How We Select Campgrounds
I use a fairly rigorous process to plan our route. Typically. Typically, the process works, but not always as you’ll see below.
For the past year I’ve been using an Internet-based program called RV Trip Wizard. This application has made planning much much easier as it combines a Google Map-like interface with detailed campground information which park telephone, address, elevation, facilities, park reviews, and so on.
Nevertheless, for me, selecting campgrounds is a multi-step process . . .
First, Where Are We Going?
Because it’s become increasingly difficult to book choice campgrounds, we start trip planning at least a year in advance.
Our long trips have one or more “destinations”. These are places we want to see and to spend several days at like Banff National Park in Canada.
Second, What’s the Route?
After selecting the major destinations, we rough out a route between them and guesstimate when we could “comfortably” arrive at each destination. For us “comfortably” means as much as possible following the 2-2-2 Rule: driving 200 miles or less between campgrounds (we’re currently averaging 116 miles), arriving before 2 pm, and staying at least 2 days.
Third, Destination Reservations
Since destination campgrounds are very popular, you’ll typically find “No room at the inn” if you just drive in without a reservation, especially in the peak summer season. People have successully done this, but it’s a great way to ruin a trip.
We made reservations for Banff National Park at 8 am on January 9th — the time and day when Banff officially opened for 2019 reservations. Even then, most of the prime locations and times vanished in minutes. However, we were able to score 10 days in a row but in 3 different sites in July.
We made a 2-week reservation at Grand Canyon’s Trailer Court one year in advance.
Third, What are the In-Between Places?
I try to leave the in-betweens, the campgrounds between destinations, unreserved as long as possible. We might change our route, have RV problems, etc, etc. However, it is becoming increasingly harder to get campgrounds in summer, especially on weekends when families flock to the parks.
So we ended up booking many of our in-between campgrounds weeks or even months before arriving.
Fourth, Reservations: Art or Science?
A bit of both I think.
Campground reviews are indespensible. Usually I check Campground Reviews (which are incorporated into RV Trip Wizard), Google/Trip Advisor reviews, Campendium, and RV Parky.
Finally, Google is indispensable. It allows you to examine the roads into a park, the terrain, local area, places to shop, and so on. Also, Google’s Street Views are fantasic because often you can look at the outside (and sometimes the inside) of an RV park.
Fifth, What Could Go Wrong?
Plenty. Here’s a recent example. Last night I was reviewing the final 3 campgrounds we’ll stay at before arriving at Banff. I had reservations at all three.
Using Google maps, I was looking for a Safeway grocery store near the Twin Rivers Canyon Resort in Moyie Springs, ID where we would be spending two days.
Then I noticed the road coming into the Twin Rivers campground . . .
Switchbacks. That meant some serious elevation changes, so I checked the park reviews, and sure enough, bad mojo:
Jan and I like to look at mountains, but we don’t like to drive on them.
We’re Midwestern Flatlanders at heart.
So at about midnight I decided to cancel our reservation at Twin Rivers and look for new lodgings. Luckily, given the late hour, I was able to make online reservation at two campgrounds. One is a KOA which I call the “McDonalds of campgrounds” — a sure bet, but mediocre. Mission accomplished.