Think you know what questions to ask a campground?
Before you pull the trigger and book that next campground stay, make sure you run through our list of questions to ask a campground before you book! A little research before booking can help to ensure that your home away from home is just what you pictured.
Look, we have probably all been there before… You book a hotel room or a campsite online or over the phone and arrive at your destination only to be disappointed that the accommodations are not what you had in mind. Perhaps the pictures on the website were very outdated and not a true representation of the location. Or maybe you arrived and realized that your room or campsite lacked certain features that you assumed would be available. We have certainly run into these issues before and so we decided to put together a list that will hopefully help guide you in your booking process when it comes to future campground stays.
Most Campground Websites Leave A Lot to be Desired
Let’s face it: the majority of websites for campgrounds across the United States completely suck. Actually, let’s backtrack and acknowledge the fact that even though the way of the world seems to run on the Internet, many campgrounds still lack an online presence. When we planned our road trip from Pennsylvania to Yellowstone National Park two years ago, we couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find contact information for many of the smaller campgrounds that we were hoping to stay at along the way. I remember how archaic the booking system was for one campground in particular. That campground did not even have an office or a phone. You had to call one of the businesses in town to book a campsite. The woman on the phone hand wrote my name and contact information in the ledger book and she mailed me a paper receipt via snail mail. Talk about old school!
More and more campgrounds are finally getting online or, at the very least, starting a Facebook Page. Some of the bigger campground franchises, for example KOA, do have fairly convenient online booking options and websites that show plenty of current pictures of the campgrounds themselves.
When You Arrive and Things Aren’t As You Planned
When it comes to camping, you might be planning to camp using any one of a number of possible lodging options. You might have brought your tent, you might be towing a pop-up or driving a big Class A motorhome… You might even be renting a cabin on the campground’s property. Depending on what method of camping you will be doing, there are certain questions you need to ask before you book your campsite.
If you planned to turn on your travel trailer’s air-conditioner on a hot summer night, you will be sad if you arrive at your campsite to find that you booked a primitive site that doesn’t have electric… Or a site that isn’t running the correct amps required for your rig. Just as frustrating could be a situation where you find that you booked a campsite that your camper does not physically fit into and the rest of the campground is fully booked.
So let’s lay it out and talk about some of the most common issues you might run into with a campground or campsite in particular. These issues can be avoided if you simply know what questions to ask a campground before you book. Never assume that every campground is going to be a great fit for you, your family, or your rig. A little research before you book can go along way.
Things to Know and Questions to Ask a Campground Before You Book
What kind of hookups do the sites have? Do you need a full hookup site? 30 amp? 50 amp? Cable TV? Primitive?
Does the campground allow you to book a specific site or are sites assigned at check-in? Many campgrounds allow you to book a specific site when you make your reservation. This is very convenient because you can ask for specific hookup needs, site size, etc before you pull out your credit card. Other campgrounds work on a first-come, first-served basis. This was one of the biggest drawbacks (in our opinion) that we experienced the year we tried a Thousand Trails membership (free with our camper purchase). Not only did they NOT assign campsites until you arrived, they also would not guarantee what KIND of site you would end up with. No guarantees for full hookup, location, nothing. A couple of times we arrived to very crowded campgrounds and ended up with less-than-desirable sites that did not have full hookup. Needless to say, we didn’t renew our membership.
What size are the sites? If you have a longer sized trailer, any slideouts, passenger cars to park, it’s going to be very helpful to know what kind of site you are booking. I’ll never forget one campground that we stayed at where the sites were tightly packed together and all on a sloping hill. We had a back-in site and came close to not being able to angle the camper into the space.
Are the sites pull-through or back-in? Depending on your preference and/or size of your rig, you might want to ask if there are any pull-through sites.
What is the campground layout in general? This is important to know if you are at all particular about location. Do you want to be close to the bath house? Close to the pool? Far away from the Game Room? Everyone has different preferences so anytime you can pull up a campground map ahead of booking your site, it’s helpful. If there is no map available online, try plugging the campground address into Google Maps and taking a look at the Earth view. This is also handy to see if there are any undesirable elements at/near the campground that might lead you to book elsewhere. We always look for things like major highways, 24/7 cargo train tracks, etc before we book.
How accessible are the roads leading to the campground? This is another question that Google Maps (Earth view) might be able to answer. When we drove through South Dakota and Wyoming, one big thing that we had to consider was how mountainous the terrain was near our prospective campgrounds. We had a smaller truck to pull a 28 foot trailer and while the truck did just fine on a flat highway, mountain driving was taxing on the engine and transmission. Take a look at the route you intend to drive and decide if your rig can handle the terrain.
What is the campground’s pet policy? Just because your dog is your best friend and you think of him as one of your kids doesn’t mean he is welcome at every campground. Many campgrounds allow friendly dogs as long as they are kept on leashes, but some locations do not allow pets at all. Check with the campground’s office for their pet policy before you book.
What is the campground’s campfire policy? Can you have a campfire? Do you need to bring your own fire pit like Disney’s campground? Are you allow to bring your own firewood or do you need to purchase it from the campground? (In some states it is actually illegal to burn firewood that camp from outside the state/area. This has to do with certain tree diseases, etc and trying to prevent the spread of anything that might harm the trees.)
What are the campground’s office hours? When is the office open? What do they sell in the camp store (if there is one)? Do they accept credit cards or just cash?
How are late check-ins handled? There is nothing worse that driving all day long and finally arriving at your destination for the night to find the office windows dark, doors locked and absolutely nothing indicating where you should park or that they are expecting you. If you have any indication that you might be arriving after the office has closed, find out where to proceed once you arrive. Many campgrounds have a late arrival box or bin where you will find your site assignment and any other relevant paperwork.
Are there any potentially dangerous wildlife common in the area? I know, I know, that sounds really lame. IT’S NATURE! YOU’RE CAMPING! But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t educate yourself on what might be lurking around the campground. When we stayed at Fishing Bridge RV Park in Yellowstone, we were literally INSIDE the bear sanctuary! It was important to know this and be aware. (And nope, didn’t see a single darn bear the entire time we were there!)
Does the campground have a raging social scene or a pretty strict quiet code of conduct? Look, we thought we had seen it all. Then one night we arrived after dark at our KOA en route to the Outer Banks and we literally had to park our camper in the middle of Beer Pong Mania 2018. No lie, our neighbors had to move their cornhole boards just so we could pull in and they cheered when we backed into our site in one shot. This campground was most DEFINITELY a party campground. Depending on what kind of vacation you are hoping for, this may or may not be your cup of tea. You can read online reviews (if available) to try to gain some insight, as well as ask the owners if the campground is generally loud or quiet.
We hope the conversation starters above are helpful as you consider potential campgrounds for your next getaway. Whether you ask every single question, or just the ones that are super important to you, this is a good starting point. Make a list of questions to ask a campground that include items important to you and call or email them before you book!