UPDATED JUNE 4, 2020
Thinking of renting an RV this summer to escape the crowds? Join the crowds.
Demand for rental RVs is up 1,000% over last year, and the campground-finder app The Dyrt told us that downloads have spiked by 2,800%. All of this is happening during an era of social distancing, when some campsites will be left empty to allow for extra space.
That means it's more difficult to find hookups for your RV than before.
But RV travel is still a smart way to vacation while social distancing, and it’s also more affordable than usual while gas prices are through the floor.
Just use the following strategies.
1) Pick your dates now.
Even during a pandemic, summer travel season has waves, with peaks centered around holidays. "I haven’t heard from any campgrounds that are booked solid at this point," says David Basler, the VP of Membership and Marketing at the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. "Except if you go on a holiday weekend. Then that will change."
So avoid July 4, Labor Day, and Columbus Day if you can. Conversely, late August tends to slow down for U.S. travel because families usually have to return home for the school year. So if you can delay your trip till then, you may have more options.
2) Search for your specific needs.
Not every campground is right for every RV or vehicle. Take into account the following:
- • Hookup options: Some campsites can serve vehicles that require up to 30 amps of power, others up to 50, and some will have partial hookups available, some full, and some none at all. Know your vehicle's requirements. For a discussion of RV types, read our guide for first-time renters.
- • Campsite sizes: Some Class A motor homes can be huge, and if they're too large, some campgrounds can't accommodate them. You need to know the length of your vehicle.
- • Types of travelers accommodated: Some sites only accept travelers over the age of 55, and other sites (though not all) will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some RV campsites don’t allow pets, while others are so pet-friendly they rent out sites with fenced yards so you can let your dog play unleashed. (KOA is known for offering these types of puppy parks.) Filter your search according to what you need and go from there.
- • Amenities: This category may be less important in 2020 because many common spaces like pools, game rooms, beaches, and playgrounds will be closed or limited.
- • Cell service: For those who need to work while on the road, this element could be crucial. Each carrier's signal strength is covered by the campground review sites and apps listed below.
- • Bathroom availability: Because public restrooms are closed for the foreseeable future at some campgrounds, only RVs with bathrooms will be admitted in certain areas. That’s the case, for example, at the state park campgrounds of Kentucky, where no pop-tops are being accepted for this reason.
- • Price: Nightly rates can vary not only by state, but also within regions. In some cases, it’s a campground's amenities that account for an uptick in price, so before shelling out the big bucks, make sure that those amenities are actually open.
As for where to search: GoCampingAmerica.com is a comprehensive site listing most of the campgrounds in the United States; it’s affiliated with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. But because the site is undergoing a redesign (expected to be finished by September of 2020), it’s not as useful as sites like Campendium, where you can filter your search for campsites that are verified to be open and you can look for the elements listed above.
Also helpful is The Dyrt, an app and website with user-generated reviews and photos of more than 44,000 publicly and privately owned campgrounds. The Dyrt also has lists of closures and service changes.
3) Make a plan.
If you’re doing a multistop road trip via RV, you might want to mix traditional campgrounds with nontraditional facilities that accept RVs. Your options may include wineries, breweries, and farms. You can find these offbeat options on such websites as Hipcamp and Harvest Hosts.
The only downside to this type of camping spot is not all of them will have power or water hookups available, so you’d likely need to schedule some stays at regular campgrounds so that you can regularly dump your sewage and recharge. The upside? Alternative campsites are less likely to be fully booked because fewer RVers know about them.
For a trip that will involve parking at one site and making that your hub, it's smarter to use a traditional campground where it's easier to service your vehicle's power and sewage needs.
4) Make reservations ASAP.
According to The Dyrt, in past years, some 45% of RVers didn’t make advance reservations. People simply drove around campgrounds until they found a spot.
That’s a risky strategy this year because demand outstrips supply. Many national and state park campgrounds are closed, and others are capping the number of campers they’ll accept. To name just two states, New Mexico capped all lodging in its first phase of reopening at 25% of capacity (that includes campgrounds), and New Hampshire only allows up to 50%.
In addition, some facilities, like the campgrounds in the state parks of Missouri, have announced that they will only allow camping by those with advance reservations—which is a solid reason to go back to step one and choose your dates right now.
If you mess up, all may not be lost. Most Cracker Barrels, Walmarts, and some casinos allow overnighting in their parking lots for free. Here's where you can learn more about that.