might find more hubbub than you wanted.
Smaller, less popular RV parks offer the much of the same scenic views and other activities, but without the hassle.
5. Consider Boondocking
Boondocking is another great way to unwind, relax, and escape the crowded campgrounds.
You will find fewer people at these locations because there are no hookups like water, sewer, or electrical. So, if you choose this route, you will need to be completely self-sufficient. And always remember to pack out everything that you packed in.
The best part about boondocking on public lands, like BLM, is it typically free. Some areas may charge a minimal fee, but it is well worth it if you’re looking to avoid the crowds of a traditional RV park.
To find free boondocking sites, the Bureau Of Land Management website is a great resource.
6. Beach, Please!!
If you’re really feeling adventurous and looking for a great getaway, consider boondocking on the beach. There are several public beaches that will allow RV and tent campers to camp for free.
Some of the more popular beaches will be jam-packed on the weekends or during the holidays, however, there are several lesser-known beaches where you won’t find many people.
Here on the Texas Gulf Coast, places like Galveston or Surfside Beach will be very busy. But just down the shoreline you can find places like Quintana Beach or Sargent Beach where people are few and far between.
7. Weekday Getaways
Since most people tend to hit the campgrounds on the weekends, consider doing a little bit of weekday camping. Make your plans to show up in the middle of the week when the crowds are still hustling at their 9-5 jobs.
The campgrounds will be virtually empty, and in turn, you just might get a cheaper rate.
8. Week After Labor Day
Our number one best way to avoid the crowds at the campground is to book our site for the week after Labor Day.
For most people, Labor Day signals the end of summer fun. Schools are back in session, college is back in session, and people are back to work after taking all of their vacation days throughout the summer.
We try to make our reservations for Monday, then watch as everyone else is packing up to head back to their everyday grind. By Tuesday morning, the campground is virtually empty.
Now, when I said the week after Labor Day hack works 90% of the time, there are those few occasions when there will be other campers in the park, but we have yet to encounter any crowds during this week.
In the video below, we stayed a week at Barefoot Campground in Bend, Texas. It’s a privately owned campground and it is well off-the-beaten-path, a hidden gem if you will. You will notice that we had the campground all to ourselves for most of the week following Labor Day.
On another trip, we rented a cabin at a campground in Bastrop, Texas. Of course, we booked it for the week after Labor Day. Again, we had the entire campground to ourselves for the entire week.
We even made a deal with the camp hosts that since it was just us in the entire park, we would both use the same bathroom and shower stall. The hosts loved the idea, and it kept them from needing to clean two separate bathrooms.
Crowded campgrounds are becoming somewhat of a normal thing these days. With RV ownership continuing to rise, finding a quiet campground may seem like a thing of the past. However, by following the tips listed above, you can have the serenity and peace of mind that you deserve.
Try mixing things up a bit. Instead of planning your camping trips on the weekends, consider going in the middle of the week, if possible. Also, check out places that are off-the-beaten-path to avoid the crowds.
David is a U.S. Air Force veteran who currently lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with his wonderful wife of 26 years and their two furry companions, Gus and LuLu.
As an outdoor and RV enthusiast, David loves to spend his free time taking road trips and spending as much time as possible at the campground with the family in their 2018 Dutchmen Kodiak 201QB travel trailer