The Rise of the Campground Alternative

 The Rise of the Campground Alternative

Choosing a campground alternative for many RVers is rapidly becoming their go-to tactic for finding available spots for overnighting and camping.

Because of overcrowding and overbooking, spots in traditional campgrounds during this unprecedented RV boom are often reserved months in advance. Many of the commercial and state park campgrounds in popular destinations say they are completely booked up until fall, with only a few scattered mid-week spots available.

Camping experts predict the campground overcrowding will continue for the foreseeable future. And with millions of marketing money being invested now in the booming RV rental market, campgrounds are overwhelmed. The fact is, at many campgrounds, there just are no open spots to be found this summer.

That's where a whole new aspect of the RV industry has developed – the campground alternative.

What is a Campground Alternative?

This was our alternate campground campsite at a Harvest Hosts location - the Heron Hill Winery in the Finer Lakes area of New York
This was our alternate campground campsite at a Harvest Hosts location – the Heron Hill Winery in the Finger Lakes area of New York

Already, tens of thousands of RVers do choose a campground alternative every night. In terms of what we are discussing in this article, we're talking about non-traditional places to park that camper or RV for the night, a few days, or longer.

The campground alternative as it is shaping up this year takes four different forms we will explore:

  • At the high end, organized membership programs that put RVers in touch with private property owners, be they someone's business or personal property
  • Private, own-your-own campsites where the RVer buys their site, which they can use whenever they want, pretty much however they want.
  • Dispersed camping and boondocking on public lands, typically state forests, national forests, Bureau of Land Management holdings, usually in wilderness areas with no hookups or amenities.
  • Remote, lesser known so-called “primitive” campsites located off forest trails or roads on public land. These sites may have a dilineated “site,” maybe a picnic table or fire ring but not much else.

Top Level Campground Alternative: Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome

There are many different membership sites that put private RVers and campers in touch with people and organizations. But the hands-down best-known Campground Alternative service is Harvest Hosts. The second best-known campground alternative is Boondockers Welcome.

Up until a month or so, these were two separate organizations. But just recently Harvest Hosts bought Boondockers Welcome, giving the two services a combined total of 5,000 camping spots available, with plans to add many more thousand by year's end.

In Episode 352 of the RV Podcast, I interviewed Joel Holland, the CEO of Harvest Hosts, and asked him about what this merger means to RVers and how campground alternative services like his are influencing the RV industry.

Here's a video of the interview (click cc to also show a transcript of the interview in the player window):

We can save you 15% of the membership fee for Harvest Hosts. Just use our special affiliate link at: https://rvlifestyle.com/HH

Our RV Podcast Episode 352 talked a lot about the rise of the campground alternative

Our interview with Harvest Hosts was just part of our full RV Podcast episode in which we reported extensively on RV camping, RV news, and finding alternative campground opportunities. You can watch the video version on our YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel.

Click the player below to see the video of the full podcast:

If you would rather listen to the audio version of the RV Podcast, click the player below:

The Private Campground Alternative: Own-your-own site like at the Landings in Tennessee

Another very rapidly growing trend in the alternative campground space is the growth of private developments in which RVers own their own lot.

One such development is called The Landings and is located just west of Nashville on Kentucky Lake, the largest lake in Tennessee.

The RV lots here are up to 70 times the size of a typical lot in a traditional campground. The property is right on the lakeshore. Owners can landscape the lots as they want, install pads for their RVs, roofs to cover them, even their own docks.

We recently did a video about this development and talked to several owners who told us how they had grown weary of never being able to find an open spot in a campground without making reservations months in advance. They said private ownership was their choice because they could use their property anytime they wanted, as long as they wanted. They could even rent it out if they so chose.

Click below to see the video:

The Landings is just one of a growing number of such own-your-own properties cropping up across the country.

With millions of new RVers now competing for prime campsites, even established RV parks and resorts that have long rented seasonal lots are reporting massive new interest, with many booked for the next two to three years.

High-end luxury parks in high-demand tourist areas that also offer ownership packages say they have never seen such interest from RVers interested in buying and owning their own lots.

The company behind the Landings says they have had such success with the own your campsite Landings development in Tennessee that they are looking at other such projects in Alabama and Nevada.

But there are other flavors of own your campsite properties being offered.

If you want to see what they are like, CLICK TO READ THIS STORY on a super deluxe Class A resort that offers own your own campsites. The basic lot at the Naples Motorcoach Resort starts at $99,000, but the best locations cost $150,000! They may be even more since the time we visited.

Dispersed Camping and Boondocking as a Campground Alternative

If your camper has good boondocking capability, you'll find this the ultimate form of true boondocking and a great campground alternative.

There are no hookups, no designated campsites, no firepit, picnic table, or anything else looking like a normal campsite.

Dispersed camping in State and National Forests and BLM land is about as off the grid as you can get.

And it is totally free.

You heard it – free.

No tax, no handling charges, no reservation fees.

As a matter of fact, you don't even have to sign up for it.

If you're parked, you're registered.

There's usually a 14-day limit, and you can't camp within a certain radius (usually five or seven miles, sometimes ten) from the last place you camped, or come back within a certain period, usually five or seven days.

How to do boondocking as a Campground Alternative

We created a PRINT version of our most popular guide to help you with the most common boondocking problems. We get a ton of questions from our subscribers about how to get started boondocking that range from where to go and wild animals to water conservation to what equipment to use and more. 

The Rise of the Campground Alternative 1

Throw off the shackles of traditional RV Parks and campgrounds, stop paying high fees every night that you spend in your RV, and experience the boundless amounts of nature while boondocking.

You’re done with the noisy RV parks, the 3.5 feet of room you have squished in between two other RVs, and other people’s kids running through your campsite?

You’ve ditched the hookups, the concrete blocks and have replaced them with self-leveling and Navy showers?

This is the book for you.

Primitive Camping as a Campground Alternative

There are several different terms for this campground alternative form. It's often called primitive, dry camping, or rustic camping.

These are organized campgrounds with campsites that are laid out, usually numbered, and in a designated state or U.S.  forest areas. There are no hookups and to stay there, you are doing dry camping. There may be a picnic table or fire ring and maybe even a vault toilet shared by everyone in the campground.

Most often there is a self-pay $10 to $15 fee to cover maintenance of the campground but primitive or rustic camping is indeed, most definitely, boondocking.

Recently, we started a new feature on our RV podcast that we call “Hidden Campground Gems” and that is indeed what so many of these primitive camping spots are.

The feature shows a 360-degree view of the campgrounds we feature, most usually within a short drive of a popular destination where you can be sure all the traditional campgrounds have been booked up long in advance.

The best place to search for and discover these hidden campground gems is a website called CampgroundViews.com. This website is one of the most valuable resources you can find to locate alternatives to traditional commercial campgrounds. It offers detailed videos and photos of lots of dispersed camping locations.

More Resources for Finding Campground Alternative locations

First, we have done so many articles and videos on finding great places to camp, let me list the ones I think will be most helpful for you:

Articles and videos about Campground Alternative choices

Campground Alternative services and sites

Look cool out there!

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Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

4 Comments

  • Heron Hills is a great spot. We have been there a couple of times, once with our ERA 70B, once without. Haven’t boondocked there but the parking area and views are great. We stayed overnight at Chateau LaFayette Reneau (Harvest Host) in that region during the Pandemic last year, on our way to Letchworth State Park where we stayed for a week (September). If you haven’t been, highly recommend. We enjoy the boondocking option and have found we tend to use it on our way to destinations. BTW, because our van is so nimble, we use it pretty much every weekend meeting friends to play golf, etc. Happy trails.

  • Even though I know you are writing about Harvest Host as a service to your readers, I wish you would keep it “under your hat” so to speak! All you are going to do is make the Harvest Host system as bad as the Campgrounds, as far as finding a spot in one of them. They are very limited in spaces and even now can be hard to find an opening. Just my opinion!

    • I agree, We are members of HH and used the site in 2019 as we traveled around the west. We loved the small, quiet stays with our Hosts and would be sad to see them become the crowded, commercial, impersonal sites of the traditional campgrounds. Perhaps membership in HH should only increase in relationship to new hosts coming on board to prevent over-exposure and ruin the experience. Not everything needs to grow exponentially with demand unless supply also keeps pace.

  • I enjoyed reading your article and wanted to see if you’d be interested in including another resource for those looking to buy or rent private RV property https://www.landdocker.com.

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