There are so many ways to RV, so many places to overnight. And every place is a little different from the one before. Hence, the challenge of a post like this. I have been going back and forth as to whether I should write it all because I know for every “pro” and “con” I name, there will be exceptions. Many exceptions. So, keep in mind this list of the pros and cons of RV parks is a big generalization and based on my somewhat limited experience as I approach two years as a full-time RVer.
Private parks and campgrounds are those owned by people, rather than government-run. They are a business. This means that campgrounds in state and national parks wouldn’t count. Nor would any boondocking spots on BLM or forest land. You get the idea.
Let’s start with some definitions. Well, I mean to say, let me start by saying I don’t know that there are good solid-line definitions. RV campground vs. RV park. As near as I can tell, people use those interchangeably. I certainly do.
If I really think about it, maybe a campground implies camping which might assume such features as a grill, firepit and picnic tables. Maybe a little more nature. Maybe an area for tent camping. Whereas an RV park sounds a lot like mobile home park where rigs line up close together with no features except maybe a picnic table.
For the purposes of this post, I revisited the places I’ve stayed to investigate their names compared to their offerings. No help. But, if they are any indication of a trend, more places use “park” rather than “campground.”
After I wrote the above, like I do, I got obsessed with solving this mini-mystery. A dog with a bone. A Google search lead me down several non-useful rabbit holes. Then I came across an article where someone asked this very question to the President and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. If anyone would know, it’s got to be this guy. The answer? Paul Bambei is quoted as saying, “There is no difference.”
So, there you have it. So much for my theory. But my theory was awful logical, don’t you think?
Pros of an RV Park/Campground
If you want them, an RV park will have full hookups. I say “if you want them” because some places might offer partial hookups (electric and water, but not sewer), no hookups or tent camping sites at lower rates. But I’ve never been to or heard of a private RV park that didn’t offer full hookups.
Because a private RV park is a person’s livelihood, they know that the quality of their facility equates to good reviews which equates to more campers. And more campers equals more money. So, more often than not, RV parks are well-managed and well-maintained in terms of upkeep, cleanliness, helpfulness and responsiveness to campers.
RV parks are in or near towns. I imagine this is because they need to be on city services to offer full hookups. It’s nice of for the RVer because it means you are closer to museums, grocery stores, dog parks, restaurants and other adventures.
A big pro, for me, of private RV parks is that they offer month-long stays. Most government-run places have a 14-day limit though this isn’t always true. For example, each of the three times I visited the Alabama State Park in Lake Guntersville, I stayed a month. Now, in that case, the month-long RVers are in a different section. Although I loved and even preferred Section B of the campground, I understood it was considered a lesser spot because of the distance from the lake.
Pause for Two Tips
No idea why, but not every campground will advertise their monthly rates. So, it’s important to ask if you don’t see it on the website. Month-long stays come with a discount (at least it’s been true for every place I have stayed or researched) and that discount, if you are on a budget, is significant.
In many cases, the daily average for the month-long is half of what you’d pay for two weeks at the regular nightly rate. In other words, get a monthly rate and any number of days you stay over two weeks (even if you don’t stay the full month), you are ahead.
If you won’t stay the two weeks, be sure not to forget to ask about the weekly discount (if it isn’t listed on their website). The per day rate will be more than if you’d stayed a month, but still less than the nightly rate.
If even you aren’t staying a week or a month, you aren’t out of chances for a discount. Some places offer discounts (five or 10 percent is what I see most often) for various groups, including those in the military, seniors, as well as members of AARP, Good Sam, AAA and a bunch more. Again, remember to ask about whether they offer any discounts because they may not include it on their website and they won’t tell you during registration. You must ask.
Final Pro of RV Park
The last pro of RV parks on my list is the amenities. This one is, perhaps, the one most generalized because I’ve stayed at some private RV parks with crappy restrooms and bathhouses (and even stayed at one that had neither), and stayed at some state parks with very nice restrooms and bathhouses. But, in a very general way, you’ll find better and more amenities at RV parks.
In addition to restrooms and bathhouses at a private campground, you might find laundry facilities, a workout room, swimming pool, dog area, gathering place (where you find people playing games, doing puzzles, watching television, socializing, etc.) and outside play area and equipment for kids.
Cons of an RV Park/Campground
These first three cons, while different are closely tied together.
I haven’t yet been in a private RV campground with the same feel as a government-run park or area. At first, I wrote “lack of nature,” but that isn’t quite right. Many RV parks do an excellent job of landscaping with grass, trees, flowers to give the place a very green feel. Maybe it’s because they are often closer to towns which means more people, busy roads, etc. that even with a lot of greenery, private RV parks just never feel as peaceful and nature-y as a state or national parks or BLM land.
And while some RV parks have a strong sense of nature, many do not. You’ll find some RV parks to be little more than a concrete jungle, so to speak.
Similarly, another con you find at private RV parks is the sites are close together. Sometimes so close that you will keep your window shades down at all times. Sometimes so close you can hear conversations, what television program is playing and phones ringing. That’s extreme and, in my experience, not typical but it does exist. More typical is a patch of grass or concrete with a picnic table between spots so that RVs are six to 10 feet apart.
The third closely-tied con is that most RV campgrounds won’t have a place for a fire (fire pit) or grill. About half I’ve been to haven’t even had picnic tables. Some might even go a step further and ban fires of any kind. So, even if you have a portable propane fire pit, you cannot use it.
Almost every RV park will have permanent residents. This one is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you will find people who are friendly and can offer great information on local attractions and the area. But more often than not, they won’t have that super friendliness that RVers are known for. Additionally, their space can be quite trashy. While the stuff outside isn’t literally trash, just the shear quantity gives it a trashy non-camping feel. This con really speaks to the overall ambiance of an RV park. Few parks have rules around no stuff being left outside or under the rig.
The final con on my list is that RV parks generally cost more than government-run campgrounds. It might be because state parks, national forests, etc. are subsidized by our tax dollars. But I think it has more to do with the fact that private campgrounds offer more services like laundry and full hookups. Plus, the owners are trying to make a profit.
Like everything on this list, the last one is a generalization for which there are exceptions. In fact, as I write this, I’m staying at a private campground that is $150 less per month than my previous stay at Lake Guntersville State Park. I loved those kitties I tried to save there so much that I debated extending my stay. But the campground fee was the biggest factor (though not the only factor) in my decision to move on.
What About RV Resorts?
Let me add a word about RV Resorts. They aren’t really deserving of their own post because, really, they are just a fancy private RV park. Think of them as a subset of RV parks. They are more expensive—more expensive than regular RV parks—but offer a lot more amenities like pools, hot tubs, exercise classes, organized sports, games, classes and socialization. I’ve observed that you’ll find RV resorts primarily in Florida, Arizona and California.
They also seem to be incredibly large. So large that many of the seasonal residents (also a common feature of RV resorts) get around with golf carts. I was astounded the first time I saw an RV pulling a trailer with a golf cart on it. I wish I’d gotten a photo.
What have you observed about private campgrounds? Anything I missed on my list? Please share in the comments.
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