,I’ve reviewed every park we have stayed at since we began our journey. My motives for doing so are a mix of providing content for my blog, informing the RVing public, and getting some practice in writing reviews. In the process of doing these reviews, I’ve had to do some reflection on what makes an RV park good, what is fair to critique, and what is a fair price for the services they offer.
The Short Version
On one hand, reviewing an RV park is a simple process. Spend some time there, form an opinion of it, and write about that. Most folks want to know your bottom line; whether you liked it or not, and a little bit about why.
Make sure you feature the name of the park and where it is located in your review so that people looking for it can find it. If it is near a major attraction, mention that as well. This way folks looking for “RV parks near Yellowstone” find your review of a park near Yellowstone.
It helps if you develop something of a format to help you quickly and efficiently write up your reviews. I’ve settled on a format that starts with a summary opinion, gives some details about the park as bullet points, then ends with a few paragraphs on my experience and evaluation of the park. My thought is that folks can quickly get my take, then dig into the details if they so desire.
If you are making a blog post out of it, be sure to include some nice pictures of the park so folks can get an idea of what you are talking about, both good and bad.
The Long, and possibly Boring Version
If the thought of a long discussion about RV parks and reviewing them sounds dull, by all means, stop reading immediately. I’m not sure how you got this far but it’s only going to get worse from here on out.
Consider your audience
RV parks serve a number of different clientele who are looking for different things. There are full-time RVers like ourselves. There are vacation RVers. There are folks looking for cabins. There are folks who want to stay in a tent. There are those who just want to park overnight. And there are some who want to stay for months at a time. All these people have somewhat different needs and expectations.
Age is another factor to consider. Some parks cater mostly to elderly campers or have an upper age restriction on who they admit. Others very kid friendly and have lots of playground equipment and places to play. Some folks want peace and quiet while others appreciate that their kids can have a grand time while they prepare dinner or just get some time alone.
When we write a review, we are often looking at a park from our own needs and perspective. I don’t really know what makes a great park for a tent camper or a person looking for a cabin to stay in. I can make some guesses but I’d probably miss something important. As a full timer, some amenities are more precious to me than someone on a weekend getaway. When I do my reviews, I do it from my own perspective, but for the sake of fairness, I try to at least consider what others might find delightful or bothersome about a park.
The other type of person likely to read your reviews are the owners and operators of the park. A wise park owner should keep tabs on what people are saying about their business and I’ve had a couple comment on our reviews. A good review can help a park’s business and a bad one can hurt it, though it may provide useful feedback to the park owner. While I don’t consider this my primary audience, I do keep them in mind.
Believe it or not, I actually struggle with this at times. I always feel entitled to my opinions but when I am publicly stating whether a park is good or bad I feel an obligation to put some diligence into my review. It is at these moments I keep the owner and operator of the park firmly in mind. Generally, these are small business owners looking to make a living and provide comfort and shelter to travelers.
It’s important to consider that not every aspect of a park is something the management can control. A park that is near an airport can’t reasonably stop noise from aircraft. Parks in the desert can’t be expected to have huge lush lawns. Those in a prime location is going to pay more for their land, and thus must charge more, than one in a remote rural area. A good review should make note of what you disliked, but any harsh judgment should be reserved for problems that can be laid squarely at management’s feet.
This is one of those areas where fairness is difficult to measure. Every park is unique in a number of ways. Different campers value different amenities and have different standards of cleanliness and aesthetic. The costs of the business can vary wildly as well. The cost of the land is something few campers will know but can drastically impact the price management must charge to keep the doors open and make a living.
Personally, I have a broad baseline of what I expect for a given price. If I feel I get more than I expect the park is deemed a bargain. If I get less then I deem it overly expensive. Here I try to be a good consumer and keep the consumer in mind while setting a baseline price that I think is fair to a “typical” owner. For me, $30 is my baseline for a decent, no-frills stay at a well-maintained park in 2016. At lower prices, I expect to make compromises and at higher prices, I expect something exceptional (which could be nothing more than a fantastic location).
Location matters. Early in my reviewing, I didn’t take it into account as much as I should have. Having a location near the destination you intend to visit is an important factor in judging price. Each day you spend commuting between where you park, and where you spend your day is going to cost you time, and more objectively, fuel. Trail and I put together a small spreadsheet we use to evaluate park prices based on the cost of the stay plus the gas it takes to get to the local points of interest we plan to visit. Sometimes the closer park, with a higher price, is actually cheaper because of the reduced fuel cost.
Of course, location can also greatly impact the aesthetics of a park. Some parks have incredible views of natural splendor, dark quiet nights beneath the stars, and fresh air. Others are found near landfills and feature trains rumbling by at night, terrible aromas, and lots of bothersome insects. A great park location is worth a lot in feeling at ease and at home where you are parked.
Finally, there is the matter of convenience. If you stay somewhere for any length of time, having decent shopping options nearby is a real boon. Typically the most useful stores are grocery, hardware, automotive, and drug stores. A nearby gas station is also a big plus. One thing many don’t consider but can be crucial is cell phone service. Some parks have hardly any at all, while others are well covered by all the major carriers.
Personally, I like the grounds of an RV park to make me feel a sense of peace and comfort. That isn’t always easy to achieve given the local terrain or weather. Large shade trees are something I find especially nice in parks that have them, but they can take decades to grow and they are wasteful to maintain in desert areas. I am often disappointed by parks that leave trash and construction materials lying around haphazardly. It’s a bit like staying in a kid’s messy bedroom.
Often the quality of the grounds and the quality of the amenities go hand in hand. A park that takes good care of the grounds will take good care of everything else and vice versa. Thus this is sometimes an area where you can judge a book by its cover. If the place looks kind of run down and neglected on the outside, then it is likely that way through and through.
You definitely want a park to be welcoming and the staff to be friendly and helpful. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Like any business, some owners bend over backward to make their guests feel welcome, while others just want your money and to spend as little time with you as possible.
The nature of the customer service can also vary widely and may be a matter of taste. Some parks are run very professionally while other proprietors take a very personal approach to customer service and treat you more like a neighbor than a customer. Some parks are actually co-ops where the residents are the owners and managers. Sometimes these can be incredibly welcoming, and other times short time visitors may feel like their presence is an intrusion.
A big part of considering the value a park offers are its amenities. They can range from just a place to park your RV/Tent, to full on luxury resorts with drink service on white sandy beaches and live music every night. Generally, the more they offer, the better value the park is. Even if an amenity doesn’t do much for you, presumably there is someone who will appreciate it and it should be considered favorable for the park.
A place to park: The only essential amenity in my mind is that they have a place for you to park and camp. Some parks are nothing more than some spots and a drop box to put your money into. Provided it is reasonably priced, there is nothing wrong with a park like this. What you want is a clean, level, easy to access space with enough room for your RV and vehicle.
Basic amenities are those that most RV parks offer and are key to RV living. It is what sets an RV park apart from just a park with space for RVs.
Electrical Service: It’s something we tend to take for granted as we are all accustomed to having in. When it’s not working or malfunctioning, it’s a big problem for a park. Since it takes some special tools to measure the hookups, few reviews will go into any depth here. Ideally, they will offer 20, 30, and 50amp hookups that can actually handle the loads advertised. The best will have surge protection and good working fuses to protect your trailer’s electrical systems. If the park has a separate electrical fee based on usage, you should let people know.
Water Service: Water is probably the second most common site amenity and one many of us can’t do without for too long before the RV becomes a glorified tent. A good water service has enough pressure to act as a “city” hook up for your RV and is safe to drink. That said, hard water is pretty common so having a good outside filter is a good way to help protect your RV’s water systems.
Sewer Service: Having on-site individual sewer service is what lets you stay put for longer time spans. Often when dry camping the first thing to run out is gray water storage. Most RV places that don’t have it on-site will have a pull up dumping station.
These are amenities that come in very useful to many campers but go a little above and beyond the basics.
Bathrooms: For RV campers a bathroom is convenient but not necessary. For Tent and Cabin campers it can be nearly essential. The range of quality is vast, from the old outhouse to luxury private restrooms with full showers. The state of maintenance also varies wildly. Some are cleaned top to bottom daily, while others appear to get serviced only rarely and show years of grime and neglect.
Showers: Typically these are part of the bathroom but not always. While less essential than a toilet they are none the less nice to have as not all RVs have decent shower options. Like bathrooms, the quality can vary from downright frightening to nearly luxurious. Sometimes they will be coin operated so that people don’t just use up all the hot water with hour long showers, though needing to find quarters to take a shower can be a real hassle.
Laundry: While you can get portable clothes washers, they are small and a fair bit of work to use. Having an on-site laundry room is a really nice feature for a park. Typically they will be coin operated and the machines will be on the older side. We find prices vary wildly from downright cheap, to exorbitant prices for small loads. A good laundry will provide somewhere to sit and a pay dispenser for those who don’t have detergent.
Camp Store: While it is a way for parks to make a little extra money, a camp store is also a very nice convenience for most campers. Typically you will find basic food items, snacks, souvenirs, and RV essentials like hoses and valves.
Wifi: This is an amenity of ever-growing importance for many. Most parks seem to offer it now, but it is often of sketchy quality. There tend to be two limitations to park Wifi. The first is the signal strength of the wireless, something the park can usually control with proper investments. The other is the total available bandwidth which is often well beyond the control of the operators, especially in rural areas and is why RV park wifi tends to fail in the evenings when everyone gets back home and starts trying to use it.
Mail Service: When you are a full timer or staying at a park for an extended stay, being able to get mail at the park is super convenient. Typically only parks with full-time offices will allow mail, and even then it isn’t a given. You should always ask before having mail sent to a park.
Propane Service: The more remote the location the more convenient having on site propane sales can be.
Dishwashing Sink: This can be a key feature for cabin and tent campers. Parks hate it when you wash dishes in a bathroom sink or the like so most provide a heavy duty sink for dish washing.
Dog run: A good number of people travel with dogs so having a place to walk them at the park can be important. Of course, it should upon the owners to pick up after their pets. Some parks have fenced off areas so dogs can go off leash and play.
Firepit / Grill: One of the charms of camping out is cooking a meal beneath the big sky. Accommodations vary from a circle of stones to build a fire in, to gas grills in a covered gazebo with lots of picnic tables.
Security: Most RV parks have very little of this, but there are a few that are gated and monitored such that only residents or guests can get into the park. A good number of parks have key codes to get into the bathrooms which can help a little but seems aimed more at stopping public use of the facilities. Fortunately, serious crime at RV parks seems to be quite rare.
Some RV parks refer to themselves as resorts, and these are the sort of amenities that tend to come with that designation. Of course, the quality can vary greatly on all of these and everyone’s idea of a resort is probably a little different.
Club Rooms: Many parks offer a public indoor space for campers. The quality varies greatly but you want a place where campers can work, play games, relax, watch movies, and otherwise enjoy themselves out of the rain and with more space than an RV typically provides.
Pool: Many RV parks include a pool of some kind. We’ve seen everything from tiny wading pools to whole pool complexes where the RV park was really secondary to the pool.
Amusements: Many parks offer some kind of entertainment for guests. A play area with swings and slides is common in many parks. KOA parks often have large bouncy air cushions to play on. Other parks will have a game room with pool, ping-pong, or other table sports. In the midwest, miniature golf courses are fairly common.
Restaurant / Kitchen: Offering meals on-site is often a nice feature for an RV park. Personally, my favorite version is when Parks have food delivery to your trailer from an on-site kitchen. It’s incredibly convenient and often very reasonably priced. Some parks have had very nice restaurants attached, while others serve common meals for residents in a large cafeteria.
Entertainment: Some parks will have live entertainment and community events scheduled. Typically these parks have a very large club house or a large meeting room and the events are not only for park residents but also the larger community. A few parks we have been to also offer church services in these spaces on Sundays.
I’ve gotten to know a few of the park owners and operators as we have traveled around the last year. I’ve come to appreciate that it’s not an easy small business to run. They are constantly fighting the weather, nature, and the effect their customers have on the property while providing a range of services, usually with minimal or no staff at smaller parks. None the less, you can tell which parks have operators with a passion for making their guests comfortable and those who just want the money and can’t be bothered. No park is perfect, but the ones that care and strive for excellence stand out. As reviewers, we should focus on rewarding these parks and letting other RVers know about them so they can enjoy their travels to the fullest.