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RV Podcast 306: How to find a campsite despite the crowds

| Updated Aug 5, 2020

A lot of RVers are asking these days: How to find a campsite despite the crowds?

The national news media has been filled with stories in recent weeks claiming that campgrounds are bursting at the seams across the country as people are taking up camping and RVing because they are afraid to take traditional vacations or stay in hotels, fly airplanes or deal with crowds in amusement parks and resorts.

Believe it!

This week in Episode 306 of the RV Podcast, we hear from real campers who tell us whether those gloom and doom stories are true. Yes, it’s summer, and campgrounds are always a bit crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. But this year, it’s way worse.

That’s coming up in this week’s episode of the Podcast, as well as your RV questions and comments, RV News of the week, and a great off the beaten path report from the Burketts.


Show Notes for Episode #306 August 5, 2020 of The RV Podcast:


Fewer Walmart stores permitting RVers to overnight in parking lot
If you have been a RV fellow traveler for long, chances are you spent the night at a Walmart parking lot at least once. But finding a Walmart that allows RVers to sleep in their parking lot is getting harder.. Currently only 58 percent of the nation's Walmart stores allow campers to stay compared to 78 percent in 2010. Spending the night in a parking lot has been super popular with many RVers over the years. They get a free, easy place to overnight when they are on a road trip and do not need a full campground experience. Typically overnighters buy something from the Walmart and are gone first thing in the morning, so the store benefits, too. But the problem is more and more campers are not practicing basic etiquette. They are staying for more than one night, they are leaving their trash even sometimes human waste or dirty water behind. Homeless people are also using lots. The result is more and more Walmarts are banning the practice, often forced to do so by new zoning rules enacted by local governments. It’s another example on how a bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

Rangers at Zion National Park ask for help finding vandals who painted rocks blue
Speaking of bad apples. I have a story about a really rotten apple. This is the type of story that makes my blood boil. Vandals at Zion National Park painted a large section of the sandstones in the northeast section of the park blue. Rangers are now asking the public's help in finding who did this. Bold blue squares and miscellaneous shapes – some three feet by three feet in size – are on the rock formations south of Wildcat Trailhead in the Kolob Terrace area. The area is believed to have painted around July 8. Officials say they are not sure they can remove the paint, and doing so will be costly.

Family decides to move in an RV and homeschool from the road because of COVID-19
We've been reporting for years about road schooling (click here or  here), and for months about the rise in RV newbies and some challenges out there because of COVID-19 (click here). So, when we saw this story of a family that combines both, we had to share. The Tennessee family apparently decided to cope with the in-person schooling challenges COVID-19 caused by buying a large RV bus built on a Greyhound chassis, selling their possessions, and hitting the road. The family of seven plans to homeschool their five children while traveling the country, all while self-containing as best as possible and working remotely from the road.

Man shoots himself in the leg at Rocky Mountain National Park after gun in his backpack accidentally fires
A man visiting Rocky Mountain National Park accidentally shot himself in the leg with his own gun. The man had put a loaded gun into his backpack. When he took off his backpack and put it on a rock at Emerald Lake, the gun accidentally fired a round with the bullet lodging in his leg. Other visitors helped, providing first aid, and a rescue crew then took the man by ambulance to the Glacier Basin Campground, and a helicopter then flew the man to an area hospital. It is legal to bring a gun into a national park – but it is illegal to shoot it. Rangers recommend bear spray as a much safer and more effective deterrent to wildlife.

In this summer of pandemic camping, remember to check ahead
Two campgrounds on the Blue Ridge Highway, Linville Falls and the Julian Price campgrounds, opened for the first time this summer last weekend. While most campgrounds across the country are open, some remain closed because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Some examples: New Mexico state park campgrounds are closed, as is the Devils Garden campground at Arches National Park, Lost Creek campground at Crater Lake National Park and Mount Rainier National Park campground to name a few. In this unusual year of camping, where things open, then close, and things are fluid, as always, check ahead before heading out by clicking here.

This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes, America's #1 e-bike brand, offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping  


This question comes to us from a Fellow Traveler named William who saw our YouTube video tour of our new Leisure Travel Vans Wonder RV in which we mentioned the importance of having a surge protector on your RV:

QUESTION: I heard you mention a surge protector but I am unfamiliar with such a device on an RV. What does it do, why do I need one and how do you know if something is wrong?

ANSWER If you have been following us for a while you know we are huge believers in surge protectors. We have heard so many tales from RVers over the years about having their appliances like the refrigerator, the microwave, and even the TV fried because of bad campground power.

A surge protector safeguards your RV from shore power problems at the pedestal and shuts down if the incoming campground power supply is dangerously low or high or the plug is wired wrong or shorted out.

In our book, every RVer needs to have one. Think of them as insurance against bad power.

And bad power at campgrounds is much more common than you might think.

The sad truth of the matter is a lot of RV parks are old and the infrastructure has deteriorated over time. Defective pedestals cause the voltage to be too high or too low and when that happens, the appliance in the RV and whatever is plugged into a receptacle like a computer or a cellphone charger can be damaged.

But even if the park is new and the pedestal is in excellent condition, we still recommend a surge protector. Lightning strikes nearby can travel right through the pedestal wiring. And power brownouts can limit the voltage getting into the coach to the extent that appliances are damaged.

There are a lot of different surge protectors on the market. Good ones aren’t cheap. But the money they can save you from being spared the effects of one bad power incident makes them a necessary expense.

We like the Southwire Surge Protectors.

If you have a 30 amp system your RV, this is the one we suggest.

If you have a 50-amp system, this is the one to get.

We own the Southwire 30 amp but no longer need it on our new Leisure Travel Vans Wonder RV because a surge protector is built in to the unit

Several of you have also asked us where it is located on our Wonder and how it works.

It’s found under the seat cushion on the driver’s side seat in the front lounge area. If I remove the cushion, there is a small cut out with an LCD display underneath the webbing that supports the cushion. This is where you’ll see any error codes from the surge protector as to why it would have cut the power (for example E4 would denote low voltage). The surge protector will cut power for many reasons, most commonly: high voltage, low voltage, reverse polarity, or open ground. Most of the time, there’s no need to see it. It just does its job, making sure I have clean power.

But it sure is nice to know it’s there. So if your RV doesn’t come with one built-in, invest the money. Protect your appliances and get one.

Do you have a question you’d like us to answer or a comment on the things we’re discussing? If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990.  If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.

This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at

RV PODCAST INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: How to find a campsite despite the crowds

The national news media has been filled with stories in recent weeks claiming that campgrounds are bursting at the seams across the country as people are taking up camping and RVing because they are afraid to take traditional vacations or stay in hotels, fly airplanes or deal with crowds in amusement parks and resorts.

Here are some of the headlines I’ve seen:
Seeking COVID-19 escape, Oregon's outdoors crowded at unprecedented level, brings problems

Having a hard time finding a campsite in Colorado this summer? You’re not alone.

Trouble on the Trails: Forest Service Grapples with Crowds, Trash and Human Waste

‘People everywhere': Physical distancing takes a holiday at camping and recreation spots

It’s enough to scare off even the most intrepid camper or RVer.

But is it true?

Well, sadly, in some places… yes.  But as always, those headlines are far from typical of what is really going on.

We’re going to give you the real story about overcrowded campgrounds this week… from real RVers.

To an accurate picture of what it is really like out there, we’ve tapped into our Fellow Travelers from our RV Lifestyle Community and asked them to share their experiences and expertise.

But you’ll hear from industry experts.

And I think after listening to these folks you’ll agree with us in saying:  Don’t believe those who say you can’t find a campsite this summer.

First off, we will hear from our friend Mark Koep. Mark runs an awesome website called that has photos and video tours of campgrounds, letting you see the very campsite you want without having to go there first. Mark works with campground owners across North America and truly is the expert when it comes to finding out the truth about camping in both public and private RV Parks.

From Mark Koep of There are still sites, despite crowded campgrounds

photo illustrating how to find a campsite despite crowded campgrounds like this
Mark Koep says campgrounds are indeed very busy this summer

Mike, Jennifer great to be here. I want to talk a little bit about what we're seeing on the private and public sides in regard to overcrowding.

The public parks are absolutely booked up. All the national park campgrounds that are open are filled up. Now, there was that caveat “that are open.”

There are still national parks where they are requiring advanced reservations and only reservations maybe for a certain period of time. Those campgrounds actually still relatively empty, but you can't get a spot there anyway, so in essence, they're full.

We've heard anecdotally that a lot of the National Park and National Forest Service campgrounds are filled up on the weekends a lot of time during the week Gross Ventre north of Jackson in July was filled every single day by 8 a.m., including its overflow area.

The other area that we're seeing a lot of extra traffic and is in the boondocking and dispersed camping areas. If you've been in a forest recently, you've seen RVs parked everywhere within the forest in the dispersed areas. It's great to see people out and enjoying the forest.

But on the flipside, you're seeing a lot of resource damage. And I imagine that's going to be a long-term issue where we are going to see the forest service start cracking down and pushing back on that.

On the private park side, private parks still have spots available. They are not completely full.  Are they busy? Yes. Are they busier than normal?. Yes. Are they full on weekends and holidays? Yes. So that is a big thing.

So you're going to go a little bit going to have to get creative in finding parks. Basically, you'll start having to get creative in finding spaces in the parks that are less well run, that don't have online reservations, that don't answer their phones.

You're going to have to wing it a little bit more at least right now.

And then the other big thing I would consider if I'm in your camper shoes is that this isn't going to go away when school starts because guess what? School is not starting. Everybody's working from home and schools are virtual.

So, unfortunately, these problems not going away anytime soon. I wish you all safe travels. Happy driving and I'll talk to you later. This is Mark Koep at

From Jim O'Briant of Finding free campsites

RV Podcast 306: How to find a campsite despite the crowds 1Next up, I want you to hear from another friend, Jim O’Briant, the CEO of OvernightRVParking,com, the best online source for finding places where you can stay for free or very inexpensively. When you do encounter a full campground, you can almost always find a place to overnight by visiting his site.

Says Jim:

Even though the COVID19 virus is on everybody's kinds this year, people still want to take a vacation and they don't want to travel in an airplane or a train or a cruise ship and they don't really want to sleep hotels.

Traveling in an RV is the answer for a lot of people whether it's a motor home or a travel trailer or fifth wheel or a pickup camper. And that's why RV Sales & rentals are way up this summer. It's also why RV park bookings are way up too this year.

It's often hard to find a space in a campground or RV park unless you already made a reservation maybe weeks or months in advance.

But there are other options especially for a one-night stopover on the way to your destination. There are thousands of places where you can park overnight in an RV for one night only and most of these places are free. There's one source that lists more of these places and more information on them than any other place, all in one place and all searchable. And that's the website. We've spent the last fifteen years building our database of more than 14,500 listings showing where you can legally park overnight usually for just one night and usually for free now.

I'm not talking about camping. There aren't any hookups and you won't be using your lawn chairs or your barbecue grill or extending the awning. You'll just be stopping for the night to park and sleep and then be on your way the next morning.

Many of these places are business parking lots. So you'll need to telephone ahead or else go inside to the customer service desk or speak with a manager to get their permission to park overnight. It can help if you're very clear that it's just for one night and that you'll be leaving in the morning.

They may specify where in the parking lot they want you to park. Although that information is already in most of the listings. Make sure if it's a restaurant have your evening meal or breakfast or both. If it's a retail store pick up some additional groceries or other supplies. If the business has a gas station make sure you buy some fuel. These businesses are graciously allowing us to be their overnight guests on their property.

So please don't abuse that privilege if there's a grassy area for walking your pet. Be sure to pick up what they leave behind. Don’t leave any trash in the parking area and never, ever empty or gray or black water tanks there unless there's a designated RV dump station.

It's also important to know the places that don't allow overnight RV parking. So you don't have security or police knocking on your door at 2 in the morning telling you to leave, and so you don't wake up to find an expensive parking ticket under your windshield wiper. 

The website shows you which places that you might expect to allow overnight RV parking. But the website isn't free to use because of the time involved in compiling all this information and keeping it up to date.

But you can subscribe for a full year for just $30 which is less than the cost of one night at most RV parks. To join go to

There's a demo button at the top where you can see some sample listings and then the power button where you can find a lot more about how the website works then click the subscribe button. Then when you get to the question about who referred you be sure to tell us it was Mike Wendland or the RV Lifestyle blog. If you remember to do this will give you 15 months for the price of 12.  Three free months on your subscription. But anyway, whatever you do in your travels it here, please practice good virus safety such as social distancing and remember to wash your hands.

Everyday RVers tell how to find a campsite (most of the time)

OK, now let’s hear from everyday RVers. How has it been for them? Here’s a compilation of reports I received this week.

Hey, we just got back from an awesome RV trip up in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Coastal Acres Campground. It was very nice and quiet. Only RVs know tents because of the COVID. Everybody in town is wearing masks. It's a requirement in certain parts of the town, even on the deserted Parts. You’d people and they would pull up their masks.  It was actually quite heartwarming, a sign of respect. That was good. All the bars were closed. So there were no drunks. It was a very quiet kind of surreal type of Provincetown. The National Seashore has awesome beaches, awesome sunsets and you can see the Milky Way dark sky area, and it was unbelievable. All right. Have fun. Happy Trails.

Hi Mike and Jennifer, my name is Carol Scott. I live right outside the Atlanta area and you cannot find a campsite around outside the Atlanta area on the weekends, on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Sometimes even Thursday. Everything is booked and full and it's booked a lot of times all the way through the time the campgrounds closes. A lot of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds close here right after Labor Day. Some of them are already booked up through that time. So it's ridiculous. I’m a long time camper and my trailer has been sitting in my driveway quite a bit this year because I still work and weekends is when I camp and I can't find a campground even if I try to book way in advance. Talk to you later, bye-bye.

Hi, Mike, and Jennifer. We appreciate all you do for us out there. This is Laurie from Huntsville, Alabama responding to your question on campgrounds and availability. We are not full-time, mostly taking long weekends Saturday through Monday. Our experience in the Southeast has been that campgrounds are full when we get there. We always have a reservation even in this hot humid heat. We Southeasterners are determined to get out. Maybe during the weekdays chances are better on getting a spot. We hope to find out as soon as possible. Thanks.

Hi, Mike and Jen. This is John from Rhode Island. And we have been able to get out camping twice so far. Once in May up in New Hampshire. There were a lot of restrictions. The campground was only allowed to be half full. But in July, we went to Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts and that campground was full. And while most of us transit types were camping, we did keep our distance, but we were able to have conversations even with the seasonal campers. It was a very comfortable atmosphere. But masks were worn. so just give you a heads up from New England. Our next trip out is in a couple of weeks to Upstate New York. We'll see how that goes.

Hey, we just traveled from Texas to Oregon in about 5 weeks, starting June 1st. We were able to find places to stay the whole way. We didn't have to Boondock a single time. Although there were a few places that we stayed that didn't have full facilities. They had most facilities everywhere we stayed, including Army Corps of Engineers, and even some city parks and a few independent parts. Some of them were really small, but kind of cute, and others were a little bigger. That has been our experience so far this summer.

The interview of the week is brought to you by, where every new  motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country



Tom & Patti Burkett of the Rv Podcast
Tom & Patti Burkett

We were driving through the little town of Early on US 84, just wandering through West Texas.  On the corner where 84 crosses US 377 we saw a small hardware store with a sign that said ‘fresh pecans.’  Regardless of what other states may claim, Texas is pecan country.  Some say pee-kan.  However you say it, it’s the only tree nut native to North America.  From prehistory, native peoples on this continent have harvested and eaten these delicious nuts.  They’ve been cultivated for centuries from central Mexico to the river valleys of the eastern USA, and have even been used as trading currency.  One of the most popular commercial varieties is even named the Burkett pecan and has its own interesting story.

RV Podcast 306: How to find a campsite despite the crowds 2
Berdoll Pecans pecan vending machine

It seems two young men were out collecting nuts one day along Battle Fish Creek and brought home a sackful of extraordinary nuts to their father, who was a pecan grower.  He insisted they take him back to the tree, and from it he collected a few buds for grafting.  The grafts took, and the following spring the original tree was washed away in a flood.  From those original grafts came the strain that makes up more than 30% of the US commercial pecan harvest.  At any rate, we pulled off at the store, and picked up a ten-pound sack.  “Are they local? I asked.  “Well, I’ll tell you,” said the motherly looking woman at the counter, “we keep an old hand shelling machine in the back room.  When the nuts come in, school kids go around and collect the leavings from the orchards and the river bottoms and come in here and shell them.  We let them use the machine and then we buy the shelled nuts from them so they have a little walking around money.”

RV Podcast off the beaten path
Patti with Ms. Pearl

Pecans are big business in this part of the state, and many towns have big orchards and processing plants and gift stores.  In the gift stores you can find every conceivable variety of pecan goodie, and we’ve tried a great many of them.  The free samples are plentiful and come with good conversation if you’re willing to ask questions.  Pecans are among the most valuable nuts in the world, and demand is stable and worldwide, so growing them is well worth the effort.  We’ve spent many a day wandering around in this part of Texas, as there’s much to see here, and the best pecan discovery was in the town of Cedar Creek, east of Austin in bluebonnet country. 

Cedar Creek is home to Berdoll’s Pecan Candy and Gift Company, one of those gift shop mentioned above wherein all things pecan are on offer.  It’s outside, though, that the real goodies are found.  On the covered porch is a vending machine, available 24 hours, that dispense whole pecan pies.  As far as we know, it’s the only such device in the country.  Put in your cash or credit card, and you can get an individual size serving or a whole nine-inch pie.  And all of this happens under the watchful eye of Ms. Pearl, a fourteen-foot tall carved wooden squirrel, the largest in the world.  Right now she’s even sporting a mask!

You can find pecan orchards from North Carolina to California, all across the southern USA and northern Mexico, but Texas is where they originated, and here’s where you’re likely to find the best nuts and the best stories.  As a matter of fact, it’s been our experience that sometimes the best nuts tell the best stories.  So get off the interstate.  Skip Orange World and Pecan World and Peanut World and, instead, look for the front yard stand or the hand-lettered sign at the corner store.  That’s where the real deal is, out here off the beaten path.


Mike Wendland

Published on 2020-08-05

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.

3 Responses to “RV Podcast 306: How to find a campsite despite the crowds”

August 07, 2020at8:02 am, said:

That is really fascinating, You’re an excessively professional blogger.
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August 05, 2020at9:57 am, Frank Cancel said:

Thank you Mike and Jennifer, this was my first listing to your pod cast i loved it thank you, and maybe next time you camp at Addison Oaks you could have a Meetup, we live just up the road from there, thanks again

August 05, 2020at9:02 am, RV Podcast 306: How to find a campsite despite the crowds – Anywhere RV said:

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