WHAT MAKES A "GOOD" RV PARK?
by Tom & Stephanie Gonser [Revised 07/2011]
[Note: We first published this article in 2000; then updated it in 2002 and again 2008. After reading it once again in 2011 we found we had few corrections and updates. Most of the information here has proved timeless.]
We once had an inquiry from a reader who manages an RV park, and who wanted to know what RVers "look for" in selecting an RV park. We thought the question was an excellent one, given the fact it was offered up by someone whose business it is to know the answer to that question! We're certain there is no "right" answer -- or at least no answer that would reflect everyone's preferences. For the moment we'll put aside the sometimes essential requirement that we must find an "internet friendly" destination to keep these pages current. When we discussed our own likes and dislikes about prospective RV destinations, we came up with some factors which we think would be common to many RVers. Admittedly the list of considerations could go on and on -- but here are our basics.
AN INVITING "TOTAL ENVIRONMENT": First impressions can be powerful motivators -- either causing us to go on down the road, or to turn off and head for the office to sign in for the evening. It's difficult to describe all the factors that make up a positive first impression. But when it's there, you know it. It's one of those things in life that when you see it, you immediately know what it is. Perhaps it is a quiet country setting, away from the main highway. Sometimes it might be an "in town" location, but with individually landscaped sites and carefully groomed grounds. Whatever this "feeling" is, it invariably results in our concluding "that's a place we'd feel good about staying tonight". There are no obvious features that raise doubts about whether we'd enjoy being there, such as massive construction in progress, hopelessly overcrowded sites, a feeling that the area is not "secure", facilities in need of paint or repair, or vehicles which are either abandoned or give the appearance that they ought to be. One of the things that we probably all intuitively sense immediately is whether a park is for RVers who are enjoying life on the road; or whether it's really a low cost housing option serving the needs of the local community. The Good Sam Directory's "code" for this is couched in terms of how many spaces there are in total, versus how many are "available". A park with 100 total spaces, and 100 "available", is going to be full of travelers like us. But a park with 100 total spaces and "30 available" is really in a different business than catering to the over the road RVer. We appreciate the need for low cost, affordable housing. It serves a badly needed purpose. But it may not be the place we'd want to choose for our night's stay.
SITE SPACING: The benefit of many state and federal RV parks is that since they already own a relatively large chunk of real estate, the sites can be situated relatively far apart. Campgrounds situated on private property must, for reasons of economy, design their sites with greater density because they'd soon be out of business if they didn't. But where the tradeoff between high density and individual site privacy results in a park that creates the appearance of an RV storage lot, we keep going on down the road. Site layout is something that must be challenging to the park owner. With ample trees and shrubbery, site spacing can actually be a bit closer without feeling like it is. And spacing which involves diagonal or off-set sites can result in units lining up with much less sense of being like so many ducks in a row. That's because the diagonal sites result in an RV's main entrance being other than smack in the middle of the unit next door -- providing at least the feeling of greater space. And in this day and age, we think it important for the park to have at least some pull-throughs, to accommodate big rigs or for those whose comfort level drops below zero whenever their rig is in reverse.
FRIENDLY STAFF: Since there's no such thing as the "perfect" setting for an RV Park, the frosting on the "first impression" cake is always the reception we sense when we walk in the office door. To some, we're just another statistic. In fact we're a bit of an annoyance since had we not come in, the person on the other side of the counter wouldn't have to be doing anything right now. But with others, who greet each new person like a friend who's just come home after a long absence, any qualms we may have had about the park are quickly (and usually permanently) dispelled. Whoever said "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" surely had that one right! After all, one of the reason RVers do what they do is because they genuinely enjoy meeting new people. In general they are a very friendly lot. And they respond very positively to the park staff person who from the the very first eye contact is obviously a good "people person". Sure, we'll fill out the blanks on the form. But in the process we'll have struck up a conversation about where we're from; what the fun things to do in the area are, or whatever. The place that from the outside only a few minutes earlier had looked like home (for tonight, anyway), now feels like home as well.
WHAT ABOUT OUR SITE? There's always a bit of trepidation about being "assigned" a site in a park we've never visited. Is it one of the "good ones"? Or will we wish we'd been assigned to a different spot? When we either pull through or back into the site that's become our new piece of property for the night, we'll immediately notice some things that reflect on how thoughtfully the park is laid out. As we reach approximately the area where we'll be shutting down the engine, I begin to evaluate whether the site is approximately level, or whether I'd better get ready to do a balancing act with a combination of jacks and blocks. I also will notice whether the utilities are conveniently placed for easy hookup. It's an extreme nuisance to find the utilities on the wrong side of the rig; or otherwise so distant from the best parking spot that I'll have to use electrical and/or hose extensions. And if the site has a sewer hookup, I'll experience an immediate sense of dismay if I see the sewer is located at least three sewer hoses away from the rig; is "uphill"; or if the sewer connection is one of those which is unexplainably raised at seemingly dizzying heights above ground level. Meantime Stephanie is checking the utilities of the rig next door, hoping the entrance to our new home-away is not wedged into our new neighbor's utility connections. She's also checking for obstructions to our slideouts, which might force us to park away from the "natural" best parking area, possibly creating unwanted distances to the hookups. And finally, with an eye to those carpets which are just waiting to pick up whatever might be tracked in from outside, she'll be happy to find the patio area is either gravel or concrete -- particularly in areas where the weather can conjure up a rain shower on a moment's notice.
SETTLING IN: It won't be long before we'll want to explore the area. The preferred answer to the question "what's fun to do here?" depends on who's asking the question. We appreciate those who will find happiness in arcade games; it just doesn't happen to be our bag. For us the right answer would be found in exploring a natural setting, whether mountains, lakes, or sea shore; or perhaps in a round of golf at a nearby course. It would be hiking, biking, fishing, or just taking Barney (our energetic Brittany) for a long walk. We probably learned about some of the fun things in the area when we checked in with that friendly park manager. And they probably gave us a handout or two with a local map of the area, and other information about places to explore. After reading it over, we're already concluding that we couldn't possibly see all there is to see here in just a day, so we're already planning to spend another day or so.
Besides -- it's really beginning to feel like "home" here!