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Has COVID ruined camping?


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In the past, we were able to go cross-country with a lot of flexibility. Very few advance reservations, picking our next campground the day before, using the first-come-first-served sites at national parks, overnighting in a few Walmarts. Just free-wheeling it for the most part. It was great. Now with COVID and a billion new RVers everywhere, is it even possible to travel without a fixed itinerary and reservations any more? Walmarts are kicking RVs out, state and national parks are fully booked a year in advance, COE and BLM lands are more crowded than ever. Can you still just hit the road and travel day-to-day? If so, what are your tricks? And, if not, (just guesswork here) do you think the COVID campers will tire of camping and things might ease up in a few years? We've been waiting for retirement to enjoy that type of travel again. Hope we haven't lost the opportunity!

Stephanie and Dudley from CT. Tow vehicle: 2016 GMC Sierra gas dually. Current RV: Rockwood Signature fifth wheel.

Oliver LE2 on the way in July!

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There is a lot of craziness that will inevitably die down some, in a year or two, but I doubt that it will ever get back to those simpler times. It is still fairly easy to find spots in less popular destinations mid-week, but even there, the weekends are typically booked solid, Friday through Monday, so you are forced to move along. You really need to be able to boondock for extended periods, and be willing to travel over gravel ranch and forest roads. If you can find a nice primitive site on a BLM reservoir, or NFS pullout, you can use that as a base of operations to explore in your tow vehicle. Do not count on being able to drive into Yellowstone in the summer and find a spot at the spur of the moment. No way!

Even the REALLY remote, lightly used National Parks like Great Basin have now gone to Reservation Only. their visitation numbers have doubled recently. You may have trouble finding a spot, but at least now you will not drive a couple of hours, only to see those hated Campgrounds Full signs. The wonderful COE campgrounds around Lake Roosevelt here in WA went that way last Spring, which was a great help, and in their case you can actually reserve the day you arrive. So if you see a spot that is open, you just need to find a cell signal, which can be quite hard, and grab it using their online reservation system (Recreation.gov).

I hope that I can camp for a few more years, but at some point the crowds and the horrible summer wildfire smoke will force me to sell. For the cost of my trailer payments and insurance and additional fuel used, I can buy a whole lot of hotel rooms. It will be hard to rationalize all the camping hassles then.😤

John Davies

Spokane WA

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"Mouse":  2017 Legacy Elite II NARV (Not An RV) Two Beds, Hull Number 218, See my HOW TO threads: https://olivertraveltrailers.com/topic/john-e-davies-how-to-threads-and-tech-articles-links/

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For summer 2020 through 2021, camping was about it for safe travel. Or sailing.

That's all changing. Imo. Airports are seeing increased passenger numbers, hotels are once again booking, resorts are filling, and I personally think a lot of campers bought in the last few years will begin to languish in sideyards, or go up for sale, as their amateur owners discover they don't love camping, and return to the more lux travel arrangements they prefer. Saw a lot of Quebec and Ontario cars on i95 yesterday,  but only a few campers. 😃

Well, maybe it's just my hope, but that's my vision. 

We've pretty much stuck to our camping property in NC the last two years, and it's been great, but we're ready to get back on the road,  next season.  I do have concerns about the many sites turned over to reservations systems. We never used to make reservations,  anywhere. But, many places that were all first come, first served are now reservable.

I'm still optimistic for the future,  however. Someday, they'll have to pry the bulldog collar out of my very cold hands...😅

Btw, there was a billboard on i75 yesterday. "Choose Joy." It was advertising a radio station, but, hey, I'm adopting it as my new personal slogan.

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4 hours ago, Steph and Dud B said:

In the past, we were able to go cross-country with a lot of flexibility.

My take on it is this - if one thought that they used to be able to go cross-country with a lot of flexibility then in these times they simply will need to have even more flexibility.  Yes, perhaps it is a different kind of flexibility but it is now more important than ever.

This past summer I was fortunate enough to get a reserved site in a Yellowstone campground for 10 days.  Every single day there would be sites open where people with reservations either didn't show up, cancelled at the last minute or left early.  And, every single day there would be those people who simply just showed up at the right time and got one of those sites.  Definitely not the way I prefer to travel but these people (for the most part) knew that they were  taking a "flier" on getting a site and were prepared to move on if they were not successful - they were flexible.  During this same trip I spent four days on the road driving to the West and another four days driving to the East all without a single reservation.  Knowing that I might run into issues finding a place to park for the night, I had 4 or 5 different places already identified in the event my first choice was taken/full.  Not once did I have to resort to even my second choice.  Lucky - perhaps, but, I was prepared.

We have purchased one of the most flexible campers on the market and if outfitted correctly it is capable of keeping us very comfortable is a very wide range of situations.  In these times we just have to be as flexible in our planning to be able to enjoy ourselves no matter what situation we encounter.

Bill

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We tend to camp when and where there are not a lot of others with whom to compete for spots.  We are mostly dry campers from Jan-Feb-March in New Mexico and Arizona with some trips in the Spring East and then back West in the Fall.

Observations from Jan/Feb 2021 in NM are that we always found a place to set up camp, even though the NM State Park Campgrounds were closed.  Even with Arizona park campgrounds open there were few nights where we wanted to stay at a specific State Park campground where we were turned away.  At least in NM and AZ State campgrounds usually have some sort of overflow, dry camping spots available and if not, it pays to have a plan B and C in your pocket for other spots nearby.  Our best tool for finding great dry camping spots is the iOverlander app.  From what we have observed, those with new stickbuilt SOB trailers tend to migrate to campgrounds with full hookups and paved parking spots.

In the few trips we have made East and then down to pick up our new Ollie we had no issue finding campsites even without reservations, but this was in late September.

Perhaps it is the time of year and location where we travel but being flexible, having a few backup plans in pocket and being dry campers have worked well for us even during the Pandemic where State Parks were closed and tons of new people were out camping.

 

Best wishes

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Here is my take on this issue. I truly believe a huge percentage of the RV market glut of the last couple of years will be short lived and as SeaDawg mentioned a good many of those campers will be setting in RV parking lots most of the time. Heck this was already the case long before the RV glut and from what I've seen a great deal of these new "camper people" are quite inexperienced at best. 

Yellowstone: Even this year there were a few of their campgrounds on a FCFS (first come first serve) basis, Indian Creek and about half of Pebble Creek. Regardless the only years I've ever seen empty campgrounds in YNP was during the housing bubble years of '08 and '09. My wife and I went down there on 4th of July weekend for a day hike or two only to be blown away that more than half of the campgrounds were still not full in early afternoon. Never saw that before nor sense.

Glacier: Apgar, Avalanche and parts of Two Medicine and Swiftcurent are also FCFS or mixed with RSVP's. 

We were only able to get out once this summer season due to some family issues, (sister in law with Alzheimers) but on my scouting trips up in this neck of the woods I was able to find open campgrounds all over SW Montana and beyond quite easily. Excellent ones at that and if not the greatest campgrounds at least close to strategic places. Granted late Sunday-Thursdays are the best time to grab one but even on weekends empty campsites existed if you knew where to look. This brings up the next suggestion. Free Roam and the Ultimate Public Campground Apps. Wouldn't be without them. Free Roam specializes in free boon docking sites and while UPC app list free but also pay sites. Most importantly they list whether these public campgrounds are RSVP's or FCFS. 

Back in April we took off for TX to bring sister in law back to MT and had no problem what so ever traveling through UT and NM obtaining public campsites. It didn't hurt that we had traveled to these places numerous times and knew where to go for our favorites. Keep in mind this was smack dab in the middle of Spring break for many college students. However like others here, I am concerned about the future of easy camping the way most of us have known and loved for decades. The population of the US has at least tripled over the last 30-40 years and even if only a very small portion of this increase wants to camp one doesn't have to be a CPA to figure this will put additional burden on what existing wilderness and public lands we do have.

Times have changed.

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On our way out West a couple of weeks ago we stopped to visit friends in Elkhart, IN.  

For those who don't know, the vast majority of stick built (screw and glue) travel trailers and motorhomes for the U.S. market are built here. My friend works in Quality Control (post-build inspection), covering most of the major local SOB brands (Heartland, Forest River, Thor).  From our talks I gathered that the US RV market is unsustainable at Pandemic level and signs point to not only a decline in sales but also many recent Pandemic (NEW) owners exiting the flanks of ownership over the next couple of years.  He told me that some of the Mega RV dealer networks he supports are already reporting a return to 2018 sales levels.

Many of the new Stick-built units being sold during the Pandemic are being financed for terms of 15-20 yrs,  

Many of the current Stick-built units are built with a rubber membrane roof, over luan and 2x2 wood framing, held together with lots of glue and staples.  Lots of staples.

Many of owners of these new stick built RVs are storing their new RVs outdoors in sunny, rainy, windy and hail-prone climates.  In Colorado, I see huge RV storage lots popping up along the Front Range to support storage not allowed in the nearby covenant-controlled planned housing developments 

For the above reasons, I do not see many of these new buyers remaining as campers for more than a few years, or at least until the damage incurred by their trailers from outdoor storage is no longer covered by warranty and outweighs the ding to their credit from walking away from another 13-18 yrs of payments.

While sad for these new owners, the indicators observed point also to a decline in occupancy at campgrounds coming soon

 

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24 minutes ago, Mountainman198 said:

While sad for these new owners, the indicators observed point also to a decline in occupancy at campgrounds coming soon.

I hope so!  Thanks for the optimistic report!

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5 minutes ago, Mountainman198 said:

From our talks I gathered that the US RV market is unsustainable at Pandemic level and signs point to not only a decline in sales

I read a recent analysis of RV production numbers vs. new RV vehicle registrations. At the start of the pandemic new registrations were matching new production: they were selling every unit they made. Then the manufacturers increased production dramatically (including Oliver). In the last several months production has consistently outstripped new registrations: the dealer lots are filling up again. (Fortunately, Oliver has a known buyer for every unit they make.) So, yes, the sales bubble appears to have burst. The big unknown is how long the new buyers will keep their RVs and use them. 

13 minutes ago, Mountainman198 said:

I do not see many of these new buyers remaining as campers for more than a few years, or at least until the damage incurred by their trailers from outdoor storage is no longer covered by warranty

We're currently on our third stick built. They've all been stored outside in New England. If you get a decent one and do basic maintenance (especially roof caulking), you can expect to get about 10 years out of them. Here's my (totally non-data-based) prediction: 25% of the new buyers will tire of the lifestyle and return to their hotels within the next 3 years. An additional 15% will leave because of vehicle damage (mostly from leaks) in the next 5 years. 50% of the remainder will significantly reduce the number of days they camp per year over the next 4 years as the kids grow up and they mix in more fly/hotel trips. That leaves 30% who remain avid RVers 5 years from now. Still a decent number. 

If I'm right (or close), I'm hoping to see noticeably less crowded conditions in about 4 years, but there will still be more RVers than there used to be. That might end up with some advantages, too: increased short term revenues might prompt some campground expansions and improvements, some innovation in the design and manufacture of RVs and RV accessories, etc.

Fingers crossed. 

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Stephanie and Dudley from CT. Tow vehicle: 2016 GMC Sierra gas dually. Current RV: Rockwood Signature fifth wheel.

Oliver LE2 on the way in July!

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HERE is a statistical study of camping in 2021 based on a reasonable sample of just shy of 4,000 survey responses.

Unfortunately, it does not address any information concerning the supply side of the function (i.e. additional camping sites).

Bill

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43 minutes ago, topgun2 said:

HERE is a statistical study of camping in 2021 based on a reasonable sample of just shy of 4,000 survey responses.

That is quite a report, thanks, I guess KOA got their money's worth. It is quite hard to absorb all the data, maybe there is a shorter summary report?

One thing we need to remember always, is that there are a whole lot of completely clueless folks and they need our help. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck directly across from the waste dump at an RV park in Whitehorse YT. It was the only available spot, and a little stinky at times. I got to watch a LOT of people struggling with the basics. I did get up a couple of times to caution folks to not use the non-potable water to fill their tank, the potable one was just down the street about 50 feet away. Both were color coded and clearly labeled. I wonder how many campers get very sick because of basic sanitation ignorance.

I also was quite amused by all the tent camping pics in the report, of happy families lying down in tall uncut grass. Oh my!

John Davies

Spokane WA

"Mouse":  2017 Legacy Elite II NARV (Not An RV) Two Beds, Hull Number 218, See my HOW TO threads: https://olivertraveltrailers.com/topic/john-e-davies-how-to-threads-and-tech-articles-links/

Tow Vehicle: 2013 Land Cruiser 200, 33" LT tires, airbags, Safari snorkel.

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I'm always a bit leery of reports such as this.  While the 4,000 responses are statistically significant, there are way too many of these kinds of reports that can still be skewed to say and/or represent almost any viewpoint.  However, most of what is said here seems to verify what is being observed in the real world.  And, it gives a basis  from which to draw your own conclusions that is not based on "guesses".

Bill

2017 Ford F150 Lariat 3.5EB FX4 Max Towing 2016 Oliver Elite II - Hull #117 "Twist"

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Hi All,

Like the OP, our normal method of planning for a long trip, was to head in the general direction of desire, and wing it. For years (decades?) We have done multi month trips this way and had a great time. From TN to the tips of Alaska, all around the west, and in-between, we just went and had a great time. And this all changed in 2020/2021. Even with decent planning, our travels were just not as enjoyable heading into 2021. Other than some closures and new rules, Covid issues just didn't affect our travels in 2020 - we went everywhere we planned - mostly. However, to be frank, 2021 was not enjoyable - everywhere we went, even in the back areas, was just too busy". Trash everywhere, wilderness areas ripped apart for firewood, loud obnoxious people, and campgrounds - both full service and not - abused. OK - too many people..... The luster had gone - we had enough - Oliver got a new home, as we decided to do other things - which required staying closer to home for a year or so. 

How long will the glut last - your guess is as good as mine. When our project finishes up, I'll look around - perhaps we will hit the road a little - who knows.

Until then -  I wish the Oliverites good fortune. Have fun, be safe, 

RB

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Cindy,  Russell and  "Harley dog" . Home is our little farm near Winchester TN

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I'm looking forward to some wet season camping near me to be in position for some "photo safari" type fun and possibly some ski bumming as well, but even well before the pandemic the summer and even the nice parts of shoulder seasons were becoming much more busy and thus harder to just wander at random will - this was true even at least a half decade ago. I don't expect that to change given increasing population along with an increased percent of the population in my region now doing things like hiking and camping which I'm sure will "stick" with a decent percent even as Cabo and Lake Como and so forth regain their appeal as vacation options. However, here's my n=1 "survey" of recent RV buyers who were getting out a lot during the pandemic - my next door neighbors. They have just put their Winnebago Mini-Lite, which they enjoyed well enough for not quite two years with their two young boys, on the market. They seem done with camping vacations.

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Jim and  Yanna, Woodinville WA

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I guess I don’t mind planning way ahead… perhaps it’s a result of having a business that had a way of snuffing out spontaneity.. if we wanted to get away, we had to work it all out well ahead of time. 
Or maybe it’s just me…I enjoy working out where we are going, pouring over topo’s and Google earth. In terms of campgrounds, if we are staying in them, we try to stick to State Parks. I like checking out campgrounds and trying to figure out which is “the best” site for us.. 

if we want to go someplace, like SW Florida for a month to collect sharks teeth we know we have to make reservations way way out ahead of time… and figure that’s just the way it goes… And if life throws us a curveball, like say knee surgery this fall, we cancel those reservations as soon as we can and somebody else gets lucky… 

 

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Mark & Deb..2020 Elite II..Dearie..Hull #685..2016 Tundra

 

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I don't think anything could "ruin" camping.  Covid changed a lot of things, including camping.  Smart phones changed a lot of things too that I didn't particularly care for, but I learned to live with them and even take advantage of them.  I don't like all of the changes, but I'm sure not going to stop camping just because things are different.  They will be different next year too.  My wife and I have had a fantastic 2021 enjoying our new Oliver!!  For the most part, we stuck to state parks and didn't see a lot of the problems others have reported.  I can't wait to start our 2nd year of Oliver ownership - already have a trip planned in mid-December - yes, I did make reservations just in case.  🙂 

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Sheesh gang I rely on you already Ollie owners to slow feed me the CoolAid while I await delivery in March 2022. Don't tell me camping is ruined even if it's true!

I am realistic that camping has changed and is now more popular. Sites will be more difficult to get and require planning. Since we are purchasing while still working, we will use our Ollie locally in Michigan and get used to all of the bells and whistles it offers. We also have not spent a lot of time camping for extended periods outside of our backyard so we don't remember the glory days when you could show up and find a site. Maybe that helps us have more realistic expectations?

I do hope and think the fervor will die down in the coming years and the camping life will still be appealing. Time will tell.

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More fuel to the fire: 

Some popular Idaho State Parks get double rate increase for out of state visitors

“The change is required under a new state law intended to make it easier for Idaho’s residents to reserve camping spots at popular state parks. Interestingly, it will be a year before officials can tell if the plan worked because all of those popular parks were fully booked for this summer as soon as the reservation system opened last December.

It’s kind of a scramble when the 9-month book-ahead window opens — it books up within the hour,” state parks spokesman Craig Quintana said in an Idaho Press article. “The sad fact is, if we could magically snap our fingers and double our inventory [of campsites], we would still sell out. We need more camping, pretty much across our system.””

Spokanister says, just say no to State Parks.

John Davies aka spokanister

Spokane WA

"Mouse":  2017 Legacy Elite II NARV (Not An RV) Two Beds, Hull Number 218, See my HOW TO threads: https://olivertraveltrailers.com/topic/john-e-davies-how-to-threads-and-tech-articles-links/

Tow Vehicle: 2013 Land Cruiser 200, 33" LT tires, airbags, Safari snorkel.

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42 minutes ago, DaveM said:

Sheesh gang I rely on you already Ollie owners to slow feed me the CoolAid while I await delivery in March 2022. Don't tell me camping is ruined even if it's true!

I posted initially because I like to do my due diligence. I try to identify as many potential issues as possible before committing to an action. In this case the question was: Are we foolish to drop a large amount of cash on a purchase we might not be able to fully enjoy? The feedback here has been helpful. In reality there were 2 questions that needed answering.

1. Do we want to keep camping, even if current conditions continue? The answer to that is yes. Even in the past year we were able to enjoy our current rig. We are looking forward to more camping after retirement.

2. Will the Oliver increase camping enjoyment, even if current conditions prevail? I believe the answer to that is also yes. Compared to our current fifth wheel, we will have more choices with our Oliver: more sites it will fit in, longer camping season, easier to haul long distances. Those things are even more important with the new influx of campers. Last night, just for fun (research?), I was putting random camping dates into the Disney World reservation system. (I figured Disney would be a good model for a hard-to-reserve camping destination.) What I found was multiple dates in 2022 where the only available sites were for campers under 25'. Tried the same thing with some state parks and got the same result. Bottom line, the Oliver will almost certainly get us to places we couldn't reserve with our current rig. And the solar package stretches that even further by opening up easier boondocking.

Sure, we'll miss the good old days when things were easier, but the Ollie is still our best bet going forward. Where there's a will, there's a way.

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Stephanie and Dudley from CT. Tow vehicle: 2016 GMC Sierra gas dually. Current RV: Rockwood Signature fifth wheel.

Oliver LE2 on the way in July!

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4 minutes ago, John E Davies said:

$48 a night for a basic site? Ouch. This is going to be painful in the short term, but I'll bet it helps move a lot of people back to their hotel stays. As it was, RVing was maybe a break-even with hoteling, after you figure in the cost of ownership of the RV and tow vehicle.

Stephanie and Dudley from CT. Tow vehicle: 2016 GMC Sierra gas dually. Current RV: Rockwood Signature fifth wheel.

Oliver LE2 on the way in July!

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1 hour ago, Steph and Dud B said:

$48 a night for a basic site? Ouch. This is going to be painful in the short term, but I'll bet it helps move a lot of people back to their hotel stays. As it was, RVing was maybe a break-even with hoteling, after you figure in the cost of ownership of the RV and tow vehicle.

Ouch indeed. As a contrast, the COE campsites (actually run by the National Park Service) along Lake Roosevelt WA are $11.50 off season. And the parks Geezer Pass halves that. And they are beautiful and numerous, though there are no hookups at all. So your $48 gets you eight nights.

John Davies

Spokane WA

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"Mouse":  2017 Legacy Elite II NARV (Not An RV) Two Beds, Hull Number 218, See my HOW TO threads: https://olivertraveltrailers.com/topic/john-e-davies-how-to-threads-and-tech-articles-links/

Tow Vehicle: 2013 Land Cruiser 200, 33" LT tires, airbags, Safari snorkel.

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8 minutes ago, John E Davies said:

the COE campsites (actually run by the National Park Service) along Lake Roosevelt WA are $11.50 off season

Now I gotta find a way to move WA closer to CT, or at least flatten out those mountains in between. 🙂

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Stephanie and Dudley from CT. Tow vehicle: 2016 GMC Sierra gas dually. Current RV: Rockwood Signature fifth wheel.

Oliver LE2 on the way in July!

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3 hours ago, John E Davies said:

Some popular Idaho State Parks get double rate increase for out of state visitors

As an Idahoan that @John E Davies often makes fun of, but not one that gives him cause 😉, I can speak to the changes in the Idaho parks. In northern Idaho we are very close to the Washington boarder and have some wonderful state parks. However in the last 2 years we have been overrun by Washington license plates. When I say overrun I mean if you go to any of the parks or even to a trailhead over the last 2 years >60% of the cars have been Washington plates. The Idaho plates are in the minority. Now given our proximity there is always a lot of boarder state cross over but it has really gotten bad the last two years. One of the primary drivers of this was that Washington closed a lot of their parks because of COVID so everyone just came to Idaho. I expect this will slow down moving forward. I just checked one of our most popular campgrounds for middle of July and found 104 RV electric sites available. Reaching all the way out to August (the end of the 9 month window) there are still lots. Now, this a planning a long ways out and as summer gets closer these sites will get picked up. However, this last Labor day I grabbed a spot in a state park 2 days before the weekend. The campground was very full though. I grab the last spot but the spot next to me was reserved but a no show, everything else was full.  

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5 minutes ago, Zodd said:

I expect this will slow down moving forward.

I'll bet you're right. It'll settle down. But will the legislature reduce the out-of-state penalty once sites become plentiful again? I have my doubts about that. How often do you hear about states reducing fees? More likely, they'll be missing the money from out-of-staters and decide to raise the in-state fees to compensate. 

11 minutes ago, Zodd said:

the spot next to me was reserved but a no show, everything else was full. 

That's been a big problem here, too. People are reserving the state park sites for the maximum allowed stays then not showing up, so the sites sit empty. There's no rule that forfeits the reservation if they don't show, but there is a fee if they cancel, so they just leave it vacant. Frustrating. 

Stephanie and Dudley from CT. Tow vehicle: 2016 GMC Sierra gas dually. Current RV: Rockwood Signature fifth wheel.

Oliver LE2 on the way in July!

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Yeah, with the population increase in WA, it seems like it's becoming to Idaho what MA is to NH. Get used to it, as it's not going to change. And my bet on that new policy? I bet that you'll continue to see a flood of WA plates at the ID SPs. I think that a big chunk of the new to camping crew from western WA is pretty price-elastic with regard to experiences like camping. If the park or stuff nearby looks great in photos on social media, this will be even more true.

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Jim and  Yanna, Woodinville WA

2004 Ford E250 camper conversion

Oliver Elite II hull #709

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