Here are 17 insider RV Campground tips to score and enjoy that perfect spot this summer.
If you are a new RV owner on your maiden voyage you will want to pay particular attention!
Our guest in this week's Episode 334 of the RV Podcast is a campground owner and she has some great info for both new RVers and veteran campers. Her candid suggestions are a great resource and you may want to bookmark this article or share it with a friend.
She is Marcia Neese and, with her husband, Jim, she runs a brand new campground in a very popular location in North Carolina.
The first thing we want to make clear in this article is that, just like it is a seller's market in the RV industry where the demand is so strong that new RVs take a year to 18 months to get, it is a renter's market in the campground industry, whether that recreational vehicle campground is a state park or any of the thousands of private RV parks across North America.
RV Campgrounds are selling out very fast
It makes no difference if you have a travel trailer, a Class B, C, or A motorhome, a fifth wheel, or even a pop-up, RV campgrounds are filled right now for most weekends and holidays during the summer months
And down south or in the Southwest, it's already the same in the winter months of 2021-21. Your fellow campers may have already beaten you to getting an RV camp site.
And that's true whether its with campgrounds in National Parks, State Parks or privately owned campgrounds.
Don't panic, though, because we have RV tips that will help.
Below is an edited transcript of our interview with Marcia. Although we talk a lot about those RVers who are on their first RV trip, her advice applies to everyone who enjoys RV life. So listen up! We are sure you'll find a great idea or two!
Marcia and Jim Neese opened RiverWalk RV Park in Jonesville, N.C. on June 11, 2020, just as the rest of the world was literally shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To their surprise, even with social distancing and travel restrictions in many place, their 51-site campground on a wooded 11-acre site along the Yadkin River was completely booked every single weekend from the day they opened until even now.
Here are highlights and tips from our conversation.
Mike Wendland: Joining us now from North Carolina, from Jonesville on the beautiful Yadkin River, is Marcia Neese. She is the owner, with her husband, of the beautiful RV Riverwalk Park, the RiverWalk RV Park. I guess you're right between Jonesville and Elkin, right?
Marcia Neese: Yes, yeah. Hello, hello everyone. We are. It's a very fine line there. The river is the only thing separating us so we're just a couple of minutes from Elkin and located… The park is in Jonesville.
Mike Wendland: Now your park is described as a sort of “boutique” RV park. What does that mean in terms of the RV lifestyle? What is a boutique RV park?
Marcia Neese: Yeah, it is a different term as it relates to the RV lifestyle. My husband and I, we're always trying to think outside of the box. We're RVers and we've created our park for other RVers. As we were building it, we were trying to understand exactly where it fit in. Was it a premiere park? Was it a corporate-type park?
We're on 11 acres. We have 51 spacious sites. And the area that we're in is very quaint and boutique-ish as well. We came up with that we're a boutique size park. We have just enough for everyone, but not too much to where you're overwhelmed when you come. I like to use the word quaint again, but we feel that we offer a quaint environment.
Mike Wendland: We'll talk a little bit about some of that in a couple of minutes, but the first thing is you opened this park right in the middle of the COVID shut down. What was that like last year?
Marcia Neese: Yeah. If I had a dollar every time I were asked this question… I started looking for land several years prior, and it took us a little bit because we were very… We wanted to make sure that when we did this, we did it right. So we found the land, we started building, and we did everything ourselves. We have a small grading business so that was very helpful. But it took us a couple of years between permitting and rains and droughts and things like that.
So we were set to open last March, and we got put behind because we couldn't do some burn permits, as I said, because it was too dry. So we opened right in the heart of COVID. We have not had, or had not had for the whole season, June through December, an open spot on the weekend out of all 51 sites since the weekend that we opened in June.
Mike Wendland: Oh my goodness.
Marcia Neese: Yeah. There's so many mixed feelings about COVID and so many different ways to look at it. We always try to see the positive things, but we did feel a little guilty in the beginning because so many people were going through so much turmoil with it and heartache, and there was depression and different things like that.
2020 was the year of the COVID Campers
The way that we looked at it was it was a blessing for us and for everyone else because we've given so many families an outlet and a sense of normalcy, hence us being booked every weekend. We're like a big community. We have return guests on a lot of the weekends. But I think that COVID was huge for us because it's created a community and a bonding experience where other people could look at it in a negative light.
Mike Wendland: It also is creating a bit of frustration this year for a couple of reasons.
Marcia Neese: And last year
Mike Wendland: And last year but I think the reality is setting in with a lot of people that so many new RVers have come to the RV lifestyle in the last year because, I mean, let's face it, it was the most-
Marcia Neese: The COVID campers.
#1: You REALLY need to make campground reservations
Mike Wendland: The COVID campers. It's socially distanced, it's healthy, it's good, it's getting away. But now, as people try and make reservations for 2021, with travel a little bit better, they are finding no occupancy.
Full campgrounds are everywhere they can go. That's the first thing I'd like to get some advice from you, Marcia, if you could help us. What would you say to our audience who's saying, “I got this RV and I can't get in anywhere.” What do they do?
#2 – Check for cancellations when you find full campgrounds
Marcia Neese: I can speak to our park and then as an RVer speak to that as well. For us, we tried last year to keep a cancellation list and it became so overwhelming it was a full-time job, and to treat everyone fairly. So we started posting on our website, on our Facebook, I'm sorry. When we get a cancellation, it lasts about maybe three to five minutes, and that's been nonstop since last year
Social media often lists cancellations you can snag
So I would first recommend checking social media. Actually, I would first recommend calling the park themselves, or call a series of parks that you're interested in and find out what their cancellation policy or cancellation list looks like.
If they have one, and that's another reason we built a park, not to get too deep into that, but we couldn't find a spot anywhere several years ago. No one would call us back and no one kept lists. But we're finding more people are doing it nowadays.
#3 – See if there's a waiting list
So call the park, see if they have a waiting list. If not, see if they have social media and if the cancellations would be public to understand.
As an RVer, the one thing I've done, if there's somewhere I really want to go, as horrible as it sounds, I find myself stalking the availability to see if anyone's canceling. It's bad, but that's what we do.
And then lastly, being a part of the forums.
#4 – Monitor online camping forums
Here in North Carolina, there's six, seven, eight forums. I'm a part of all those. As a camper, especially state parks if someone cancels, a lot of times they're posting it.
With private parks like ours, it doesn't really work that way because it's not first come first serve, but if you're looking at state parks I highly recommend getting into the forums and if someone cancels, they'll let you know. Campers love helping other campers.
Mike Wendland: The frustration on your end is all of those phone calls. “Hey, do you have any openings? Did anybody cancel?” As it translates into the RVers end, it's, “They're not answering the phone,” because you also are doing a lot of other things. So that's where social media and all that helps. I don't think anyone would resent a call saying, “Look, how can I keep track of this without pestering you?” And then find out the social end. So that's one thing.
#5 -Plan your camping trips as far out as possible
Mike Wendland: How far ahead now do people have to book for a reservation? Take your case. You're in a very popular area, beautiful area, high demand area. How far do I have to book in advance?
Marcia Neese: Well, for us, as a matter of fact, I just posted this morning, we have some limited availability on weekends through, I would say, July.
Holidays book up pretty quickly. But as for us, for later in the year we do have availability. Our signature sites, which are more riverside, larger spacious sites, are the ones to go quickly.
Reality Check: You may need to book a year ahead!
A lot of our repeat guests will book five, six, seven, eight reservations from last year they've already booked this year. It just depends on the park I would say. We have availability later in the year, but anyone looking to spring camp right now, if they're wanting to go somewhere that's popular, it's probably not going to be feasible for them.
Mike Wendland: Michigan is a state that has a lot of great spots, and like many state parks they opened it up last week for six months in advance. In the first two hours they had 200,000 people online trying to do it, and that's just one state.
I think the other question I have is, and this is kind of your expertise as a park owner, projecting this with other park owners that you might talk about, the demand is certainly outstripping the availability right now. Is this expected to continue? Is there a rush to build more campgrounds? Or is this going to be a bubble that bursts and then things get back to some sort of normality in a couple of years?
#6 – Be realistic, full campgrounds will be the new “normal”
Marcia Neese: Yeah, that's a great question. I'm a researcher and I like to analyze, and then I also analyze our data, all the way down to spent many years in sales. And one of the biggest things to me is camper sales are up 500 or 600% over the last previous years. The demand is so strong right now that you can't even get one, if you order one, for six to eight months, depending on the manufacturer.
Mike Wendland: Actually try a year to two years.
Marcia Neese: Okay, all right. Yeah.
Mike Wendland: Yeah, yeah.
Marcia Neese: Well, I mean, all the way down to the forums, people are begging for popups for sale. If somebody's got a pop up in North Carolina, you can make a killing off of it. Sad, but true.
And being a camper is the other perspective I want to put on it. I kind of last year said, “I have a feeling 50 to 60% of the COVID campers,” which we love. I say that was intimacy.
Many COVID Campers are holding on to their RVs!
The COVID campers are going to be so addicted and so hooked to the camping lifestyle like those of us that have done it for years, that they're not going to walk away from it. But you've got the other percent that through the winter are going to start selling their campers because, to them, they're not going to want the expense. How many times do you think they'll use it again? Or COVID restrictions are going away. Ball practice, ball games, all the sports are starting back up. Who's going to have time to do it anymore?
So if I had to just take an educated guess, I would say at least 40% of those COVID campers are sticking to it. I just see it becoming more and more popular. This week alone, I send out an email every week of local activities, things to do in the area, to let me know if you have a birthday, an anniversary, or if you're a first-time camper because we love maiden voyages in our park. Last night I send out that email. This morning I had four responses, and again we have 51 sites, four so far coming in this Friday are brand new campers. First time.
Mike Wendland: A lot of people thought that we would see this drop-off from those who bought last year and we would see it now, and it hasn't shown up. RV dealerships are begging for older units to be traded in.
#7 – Identify your personal preference in finding a camping spot
So that takes us now to the campground experience as an RVer. Many of them are maiden voyages, and I love that term. Sometimes there's only one or two sites available and that's what they got to pick, but give some suggestions on any campground for an RVer on choosing the right site for them.
Marcia Neese: Sure. Yeah, and there's different options based on personal preference
#8 – RVers on their maiden voyage should choose a pull-through campsite
For a maiden voyage, I highly recommend a pull-through. We have some campers and their background is driving a truck, or they've driven something with a trailer their entire life and they're comfortable backing in. The back-in sites can be a bit challenging in a lot of parks, or are very challenging. My husband's experienced and struggles sometimes.
Mike Wendland: It's also the entertainment, I think, to watch everybody back in.
Marcia Neese: Yeah. We're thinking about putting on an observation deck to the side of the park and letting everybody know when newbies coming in. You got a good point there.
It's whether you prefer privacy or people watching would depend on the site that you choose.
#9 – Use Google Earth to see what the campground looks like
You can always go on Google Earth if it's updated, ours isn't, and look at the park. Some of the websites have this new 360 imaging, which I think is great. Again, we don't want it to have a lot of excess traffic as far as calls into the park, but we have first-timers that call to let us know that.
Also, ask campground staff what they would recommend for you
And before they book, they want to ask about some of the sites to see where they would be best suited. So I would recommend just giving the park a call.
#10 – Practice patience in the campground
Mike Wendland: That's right. Let's talk about in the park, and there are so many new people out there. And with it so filled, all the parks so filled, how about a quick recap of some campground etiquette for our new campus out there, and our experienced ones too.
Marcia Neese: Yeah. I kind of wish my husband was on the phone for this one because he does a lot of the grounds work with our camp hosts and he has some big ones that he would like to pass along, so I can probably relay those.
As it relates to etiquette, and again, being campers, we've always looked at it as do unto others. And until we were park owners, some of those things didn't really stand out to us or we didn't pay as much attention to them. So educating other campers on this piece is something I'm passionate about.
#11 – READ the campground rules
I recommend actually reading the rules for the park because we don't just sit around and write them for no reason. There's actually reasons behind them. We don't make things up.
I look at it and I like to explain it as we're sharing our home with you. If you showed up at someone's house or someone showed up to your house, you would want them to treat it respectfully. So I think that's the biggest thing we ask, at the end of the day is just be respectful of our property and others.
Mike Wendland: Give me a couple of examples here of people not being respectful.
Marcia Neese: Yep. A big one for us is parking on our grass, because my husband calls it baby grass, to give it some life. We have brand new grass. We were two years in construction and just planted grass last year
His analogy is if someone drives into your driveway and they pull off to the side of the grass one time, it's going to be a little indention. But when you've got someone consistently driving into the grass, if somebody leaves, somebody else comes in, somebody leaves, what that means for a park owner is you're getting out the skid-steer for us.
Others are having to hire someone to come in, smooth the area, gravel, replant grass, and it becomes an expense. Something that little, you wouldn't realize as a park owner. So again, if the rules say, please stay off the grass, there's a reason behind it.
#12 – Supervise and clean up after your pets
Barking dogs is another pet peeve of mine. If you leave them in the camper and you know they're going to be barkers, I recommend one of the little collars. Train them on their barking. If they have shown aggressive behavior in the past, then I definitely wouldn't bring them to a park with strange dogs and strange people.
Let them stay at the kennel or just don't bring them camping. Which then leads into cleaning up after the pets. We don't have any issues in our park. We've made DIY pet pickup stations. We have them everywhere. But it's great etiquette for anyone. And to me it's laziness if you just leave it there.
#13 – Don't Hog the campground Wi-Fi
Mike Wendland: How about not hogging the wifi?
Marcia Neese: Well, for us, our park, that's not really an issue because as we were building I went in and did a lot of polls into the large camping forums and clean bathhouses and reliable wifi were the two top.
A lot of our investment went into those two things. We can stream up to three devices per camper on our high-speed spectrum. We've got 10 access points around the park.
But again, as a camper, I've been to parks and the more people that come in as you're camping, the worse your wifi gets. And so, yeah, I highly recommend if you're not using it to make sure, just kind of log off.
Or if your kids are on it and they're trying to stream and they should be outside playing instead, just be courteous to others because a lot of us are working on the road when we're traveling now and really need the wifi.
#14 – Don't leave campfires unattended
Mike Wendland: Yeah. Campfires. That's another big issue.
Marcia Neese: Yeah, I've looked over and seen our field on fire a few times where I can't post a pump. So I would just make sure that when you're going to bed at night, that you've dispersed the fire to make sure that the coals are cooling and make sure that you're not dumping them yourself. I wouldn't think many parks would want you to do that, but just again, be courteous there. Think about what you're doing and be respectful of the person that's having to come clean the next day.
Mike Wendland: As we wrap this up, Marcia, I think one of the big things is that P-word; patience. Talk about that from the reservation side to the getting along with your neighbors side.
#15 – Be considerate of your campground neighbors
Marcia Neese: Yeah. Just goes back to do on to others, but we're lucky. Our guests, as I said, are a big community and everyone wants to help others, and you find that a lot in the camping world. If it's 10:00 at night and somebody's playing corn hole next door, just walk over and say, “Hey bud, camper walls are thin. The kids are trying to sleep.” Communicate with one another in the park.
#16 – Book online whenever possible
Patience, for us, as it relates to booking. As I said, use some resources if you want to try to find a cancellation list. I personally consulted and worked with Campspot reservation system. And booking online, if the park has online booking, it's the best thing that you can do.
If we have 30 reservations in a day, I can promise you that only one or two of them have called into the office, and that's how it works for us. Just to give the camp host the ability to be in the park, to help the guest, just be observant of the time that you're taking up for others as well.
Mike Wendland: Well, the name of Marcia Neese's site is the Riverwalk RV Park. It's on the Yadkin River, and I would not do well in this interview without making sure I do ask you to tell me a little bit about the Yadkin River and the Jonesville and Elkin, North Carolina area.
Marcia Neese: Oh yeah. Yeah, the Yadkin River has a lot of… Or the area, I should say, in general, there's a lot to explore, a lot to do. We have Stone Mountain, which has hiking and waterfalls. We have Carter Falls, which is near us. Elkin is, I hate to overuse this word, but it's a boutique type, just an intimate town with antique shops and breweries. We have 28 wineries within 30 minutes of us.
The Yadkin offers canoeing and tubing. For us alone, we're partnered with Jonesville Kayak and Tubing. They come to the site, they pick you up, they drop you off. They bring you back. So if you've had a few cold ones going down the river, you have nothing to worry about. We're also partnered with Elkin Van Line. They'll pick you up, same thing there. They'll pick you up from your site and take you to the different wineries throughout the day to explore, and then bring you back.
So much to offer. If you check out our website, we have a list of local activities. And I will say that our welcome packets have a ton of things in them to do in the area, as well. As I mentioned earlier, the email that I send out. So when people come to the park, you can see them walking around, they're already picking out their next two to three stays because they didn't realize there's so much to do. They need to come back and get it all done.
#17 – Relax, explore and learn about the area
Mike Wendland: That's my final point is that don't just go to a park and stay there. Ask some questions, do some research because there is so much to see and you would miss out so much. I can tell by your voice that you love having people discover your area, and that's a good part.
Marcia Neese: That's why we chose it.
Mike Wendland: Jennifer and I look forward next time we're in North Carolina, and we will call plenty of days in advance to visiting you. Mid-week is a good time too, for a lot of people. If you can't make it on weekends and it's filled, try a mid-week. See if you can get away.
Marcia Neese: We have a 20% off weekday special just for our weekday warriors. I run that all through the busy season. We're half capacity so you have a little bit more of the park to yourself. And you and Jennifer shoot me an email and some dates and I'll make sure, if you're coming this way, that we've made room for you.
Mike Wendland: Well, we look forward to it. Marcia, our best to you and your husband. Congratulations. Thank you for helping us get a good idea of how to maximize efficiency when we're trying to get into an RV park this year. You've been a great guest. Thank you so much.
Marcia Neese: I thoroughly enjoyed it and thank you for the opportunity.
What if you can't get in a campground this summer…. then what?
Our conversation with Marcia offers some really great advice in getting a spot.
But, let's face it, the bad news is that may not always be possible.
The good news is there are so many other places to camp that you really shouldn't despair.
- Dispersed camping in state and national forests. If your camper has good boondocking capability, you'll find this the ultimate form of true boondocking There are no hookups, no designated campsites, no firepit, picnic table or anything else looking like a normal campsite. But dispersed camping just may be the best camping you have ever experienced! READ THIS article we recently published!
- Harvest Hosts – This awesome membership service lets you stay free at 1,200 wineries, farms, tourist attractions, microbreweries and other unique locations. We have done many stories (CLICK HERE to read) but you may want to take advantage of their best rate for membership. Effective April 1 the annual rate goes from $79 to $99. We can save you 15% if you click rvlifestyle.com/hh
- Church Parking – Across the country, many churches allow RVers to camp in their parking lots. It’s a website called Faithful Parking and it allows RV parking at churches in quiet, often secluded church parking lots across the country. There’s no membership subscription needed, just a very small fee charged by the churches to offset costs CLICK HERE for more info.
- Moochdocking – You surely have heard the term moochdocking by now, a variation on the boondocking trend that is so popular with RVers. While boondocking is typically off-grid camping in remote areas, moochdocking is camping – usually without hookups – in people’s driveways or the back of their property. A website called Moochdocker.com will help you find places for moochdocking, offering still another resource for RVers who want to avoid overcrowded and overpriced campgrounds. CLICK HERE for a story we did about it.
We have one more resource for you: Please check out the epic article we have on where to find free or cheap RV sites. We worked really hard in putting it together and it will help a lot.
And… don't forget our RV travel Guides! See below:
These guides cover most major regions of the country. Available individually or at special discounts for bundles, they will make your RV road trips more fun. We show you what to see, what routes to take, and even where to camp. CLICK HERE for more info.
Happy Trails, everyone!