Campground Memberships

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March 18, 2009

Twenty years ago I spoke with an RV’er in Branson, MO. He said he owned 13 different campground memberships, that way he would keep his camping costs low. He and his wife are full-time Rvers.

We went home and listed all of these Campground Membership directories onto a spreadsheet.

We listed each membership along with the memberships that park recognized. After a sorting process, we found 85% of these parks could be accessed with four different memberships.

Then we placed these parks on a mapping program, similar to Microsoft Streets & Trips.

With two years of planned trips in front of us, we looked to see if any membership parks were located in the areas we intended to visit.

The average camper night this past year was around $24 a night. So we compared the cost of nightly visits, with and without membership camping.

Could we save money in these area using membership campgrounds and keep our mileage down to save fuel. We intended to stay the longest time available to us at each park, and not travel more than 150 miles on a move day.

We listed Coast-to-Coast, Good Neighbor, AOR, CAN, RPI, Thousand trails, Resorts of Distinction, Passport, Enjoy America, NACC, Sunrise and Sunbelt. You will find other discount chains as well.

Using Thousand Trails, with park-to-park privledges, Resorts of Distinction parks, Coast-to-Coast and Passport; we paid $600 total camping costs in 2006. We stayed west of the continental divide during that time.

Our upfront campground membership costs were $14,000 dollars. At $20 per night we would spent $7000 for the year.
We feel we can justify our camping costs using these parks. But, we must USE these parks in order to save.

Happy Camping,
Fred b.

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  376. Don


    The website for Passport America should be:

    However, the MyRVParks is a handy site for RVer’s – enjoy.

  377. Don

    If you really want to know about campground memberships, don’t ask someone else to do your homework for you – do it yourself.

    Visit the websites – I’ve given you a start below. Use Google and search for the others (that’s how I found them):
    Passport America []
    Happy Camper []
    Camp Club
    Coast to Coast []
    Resort Parks International (RPI) []
    Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR) []
    Western Horizons
    Thousand Trails

    I don’t remember when I’ve seen comments with so many errors.

    Most of the website let you see where their member parks are located, the yearly dues and cost per night for members. The first three on my list offer 1/2 price camping on a space available basis at participating parks. The terms differ for the others.

    I’m satisfied with my memberships and enjoy camping for less. I spend a little time planning our trips ahead of time and have little trouble using discount camping along the way to our destinations. I used to bounce from one park to another but now we’re blessed to be able to spend a month at a time and drive less.

    Do your research and weigh whether or not discount/membership camping will work for you – whatever you do, don’t let some high pressure sales team push you into something. Always check the resale market before buying a campground membership. As lifestyles change (you can’t hold back time), memberships become something excess – just like a house when you move.

  378. Judy

    We purchased a Deluxe Membership with Rushmore Shadows it has all the bells and whistles you could ever want. We purchased the membership, after we went on a 5 month trip that took us through 11 states and Canada. We stayed at every KOA along the way, the average price for 64 nights was $34.63, never more than 1 night. We spent about 1 month with my family in Illinois which only cost a $1 per day to store the motor home. Our next trip of 3 months, was to Montana, where we meet up with friends that dry camp & stay at national campground and fee places, they live there too. Unfortunately, the membership had only 2 places to stay, no where near were we where, of course. We will never be full timers because we live in AZ & have a home here. I like to go somewhere COLD for the summer. What I am trying to say is yes campground memberships are expensive $8400 main cost, campground maintence for Rushmore Shadows is $292 per year, C to C dues $140 per yr & R.O.D dues are $140 per yr. Unless you Full time it, it is not worth it. Sorry I bought it now.
    it will be for sale soon.

  379. Let me add something to my note above. John is right, if you are only going to use your RV 2-4 weeks a year, then you would never want to spend $14,000 for a park membership as the author of the article did. If however, you are looking at becoming a full timer or snowbird, over time you will save a lot of money, but it takes that “up front” money to do it. By now you know that many parks that charge $35-$55 a night, will also only charge $650 if you stay the month. That makes it about $22 a night. Now, depending on your membership and the “RV Club” you join, imagine paying nothing per night. Or only $8 a night. While you may only be able to stay 14 days and then have to move on, you just move up the road to another park. Bottom line, in a few years “yes you will be staying for almost fee.”
    Hope this helps.

  380. John Shelton

    “But, we must USE these parks in order to save.”

    This last sentence in the article sums up membership campgrounds in a very general way. I am a Coast to Coast member who joined in the late 80’s. It cost $3xxx (I forget the exact amount) to join (in the late 80’s) and then cost $1/night to camp. I really don’t know what typical joining fees are nowadays, but nightly fees are now $8/night. There is an annual Coast to Coast dues to be paid and there is a home campground annual fee that must be paid. Together these two fees are a few hundred dollars per year. You really gotta spend quite a few $8 nights to recoup the initiation fee plus the annual Coast to Coast and home campground maintenance fees. Someone who works a regular job and spends 2 to 4 weeks plus a few weekends per year in their RV probably would never break even. Each individual has to do the math for their own circumstances.

  381. Dennis

    I guess I am having a problem with the math, as well. With $14K in membership fees, I would think it would be difficult to offset that with reduced nightly fees.

  382. Gail Clark

    I haven’t seen so many comments in a long time. We joined Thousand Trails at the Lazyays price. I still don’t understand the levels of TT. We have found the best thing is that one of their parks – Peace River- is 2 hrs from home. Our grandkids love it there. We are able to go many times during the year. I only wish that there were more TT around the east. Also on TT, once you pay your joining fee and yearly dues you do not have to pay when you go.

  383. S.Randolph

    Once you have the membership do you still pay per night at the campgrounds?

  384. There is so much “unknown” to buying into a RV resort membership. We purchased a “used” (2nd owner) Coast to Coast membership. We paid $700.
    On our 9 month trip last year we stayed at a place that was a CtC and also a Thousand Trails. The TT folks tried to sell us a $12,000 membership into their park system (no joke). CtC lets you stay at one of their parks for $8-12 a night (depending on the park). A few months later we stayed at a CtC park for a month at $8 a night. The cost, if we did not belonged to CtC would have been $45 a night. That would have been $1,350, but we paid only $240. For just that one month we spent $700 membership + $240 = $940). For just that one month we are ahead $410. When you figure in the other 8 months – boy did we make out. The only one problem, CtC is not in every state or in some places you may want to visit. But for those of you trying to “figure the math” – you may spend a lot of “up front” money to buy a membership, but over the years and in time it will be “free Camping.

  385. Angela Lee

    Is this list available to the general RVing public? If so, where do we access it? Angie

  386. Bob

    Fred I don’t understand your math, don’t know if you saved money or not, can you please explain your artcle so us non F.T.ers can understand. You sound like a salesmen for one of these campground memberships, where the figures are REAL FOGGY!!

  387. anita cagle

    We just came back from “out West” (grand canyon,NM,Ok,etc & all the campsites we stayed in were reasonable to us because they were only $35-40/night.Here in the South you’ll pay $65-75/night on the coastlines.(tax included) Cost us $600 for a week in St Augustine Fla last summer! Our SC state parks are $20-25 nightly.PassPort prices are only good in Army Corps of Engineers park& they cost $17/night. Why is it so overpriced on the East Coast?

  388. Don Hopper( hoppers4)

    I’m afraid I don’t comprehend the math either. Can’t tell if you saved money or not Fred.

  389. Scott S

    If this artcle was a math story problem I think the answer would be – D. Can’t determine with supplied information.

    I would be curious to see a more complete explanation of the figures.

  390. Gerald

    I too use Thousand Trails, Coast to Coast, RPI, Enjoy America and Passport America. However, I am not sure that you recover your investment all that quick because of annual dues/fees. Thousand Trails is $500+ a year (the most expensive one that I have). I believe Passport America is the best value and they are in so many places.

    It may be better for a full timer but we travel for only 5 to 7 months and the rest of the year we do weekend trips; mostly to state parks

  391. Jon Olenick

    Damn you GOOGLE, you pasted an add over half of this artical.

  392. Tom Hargreaves

    I don’t think I’m following this. What I glean is that in 2006, Fred spent $14,600 for camping, $14k in memberships and $600 in some other kind of costs (perhaps non-system parks). Had they not had the $14k membership fees, their FT costs would have been $7k instead of $14,600. Since I’m not familiar with how the campground memberships work in the first place, I don’t know what the costs for the second and subsequent years would be, assuming for the sake of comparison that they stayed at exactly the same places and for the same times. Do the memberships have annual or renewal fees? Is there any daily stay fee (other that add-ons) of any kind for staying at the membership parks? Other costs?

    Perhaps a little elucidation for us non-FT types would be helpful. As a PT RVer (that’s “part time” not “physical training” or “perfect ten”), I’d be interested to know if a CG membership would benefit me.

  393. Debbie McMillan

    Hey Fred;
    Is your spreadsheet available witht names of the campgrounds on it? Also do you have one made up for Canada? I used to have Good Sam but they are so few and far between I gave up on it.
    thanks for all yur instructional guidance. I appreciate any help you give me.
    Also is it hard to install an anode rod? Mine is 2006 tt Jayco so I will likely need a new one this season.

  394. Mary

    Rich, maybe I can help explain the confusion. I believe Fred is saying that his actual ’06 costs were $600, because he used his systems a lot and saved deep discounts. Without them, and at an avg. cost of $20/night, he would have spent $7000.

    Of course, one has to factor in the initial investment, but it looks like Fred would recoup that outlay in only two years if he traveled in a similar fashion to his ’06 yr.

    We are in much the same boat, except our initial investment was ~$6000, so we figured it paid for itself in the first year. We are FT at 3+ yrs. now and are thrilled with our decision. As Fred says though, one HAS to use their systems for them to work.

    Traveling west of the Mississippi is easy, but visiting the NE, where my family is located, strains the budget a bit. If not for going out of the systems to accommodate those visits, our costs would be even lower.

  395. Christina Smith

    Good Sam is great for vacation travel and has some benefits for full timers. However campground memberships offer low or zero nightly camping fees for members. At $20 per night a fulltimer is going to spend at least $7000 just in camping fees every year vs. Fred 2006 expenses of $600 with his memberships. He had the upfront expenses, but he doesn’t pay the regular nightly fees anymore. We have a timeshare and we have coast to coast. Our timeshare allows us to go to places all over the world. Our campground membership takes us all over this country. We just need to get there and buy our food and entertainment. No more paying for any lodging or sites.

  396. Rich Hoffpauer

    I’m a bit confused. In one paragraph, you stated that you paid $600 in total camping costs in 2006. In another paragraph you stated that at $20 per night you would spend $7000 in a year. Can you explain the difference? What about Good Sam parks? No membership costs there, and there’s a discount if one is a member of Good Sam which, by the way, offers a pretty good deal for a very very low annual cost.

  397. david

    I’d love to see a similar analysis for those of us east of the Mississippi. We are not retired yet, so the bulk of our camping is a week or two at a time. Of course, further analyses such as west of the Mississippi and east of the continental divide, and going back to the east, above and below the Mason-Dixon line.