RV Newbie - Celebrating our first year
I don’t know how to explain it. I am sensitive to my environment, the weather, and apparently RV parks.
When I research where to park Betty Jo (the Airstream), I have certain criteria I am looking for when booking an RV park. I read reviews, look at photos, I will even Google Earth a location, but none of which can tell me how an RV park “feels”. And this I can’t explain.
We have stayed in forty-six RV parks/resorts/campgrounds in our first year, some I really enjoyed because it “felt” comfortable, the vibe was great. Others, even though highly recommended, did nothing for me, there was nothing exactly wrong with them, I just did not feel comfortable, and therefore did not enjoy my stay as much. And, there were a few where I was very uncomfortable, my least favorites.
What do some of my favorite parks have in common? - nice wide sites and the neighbors aren’t real close. Easy to navigate around. Good energy.
The following parks made me feel “at home.” I knew the vibes were good when I just wanted to hang out at our site, and at the park. Most of them on the list are a little on the higher-price side, it was early on when I noticed I was becoming an RV snob and not much of a camper.
Here is a list of the Good Vibe places we parked Betty Jo (the Airstream) and I would gladly stay there again. They are not in any particular order.
Swinomish Casino and Lodge, Anacortes, WA
1. Swinomish Casino and Lodge in Anacortes, WA.
There is nothing really special about this RV park. The sites were decent. No amenities of any kind. Maybe because this was our first RV park and where we started to learn how to live in a tiny space. The location was a BIG plus. Being close to home probably helped (we are from Anacortes, WA.) The staff was FABULOUS!!!
FHU, 50/30 amps, good interior roads for navigating, small park, pull-throughs and back-in sites, Big Rig friendly gravel sites, fairly level.
Bay Point Landing, Coos Bay, Oregon
Bay Point Landing - Coos Bay, Oregon
This was our first encounter with a resort-like RV park. We pulled in and immediately I felt like I was home. Beautiful location, nice large sites with nice little touches. WIDE interior roads for easy navigating. We were just starting and I had reserved a pull-through site but we could have easily backed in to one of the back-in sites, even though we were newbies. Wonderful amenities. The staff was very friendly and resort-like customer service. And the view!!!!
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, pull-throughs and back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, laundry, bathroom/showers, gravel sites and level. Right along the Oregon coastline so there is so much to do.
Jackson Rancheria RV Park - Jackson, CA
Jackson Rancheria RV Park - Jackson, CA
Similar to Bay Point Landing, this was a resort-like park. Beautiful location, nice wide sites, friendly staff, nice walking trail around the park, shuttle rides to the casino. We only stayed a few days but wanted to stay longer.
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, pull-throughs and back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, laundry, bathroom/showers, concrete sites and level.
Seven Feathers Casino RV Park - Canyonville, OR
Seven Feathers Casino RV Park - Canyonville, OR
LOVED this RV park. We stayed there twice. Like Bay Point Landing, they provided resort-like customer service. Right off of I-5 in central Oregon. I don’t know what drew me to it, but I definitely could see why others raved about this RV park. Wide sites, easy to navigate, very BIG RIG friendly, nice amenities, great staff, large free-book library (a book lovers dream). There was a serenity to this park, you just felt welcomed and comforted. It was hot while we were there but being cushioned in a valley between two mountains, it cooled down quickly in the evenings.
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, pull-throughs and back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, concrete sites and level.
Four Corners RV Resort - Antioch, TN
Four Corners RV Resort - Antioch, TN
This is a newer park and they are semi-resort like. We stayed over a week here and I wished it could have been longer. This park felt like home. We were close to Nashville and did some touristy things, but here, I just wanted to hang out in the park and enjoy the vibe.
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, mostly back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, concrete sites and level, laundry room, bathroom/showers.
Resort at Canopy Oaks - Lake Wales, FL
Resort at Canopy Oaks- Lake Wales, FL
This is a relatively new park in the central area of Florida. It was not conveniently located next to a town, but I think that added to its charm. It’s a large resort but everything is so spaced out you didn’t feel like everyone was on top of you. The sites are wide and long and the interior roads are easy to navigate and easy for backing in. This was a well-laid out park. Nice amenities. Everyone would be out in the morning walking. Fun Tiki Bar. It has a lot of potential. Active Facebook group. We spent a month here and I hated to leave.
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, mostly back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, concrete sites and level, bathroom/showers, laundry.
Wanapuam State Park - Vantage, WA
Wanapuam State Park - Vantage, WA
When we started everyone said you have to stay in state parks, but they fill up so fast. I didn’t find them as budget-friendly as most people stated. I also felt that most of the state parks were not as easy to navigate around. But this park was AMAZING, even on a smoke-filled and hot summer day. We only stayed the one night and as soon as we pulled into the park I knew I needed to return and stay longer. I have already reserved a spot for May of this year (2022.) I have not, yet, been able to adopt the “rustic” type of camping. For some reason those parks make me a bit uncomfortable. But this park, the rustic (outdoorsy feeling) was a charm.
Our site had FHU and was a pull-through, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, pull-throughs and back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, dirt sites and somewhat level. For our return trip, I booked a pull-through site right by the water.
Clark’s Ferry - Montpelier, IA
Clark’s Ferry - Montpelier, IA
This is a Corp of Engineers park, right by the Mississippi River. I picked it because it was located right by the Mississippi and It had good reviews. My only real concern was it didn’t have full hook-ups and I wanted to stay for five days. This is another park that surprised me. Like Wanapaum, it was a little more rustic (meaning more nature-like, less resort-like) but I felt so comfortable there and really enjoyed my stay. They have great bathrooms with showers so we utilized them to save on our grey tank (there is a dump station located by the exit) we lasted the five days without having to dump. And, you can’t beat the price, $20 per night, $10 if you have the National Senior Pass (which we do.) Then there was the view!!!!
50/30 amps, good interior roads for navigating, mostly back-in sites, concrete sites and mostly level. Clean bathroom and showers.
Duck Creek RV Resort- Muskegon, MI
We booked this park to visit friends, so we were only there for a few days, I would love to go back and stay a bit longer, just not in the summer months, it is right across from an amusement park. Nice, comfortable sites. Lots of amenities and great walking paths. This was our first park that had a little cafe with ice cream and an arcade for children (or adults.)
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, mostly back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, concrete sites and level.
St Peter’s 370 Lakeside Park - St Peters, MO
This park is managed by the city of St Peters. I chose it because it was close to St Louis, but not in St Louis. It had good reviews. And what a joy it was. Simple, elegant, laid out well, surroundings were beautiful, and just so comfortable. We spent ten days there and I would gladly spend a month. The sites were wide and very long. The neighbors were close but not right on top of you. Great walking trail.
FHU, 50/30 amps, great interior roads for navigating, pull-throughs and back-in sites, Big Rig friendly, concrete sites and level, bathroom/showers, laundry.
Blue Earth Campground at The Faribault County Fairgrounds- Blue Earth, MN
This one surprised me. It was a last minute reservation on our way to Michigan. It is located in the back of a fairground and is really small. The cost was $25.00 for the night, so it was the price that caught my attention. It was such a delightful and almost quaint place to stop. Cozied in the back of the fairgrounds, simple sites with FHU. Great Camp Host. Some of the sites are not BIG RIG friendly. It was so hot and a bit humid but we still enjoyed our walk around the fairgrounds and had fun seeing the Jolly Green Giant.
1. Lewis and Clark Golf and RV Park - Astoria, OR
2. Casey’s Riverside RV park - Westfir, OR
3. Brookhollow RV - Kelso, WA
4. Heartland Rv Park - Hermosa, SD
5. Petoskey RV Resort - Petoskey, MI
6. Clarksville RV - Clarksville, TN
7. Skidaway Island State Park, Savannah, GA
8. Peter D’s Rv Park - Sheridan, WY
9. City of Canton RV Park - Canton, IA
10. Yreka RV - Yreka, CA
11. Riverside RV - Sevierville, TN
12. Bay Bayou - Tampa, FL
Most Disappointing Parks:
1. Siding Motel RV Park (AKA Circle K Campground) - White Lake, SD
2. Tween the Lakes - Grand Rivers, KY
3. Garden Bay RV - Garden Bay, MI
4. Premier RV Resort - Salem, OR
5. Lynden KOA - Lynden, WA
6. Skagit Valley RV - Mt Vernon, WA
7. Stagecoach RV - St Augustine, FL
8. Elma RV - Elma, WA
BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
1. Bay Point Landing
2. Jackson Rancheria RV Park
3. Swinomish Casino and Lodge
4. Lewis and Clark Golf and RV Park
5. Seven Feathers
6. Peter D’s RV park
7. Blue Earth Campground
8. Duck Creek RV Resort
9. Clarksville RV
10. Four Corners
11. Bay Bayou RV
12. Ocean Lakes Family Campground
13. Brookhollows RV
14. Elma RV
Island to Island and everything in-between - our first major route.
Route planning is just one of many new skills a new RVer has to learn. You can watch countless YouTube videos on the subject (I have.) But until you start to do it, the information is just a reference. As you plan each trip, it adds to your skill level and your confidence. There are countless apps to utilize and there is a learning curve for many of them. Every RVer has their favorites and knows what works best for them. As we gain more experience we also develop our list of go-to apps and a system that works for our lifestyle and way to travel.
When we first started and took our first maiden voyage, I didn’t use any apps and I just picked campgrounds recommended in Facebook groups. I had just ended a stressful job, and life with its uncertainties these past few years, added to that stress so I needed time to decompress and let my mind relax before learning a lot of new things. I have since started educating myself on various apps and learning as to what works best for us.
For our second maiden voyage, the trip was going to be a little longer and a little further, but I still used Google maps for configuring our route. I used campgroundreviews.com for finding locations. I also used Harvest Host for overnighters. Since most of it was all close to home, we were familiar with the area and most of the routes. If I was uncertain about a route I would go into a few of my Facebook groups and ask for a recommendation, I still do this today.
After our maiden voyages, I learned quite a bit but it was time to get serious. We planned a trip to Michigan, the first leg of our extended full-time journey. For this trip, I used RV Trip Wizard to help plan our route. We bought a Garmin RV GPS 890 for the truck, but I still use Google Maps to verify. We have found that the Garmin and RV Trip Wizard aren’t always up-to-date in regard to road closures or other changes. We mostly wanted/needed the Garmin and RV Trip Wizard to help us locate RV-friendly roads, something Google Maps lacks. I now use RV Trip Wizard (who uses campgroundreviews.com) to look up possible places to stay.
My go-to website for reviews is Campgroundreviews.com. I find they have more to offer in RV parks and a lot more in-depth reviews and photos. Campendium is my second choice but I find them lacking in reviews and detailed photos (read our article about writing reviews.) I know many RVers use also RV Parky and Allstays, I use them when I feel I need to extend my search. But I have found that no one app offers a full list of parks. I am still new to boondocking so have yet to familiarize myself with those apps.
Once, I find some possible locations, I then research them on Google Earth to see if I can get a feel for the park, the entrance, the roads inside the park. This isn’t always accurate but it gives me an idea at least.
Planning the trip from Anacortes, WA to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan
We had a starting point, Anacortes, WA, our end destination was Petoskey, MI, with a stop in Garden Bay, MI in the U.P. We chose a midway point that we wanted to visit - South Dakota, check out our Picture Perfect article on South Dakota. I have found that this type of route planning works best for me (for now), where I pick a point A to point B with dates and then work backward from Point B to fill the in-between days.
The first half of this trip we went from Anacortes, WA to Hermosa, SD
I used RV Trip Wizard to plan the route. Our target date to leave Anacortes was August 12th. Our deadline to arrive at the Heartland RV Park in Hermosa, South Dakota was August 16th. We had four nights in between. Being a planner and a Type-A personality, I did not quite feel comfortable yet with not knowing where to stay the night. We had around 1100 miles to cover in this time frame and we estimated our stamina could only last around 200-250 miles or about 4-6 hours of driving. As newbies, we did not want to arrive at night. We are also not good at being morning people, so that meant leaving somewhere around 10:00 am and wanting to arrive between 4:00 to 5:00 pm. I planned each night ahead of time from Anacortes to South Dakota.
Wanapaum State Park - Washington State - Photo by Tony Locke
We reserved a spot at Wanapaum State Park in the eastern part of Washington state. 212 Miles
Smoke moved into the area just as we were leaving Anacortes that morning, increasing as we drove over the Cascade mountains. We arrived shortly before 4:00 pm, the smoke was thicker but not so thick we could not breath or see the Columbia River. The heat was close to 90 with a touch of mugginess. We settled in and waited until early evening to walk the park where we met two couples in their Airstreams. This is now one of favorite locations for camping. I highly recommend it.
1. Location, location, location. This park is a state Gem and aptly so. Located right next to the Columbia River, just a brief drive off of I-90. It is an oasis and I wished we had the time to have stayed longer. A definite must visit.
2. Had full hook-up, something you don’t always find in every state park.
3. Nice facilities.
4. Clean and well maintained. 5. Easy in and out, good interior roads, and nice spacious sites. Even a newbie, like us could back in. Pull-throughs are available.
6. VIEWS! Pick a site next to the water for a spectacular view of the Columbia River. But all sites have a nice view of the area.
7. Boat ramp by the park, beach, swimming area.
Quite frankly, I can’t think of any cons, except for maybe rattlesnakes, so watch your pets and children.
1. Nice and easy access from I-90.
2. Great service and staff. They guide you to your site and make sure you have all that you need to settle in.
3. There are quite a few amenities. Bathrooms/Showers and laundry.
4. Walking trails around the park.
5. Full hook-ups.
6. Pull through and back in sites.
1. Some tight turns in a few areas, these are daunting when you are new or a larger rig. A seasoned RVer would be fine.
2. Our site was a pull-through and located in the back of the park. It was gravel. It was not level and it dipped in the middle, which would have made for a rough unhitching and hitching up, but since we there only there for the night we did not unhitch.
3. Hook-ups were towards the front of the site by the truck, luckily we have a long electrical cord and water hose. The sewer connection was close enough for our sewer hose.
4. Neighbors fairly close but not too bad.
Bozeman, Montana - a HipCamp location 274 Miles
I could not locate a Harvest Host in this area. There were a couple of parks but they were either costly or the reviews were not too inviting, so we decided to try a HipCamp location. It was a fairly easy to get to location and a great host. The view from this location would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the smoke in the distance hiding the mountain ranges. The heat was still high, but a cool breeze made it bearable so we didn’t need to hook-up our generator.
1. Location was convenient.
2. Great host.
3. Free vegetables from their garden.
4. Really good tasting water if we needed it.
5. They have around 5 spots, four of which have electricity hook-up, our site did not.
1. Directions to find it was a little confusing so had to call but she stayed on the phone with me and waved us in.
2. We parked on a grassy area, luckily it wasn’t wet, but it did have a lot of gopher holes so we had to be careful when we left.
3. A bit pricey for what we got. The price would be fine for the sites with electricity but we paid what we would pay for a medium RV park to basically park on someone’s grass.
Peter D’s RV park in Sheridan, Wyoming 271 miles
This park was a delight. I reached out via phone (they are still a bit old-fashioned) and they got back to me almost immediately. The couple who own the park were welcoming and provided good ole fashion customer service. The park had good reviews and is a no-frills park. The sites are all pull-through.
1. Great location right off the highway.
2. Pete - the owner is a definite PRO. Generous, kind, and made you feel right at home. True personal service.
3. Good hook-ups.
4. Lengthy pull-throughs.
5. It was about a mile walk into the downtown area of Sheridan.
6. Veggie garden and they will offer you veggies from it.
7. Bathroom/Showers, laundry facility.
1. The sites are close together.
2. Interior roads are a bit narrow but doable.
Betty Jo (the Airstream) and the night sky - photo by Chris Locke
The second half of our route, between South Dakota and Garden Bay, MI, I purposely did not plan overnight stays ahead of time. It was time to try my hand at winging it. Instead, we planned our stay the night before. Chancy for someone like me, but I needed to learn “how” to do this, eventually there would come a time when we needed to wing it, plus having such definitive plans all the time kind of takes the fun out of rving.
We left Hermosa on August 22nd. We calculated about 200 to 250 miles out and narrowed down our search for a nightly stay. We found an RV park just off I-90 in the town of White Lake, SD. The reviews were mixed and when I looked it up on Google Earth it looked empty, so either something was wrong? Or the park was fairly new when the photo was taken? It was next to a small motel and managed by the staff. We took a chance. We spent the night at The Siding RV Park in White Lake, South Dakota. For an overnight location it works but definitely would not choose this for any real length of time. We also had a thunderstorm and tornado watch. We watched it closely, luckily it stayed off in the distance. 255 Miles.
Easy off and on to I-90.
2. Pull -through sites.
3. Decent Hook-ups.
1. Hard to get hold of anyone, but they are fairly responsive to voicemails.
2. The park matched the Google Earth photo, it was practically empty. This turned out to be an advantage for us, I was able to practice my driving skills and drove Betty Jo out of the site in the morning and around the park to the exit.
3. Site was gravel mixed with grass and roughly outlined.
Summer Hideaway in Necedah, WI 229 miles
The night before, we had narrowed down our search to three possible locations. Summer Hideaway was the only one we could get a hold of on such short notice. It was an okay find, not my favorite and not one I would like to visit again. Mostly a Seasonal RV Park where people purchase/reserve a spot for the season. They have about twelve pull-through sites set aside for short-term guests.
1. Good for an overnight or two.
2. Nice Amenities.
1. A bit off the beaten path. Follow their directions when you get close, not Google Maps, to locate it.
2. Gated community at night and mostly seasonal RVers.
3. Cell signal was very weak and the internet service was spotty at best, even the seasonal residents complain about the service.
4. The location of the guest pull-throughs are sequestered in the back of the park - the plus side is it is easier to navigate to.and close to a laundry facility and restrooms.
5. Sites are rustic and sandy, and buried amongst a lot of trees, which might be nice on a hot summer day, I would be concerned during a wind storm.
6. The staff was okay but a bit aloof and not always available, they asked what time to expect us so they could make sure someone was in the office.
7. The amenities are quite a distance from the guest sites.
8. The Seasonal campers spread out on their sites and there are quite a few tiny homes.
Harvest Host in Peshtigo, WI - A dairy farm
Peshtigo, WI 179 Miles
This night we decided to try our hand at a Harvest Host we located on the website. The request to stay was accepted via the website with instructions to call once we were an hour out. Our hosts were delightful and very busy.
1. The location was fairly easy to get to and to get back to the highway.
2. It is a dairy farm so it was a great experience watching the workings of milking the cows.
3. Our hosts were fantastic and despite their very busy schedule they were fairly responsive via texts.
4. The Goodie Bag - we were given a goodie bag upon arrival with packages of cheese snacks and fresh chocolate chip cookies. A yummy greeting after a day of travel.
5. The meat we bought was really good. As part of the Harvest Hosts agreement, it is customary to purchase products from your hosts, and we did.
6. Photographing the cows.
7. Easy pull through (around) parking.
1. The only real con was the heat and humidity.
By the second half of the trip, we got better at locating gas stations and rest stops. And we were more comfortable with the road trip.
We learned quite a bit:
1. The one thing we learned most was what we were capable of when driving. Driving too many miles and hours and too many days in a row was too much.
2. Trying not to restrict ourselves in timelines so much. Many RVers talk about this in their videos.
3. How to use the variety of Apps available. On this trip, we not only had to use our trip planning apps and apps for where to stay, but we also had to utilize our apps and Garmin for diesel truck stops and rest stops. We used the app I-exit more to find out what was available at upcoming exits. Practicing with the use of the weather apps more.
4. Traveling full-time as a couple. What works, what doesn’t. We have been married a long time, so we are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, traveling full-time added to the list.
5. While in South Dakota, we learned we had driven through a swarm of bees at some point in Oregon. Dead bees had clogged up our air filter and our radiator. We didn’t catch it till later when a check engine light came on.
6. It was on this trip, where we discovered more about ourselves and our capabilities. We decided to alter our plans for traveling to the northeast. We knew we were not ready for that particular adventure yet.
7. I don’t need to plan everything to the last minute. Yet, I do still need to plan since parks can be difficult to get into. I have also learned that I can “wing” it a little. :-)
8. We have learned to back in more and feel more comfortable with doing it.
9. We’ve learned more about living on the road. It is an adjustment. It requires flexibility, conservation of your utilities, and adapting to your surroundings. Learning to locate the basics, such as laundry facilities and grocery stores, things we take for granted when living in a home and community.
Considering how much I love to plan, I found route planning to be daunting at first. Now, I am more comfortable with it. I have an idea of what works best for us, but it is still so time-consuming.
What works for me may not work for someone else. We each need to find our rhythm, our joy and learn the way that works for us. I am grateful to all of those who share their experience and provide advice. It helped me get started. Thank you!
As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo