Planning your RV vacation is easier if you understand the subtle differences between an RV campground, an RV park and an RV resort.
Although the differences may vary from place to place and even from one RVer to another, if you have a general idea of what’s in store for you at each destination you can keep your expectations in check and ultimately have a much better time during your stay.
TIP: Keep in mind that some campground, RV park and RV resort operators don’t understand the general differences between facilities. For example, some mistakenly believe they operate a resort when in reality it’s closer to a bare bones campground!
Go Back to Nature with an RV Campground
Campgrounds are one of the most basic types of overnight accommodations that await outdoor enthusiasts.
From world-famous destinations like Yellowstone National Park to coastal spots in the sand dunes, campgrounds are typically located in rustic settings with pleasant scenery as their number one attraction.
Visitors usually consist of a mixed bag of tenters, car campers and RVers who are there to explore natural history and wildlife, participate in outdoorsy activities and learn about the surrounding region.
A large amount of campgrounds are publicly owned facilities paid for with taxpayer dollars. As a result, they’re less expensive to visit but they aren’t luxury camping destinations.
If you choose to stay in a basic campground you can expect a “getting back to nature” approach that requires visitors to dry camp during their stay.
Many campgrounds will meet visitors’ basic needs by providing a central dump and fresh water station, as well as public restrooms and sometimes showers. However many campgrounds rarely offer amenities beyond a simple parking pad for your RV, so it’s always smart to arrive with adequate provisions and empty holding tanks. You don’t want to end up boondocking when you didn’t expect to.
Many basic campgrounds are not designed to accommodate the sizes and configurations of modern RVs so do your homework before arriving.
When researching campgrounds, be aware that although they’re often staffed by park rangers, many operate on a self-pay honor system. While convenient, the lack of a customer service rep makes it more difficult to get exact information about your destination.
For the latest information, refer to publications like the Woodall’s RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory which provides a campground’s RV size limitations and other detailed descriptions.
If you can’t locate campground details before your arrival, don’t venture inside without doing a walking inspection to see if your rig can fit through interior roads, under trees and onto parking aprons.
Take a Step Up at an RV Park
RV parks offer more public facilities than campgrounds, but they’re a bit more expensive.
At the most basic level, RV parks offer water and electric hookups. Most offer sites with sewer connections, too.
Beyond hookups you’ll find that RV park accommodations vary greatly – from laundry rooms to swimming pools to on-site restaurant and entertainment – to possibly nothing more than hookups and a parking pad.
RV parks cater to both overnight guests and long-term visitors. They’re located everywhere from major cities to rural communities.
Parks that are closer to major attractions like coastal areas, amusement parks and family destinations will always be more expensive than parks in outlying regions, even if they don’t offer much in the way of extra amenities.
‘Location, location, location’ still applies to RV parks.
Overnight stay prices can range from a low of $15 a night up to $100 depending on where they are located. Budget accordingly and join groups like Passport America to help lower your vacation costs.
When choosing a destination, the age of the park is usually a good indicator of whether or not the facility can accommodate large RVs.
For example, older RV parks were built before the popularity of super-size RVs and slide-outs, so interior roads and parking aprons are much smaller and trickier to navigate.
Even if your large, modern rig does fit into a park, you may be a lot closer to your neighbor than you want to be since parking spaces are often close together.
It’s difficult to learn the age of a park before arriving, so websites like RV Park Reviews are great for reading about other RVer’s experiences at potential destinations. The Goodsam RV Campground Directory is a highly rated resource as well.
Keep in mind that these reviews are often subjective, so form your own opinion and take reviews with a grain of salt until you see the location yourself.
Go Upscale at an RV Resort
Not all RV parks are resorts, but all RV resorts are parks that include full hookups and adequate design for modern rigs.
There’s a fine line between these two types of operations, but RV resorts are the top tier and their higher nightly rates reflect that experience.
What makes RV resorts differ from RV parks is that these businesses usually offer hotel-like amenities including:
- daily newspapers delivered to your doorstep
- curbside trash pickup
- fitness centers
- and on-site convenience stores and restaurants
Many resorts have the destination traveler in mind and have designed their operation so that visitors don’t want to leave once they arrive.
RV resort camping is ideal for families because many offer package deals that encompass all the entertainment and parking needs of a typical family vacation.
A growing number of RV resorts are operated by franchise companies like Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park and Kampgrounds of America (KOA). Some offer visitors the ability to purchase and own RV lots within the park.
Pricing and membership agreements vary from location to location but in general, these RV resorts are ideal for campers who only visit one or two destinations a year.
Your best bet to determine which locations are a good fit for your preferences and needs is to talk with other RVers and visit RV park and campground review sites. Or you could leaf through a hardcopy RV campground directory.