Hey Ranger! Pay in Advance for a Campsite?

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August 15, 2008

Entrance station, NPS photoOne of the decisions we face when arriving at a campground is whether to pay for more than one night in advance. Sure, it’s convenient to ante up for several days or even an extended stay all at once, and some campgrounds may even require you to do so.

If this is a location where you’ve stayed before, and you’re confident you’ll enjoy your visit, that may not be a problem. It’s good to keep in mind, however, that getting a refund can sometimes be a challenge, especially at government-run sites. If the people in the site next door turn out to be addicted to late-night karaoke, you may not want to have more invested in this campsite than you’re willing to write off.

A good example of the perils of paying in advance was sent to me by a reader of RV.net. After purchasing their first RV, our camper, her husband, and father-in-law set off on a 4-day outing. Her husband was tired and suggested they go someplace close by, so she whipped out her guidebook and suggested a private park on a lake.

After driving for several hours on winding, two-lane roads, they paid at the campground entrance for 3 nights–nonrefundable. They parked their rig, ready to rest and relax, in a nice site with an unobstructed view of the boat ramp.

They were barely settled in when a nice woman approached and commented to the group that they really didn’t want to be there this weekend. (Hmm….Not an auspicious beginning to their first camping trip.)

A logical response to the advice, “You’ll soon wish you weren’t here” would be:”Why?”

The answer in this case…speed boat races.

As our camper described the experience, “Talk about noise! Even when the boats were not actually racing, their motors were being revved for fine tuning and repairs.”

In a classic example of there’s good news and bad news, the setting sun brought an end to racing for the day. After all, the racers and fans needed a little time to unwind. Our on-the-scene reporter continues: “Saturday night we were treated to live music until one a.m. with the frequent refrain, ‘Baby! Baby! Baby!'”

Campgrounds are almost always wonderful places to meet nice people, but this event apparently brought out a somewhat different clientele. Our correspondent noted that by Sunday evening they’d had numerous visitors to their site who were not sober enough to drive home, so their prime location near the boat ramp became a crash landing zone of sorts. Sounds to me like this site definitely qualified for a group discount.

By Monday morning the survivors could finally appreciate how pleasant the area could be under normal circumstances. There was just one other detail, but it clinched this trip’s bid for certification as a Melancholy Situation. All the resorts around this particular lake were shutting down soon, so the area could be returned to a more natural setting. Lacking any motivation for long-term outcomes, the campground owners had not maintained the restrooms, showers, toilets, and other facilities. I’ll let you experienced campers imagine the results of that program.

As our camper concluded, “Needless to say, it was a very unexpected weekend!”

Pay for a lot of nights in advance? Baby, baby, baby… just be careful!

Have you had a “wish I hadn’t done that” experience after paying in advance for a campsite?

Jim Burnett


Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!

Jim’s book Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks is available from Trailer Life Directory.com

Leave a Reply


  1. Gary –

    You give a classic example of the best way to handle a noisy group in a campground. My experience during 30 years of working with visitors in parks and a lot of campgrounds was that more often than not, a friendly approach such as yours was the most effective. As for 44 years of marriage (to the same lady :-), I offer heartfelt congratulations!

  2. Gary Hauck

    Jim,Actually what I had done turned out to be a blessing for the weekend, being considerate to those kids instead of yelling at them, they turned down their radios the next couple of nights and you did not know they was there…Good sleeping. As far as the wife, lets put it this way, we are still married after 44 years.

  3. Gary – Thanks for sharing a great story. Sounds like that didn’t turn out to be the best time to swap fishing tales:-)

    Darrel – You make a good point – what constitutes a “great” campsite depends in large measure on what you’re looking for. In the case of the campers in my story, peace and quiet wasn’t on the weekend schedule in that location! Thanks for the comment.


  4. I can’t think of a better place to camp than near a site where speed boats are racing. I’d say you were very fortunate you got that spot. Now you obviously don’t agree 😉

  5. Gary Hauck

    I had a good experience like that. It was about 30 years ago at a state lake. The campsites were elevated with a depression about 20 yards wide between each campsite. It was a 3 day holiday and most of the campsites were filled. Well here come about 14 kids around 20 years old and guess were they camped in the depression between my camper and the next. even though it was not a campsite the rangers let them stay to get that extra revenue. They did not get drunk but were up all night. I got up around day break and went out to talk with them, but it turned out that a conversation had started about fishing. After about 30 minutes of this my wife opened the camper window and yelled for us to shut up, she did not know I was in the mix. I yelled, go back to bed, wrong thing to say to a woman who got very little sleep when I got back in the camper.