Where Should You Camp? Start Here.
There are 16,000 campgrounds on both public and private lands in the US – some are more rustic than others are, but all are available for the RV vacation of your dreams. You can even benefit from government sources you might not think to check. We’ve included a handy list here.
Privately-Owned RV Campgrounds – There are approximately 8,500 of these popular, family-oriented properties located near national parks and forests, popular tourist attractions along interstates and in both cities and small towns. Many are also vacation destinations in their own right, offering pools, playgrounds, organized activities, convenience stores, and more. For more information, visit the web site for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) at http://www.gocampingamerica.com.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA) – North America’s largest campground chain offers a free Directory, Road Atlas, and Camping Guide at any one of its more than 550 campgrounds. To order by mail, send $3.00 to KOA Directory, PO Box 30558, Billings, MT 59114-0558. KOA’s web site is http://www.koa.com.
National Parks – There are over 440 campgrounds, offering 29,000 total campsites, at the nation’s 379 national parks. Though camping facilities are generally simple and rustic, they’re nestled among some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. Note that reservations at some of the busiest national parks can and should be made up to three months in advance. Contact the National Park Service toll-free at 1-800-365-2267.
National Forests – The USDA Forest Service has more than 4,000 campgrounds in its 156 forests. A list of Forest Service campgrounds is available for free, by writing to the USDA Forest Service, Public Affairs Office, PO Box 96090, Washington, DC 20090-6090. Reservations for USDA Forest Service campgrounds can now be made through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS). To contact NRRS, call toll-free 1-877-444-6777 or visit their web site at http://www.recreation.gov.
US Army Corps of Engineers Projects – Few know that 53,000 campsites located near oceans, rivers, and lakes have been created through Corps projects. Information is available in a series of brochures. To obtain information, please indicate a regional preference or “nationwide” and write to the USACE Publication Depot, 2803 52nd Ave, Hyattsville, MD 20781-1102. The NRRS (see above) also handles reservations for Corps project campsites.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Recreation Sites – For camping information about the 270 million acres in the Western US controlled by the BLM, write to BLM, Department of Interior-MIB, 1849 C Street NW, Room 5600, Washington, DC 20240.
National Wildlife Refuges – A free list of refuges that permit camping (allowable only if the camping is compatible with ongoing conservation efforts at each location) is available in “National Wildlife Refuges – A Visitor’s Guide”, from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Conservation Training Center, Shepherd Grade Road, Route 1, Box 166, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. It also is available by calling toll-free 1-800-344-WILD (9453).
State Parks – A free list of state travel offices is in the “Discover America Vacation Guide”, available by writing the Travel Industry Association of America, 1100 New York Ave NW, Suite 450, Washington, DC 20005-3934. Please include a self-addressed, business-sized envelope with requests for the publication. Information on some state and local park facilities is also available at http://www.reserveamerica.com.
A number of companies publish national campground directories that are available in bookstores or as reference books in local libraries.
Which RV is Right For You?
“RV” is a nickname for a whole family of vehicles that combine transportation and temporary living quarters for recreation, camping, and travel. Some provide a simple place for sleeping and eating, while others are luxury lodges on wheels. They fall into two general categories: towables (folding camping trailers, truck campers, travel trailers, and fifth wheels) and motorized (class A, B, and C motorhomes).
Folding Camping Trailers. A lightweight unit with collapsible sides for towing by a typical family vehicle or even some compact cars. Set up, it provides kitchen, dining, sleeping, and often toilet facilities for up to eight people. Prices range from $4,000 to $18,000; most sell for an average of $5,500.
Truck Campers. A camping unit that’s loaded onto the chassis of a pickup. Kitchen and bathroom facilities are widely available. Sleeps two to six people. Sells from $4,000 to $25,000. Most consumers buy models costing about $14,300.
Travel Trailers. Built to be towed by a car, van, or pickup, travel trailers provide a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping, dining, and living facilities, electric and water systems, and modern appliances from refrigerators and stoves to microwaves and even washers/dryers. Like all towable units, they can be unhitched from the tow vehicle for convenient local travel to and from the campsite. Travel trailers sleep four to eight people and range in price from $9,900 to $76,000; $15,300 is the average.
Fifth Wheels. Built to be towed by pickups with a special hitch, they feature a separate second floor sleeping or living area. Some have panoramic picture windows and several slide-outs. Fifth wheels retail from $12,000 to $98,000; the average price is $25,800.
Class A Motorhomes. The living unit has been entirely constructed on a specially designed motor vehicle chassis. As in all motorized RVs, the kitchen, dining, sleeping, and bathroom facilities are conveniently accessible from the driver’s area. And living systems generally include electricity, heating, air conditioning, water and propane gas; a full array of appliances and entertainment features is available. Class A motorhomes sleep from two to six people and sell for an average of $130,500, with models available for as little as $50,000 into the hundreds of thousands for high-line coaches.
Class B Motorhomes. More commonly referred to as a “van camper”, a class B motorhome is a panel-type truck to which the RV manufacturer adds sleeping, kitchen and/or toilet facilities. Most have electric and water hookups, fresh water storage, and a top extension for added headroom. Class B motorhomes sleep from two to four people and retail from $37,500 to $71,000; the average is $57,100.
Class C Motorhomes. Built on an automotive-manufactured van frame with a n attached cab section, the RV Manufacturer completes the body section containing the living area behind and above the cab. This design allows for more sleeping room than other types, as the area over the cab will accommodate a double- or queen-sized bed. Class C motorhomes offer the same living systems and many of the conveniences of type As. They sleep six to ten people and sell for $42,000 to $121,000. The average cost is $56,500.
The Ideal Tow Vehicle. Closely related to RVs but sold by auto dealers rather than RV dealers are conversion vehicles: vans, trucks, and sport-utility vehicles customized with enhanced windows, carpet, seating, and entertainment systems for added comfort and convenience. Van conversions provide luxurious seating for up to 12 people and sleep two to four people. Models are available between $17,000 and $55,000; the average price paid is $28,000.
RVing on the Information Highway.
Look around this year’s Chicago RV, Camping, & Van Show and you’ll notice that recreational vehicles are getting more high-tech. There are even some units with Internet-ready workstations. Fittingly, there’s now a wealth of information on the Internet for RV enthusiasts and people thinking about buying or renting their first RV. We’ve mapped out a few routes on the information highway just for you.
According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the most comprehensive source of RV information on the Internet is from their “Go RVing” coalition of manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, and campgrounds. The URL is http://www.gorving.com and the site contains basic, user-friendly information such as descriptions of the types of vehicles available, a searchable dealer directory, RV rental locations, and an order form for a free “Getting Started” video.
From there, you can use a link to RVIA’s own web site http://www.rvia.org for more in-depth information, such as a member directory, lists of RV shows and clubs, maintenance tips, industry news, and market trends and shipment data.
The Recreation Vehicle Dealer’s Assocation (RVDA), at http://www.rvda.org, provides extensive information on locating and contacting RV dealerships nationwide, and a site from the Recreation Vehicle Rental Association, http://www.rvra.org, has US, Canadian, and European listings of over 270 RV rental companies along with tips on renting.
Many leading RV manufacturers also have web sites about their products. Some print publications for RV enthusiasts, have online editions designed to reach their readers more easily on the road. Access to the Internet is a plus for frequent RVers because electronic mail boxes and subscriptions to online publications are more portable than traditional “snail mail” and paper magazines. Messages and news can be accessed even if travelers don’t have a regular “stop” or telephone number. There’s even a satellite telephone system for RVers who are outside areas covered by cellular service.
Campgrounds are in on the trend, too; travelers can now get phone connections at many locations allowing dial-up Internet access from the road. Here are some other RV travel-related web sites:
- http://www.allcampgrounds.com – This site lists campgrounds, parks, clubs, and dealers.
- http://www.cruiseamerica.com – This nationwide rental company lists information on how to rent its RVs.
- http://www.fmca.com – This site for the Family Motor Coach Association national camping club offers updated rally schedules and a wide range of news and information.
- http://www.funoutdoors.com – This site by the American Recreation Coalition includes news on outdoor activities, including RVing.
- http://www.funroads.com – This site offers personalized RV trip planning, maps, recipes for the road, games and puzzles, RV maintenance information, weather updates, and locations of important places like hospitals and pharmacies.
Try Before You Buy
Renting an RV is a great way for you to take an RV on an extended “test drive” with your family and belongings; it’s also a great way to see how you’ll like traveling according to your own schedule, without long lines, delayed flights, heavy luggage, or hotels.
Rental RVs also are the answer for those who already know and enjoy the RV lifestyle but don’t want the responsibility of ownership.
More than 400 rental chain outlets and local RV dealerships offer state-of-the-art, late model year vehicles for your pleasure. The nations largest rental company, Cruise America Inc. (Mesa, AZ) has more than 100 locations in the US and Canada. Another rental chain, El Monte RV (based in Santa Fe Springs, CA) has 23 outlets in the US Dozens of other local dealers in the US carry fleets of five to 50 vehicles for rental.
Also, some rental dealers offer comprehensive tour packages that include services such as airline and railway connections for fly-drive and rail-drive plans, one-way packages, off-season rates, vacation planning, guided tours, and campground discounts.
Operating an RV is easier than many people think, and, for the vast majority of RVs, no special license is required. Today’s RVs include automatic transmissions, power brakes, and power steering. With proper attention to the difference in vehicle size, height, and weight, car drivers will find it fun and easy to take the wheel of a rental RV.
The Recreation Vehicle Rental Assocation (RVRA) is reporting that the RV rental market is booming for many of these reasons. Travel agencies are now responding to the demand by including RV rental information in their customer brochures. As a result, today’s travelers are finding it easier than ever to rent RVs for a weekend – or weeks at a time.
Motorhomes are the most popular rental models, but travel trailers, folding camping trailers, truck campers, and conversion vans also are available. RV rental costs are dependent on the season, the region of the country and the size of the unit. Motorhomes rent from $90 to $200 per day; folding camping trailers and travel trailers average $35 to $65 per day. Package deals of three to seven days often include mileage and reduce the per-day rate. Advance reservations are essential.
RV rental dealers make sure to fully instruct customers in the operation of their units. For additional fees, some provide housekeeping packages that include linens, cookware, and other necessities for life on the road. Larger dealerships operate an extensive emergency repair network and a toll-free renter’s assistance and information number.
Vacationers interested in renting an RV locally can consult their Yellow Pages under “Recreational Vehicles – Renting and Leasing”.
RV Vacations Cut Costs, Not Comforts
As the economy has gone into recession, Americans have become more conscious of costs – including vacation travel. Many are using RVs as a way to reduce travel expenses significantly without compromising family fun, safety, or comfort.
A recent vacation cost comparison study showed that, even after factoring in RV ownership costs, a family of four can save up to 70% on average when traveling by RV. In looking at trips with three types of RVs most commonly used for travel with kids, the international travel and tourism firm PKF Consulting concluded that:
Travel with a folding camping trailer was an average of 50 to 70 percent less expensive than the non-RV trips analyzed.
Vacations with a conventional travel trailer saved 24 to 57 percent.
Travel in a Class C motorhome cost 9 to 49 percent less.
PKF analyzed nine different kinds of vacations to such popular family travel destinations as the Grand Canyon, Orlando, Cape Cod, Napa CA, and Alaska. Among the variety of vacation travel modes studied for each of these destinations, RV trips were the least expensive in all cases, including prorated vehicle ownership costs for the period.
For a typical week-long vacation, the study showed that, depending on the type owned, going by RV cost an average of 65 to 80 percent less than a cruise; 57 to 72 percent less than an all-inclusive air/hotel/meal package; 50 to 66 percent less than a trip involving air travel, rental cars, restaurants and hotels; and 34 to 56 percent less than travel to a condo or rental property by personal car or airline.
The cost of going by RV was 13 to 42 percent lower than traveling in a personal car, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants – the least expensive of the non-RV travel options studied.
There are more than just monetary advantages to RV travel, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). They cite family bonding, comfortable and flexible travel, and no worries about flight delays, crowds and heavy baggage.
RV owners polled by RVIA confirm that the savings and convenience of RV vacations are significant. “To fly with the kids would be well over $1,000 when you factor in expenses for hotels, renting a car and eating out all the time – it really adds up”, said RV owner Andrea Hyland of Long Island, NY. “On top of that, we have to book everything at least a month in advance. RVs are a much better option for us.”
Besides major cash or credits outlays required from start to finish of each vacation (e.g. food, fuel or fares, lodging or campground fees), PKF factored in estimated cost of ownership of the RVs analyzed based upon research documenting average ownership periods, residual values, annual days of use, insurance and interest deductions.