Do you wish you could find and book a campground as easily as you can find and book a hotel room? We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer.
Let’s face it: the USA is a auto-centric country. If you’re traveling long distances or visiting several states, you’re almost surely going to have your own wheels. Cheap roadside motels can be depressing places though, and if you’ve seen many episodes of the lodging turnaround show Hotel Impossible, you have some idea about how seldom those rooms get a deep cleaning. Plus America has lots of wide open spaces, so why hole up between a parking lot and the interstate highway?
I’ve booked quite a few camping spots and park cabins over the years and it seems like it has seldom been an easy process. There are different sites for national parks, state parks, and other public lands, usually on clunky websites with very few photos or details. Most of the campgrounds in the country are privately owned on top of that, plus they don’t get booked up so far in advance, so there’s a whole other time-consuming process to figure out those options.
A Search Engine for Tent Sites and RV Campgrounds
You can find some campgrounds (and cabins) on Booking.com and similar sites, plus there’s the glamping site we reviewed in another post. But campgrounds are a mostly independent market without the hefty margins that hotels enjoy.
I’ve been poking around lately on Roverpass, a site that’s aiming to be “the Kayak of campgrounds.” It’s not as seamless as a travel booking site for hotels, mostly because the market is so fragmented. Apart from KOA, there’s no “chain” equivalent to Marriott or Accor. What Roverpass tries to manage, in spite of that, is a consistent interface and rundown of common elements you’ll find on each listing. They help campground owners get found by providing a campsite reservations system plus marketing services.
For the most part, it works. If you search an area near Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon, for instance, you’ll find the camping/RV options on a linked list AND on a map. So you get 44 listings for the region instead of having to poke around 44 different websites. They’re not all equally fleshed out, but the listings that are have photos, customer reviews, amenities, rates, contact info, and amenities. Some even have a map of where all the campsites are.
You can sort the listings by several factors that are more relevant to RV travelers than car campers, but the amenities (need laundry?) and activities (hiking trails? kayaking?) are useful to all. Prices are generally listed for all categories that are available, from “primitive” sites with no hookups or power for real campers to tricked-out sites with high amperage and pull-through sites for long recreational vehicles. Here’s the hangout visitors center at one of them in Utah
There are campgrounds all over the USA, from Maine to Hawaii, and you’ll probably be surprised how many there are any place you look. They can be a lower-budget alternative just outside of hotspots like Asheville or Santa Fe. I checked out the Finger Lakes area of New York because that’s where the TBEX travel bloggers convention is going to be in September. It might be starting to get a little nippy that time of year, but it might be nice to snuggle in a sleeping bag in a tent or camper van with someone you love. Plus you’d probably save some bucks: rates in the area are generally $30 (tent site) to $55 (full RV site) per night, with discounts for a week or more.
Or you could rent a cabin with a view. Sometimes these sleep four or six people, so the per-person price is less. It looks like this cabin at Tanglewood Camping is not one of those though…
Just like booking a train ticket anywhere in the world is not as easy as booking a plane ticket, finding the right campground spot is not quite as simple as booking a night at the Econolodge right by exit 82. You’ll probably find the campground to be much more interesting though, plus you will breathe cleaner air. Now it’s a little easier to plan that road trip.