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Discover the Hidden Gem of RV Camping: COE Campgrounds!

| Updated Jul 18, 2023

What are COE campgrounds? Why should you stay at them? Here are the answers RVers need to know…

Are you tired of crowded RV parks and campgrounds that lack the peace and tranquility you crave in the great outdoors? Look no further than COE campgrounds!

COE stands for Corps of Engineers or, formally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

These hidden gem campgrounds are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and offer some of the country's most beautiful and secluded camping locations.

In this article, we will explore what COE campgrounds are, the pros and cons of staying at one, and tips for choosing the perfect spot for your next RV adventure. Get ready to discover the best-kept secret of RV camping: COE campgrounds!

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What Is the Army Corps of Engineers?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is a group of over 40,000 civilians and soldiers working on infrastructure projects such as dams and lake reservoirs. RVers can benefit from the COE's presence in 43 states, as they manage 450 campgrounds that the public can access for camping, boating, and fishing. 

What are COE Campgrounds?

COE Campgrounds river through the woods

COE campgrounds are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They are typically situated in beautiful natural settings and are known for their serene and peaceful environment. Plus, their locations often lend themselves to a range of outdoor recreational activities like fishing, boating, and hiking.

COE campgrounds are typically well-maintained and provide a clean camping experience, although they may not offer hookups. However, amenities such as restrooms, potable water, picnic tables, showers, and fire rings are often available.

5 Advantages of Staying at COE Campgrounds

From affordability to scenic locations and more, COE campgrounds have a lot to offer RVers. In this section, we'll look at some advantages of staying at COE campgrounds, so you can decide if they're the right fit for your next adventure.

1. Scenic Locations

COE campgrounds are located in some of the most beautiful natural settings in the United States. Whether you want to camp near a lake, river, or forest, you will surely find a COE campground that meets your needs.

2. Affordable Prices

COE campgrounds are often more affordable than other types of campgrounds, making them an excellent choice for budget-conscious RVers. The fees for RV camping at COE campgrounds are typically lower than those at private RV parks.

3. Wide Range of Activities

COE campgrounds offer a variety of outdoor recreational activities like fishing, boating, and hiking. Many of these campgrounds also have picnic areas, playgrounds, and other amenities perfect for families with children.

4. Amenities and Facilities

COE campgrounds offer a range of amenities and facilities designed to make your RV camping experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Some amenities you can expect to find at COE campgrounds include electric and water hookups, dump stations, and restrooms with showers.

5. Environmental Responsibility

COE campgrounds are committed to preserving and protecting the natural environment. These campgrounds follow strict environmental regulations designed to minimize their impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

5 Disadvantages of Staying at COE Campgrounds

While there are many advantages to RV camping at COE campgrounds, there are also some potential disadvantages to keep in mind. This section will explore some drawbacks of staying at a COE campground.

COE Campgrounds

1. Difficult to Find & Reserve

Finding COE campgrounds to book is difficult since there isn’t a direct COE campground website. You first have to identify a COE campground, then go to recreation.gov to search for the COE campground and reserve it.

2. Limited Hookups

One of the main disadvantages of camping at a COE campground is the limited availability of hookups. While some campgrounds may offer electric and water hookups, many do not, and only a few offer full hookups. This can be a challenge for RVers who rely on these amenities to power their appliances and maintain their water supply.

3. Fewer Amenities

COE campgrounds often have fewer amenities than private campgrounds or RV parks. While many campgrounds will have basic facilities like restrooms and showers, they may not offer additional amenities like pools, hot tubs, or playgrounds. Additionally, some COE campgrounds may not have on-site stores or restaurants nearby, so you must plan accordingly.

4. Limited Availability

Finally, it's important to note that not all COE campgrounds are open year-round. Some campgrounds may only operate during specific seasons, while others may close for renovations or repairs. This limited availability can make it more challenging to plan your camping trip and may require some flexibility in your schedule.

5. Reservation Challenges

Another potential disadvantage of COE campgrounds is the reservation system. While many campgrounds allow you to make reservations online, some only accept reservations by phone or in person.

More so, it can even be hard to find a COE campground to reserve!…

How Do I Reserve an Army Corps of Engineers Campground?

A big reason COE campgrounds are considered hidden gems is that they're, well, quite hidden. Online, that is. There is no designated website that lists and allows you to reserve a COE campsite.

You must first track down a COE campground in the area you wish to travel to, then go to another website to book it. The easiest way to do this is to use a good ol' fashion guidebook…

Step 1: Purchase Camping with the Corps of Engineers

We recommend “Camping with the Corps of Engineers: The Complete Guide to Campgrounds Built and Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” written by Don Wright. 

You can get this as a hardbound or Kindle book. It outlines basic details about COE RV camping throughout the United States. 

It includes directions to each campground, as well as descriptions of the facilities and amenities of each.

NOTE:  This guidebook was last published pre-pandemic, in 2018. So, some of the information may have changed. However, the locations are the same, which is the most helpful part of this guidebook. You can find the updated information online once you select a campground…

You can see ALL the books we recommend on this Amazon List Books: Our Favorite RV Lifestyle Travel, Camping, and Survival Books

Step 2: Use the Guide to Find Campgrounds

The guidebook is well organized. You can search by state and then narrow it down to campgrounds in the area you wish to visit.

Once you find appealing campgrounds, you can go back online…

Step 3: Book on Recreation.gov

Now that you know what COE campground you want to stay in, go to recreation.gov. Search for the COE campground you pulled from the guidebook by name, and make your reservation.

Just be sure to check all the information on the campground description page to confirm it is the right campground for you. Compare the information from the guidebook to see if it is up-to-date, and make sure your rig isn't too big, has the amenities you want, etc.

PRO TIP: Some COE areas may charge a day-use fee, and an annual pass for $40 can be purchased to use day-use areas. However, this pass does not cover camping fees. 

Tips for Choosing a COE Campground

COE Campgrounds

Here are some helpful tips for choosing a COE campground that best suits your needs and preferences. From considering the location and amenities to understanding the reservation system and more, these tips will help you make an informed decision and have a memorable camping experience.

Tip #1: Research the Location

Before choosing a COE campground, research the location to ensure that it meets your needs. Look for campgrounds that are located near your preferred outdoor recreational activities.

Tip #2: Evaluate Available Amenities

Consider the amenities that are important to you when choosing a COE campground. Some campgrounds offer more amenities than others, so choose a campground with the amenities you need.

Tip #3: Consider the size of your RV

COE campgrounds have different RV size limits, so make sure to choose a campground that can accommodate your RV.

Tip #4: Check for Reservation Requirements

Some COE campgrounds require reservations, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure to check the reservation policies before you go.

How We Plan for an RV Trip

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

The task may seem daunting at first, but with the right resources, you can make the RV trip planning process much easier to manage. The above video shows how we do it.

COE Frequently Asked Questions

As with any camping experience, there are always questions that come up. In this section, we'll go over some frequently asked questions about camping at COE campgrounds to help you better prepare for your trip.

Are pets allowed at COE campgrounds?

Most COE campgrounds allow pets, but make sure to check the specific campground's policies before bringing your pet.

Can I have a campfire at COE campgrounds?

Many COE campgrounds allow campfires, but some have restrictions during certain times of the year. Check the specific campground's policies before starting a fire.

What types of activities are available at COE campgrounds?

COE campgrounds offer a variety of outdoor recreational activities like fishing, boating, hiking, and swimming. Some campgrounds also have picnic areas, playgrounds, and other amenities.

Is there electricity or Wi-Fi available at COE campgrounds?

Many COE campgrounds have electric and water hookups, but not all have Wi-Fi available. Check the specific campground's amenities before you go.

In Summary

RV camping at COE campgrounds is an excellent way to explore the great outdoors while saving some money. These campgrounds offer a range of amenities and facilities designed to make your RV camping experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

COE campgrounds are also known for their beautiful natural settings, which provide a serene and peaceful environment for campers. If you want an affordable, environmentally responsible, and enjoyable RV camping experience, consider staying at a COE campground on your next trip.

Need the Ultimate Guide to Cheap or FREE RV Camping Sites?

Discover the Hidden Gem of RV Camping: COE Campgrounds! 1

Camping can be expensive. 

Especially if you are spending more travel time in outdoor spaces. Or, perhaps you’re living and working from your RV. 

Traditional campgrounds can also be crowded and noisy. It can sometimes feel like the opposite experience you are seeking by getting away from civilization and into nature. 

That may be why you are looking for cheap or free RV camping sites and that’s why I’m here to help.  I’m going to introduce you to boondocking in off-the-beaten-path campsites and then teach you how to find them.

This ebook (not a print book – but you could print this one out on your own if you wish) is available right now.

Here's your Ultimate Guide to Cheap or FREE RV Camping Sites


Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-02-28

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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