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Woodbury: RV road trip is near death

Woodbury: RV road trip is near death

Editor’s note: A coding error had this story appearing on the website only and not in Monday’s newsletter. RV Daily Report is running it in the newsletter today.

EDMOND, Wash. — “I have learned more about RVing in the last six months of full-timing than in the last 10 years of RVing part-time in a smaller RV. I’ve written recently about the need for more campgrounds to accommodate all the new RVers. But I now believe I was looking at this wrong: It’s not a lack of campgrounds, it’s just way too many RVers,” wrote RV Travel Editor Chuck Woodbury.

“Yahoo Finance ran a story last week, saying the demand for RVs is “insatiable.” Why? Baby Boomers are retiring en masse and buying RVs en masse,” he wrote. “The fact is, the word is out that traveling or even living in an RV in one’s retirement has many advantages over buying a second home, and is typically more affordable.

“Visit Arizona or Florida in the winter to see the evidence. If you’re a young RVing family, good luck finding a place to stay: Most parks in these areas require guests be at least 55 years old.

“February’s survey of manufacturers conducted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) found wholesale shipments continuing the strong start to 2017 with a monthly total of 39,428 units. That represents a 9.7 percent rise compared to 35,929 units in February 2016, and an 8.6 percent gain over last month’s very strong total of 33,859. These RVers will now compete for the same campsites as you and me.

“The RVIA is relentless in its promotion of RVing. It’s doing a great job. RVs are flying off the lots. RV makers and dealers are peeing their collective pants, they’re so happy. The image that the RVIA is promoting is misleading. Look at the image above. These are used in advertising by the RVIA to create demand for RVing. How often can you camp in such places? An RV park is much more likely to be like what you see in the photos below — row upon row of RVs with little space between rigs.

Northern California RV park with many full-timers and seasonal residents.

“A spontaneous RV roadtrip is all but dead. The idea of going where you want, when you want is nearly impossible unless you are far from popular tourist destinations or hole up often in rest areas, truck stops or Wal-Mart parking lots,” said Woodbury. “Forget showing up at a popular National Park expecting to find a campsite. Heck, you probably won’t find a campground within 20 miles in the prime tourist season.”

Scenes like this one at a Tombstone, Arizona, RV park are not that unusual, with sites a few feet apart.

“RVs are still wonderful for mobile living. Gail and I love our RV and the ability to ‘travel with our home.’ But we have abandoned the idea that we can leave one campsite and easily find another decent one that evening without making a reservation, typically weeks or even months ahead in popular areas. We don’t like staying in parking lots,” he explained.

Woodbury’s full editorial can be found at

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report and can be reached at


  1. I have experienced the same problems in the past three years! Last year we traveled around the USA for six months, and only very occasionally was I able to find a place to camp for the night. Most of the time I ended up reserving at least a week in advance. I expected that in ‘touristy’ areas, but not in general, but I was mistaken.

    However, I don’t believe it’s too many RVs, but rather too few camping areas. It would be great if some of the “RV Parks” would set aside an area to just park for the night, and charge a reduced rate for that night. Many times we just wanted off the road for the evening, and weren’t interested in the many amenities that the high dollar places offered.

    Just a thought.

    • I’ve said that for years Ken. Just have some sites for overnighters, who usually don’t even unhook and just need electricity and water for a few hours and charge maybe $20. I hate paying $35 to $40 just to sleep for a few hours. And we never use their amenities except maybe the wi-fi.

      • Loren A Hollister

        Just spent one night at a “Resort” north of Denver. After made reservation and credit card info, before ending call, was informed would have to unhook. 36′ MH and CRV. Sit’s long enough but tight turns but of course long 5ers didn’t unhook and made it fine. No TV, very close sites. Cost $51+ per night. Never again. Oh yes, very high Good Sam rating. Ridiculous.

  2. Mark (

    While we too have experienced this issue it also matters how you are finding parks. I will not self promote but there are tools out there that allow one to find other options. We just experienced this in the last couple weeks while travelling to the Pismo Coast area. With Spring Break in full swing all the main parks were “full”. We used said tool and found a nice city park nearby that was way cheaper and allowed us to save on the nightly rate too.

    The over-arching problem is mismanagement of inventory by park operators. With the above noted destinations I swung by a few yesterday. They said they were “full” but in fact were not. They just don’t have the systems in place to properly manage availability. It is easier for the office staff to say “we are full” rather than move a reservation around to free up that space for our desired length of stay (and no these parks don’t allow you to reserve a particular site).

  3. WRONG! You just are not using the correct resources. We use the Allstays APP. Just finished 7 weeks in Arizona, Southern Cal, and Texas, with no reservations made before hand. Only had one night that we stayed in a less than normal campground.
    We prefer to travel on a whim and not be locked into a schedule. We travel about a month and a half every winter and have not run into the lack of campgrounds. That being said we live in the NorthEast and in the summer it gets quite full but there are campground options that still open. Not saying that you get exactly the campground you want in high season but people that state that you have to plan every trip are just not checking all the campgrounds available in a given area.
    p.s. We don’t like staying in Walmarts

  4. Interesting notes by ‘Ken’ in that he wants parks to offer sites at a lower price so he may afford his vacation, while the RV park owners (myself included) want to sell sites at a high rate so they may enjoy their vacations…..

    I agree with ‘Mark’ that there is a shortage of campsites, but for the wrong reasons. Many park operators are extremely hard working individuals. Campsite shortages in our area are due to costs and return on investment. Our County will not grant a building permit to build or improve our campsites, as we no longer have the correct zoning for campsites. (I think the County would prefer more shopping centers in our area as they would collect more real estate taxes. Campsites are not the ‘best use.’) Any idea what it costs to build and maintain a campsite? The water connection fee for my park would be $ 120,000 if I were to build today, and that does not include any permit fees or construction costs. Better use would be a hotel, which is four stories tall. Clearly there is not a rush to construct more campsites, but to close existing sites for other uses. Once gone, campsites will not return.

  5. I rely on to help me find possible camping sites in advance!

  6. Woodbury: you’ve gone negative about everything RV since going full-time. RV parks, manufacturers, suppliers, governmental groups, etc. are your targets. I’ve subscribed to and actually taken the time to read your newsletter for sometime now and am beginning to wonder if your negative slant is to discourage new RV’ers from buying RV’s, thus making campsites more readily available. You’ve gone from objective reporting to a self-appointed watchdog. Study the reporting style of the editor of this weekly newsletter, Greg Gerber and truly be objective and less negative. You’re starting to read like CNN or Fox News reports the news: less reporting of the actual news with more giving of your opinion! Why? You are of course entitled to report whatever you wish, with whatever slant you choose, just as I am entitled to choose what I read (FYI: I will continue subscribing to and reading your newsletter). I just do not understand why you’d want to be less of a source of credible information and more of a negative opinioned scribe.

    • Dngreen51, since I have gone full-time I have seen so much that I didn’t see when I mostly just sat at home the last few years, with a two or three week trip here and there, but mostly just talked about RVing. Hence the change in tone. And, since I become “negative” as you say, new signups to the RVtravel,con newsletter have doubled. I am not the only one who is experiencing what I have been writing about.

      I am not a cheerleader for the industry other than to say over and over I am hopelessly in love with RVing, and I still write that often. But there are problems in RV-land that I see now that I did not see before, and I will not sit around and go “how wonderful everything is” like 98% of all the other websites and magazines that are advertiser supported and thus need to keep their mouths shut or lose their support. If am a “self-appointed watchdog,” so be it. I’ve been RVing for 35 years, for much of that time a third of each year. Just maybe I have an insight or two that newbies do not.

      And on the topic of new RVers, I am constantly preaching to would-be buyers to do their homework before buying an RV. Don’t buy the “bling:” check a potential RV out top to bottom. Don’t finance it for 20 years with no money down or little down, and then be forced to sell it a year later because of health reasons and find out you’re $50,000 upside down in your loan. “Where will I get that money?” people write me in desperation. You don’t think that happens? It does.

      Quite a few years ago I helped write and I hosted a Business Bureau DVD titled “Buying a Recreational Vehicle.” The video is still available in most major libraries. In the DVD we said many of the things I am still saying today.

      I don’t think RVing is awful, quite the opposite. I enjoy every day in my RV now while traveling full-time. I do think there are too many RVers for the available campsites (and there are many reasons, of which I am exploring) and RV makers are cranking out new rigs faster than ever, and too much of it suffers from quality issues.

      There is a lot to be talked about, and I enjoy talking about it because I think I can help improve things. I know our series on RV electricity, where we talked about “hot skin conditions,” has saved at least two lives. The RV industry won’t talk about that. I feel really great that a couple of people (one a child) are still out there enjoying their lives based on what they learned from us.

  7. Doom and gloom.

    We live life without reservations. It tends to work out. Yes we make concessions….show up early to the NP and hope. We rolled into Zion at 3pm peak season….got a electric site. Someone cancelled.

    You have to be flexible and it helps to have a small rig.

    • My point was not that one can’t get into a campground or RV park without a reservation, often times far in advance, but that it is getting harder all the time to travel that way.

  8. Maureen - Boston Minuteman Campground

    While we understand that full-timers want their home on wheels to have nice amenities, in my opinion the manufacturers are setting up campers and campgrounds for failure. Each year, there’s a higher demand for electric, with some new gimmick added to draw attention. Bigger fridge? I get it. Heated floors that compete for power? Time for a reality check.

    We try to be big rig friendly, but are now finding that in some cases, 50 amps aren’t even enough for the largest rigs. So, while we may have available campsites, we have less availability for a 45′ fifth wheel with heated floors trying to “get by” on 50 amps. And with an electric bill increase of 25.3% in 2014, 15.2% in 2015, and 11.4% in 2016, we won’t be able to offer $20 sites anytime soon.

    Ever the optimists, we’re hoping someday for all things in moderation.

  9. Dear Mr. Woodbury,
    The lack of campsites is due to the cost of developing a park, if suitable land can be found. Gov. regulations, staffing, and then the insatiable clamor from rvers for cheap sites make any business plan impossible in many desirable areas.
    I have consulted dozens of hopefuls wanting to build a camp, however when the balance sheet for profitability is tallied, its a recipe for failure. Only 2, one in H, Ks., another in B. Mississippi where land is cheap and gov. parks far away did a business plan appear sensible.
    Previous responders commented that camps might set aside some sites for potential drive ins at a lower rate is ridiculous. Any business will accept the sure thing at rate rather than maybe filling that seat. Walk in for a last minute airline seat and ask for it cheap. Good Luck
    Max Hammer. Full timer ’78- 01, park owner ’01- pres. , Snowbird ’01- pres.
    O/ O beaverlake past pres. sdcoa

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