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Old 08-30-2018, 08:50 PM   #1
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Government campground availability

My wife and I are in the final stages of deciding whether to buy an RV with the primary use being visiting the scenic areas in the western US. (National parks, natural areas, etc.) We envision relatively long, multi-week trips in a small Class C, without a toad.

From prior visits, I know that we saw numerous forest service, COE, BLM sites, that seemed "plentiful". From our research, most of these are first come, first served. We have questions if these would really be usable by us. If we are driving in during the day and arriving in the afternoon, are sites generally taken early in the day? Also, if we want to keep a site a few days but are using the RV for general transportation, how do you let it be known that a site is taken?

As you can tell, we are absolutely newbies at this. We are concerned about being able to wander around as the spirit moves us, and change itineraries as we find interesting stuff, but then find out that without concrete reservations, we'll be stranded.

Your thoughts are appreciated. Thanks!
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Old 08-30-2018, 10:36 PM   #2
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There are lots of campgrounds that can be reserved through the ReserveAmerica website.

It might be a good idea to check on some of the campgrounds and look at the reservation site for site specifics. Some sites won't accommodate RV's over 25-30 feet total. That means a 30 ft Motorhome or a shorter trailer. I tow a 25 ft trailer and several times have had to get real creative on parking the truck as leaving it parked normally in the site wasn't possible. I usually park the trailer then "Parallel Park" the truck across the end of the site.

I offer this so you can factor this into your selection process if the "Government" campgrounds are your primary destination. This doesn't mean that one can't find a nice 60 ft drive through in many parks but those are far and few between the farther into the scenic country you get. Also be prepared to bring water and have enough electricity for your stay (or a generator/solar). Many have nothing but a gravel pad, a picnic table, fire ring, and sometimes a nice flat tent pad (sand).

Personally I love these sites and seek them out whenever I can. Bad news here where I live is that most close after Labor Day. At least the ones where you run the risk of getting snowed in
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Old 09-01-2018, 04:17 PM   #3
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Thanks for the response. We were looking at a less than 24-28 ft class B and just broadened our search to similar sized class As. We're also rethinking that we may really need the toad, especially given the maneuverability of class As. With a toad, we don't have an issue with multiple day stays or with getting to the places we would want to see.
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Old 09-01-2018, 04:32 PM   #4
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Get your park pass

If you have a park pass you can get some pretty nice discounts. Army Corps. of Engineer sites are half off, you can get a full hook-up site for $20. US Forest sites you get $10 off. Some state parks will also honor your Federal pass. Call ahead or reserve on-line. We also have had pretty good luck getting a walk-up site during the week, week ends not so much.

Good luck
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Old 09-01-2018, 10:56 PM   #5
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Thanks for the info. We got our passes before the price went up. Unfortunately hers was stolen when her purse was lifted at an I interstate rest stop. Good to know about availability we are likely to find.
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Old 09-03-2018, 06:32 PM   #6
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Based on our experience at Federal campgrounds with our Mini Lite, we special ordered the shortest 5th wheel Rockwood made--26' 9". We had decided that we needed more floor space, a separate bedroom, and a split bath (so we can both use it at the same time), but still wanted to be able to stay in older National Park and Forest campgrounds. Now we are are very glad we got it when we did because that floorplan and length are no longer available from Rockwood or Flagstaff.

I think you will be much happier with a toad despite having to unhook and drive it separately into many campsites. You are probably familiar with the Mercedes Sprinter diesel chassis that is used in many brands of small Class C and a few Class A (mainly Winnebago) motorhomes. Although only 3 L displacement, the diesel is rated by most manufacturers to have a 4000-5000 lb. towing capacity. We have friends with a Winnebago View who have been perfectly happy using it for snowbirding in Ariizona for 8 years, using their manual transmission MINI as their toad. And even when towing, your fuel mileage will beat anything possible from even smaller gasoline Class B or C RVs.

The Sprinters have been around for more than 10 years. So, although the new ones may seem expensive for only a 24-25-ft. RV, there are hundreds of good used ones out there. Keep in mind that a diesel with even 50,000-60,000 miles on it is far more stress-free than a gasoline engine with 30,000-40,000 miles. Not to mention that it is considerably more robustly constructed due to its much higher compression ratio. And those mileage numbers may be high as I have seen used 10-year old diesel pusher Class As advertised with only 20,000 miles on them!

So, don't be afraid to start your RVing with a used motorhome, since you may decide you really need something different after a couple of years . . . just like we did!
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Old 09-03-2018, 07:12 PM   #7
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First come, first serve campsites, are hit or miss. I use https://www.allstays.com/ to find campsites, I always know where the 2 closest places I can spend the night if first choice is full.
You can call the main office to see if the campground is filling each day.
I have better luck showing up tuesday through thursday, forget Fri or Sat.
I have seen some NP post online what time the campsites filled the day before.
I have seen some site are only open for 1 day and you have to move the next day to another site the next day.
Better luck if you get there early in the day.
If they are full ask if there is any overflow parking for the night.
Ask if there is any dispersed camping in the area.
or if they have any other ideas.
Get the Federal Senior Pass if you are old enough.
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Old 09-03-2018, 09:43 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gzvette61 View Post
My wife and I are in the final stages of deciding whether to buy an RV with the primary use being visiting the scenic areas in the western US. (National parks, natural areas, etc.) We envision relatively long, multi-week trips in a small Class C, without a toad.
...
Hi gzvette61 My wife & I began running your plan (sort of) a year ago. We travel in a 25-foot Prism on a Sprinter chassis have never had a problem finding a place for it. (Side note: we average 12-16 MPG with this diesel Sprinter, depending on speed and terrain.) The difference with our travel is that we don't often stay long in any one place. Certain issues make it difficult for me to keep camp-reservation schedules, and we sometimes have to stay a bit longer than planned or expected. Although we can enjoy free full-hookup camping at state parks (an earned privilege within my state), first-come/first-serve camping is very important to me because it relieves me from a travel schedule. However, my situation requires diligent trip-planning. As 1A Camper already mentioned, the AllStays app is very useful while your on the road. "Free Camping Near You" is also useful when planning. It may also be important to use federal "Visitor Centers" and "Field Offices" where you might ask for information about "dispersed camping." Although "dispersed camping" is not generally available at National Parks, it is widely available on most other federally managed lands, such a National Forest and BLM. These things work well for us while touring western states I cannot speak for places "east of the Mississippi." To your other concern, there are several ways to preserve your space during the day while you're out touring: First, Camp Hosts tag reserved sites with their respective dates, so these sites are available for non-reserved dates you should speak to the Camp Host about these. Secondly, at most federal camps you clip a reservation tag at your space thus indicating to others that the space is already reserved. Finally, some folks mark their camp by leaving equipment behind while away. Although I'm reluctant to leave equipment behind, I do often use survey tape or construction ribbon to mark my camp parking space (even used "crime scene" ribbon once, donated by a local sheriff I thought it was humorous Camp Host didn't).
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Old 09-06-2018, 08:33 AM   #9
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Thanks to all for the great responses and the links. These are very helpful, and the on-line links are great. Thanks again!
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Old 09-06-2018, 11:02 AM   #10
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I would like to add one more advantage of a Sprinter Class C or A motorhome--the turbo. Since your primary objective is to visit national parks, you will have to travel through the mountains of the West to reach many of them. A naturally aspirated engine (gas or diesel) loses 3% of its power for every 1,000' of elevation gain. A turbocharged engine loses about 1% per 1,000'.

So, going through Colorado's I-70 Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,000', a non-turbo engine has lost 1/3 of its power, which is fairly significant in a heavy RV pulling a toad. But at least I-70 has multiple climbing lanes. What we in Colorado dislike is getting behind a non-turbo engine RV when climbing a two-lane highway on an 11,000' pass in the mountains (Monarch, Wolf Creek, Berthoud, etc.). The RV can't go anywhere near the speed limit and often backs up considerable traffic. Fortunately, CDOT has receǹtly added climbing lanes on most of those major passes, so there are fewer impatient drivers taking too many chances to pass slow vehicles than there were a few years ago.

Also, keep in mind that even Yellowstone, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and the South rim of the Grand Canyon are 7-8,000' in elevation. So, it may not seem like you are in the mountains, but you will still be way down on towing power in a non-turbo RV..
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Old 09-06-2018, 11:32 AM   #11
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As a side note. Please be courteous of those stuck behind you and pull over when you can or make it easy to let “them” by. The life you save may be your own due to impatient drivers behind you doing something stupid!
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