As a campground owner, I’m passionate about helping campers find campgrounds perfect for what they want out of camping! Sometimes a group will arrive for a check in and I can tell what they are looking for isn’t our niche. I feel terrible for them and I also can’t help but think of all the reservations I turned away that would have LOVED our campground! Matching your camping crew to the best campground for you can mean the difference between misery or marvelous memories! So, here are my top tips for finding the right campground for your stay!
First, assuming this is not your first camping trip, take a few minutes to reflect on your camping experiences of the past. What did you love or hate? Write down your most sought after amenities and top no-gos! Think about what you want to DO on your stay? Are you a ‘chill by the campfire type’ or ‘let’s do every activity’ type? Are you just staying one night on your way to your final destination? Is this your families big vacation/splurge for the summer? What amenities will you truly want to use? What age groups do you need to entertain?
With some items in mind, here are some thoughts straight from the Campground Owner’s perspective:
Are you a joiner?
Woot! Boy are there campgrounds for you! Look for activities schedules, themes and amenities on the campground’s website or Facebook page that will keep you hopping and entertained all day! Do be aware; many campgrounds only do activities on weekends! If you are coming on weekdays, ask lots of questions to avoid the disappointment of thinking you will be hearing bands and playing BINGO only to find out that only happens on Fridays and Saturdays!
Seeking peace and quiet?
We once checked in a single, retired man, only to have him check out the next day. He’d been seeking a bit of peace and blissful quiet. Only to arrive at a family-friendly, full-of-activities campground —- on 4th of July weekend! That is the OPPOSITE of peace and quiet – at least outside of quiet hours. This is a pretty simple request to fill, look for a campground that offers security and very few child activities! Ahhh – can you hear the crickets? (another great tip – if you CAN book weekdays if you are seeking a more low key experience. Avoid holiday weekends at all costs!)
Do you have a Dog?
No matter how much you are a fan of Fido, no one loves listening to someone else’s darn dog bark! Most campgrounds are pet friendly these days, but you can still find parks that do not allow dogs. However, if you love all four legged friends, with just a little research you can find the perfect campground for you. Many campgrounds even have dog parks, a dead giveaway that they are good fit for those traveling with Rover. Fun fact: According to KOA, more people travel with pets than kids!
Want to bring your Children?
One time we checked a lovely couple into their site, and as I started to back them in, no exaggeration, she started weeping. A few questions later we were able to find out that she is a teacher, and school had just let out for the year. And — we had her staying next to the playground. I think that year had given her some serious PTSD, but with a little creative trading with a family with children, we were able to put the tired teacher in a spot far away from the playground and the children we placed next to the playground were thrilled! However, we cannot always do such a last minute magic. The teacher would likely have paid less money and been more happy at a campground NOT geared towards kid activities from 9 AM to 8 PM! If you do have kids, a few calls and reviews of websites should be able to help you pick campgrounds geared towards families. Teens are notoriously hard to please so be sure to seek parks whose kid friendly offerings will be suited to the age groups you will be bringing.
Rig size – and backing?
If you are driving a 45’ fifth wheel, you probably know enough to be very careful about where and how to travel. However, in 2019 no less than 3 beautiful 5th wheels arrived to our property severely damaged, one totaled, due to hitting low bridges! Many more people arrive and are not comfortable backing up their camper. When making a reservation make your needs very clear. Do you need a pull through site to avoid backing? Do you need assistance parking? Are escorts to the campsite provided? With large or tall rigs it is especially important to plant you route in advance. Low bridge and restricted roadway such pas parkways are common in New England. We strongly recommend an actual trucker GPS (can be purchased at any truck stop) to ensure that low bridges are arcuately marked.
Are you looking for a group friendly campground?
Help the campground help you! Be upfront about your group size and call around to find a property that is truly suited for your group to have a great time! At our campground, we elect to not service groups of more than about 18. When you book for 18 and then start to bring in visitors it is noted, and it is not appreciated. I strongly recommend matching your group to a campground of the right size to accommodate your friends and family so you don’t find yourself running up against visitor restrictions, occupancy restrictions and the like.
Do you need WiFi/Cell coverage?
Not all WIFI is created equal! If you really need to stream, seek true clarity on how strong the ‘free WIFI’ is. Often there are just a few hot spots at the property, and many times a streaming experience is not possible. I can promise you as an owner of a campround, delivering blazing WIFI to 1800 devices through hills and trees IS NOT easily accomplished. This is an area to search out and read reviews too. Often WIFI will be noted especially if it is not 100%. Zero complaints about WIFI would be a good indicator that it does indeed, perform at that park. Ask the park about cell coverage as well! Amazingly enough even now there are sections of our state that have zero cell coverage. I visited another campground in Wisconsin recently, and the only place I had cell coverage was the top of their water slide! So there I was, several times a day on the slide making calls!
Are Quiet Hours important to you?
Quiet hours can be a wonderful tool to match you to the right campground. If the quiet hours are 9 PM chances are that is NOT the campground to expect a rousing campfire drinking game at 11 PM. Quiet hours usually range from 9PM to 11PM. Where the campground falls on that curve really tells you what client they cater to. The later the quiet hour, chances are they are more adult party friendly. But certainly not always! I know several Jellystone’s with 11 PM quiet hours. So the next question to ask, if how strictly are they enforced? Look for negative reviews on quiet hours and simply ask the staff when you call!
Where to go to fact find:
Ratings can be both helpful and misleading at the same time. Cozy Hills has high ratings, but some people quite honestly hate camping here! There is truly a campground for EVERYONE. (seriously, everyone. I know of $200 per night camp resorts, clothing optional campgrounds, no children allowed campgrounds, “420” friendly, etc!) But no single campground can possibly suit everybody. So, those that love us say so, those that hate us, say so, and those that somewhat like or dislike (often the reviews that could be most helpful) often don’t comment. Campers that hate a campground often had a negative encounter with the staff, usually due to the camper not complying with public safety rules, so their negative reviews often spew hate, but little fact and are easily seen for what they are. Still some good clues can be in their reviews – were they completely rude and disruptive and were asked to settle down, prompting them to immediately each post a horrible review? Or were the negative reviews because no one shut down a disruptive camper or group? Was the issue reported so the campground COULD resolve it? Three and Four star reviews with comments will often give you the true details and clues on if that campground is a match for you. Looking for reviews from people that seem to want what you want from a campground can be helpful!
Good Sam’s website
Up until COVID hit, Good Sam’s visited every campground that would have them each year. While some feel their reviews are a bit biased to campgrounds that advertise with them, we have not found that to be the case. They are a good resource for checking to see what items the property has that might fit your list. There are many other websites aimed at providing reviews, but be aware – there are a few so-called review sites where campgrounds that PAY get good reviews and features in blog articles. Those that won’t bribe the so called influencers or bloggers are ignored or only used to contrast the paying campgrounds.
Of course, the campground website should be given a good going through! Is it updated? Who owns the campground? What schedules/activities/amenities do they have?
Look at Facebook/Instagram pages
Is it an active account with lots of updates on the types of items that are a fit for you? But also try any Facebook groups in your area that focus on camping! Ask specific questions to the group listing what you are looking for and what you don’t want. You’ll have to sift through them some as some people just want to give you THEIR favorites, but overall you will find some good wisdom.
Look up your campground on Google Earth
Make SURE to Google Map/Earth your top choices of campgrounds to really try to get a final feel for if it delivers all you hoped! All of us have experienced pulling into a restaurant, hotel or campground only to see the surroundings are nothing like we’d hoped. As for campgrounds, Google Earth can also give great clues if you are going to have any privacy or conversely the space to pull your 80’ rig into a pull through site!
Lastly, and seldom to be skipped – call the campgrounds that make the final cut!
If finding the right campground is important to you, don’t miss this step.Don’t be discouraged if you have to leave a message – campgrounds are super busy these days. Pro tip – don’t call a campground on Friday during check in or Saturdays! Campground staff is likely swamped at that point giving their current campers a great experience! If you want to get a fresh, non-distracted staff person, Monday – Thursday’s are your best bet, or if you are doing research well in advance, call during the off season when you will likely get to chat with a much more refreshed staffer – or even the owner!
Just a little research will go a long way to you and anyone camping with you having a wonderful camping experience. In no time, with a few scans of reviews, social media, and chat with the staff you will become an expert at finding the perfect place whether it is for a quick weekend or an extended vacation!
Cozy Hills is a family friendly campground located in Bantam CT. Contact us for more details
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