Camping Costs: June 1- Oct 11, 2008 (and tips)

Texas Travel Blog

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Are you wondering costs for camping on a trip like ours? 

Here's our info:

  1. Grand Totals
  2. Monthly breakdown
  3. My comments on cost-savings
  4. Our nightly camping locations and fees

 

Overall    Total Trip Camping Costs:  $       2,562.00  
  Average nightly campsite:  $            19.26  
   
  Dry Nights 89 Total nights:
  Electric or Water hookup only 7    133
  Electric and Water hookup 8  
  Full hookup (Wat, electric & sewer) 29  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 15  

 

June Total Campground costs   $          523.00
Average- June  $            17.43
Dry Nights 18 Total nights:
Electric Nights 4 30
Electric & Water Nights 0  
Full Hookup (E/W/Sewer) Nights 8  
Free camping (included in Dry tally) 2  

 

July Total costs:  $          685.00
Average- July  $            22.10
Dry Nights 16 Total nights:
E Nights 0 31
E/W Nights 3  
Full Nights 12  
Free camping (included in Dry tally) 2  

 

August Total CG costs:  $          532.00
Average- August  $            17.16
 
Dry Nights 25 Total Nights:
E or W only Nights 1 31
E/W Nights 1  
Full Nights 4  
Free camping (included in Dry tally) 6  

 

September Total costs:  $          572.00
Average- September  $            19.07
Dry Nights 19 Total nights:
E or W only Nights 2 30
E/W Nights 4  
Full Nights 5  
Free camping (included in Dry tally) 4  

 

October Total costs:  $          250.00
Average- October  $            22.73
Dry Nights 11 Total nights:
E or W only Nights 0 11
E/W Nights 0  
Full Nights 0  
Free camping (included in Dry tally) 1  

 

Ways to Reduce Camping Costs:

While we were concerned with conserving funds, we did not expend tremendous energy to save on camping fees.  Our goal was to experience the places we traveled as much as possible.  Instead of conserving:

  • We preferred staying directly in the National Park campgrounds so we were at the center of the action and wasted no time in exploring. 
  • We moved around nearly daily and therefore did not seek out more remote, inexpensive places. 
  • Camping in cities was extremely expensive and blew our budget, but we wanted to be *in* those cities:  Whistler, Inuvik, Anchorage, Vancouver, Seattle, Calgary, Las Vegas, etc.  (I will include the detailed locations costs at the end for anyone wanting to explore the areas we did.) 
  • Much of our trip was in Canada, where the exchange rate made camping more expensive than previous years 

However, to our credit, to help our daily cost average:

  • We avoided commercial campgrounds, if possible. 
  • If possible, some of the time we chose fewer services (water/electric rather than full hookups)

So if we can camp for under $20 a night on the average, then it ought to be easy, if that is your goal, to camp for far less.  See below for ideas on how to accomplish that:

Passes and Low-Cost Campsites:

If you're 62 or older, you can by a National Parks Senior Pass for $10.  It is valid for a *LIFETIME*.  (Ours is valid for one year and costs $80)  This pass not only allows you in all the National Parks and National Monuments for free, but the Senior pass allows *half price* camping at most (if not all) National Parks.  http://www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm

National Forests:  Locate a Field Office for any national forest and they will provide wonderful handouts on inexpensive camping.  Typically dry camping in dispersed location, this is on gorgeous land.  (National Parks are protected as wilderness while National Forests are managed and may include some commercial logging, etc.).  All you have to do is ask for the info.

Our government owns a lot of land besides our national parks, forests and monuments.  Often, it is the Bureau of Land Managment or the Corps of Engineers who manage it.  Typically, you can camp for free on that land, you just need to locate it.  There are books about this land, you can check the agencies' websites, or you can contact their Field Offices to get locations.  Many of these locations are in the Southwest area of the U.S. (Arizona, NM, etc).  http://www.amazon.com/Camping-Corps-Engineers-Spurgeon-Hinkle/dp/0937877425/ref=pd_sim_b_2

In fact, Quartzsite is an Arizona community that grows every winter to a million people where they dry camp for free (or very little if they want a long-term pass) in Arizona.  What a party!  http://www.quartzsitebusinesschamber.com/blm.htm

Mike & Terry Church's books:  Many of these low-cost campsites are listed in the exceptional Church's books.  http://www.rollinghomes.com/default.htm  They have books on camping in the Southwest, Northwest, Alaska, and others.  If you travel in these areas, take their book first.

Don Wright has published Guide to Free Camping (both Eastern and Western editions) and they list hundreds of sites for under $10.  http://www.amazon.com/Wrights-Guide-Free-Campgrounds-Eastern/dp/0937877476/ref=pd_sim_b_1

State Park Passes:  If you spend time in a certain state, this annual pass will save you on entrance and often camping fees.  In fact, many people like the New Mexico deal, which gives non-residents for $225 per year $10 off each night's fee.  Since dry camping in NM State Parks is only $14 for hookups and $10 for dry, you can essentially dry camp for free for up to 3 weeks in each of N.M.'s numerous State Parks.  You get a million dollar view in a fabulous location (choose your weather when you choose the elevation within the state) for very little cost.  http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/PRD/FeesPermits.htm  I have several fulltiming friends who have enjoyed early retirement living most of the year in New Mexico for very little cost.  Some camp-host and get full hookups for free for the timeframe they choose to help out.

Each state has a facilities plan for their parks.  Some have full hookups throughout (we found more of these in the Southeast, US), some have stunning locations (Oregon has parks along their entire publicly-owned coastline), and others were obviously user-funded because they were pricey with no hookups (CA parks and British Columbia).  Still, price is relative since even the expensive state parks are half the price of commercial RV parks and not on the same scale as hotels.  Plus you're getting three times the atmostphere.  The best land is held in State and National Parks.

Free Camping Online Resources:  there are several Yahoo Groups set up to communicate information on free camping allowed at Walmarts, Sams Clubs, Cracker Barrels, Travel Plazas, etc.  When RV'ers are self-contained and do not abuse this privilege (setting up camp is a no-no.  It's best just to appear to be parked), then they are welcome by these commercial establishments and we reward their generosity by shopping there.  These are terrific when you don't need the facilities of campgrounds and just need a rest.

Friends and Family:  Park in a fairly level location at a friend's house and the cost is free!  If you plug in to their electric, you probably cannot power your A/C or microwave, but you can charge your laptop, run your fridge, etc.

Sanistations:  The best way to find a place to empty the RV tanks while low-cost camping is www.sanidumps.com and then contribute your notes and updates along the way.  This is a prime example for why Time voted "You" the Person-of-the-Year.  It is internet-shared information of the most valuable kind!  Nearly all State and National parks have at least one dump station that is available for free to all who paid for overnight camping, and for a small fee ($5 or less) for those just wishing to use the facilities.

Remember when you're shopping for that dream RV that the worst places to camp (think parking lot) and the most expensive are commerical RV Parks.  Instead, try State, National, and publicly-owned land in the wilderness.  Remember that most of these require a rig shorter than 30 feet (or so).  The smaller and more maneuverable you are, the better for seeing the sites and enjoying our beautiful country. 

We rarely saw diesel pushers in the national parks.  They are all at the KOA.  While we love the guaranteed clean facilities and resources of a KOA (pool, laundry, hookups), there is a price to pay for every person in your group.  Typically KOA's are over $50 per night for our family of 5.  By comparison, State and National Parks are around $10-$20 per night (and less with a pass).  

Know the type of travel you intend to do before you buy a rig.  Nearly all big rigs require a tow vehicle for seeing the sights.  Plan on driving highways, parking for at least a week in an RV resort, and driving your toad around- if you get a large rig.  I'm not knocking that kind of travel, just saying that it is different than what we currently enjoy doing.  We plan to do that kind of travel later in life ourselves!

Keep in mind that the big rigs must plan ahead in all their travels in order to locate gas stations where they can fit, bridges they can get under, etc. 

If you must have full hookups, seek out a good RV park using www.rvparkreviews.com/ or a similar online resource to check before you book. 

We were convinced that we could not dry camp, but 89 of our 133 were dry.  It just required learning how.  Actually, we now prefer dry camping because we do not have to hook up hoses and cords and can leave quickly in the morning after a walk-around and tire-pressure check.  With hydraulic levelers, dry camping is easy as pie.

Here are some dry-camping tools:

Solar panels help keep the coach batteries charged while you're dry camping (without hookups).  Consider getting the manual tilt for the panels if you're planning to park for spell. 

A generator is a good backup (for A/C and the microwave).

Touring campers have plenty of power (lights, not the A/C or microwave) if your batteries are newer because driving the rig charges the coach batteries, and you're driving a lot when you're touring. 

Propane:  Make sure you have plenty of propane for the heater, fridge, hot water, and cooking. 

Oxygenics Shower Faucet:  If you want to dry camp, but tend to fill your holding tanks too fast, buy one of these faucets from Camping World.  It pumps air into the faucet so you get strong water pressure, but use very little water.  We used to fill our tanks in 3 hours, now we can go for 4 nights with showers for all.  Get the cutoff valve in the Home Depot shower head section and your "navy shower" will save even more water.  You'll learn to conserve water as you travel.  If we can do it, anyone can!

Inverter:  If you can hardwire in an inverter, you will love it for charging your laptop, camera batteries, cell phone, etc.  This is a necessity in my opinion for dry camping. 

Reservations- we lost money on these several times.  I'd avoid.

Also, book for only one night if you can add on subsequent night the next morning (ask them how their process works- some will not rebook your site for another until you definitely leave.  Others will fill in reservation whenever you say you'll be out, so you cannot add on more nights).  Then, you can leave if you don't like it or discover something better. 

My recommendation would be to not book at all if you don't have to (if it's not busy season) and try to get there in the morning to see if you like it and then book.  Campgrounds always fill up as the day progresses.  Remember this:  always get to the campground early!  Make sure you have a backup plan though, if it is booked.  Don't try this on Labor Day, Memorial Day, or July 4th- book those 3 months in advance.

Reservation fees:  You can book without a fee at commercial RV parks, but they want you to pay in advance in full and cancellations carry fees.  At State and National Parks, you can book online for most.  Most government parks have contracted this out to commercial reservationists (like Xanterra and ReserveUSA) and they can have very high reservation fees, either for the night booked or for the total reservations.  There are rules for each park with restrictions for booking at least a night or two in advance.  If you need to change reservations and you are outside your window of opportunity for any refund and want to change park campgrounds or dates, ask directly at the park.  They can often accommodate you directly. 

If you're at a park's Visitor's Center and ask the status of a park campground, typically, they will know if the campground is full.  However, if there is no communication between the Campground and Visitor's Center, the Ranger might give you the national reservation number.  Thank them, ignore the phone number, and go directly to the campground.  You'll be too late to book with the reservation service and why pay a reservation fee if you can book directly?  All parks have a method for taking walk-in campers, even those that declare they do not, like Yosemite and Grand Canyon.  You take a risk in waiting until you get there, but if you get there early (9am?), chances are good that you'll get a site that's good for your schedule without ridiculous fees.

Also, the National reservation service now charges an additional fee (on top of your full night's fee and reservation fee) for no-shows, so be sure to check in, even if you do so to cancel.  That's also considerate for those waiting to get a spot for the night.

Generally, reservations are an unnecessary hassle and an albatross for your freewheeling spirit.  If you can check in early in the day and are not going during high-season, don't reserve in advance.  Besides, you're self-contained and can park anywhere.  You options for overnighting abound!

Hope this info helps someone.

:) (Detailed daily log of campgrounds below)

 

State Date CG Name  Cost  Type
June 1 Ft. Clark Springs  $            15.00 Full
TX 2 Marathon Motel & RV Park  $            13.00 Full
3 Big Bend NP  $            12.00 Dry
4 Big Bend NP  $            27.00 Full
5 Balmorhea SP  $            26.00 Full
NM 6 White City RV Park  $            20.00 Full
7 Santa Rosa SP  $            10.00 dry
8 Santa Rosa SP  $            14.00 electric
9 Santa Rosa SP  $            14.00 electric
10 Bandelier NP  $            12.00 dry
CO 11 Durango Cottonwood RV Park  $            34.00 full
12 Durango Cottonwood RV Park  $            34.00 Full
13 Mesa Verde-Morefield  $            24.00 Dry
AZ 14 East Desert View- Grand Canyon  $            12.00 Dry
15 Mather- Grand Canyon  $            18.00 Dry
16 Mather- Grand Canyon  $            18.00 Dry
UT 17 Zion Canyon Campground-private  $            36.00 Full
18 Zion NP- South CG   $            16.00 Dry
19 Bryce NP - North CG  $            15.00 Dry
20 Capital Reef NP  $            10.00 Dry
21 Arches NP- Horsethief BLM  $            12.00 Dry
CO 22 Colorodo River SP  $            26.00 electric
23 Heaton Bay CG-   $            21.00 electric
24 Heaton Bay CG-   $            16.00 dry
25 Rocky Mtn NP- Glacier Basin  $            20.00 dry
26 Rocky Mtn NP- Moraine  $            20.00 Dry
27 Aunt Judi's  $                 -   Dry
28 Aunt Judi's  $                 -   Dry
29 Warren Bridge BLM  $            10.00 Dry
MT 30 Grand Teton NP- Colton Bay CG  $            18.00 Dry
Total CG costs   $          523.00
Average- June  $            17.43
Dry Nights 18 Total nights:
E Nights 4 30
E/W Nights 0  
Full Nights 8  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 2  
July
MT 1 Yellowstone NP - Canyon CG  $            23.00 Dry
2 Yellowstone NP - Canyon CG  $            23.00 Dry
WY 3 Great Falls KOA  $            44.00 E/W
4 Glacier NP- St. Mary's CG  $            23.00 Dry
Canada 5 Calgary- Mountain View RV park  $            35.00 FULL
6 Calgary- Mountain View RV park  $            35.00 FULL
7 Banff NP- Tunnel View  $            27.00 Dry
8 Jasper NP - Whister CG  $            39.00 E/W
Alaska Hwy 9 Dawson Creek - Milepost 0 CG  $            23.00 E/W
10 Ft. Nelson- West End CG  $            30.00 FULL
11 Liard River Hot Springs Prov P  $            10.00 Dry
12 Teslin- Mukluk Annie's  $                 -   Dry
13 Tatchun Lake Yukon CG  $            12.00 Dry
Dempster 14 Tombstone Mtn Yukon CG- Dempster  $            12.00 Dry
15 Eagle Plains CG - Dempston  $            11.00 Dry
Inuvik 16 Inuvik- Happy Valley CG  $            25.00 FULL
17 Inuvik- Happy Valley CG  $            25.00 FULL
18 Inuvik- Happy Valley CG  $            25.00 FULL
19 Dempster- Gwich'in Territorial Campgd $12 Dry
20 Dempster- dispersed campsite- wet  $                 -   Dry
Dawson City 21 Dawson City- Gold Rush RV $19 Dry
22 Eagle - BLM cg  $             8.00 Dry
23 Chicken - Gold Panner's  $            10.00 Dry
Fairbanks 24 Fairbanks- Rivers Edge  $            29.00 FULL
25 Fairbanks- Rivers Edge  $            29.00 FULL
26 Fairbanks- Rivers Edge  $            29.00 FULL
27 Fairbanks- Rivers Edge  $            29.00 FULL
28 Fairbanks- Rivers Edge  $            29.00 FULL
29 Fairbanks- Rivers Edge  $            29.00 FULL
Denali 30 Denali- Riley Creek  $            20.00 Dry
31 Denali- Riley Creek  $            20.00 Dry
July Total costs:  $          685.00
Average- July  $            22.10
Dry Nights 16 Total nights:
E Nights 0 31
E/W Nights 3  
Full Nights 12  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 2  
August
1 Denali- Riley Creek CG  $            20.00 Dry
Talkeetna 2 Talkeenta Camper Park  $            28.00 E/W
3 Lake Lucille Municipal Park- Wasilla  $            10.00 Dry
Anchorage 4 Anchorage - Centennial Park  $            20.00 Dry
5 Anchorage - Centennial Park  $            20.00 Dry
6 Anchorage - Ship Creek  $            26.00 Dry
Homer 7 Homer spit- city CG- (manitob?)  $            15.00 Dry
8 Homer spit- city CG- (manitob?)  $            15.00 Dry
9 Homer spit- city CG- by fishing hole  $            15.00 Dry
10 Fred Meyer's- Soldotna  $                 -   Dry
Seward 11 Seward- Exit Glacier - dispersed Fed  -  Dry
12 Little Nelchina- parks & rec  -  Dry
Valdez 13 Valdez- city CG  $            10.00 Dry
14 Wrangell-St. Elias NP- dispersed park  -  Dry
15 Yukon park- Creek Lake  $            12.00 Dry
Haines 16 Haines- Chilkat State Park  $            10.00 Dry
17 Haines- Chilkat State Park  $            10.00 Dry
18 Carcross- Yukon park  $            12.00 Dry
19 Dease Lake Lion's club cg on Cassiar  $            10.00 Dry
Hyder 20 Hyder, AK - Sealaska Inn cg parking  $            15.00 Dry
21 Kitawanga city Centenial cg  -  Dry
22 Ten Mile Lake - large B.C. cg  $            19.00 Dry
23 Ten Mile Lake - large B.C. cg  $            19.00 Dry
Whistler 24 Whistler Riverside CG  $            52.00 FULL
Vancouver 25 Vancouver- Capilano RV  $            45.00 FULL
26 Vancouver- Capilano RV  $            45.00 FULL
27 N. Cascades NP- Newhalen CG  $            12.00 Dry
Seattle 28 Seattle KOA (Kent)   $            63.00 FULL
29 Olympic NP - Hurricane Ridge  $            12.00 Dry
30 Ft. Townsend SP, Washingtoin  $            17.00 Dry
Lopez 31 Lopez Island, San Juans, Aunt Elaine's  $                 -   electric
Total CG costs:  $          532.00
Average- August  $            17.16
 
Dry Nights 25 Total Nights:
E or W only Nights 1 31
E/W Nights 1  
Full Nights 4  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 6  
Sept 1 Lopez Island, San Juans, Aunt Elaine's  $                 -   electric
Seattle 2 Seattle KOA (Kent)  $            53.00 FULL
3 Mt. Rainier NP- Ohanapecosh CG  $            12.00 Dry
4 Sequest SP- near Mt. St. Helens  $            12.00 Dry
Oregon 5 Ft. Stevens SP- Lazy Daze group  $            22.00 w/e
Ft. Stevens 6 Ft. Stevens SP- Lazy Daze group  $            22.00 w/e
7 Ft. Stevens SP- Lazy Daze group  $            22.00 w/e
8 Ft. Stevens SP- Lazy Daze group  $            22.00 w/e
9 Cape Lookout OR SP- beach by dunes  $            16.00 Dry
10 Honeyman OR SP  $            22.00 FULL
Crater Lake 11 Crater Lake NP- Manzana CG  $            22.00 Dry
12 Crater Lake NP- Manzana CG  $            22.00 Dry
Redwood 13 Redwood NP- Elk Prairie  $            20.00 water
14 Redding, CA- Sacremento RV Park  $            30.00 FULL
Lassen 15 Lassen Volcanic NP-   $            18.00 Dry
16 Lake Tahoe- Sugar Pines CA SP  $            25.00 Dry
Yosemite 17 Yosemite NP-Tualanne Flat CG (east)  $            20.00 Dry
18 Yosemite NP-Crane Flat CG (west)  $            20.00 Dry
19 Yosemite NP- North Pines CG (valley)  $            20.00 Dry
20 Kings Canyon NP- Sentinel CG (east)  $            18.00 Dry
Squoia 21 Sequoia NP- (south)  $            18.00 Dry
Death Valley 22 Death Valley- Stovepipe Wells  $            28.00 FULL
Las Vegas 23 Las Vegas KOA- Circus Circus  $            52.00 FULL
Grand Canyon 24 Grand Canyon - Mile Ten X CG- S. rim  $            10.00 Dry
25 Grand Canyon- Mather CG- south rim  $            18.00 Dry
26 Grand Canyon- Mather CG- south rim  $            18.00 Dry
Chelly 27 Canyon de Chelly NM  $                 -   Dry
28 Canyon de Chelly NM  $                 -   Dry
29 Farmington, NM Walmart  $                 -   Dry
Chaco 30 Chaco   $            10.00 Dry
Total costs:  $          572.00
Average- September  $            19.07
Dry Nights 19 Total nights:
E or W only Nights 2 30
E/W Nights 4  
Full Nights 5  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 4  
October
NM 1 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
2 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
3 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
4 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
5 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
6 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
7 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
8 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
9 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
10 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  $            25.00 Dry
11 Walmart- Brownwood, TX  $                 -   Dry
Home 12 Home
 October Total costs:  $          250.00
Average- October  $            22.73
Dry Nights 11 Total nights:
E or W only Nights 0 11
E/W Nights 0  
Full Nights 0  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 1  
Overall    Trip Total Camping Costs:  $       2,562.00  
  Average nightly campsite- Trip  $            19.26  
   
  Dry Nights 89 Total nights:
  E or W only Nights 7 133
  E/W Nights 8  
  Full Nights 29  
    Free camping (included in Dry tally) 15  

 

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