(Click here for an article I wrote about Thousand Trails.)
Address: 65000 E. Hwy 26, Welches, OR 97067
Phone: (530) 622-4011
# of sites: 382 (plus two new loops)
Full hookup price: From $82 per night
Open: Year round
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Many sites have no sewer hookups
Mount Hood is a popular lone mountain that rises far above its surroundings. There are several of these dormant volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, including Mounts Rainier and Adams in Washington State and Jefferson, Three Sisters and Newberry in Oregon. Mount Hood Village RV Resort sits about 15 miles from Government Camp at the base of Mount Hood, the view of which is spectacular from the highway. The resort is also only 25 miles from Gresham, a suburb of Portland, where all the resources of a big city are available.
This park opened in 1984 and has the reputation of being one of the foremost RV campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the camping loops are beneath a forest canopy and the new loops that just opened are wide spaces with a clear view of the sky. These new loops have all full-hookup sites. The park is pet-friendly and well-maintained.
Developed for large family gatherings, they have all of the expected amenities of a top-notch resort, including a clubhouse, laundry, game and billiards room, on-site restaurant/bakery, indoor and outdoor pools with spa, and many more. Most sites are spacious and the park is open year-round. The people I met that are full-time residents tell me that there are few days of snow in the winter, and the temperatures are mild in the hot and cold seasons. They also offer yurts and cabins for rent and the yurts nearby our site were full nearly every day we were there.
There are hiking trails around the resort, but it sits adjacent to the Wildwood Recreation Site and Nature Preserve. Not only are campers encouraged to hike the 3/4-mile trail to Wildwood, but those that do are given free access the the state recreation area.
One of the advantages in this resort's location among several national forests in the Southern Cascade Mountains, and its proximity to Portland and the Columbia River, and with wineries and distilleries scattered around the region, there is simply no shortage of outdoor activities in any season of the year. We drove to the Mighty Columbia at the town of Hood River and in some sections of State Route 35 you can simultaneously see Mount Hood to the south and Mount Adams in Washington to the north- another breathtaking view of each.
Being as popular as this resort is, and with the number of camping loops that are reserved for long-term customers, finding availability can be a problem in the active summer season. Two of the camping loops are mostly filled with sites with no sewer hookups, and Thousand Trails members cannot reserve a full-hookup site. Like with many other Thousand Trails parks, even with reservations we must take our chances. At least one of the new loops are available for TT members, but it remains to be seen if enough sites were added to lessen this problem of first-come first-served sewer hookups.
As with other campground with rain-forest climates, the very thing that keeps the area mild and green also inundates the resort with mud. It appears that the maintenance crew does try to keep gravel on the unpaved driving paths, there's just too much dirt on the forest floor where most of the campsites are located. As you would expect of such a climate, it rains as much as the Pacific Northwest's reputation.
Though touted as pet-friendly, there is no off-leash dog park in the resort. The aforementioned mud was a continual problem when walking our dogs. Those who know us know that not having a dog park is a pet peeve of ours, no pun intended.
Overall, this is one of the top two or three Thousand Trails resorts in their system and we highly recommend it. Make sure you make reservations as early as possible.
Click here for an article I wrote about Thousand Trails.
Late in 2018 I wrote and posted an article on my blog entitled, “First Report- Is Thousand Trails Worth Its Cost?” In that piece I determined that yes, it was. To further substantiate that opinion, let me quote from my podcast:
“In 2019 we drove a little over 18,000 miles and stayed 260 nights in Thousand Trails resorts. Our Thousand Trails membership made those nights free, saving us … about $12,000 in camping fees, not counting the $1,000 per week we saved in the [Florida] Keys, where we only paid $20 a night. We stayed in [Thousand-Trails-affiliated] RPI parks for 21 nights, saving $735.”
It’s simple math. Campgrounds and resorts cost an average of $45 to $50 per night, depending on who you ask and where you spend the majority of your camping. We have lived full-time on the road in our fifth wheel for over two years and, not counting boondocking, have spent from $24/night in an RV campground to $94/night in a KOA resort, and everywhere in between. Our Thousand Trails membership plan reduces out of pocket to nothing on most of their resorts and campgrounds. Simply said, we could not be full-timing, with the quality of life we have today, and still see vast portions of the country, if we were not members.
Thousand Trails ("TT") offers a Camping Pass and three upgrade plans, each with its own purpose and cost. I hope here to cut through some of the confusion about these plans to give some generalizations and summarize each you should consider.
Before I unburden myself of some of the pitfalls we have experienced with Thousand Trails resorts, let me remind you that we highly recommend a TT membership for full-time and seasonal RV’ers. Let me also interject that non-TT campers often have problems and difficulties in private and public campgrounds around the country, so issues may not be with TT specifically.
The TT collection of parks, campgrounds and resorts used to be a group of private and TT-owned parks but are now are almost entirely owned by TT. Most of the original TT parks are splendid, but many of the previously-private campgrounds are anything but. They provide various levels of quality and services, and are nearly all first come, first served, for full hook-up sites. That can mean that, although we may have placed reservations months in advance for a specific resort, we may find that we don’t have a sewer hook-up when we land there. For weekenders, this might not be a problem, but for those of us taking showers and using our bathrooms for more than a few days, it makes life extremely challenging. TT tells us that all of their campgrounds provide bathrooms and showers, and some actually prefer the park facilities for longer showers, so you can easily get by without sewer hookups.
Being first come, first served, very few times have we been able to choose a site on a lake or river shore, or any upgraded space with cement pads and grass yards. Older campgrounds may not even have level sites at all, especially for the size of RV most people have today. We couldn’t even get level at a park a month ago, even with the spare tire under the kingpin sitting on the ground.
There is a void of TT campgrounds and resorts in the Midwest. Fifteen states from Utah to the Mississippi River have no TT parks. Nada. The reason for this may be the shorter camping seasons in these states, both too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, for the average camper. Fortunately, you can fill in east-west travel with a few of the TT-affiliated RPI parks. More about that later.
There are seven or so “high use” properties around the country, TT resorts that fill up in the 2.5-month-long high season. In these parks a member can only stay for a maximum of two weeks, though the Ultimate Odyssey plan does include the ability to extend another week twice per year for a fee. The high-use cap won’t affect Camping Pass members because their stays are already limited to two weeks anyway.
Now for the good news. TT seems to be placing a real effort into upgrading their parks, adding sites, services and hookups, though it could happen faster. As full-timers, winter camping in any western or southern state (except Florida) is easily possible and many desirable locations have spots available during the entire season.
Most TT resorts have the minimum set of desired amenities and more are improving their services all the time. Nearly all have laundry rooms with pay kiosks or coin-op controls, and most have pools, mini-golf, shuffleboard, playgrounds, showers and a clubhouse with free wi-fi. Some also have billiards, hot tubs/spas, fitness centers, tennis courts and off-leash dog parks. All have sites with power and water hookups – it’s just the sewer hookups that may be limited.
TT’s online booking system is one of the best I have ever used. You can always call in, which I often do when modifying my itinerary, but adding or canceling reservations are easily done in the system. They maintain a list of available parks for your membership plan, resort info pages with photos (some have 3D exploration), a history of your reservations and a summary of your current reservations.
Introducing Rob Kenny, whom we met while camping at a TT resort in Northern California in the spring of 2019. He is an interesting family man from Ireland that traveled full-time with his wife and four kids in a large fifth wheel. I had sought him out because he was helping install RV solar systems and I had an interest in finding out more about that. We crossed paths twice more that year, as can happen regularly as full-timers that use the TT system often are bound to see one another in several places around the country. Robbie became a work-camper in an Oregon TT resort and we were thrilled to see him once again when we camped in that park.
Rob has since become a TT Membership Specialist and he gave me the real scoop about their sometimes-confusing set of plans and programs, as well as his personal take on them.
There are four membership plans- including the Camping Pass and three available upgrades to the Elite Basic, Elite Connections or Ultimate Odyssey plans. This means that to purchase an upgrade, you must first get a Camping Pass. Rather than boring you with a list of benefits for each, which you can get from any TT sales organization, I thought I would discuss the basics of each plan and differences between them, at least those that I think are important. I’ll use the term “day” for any 24-hour period and all prices quoted are as of this article’s publication date.
The Camping Pass runs around $600 per year (this goes up $10-$15 each year) per zone, which is a region of the country in which you can freely use the pass, for up to 14 days in a stretch. A single geographical zone will have between 8 and 23 parks available to use, and you can purchase multiple zones. One caveat is that you can move directly from one TT campground to another, with no “out time,” only if the length of stay you are coming from is 4 days or less. “Out time” represents being out of the TT system, meaning if you stay in a TT park from 5 to 14 days, you must stay elsewhere, out of the TT system, for at least 7 days before you can camp in another TT park. Managing out times is one of the necessary burdens of the TT membership program.
The three upgrade plans are nationwide and give up to 21 or 28 days (with some exceptions) in a single resort with no out times. In other words, you can stay in any of the parks in the system and travel from park-to-park. These upgrades cost quite a bit more than a Camping Pass, as you can imagine, and can either be paid in full at time of purchase or financed monthly through TT. For example, the Elite Basic upgrade costs as low as $135 per month at the time of this writing, the Elite Connections is as little $165/mo. and the Ultimate Odyssey is in the $265/mo. range. Upgrade memberships also have annual dues that are equivalent to the Camping Pass cost.
Besides the parks themselves, advance booking ranges are probably the most significant benefit in all of these upgrades. Currently, a Camping Pass allows reservations to be placed up to 60 days in advance and the Elite Basic allows 120 days, while the Elite Connections and Ultimate Odyssey both include the ability to book up to 180 days in advance of the stay. Mine is an older Elite plan that lets me utilize a 90-day advance window. When you live full-time in an RV, the longer the reservation window the better, and I certainly wish mine was longer.
The camping durations of the plans also vary. As I mentioned, the Camping Pass allows up to 14 days in a single stay, both of the Elite plans allow up to 21 continuous days and the Ultimate Odyssey allows 28 days per stay in a resort. Another benefit of the upgrade plans is an inexpensive extension of these limits twice per year at only $29 per week, but only in non-high-use resorts. However, the Ultimate Odyssey adds two more weeks per year that can be used to extend a stay in a high-use park for as little as $99 per week.
All four TT plans have the Trails Collection add-on option available, which adds over 100 other resorts nationwide to your available parks, even if you have just a single zone Camping Pass. They allow camping up to 14 days, have an out-time requirement of 7 days between Trails Collections parks and the maximum advance booking time is 60 days. Many Encore RV Resorts are among the parks available, which are properties in prime sunbelt locations, 40 in Florida alone. No matter your membership level, the Trails Collection, which costs only $299 per year, is a must-have, in my opinion.
However, there are some things to know about the Trails Collection parks. Some of them, those in high-demand tourism areas, charge members $20 per night out-of-pocket. Some 16 of the 108 Encore Parks in the system are considered high-demand. However, this can be a steal. For example, we paid $280 (plus tax) to stay in the Florida Keys for two weeks, but compare that to the $1,200 per week our non-TT neighbor paid. We were thrilled!
Many of the Encore parks are crowded neighborhoods of park model trailers with RV sites scattered among them. At times we have had difficulty backing into a space between permanent trailers. Many of these resorts are completely paved and don’t have any campground ambiance at all. Some sport ancient trailers, 5th wheels or park models, some covered in moss or think layers of pine needles, making us feel like we were visiting an old trailer park. Also, since most of these parks are filled with permanent residents, we usually get treated like interlopers, which, I suppose, we are. Most Encore resorts have a number of RV sites reserved for transient camping, or less than a month’s stay, with the balance of the park set aside for longer-term customers, seasonal renters or full-time residents. Often the transient camping loops are not the most desirable spots in the park.
Many Encore parks restrict use of pet fences or corrals. Since we have a pet door so our two small dogs can come and go through the front door, not having a pen is frustrating.
An RPI (Resort Parks International) option is also available on the Elite and Ultimate Odyssey upgrades for an additional fee. My older RPI plan costs $89 per year, includes over 100 RPI-affiliated campgrounds (these parks are not owned by TT), and discounts the daily rate to just $10. When you are traveling across the north or Midwest, where there are few or no TT resorts, often RPI resorts are available, a huge benefit.
The bottom line is easy to compute. As I mentioned, we have an older Elite membership that is completely paid for, and we pay around $800 per year in annual dues and subscription fees, which includes our membership and subscriptions for the Trails Collection and RPI Plus add-ons. If you do simple math, at $50 per night in an average private campground, our breakeven point for the annual fees is just 16 nights. Last year‘s savings more than paid for both the annual fees and our original purchase cost. Our plans give us access to 174 TT and Trails Collections parks (even more are available now), plus the 100 or so RPI parks. Retired and working part-time, we simply could not afford our current lifestyle without a TT membership.
That brings me back to Rob Kenny. He has offered to consult with any of my fans, friends and followers, and promises to quote the best price possible to any who ask for a proposal. Rob is an expert in all of the TT programs and details, and I can personally vouch for him. He is not a high-pressure salesman like you may have run across, and, by-the-way, he works from a state with no sales tax. Simply give him my name when you call or email.
Jack's note: Rob is on hiatus from Thousand Trails, so I have changed the contact info below to Eric's, who is taking over for him.
"Referred by Jack Huber"
There are a variety of membership benefits I did not discuss because, in my opinion, they are of less importance in your decision-making, such as membership gifting, cabin discounts or free stays, vacation credits, and more. Let Rob walk you through the maze and answer any questions you have. I asked Rob why he personally owns the Elite Connections level of membership and he responded that the 180-day advanced booking window was the most relevant factor to him, which makes perfect sense to me. What is vital to you will depend upon your lifestyle, RV plans and financial state.
There a few names for dry camping, or camping without any hookups. The word, "dry." is used to describe the fact that water and waste systems are self-contained, rather than supplied by a campground, but it usually means you have no power hookups as well. Many call it "boondocking," or even "dispersed camping," if you are parked a significant distance from civilization. Do it at a friend's or family member's house, it's "mooch-docking," and you can probably guess what "Wal-docking" and "Cracker-docking" are.
The key purpose we are discussing is to camp without hookups, usually in the wild, be it the forest, desert, plains, beach or other secluded location, and often sans other people. Any self-contained RV can handle a couple of days in the wild without any difficulty at all, but for a week or a month, or even longer, there are many obstacles to overcome. Here are nine of the most significant difficulties, as I see them, with some combining of related issues into one topic.
There are a great number of RV'ers who primarily boondock, preferring the wilderness to the community of RV resorts. Their RV's normally have been set up for long-term dry camping, so they have already managed everything I am mentioning to thrive in that lifestyle. Some of those modifications can cost thousands of dollars, such as large battery banks or solar systems, but even making smaller changes can really add up.
9. Finding a spot- As I mentioned, part of the allure of dry camping is distancing from civilization. This often means camping on land not specifically modified for RV parking. This can mean soft ground or sand to get stuck in, previously dry washes filling with rain, or rocky terrain causing damage to your tow vehicle or RV undercarriage or suspension.
Another consideration is the path to a potential campsite. You may suspect a good site exists in an area but can't see it, and it may be miles off the main road. If you simply drive to explore an area, you may end up in a dead end where you can't make a U-turn, or you may turn a corner to find a steep hole or raised mound too late to avoid.
There are also regulation and private property pitfalls. Not all private land is marked and not all public land is available for RV parking. Research is needed, and that can't always be done from the field when you've found a camping spot you love.
Some of the mystery and risk can be mitigated by the use of apps and websites that describe and rate free camping or boondocking locations, and often RV-related YouTube videos or blogs will give the GPS coordinates for a favorite spot, hopefully giving warnings for hazards or parking tips.
8. Loneliness or isolation- Yes, people do have the fantasy of camping alone in the wilderness, but this can be a double-edged sword. Not everyone is comfortable knowing that the closest human may be miles away. Long-term isolation can accentuate these feelings and can even cause panic. Make sure you can handle isolation before you subject yourself to long stretches of it.
It can also be unnerving when you consider, however unlikely, that there are people in the world that can mean you harm. For that reason, many boondockers prefer to stay in somewhat close proximity to other dry campers so they can watch each others' backs.
7. Poor or no cell signal or Internet access- Let's face it, most of us need our communications to the rest of the world. Many point to their cell booster, but like I've often repeated, you can't boost zero signal. If you can't live without your cell phone or social media, or you need to work on your trip, this will be a huge consideration for you.
6. Water rationing- Without the ability to easily resupply your water, you'll need to ration it. This can be taken to extremes, including never flushing your toilet and using dirty dishwater to clean out the bowl. This makes the composting toilet a popular item for serious boondockers. Our 52-gallon fresh water tank can supply many of our water needs plus two quick showers. By quick, I mean slightly faster than normal. If we utilize "Navy showers," limiting our time and turning off the water nozzle while sudsing up, rinsing or shampooing, we can manage four total showers. With a couple of 6-gallon water containers to supplement the fresh-water tank, this would suffice for a week. However, a longer stint would take some maneuvering, including possibly disconnecting the fifth wheel and driving to a town.
Full-time dry campers often use refillable containers or canvas bladders that can be filled will 30, 100 or even 200 gallons of potable water that can be pumped into the fresh-water tank from wherever it is being stored. This greatly extends the water supply for day-to-day living, though they still ration wisely.
5. Dumping tanks- As most RV'ers know, there is a huge difference between the waste water in a gray storage tank and in your black tank. The gray tank includes used sink and shower water and is generally safe for any wilderness environment. It differs from state to state, but most jurisdictions allow the draining of gray tanks on the ground, although nearly all forbid doing that in campgrounds. That's likely due to the possible mayhem and local contamination that may be caused with many RV's employing that option in one place. If you do decide to legally dump this water, you should try to divert the it away from the rig so it doesn't undermine your landing gear or support pads. Long-term dry campers will often capture at least some of that water for re-use, such as having a plastic tub in the sink while doing dishes or draining some gray water into bins before dumping.
The black tank is filled with human bathroom waste along with appropriate chemicals or enzymes and is a serious health concern. You are forbidden, as one would expect, from dumping black water on the ground, so it must be drained at a dump station. Usually, there are none of these stations in the back country, though many municipalities do offer free or cheap use of a dump station if you happen to be near one. Without dumping, the longest we have gone without filling the black tank to capacity was eight days. Camping longer than your tank limit requires a plan to legally dump, which could mean breaking camp and driving to a campground or other dumping location. If you have a trailer or fifth wheel you can purchase a black water tote, a large plastic bin with wheels and a drain port, and drain the tank contents into it. The tote is then towed by your truck to the dump station, rather than having to break camp. These are also popular for staying in RV parks without sewer hookups.
4. Getting supplies- Food and living essentials can and do run out, so it's important to have a plan for your re-supply. The nearest grocery store may be hours away, and if you have a motorhome without a toad or other separate vehicle (motorcycle or 4x4 ATV, for example) it probably means breaking camp to drive to one. Experienced boondockers try to stock as many non-perishible food staples as possible, even giving up basement space that would normally be used for lawn lighting or other less necessary items to make room for more food and paper stock. Since washing hands and dishes uses valuable water, dry campers often employ back country hiking methods for conserving supplies.
3. Power planning and management- Electrical power is one of those necessities that is in the eye of the beholder. Most RV's come with two deep-cycle batteries that can handle much of the interior systems of a rig but won't power air conditioning, televisions, a microwave or even a single-cup coffee maker. A generator can be a big boost, and an expensive solar system might power everything you have. Another option is to enlarge your battery bank and add a controller/inverter to run the 120v equipment with your 12v DC system. Either a solar system or a generator can recharge these batteries relatively quickly, and with both you can recharge when solar is not ideal, as in a forest, during a rainstorm or at night. Ideally, you will know your own personal comfort level for electrical equipment and make plans to power what you need to.
2. Getting emergency assistance or making repairs- This might seem intuitive, but let me remind you of Murphy's Law -- Anything that can go wrong will go wrong -- with the corollary, "At the worst possible time." Unlike a stick-and-bricks home, an RV is simply not large enough to carry everything you might need to make repairs on the road, and it's impossible to know what specific parts might need replacing. Most RV'ers carry a standard supply of hand and power tools, as well as a variety of supplies (duct tape, roof tape and nuts-and-bolts kits come to mind) for making repairs, but rely on RV repair centers or mobile repair technicians to help with breakdowns or damage. When in the wild, however, these facilities may simply not be available. Add the fact that you may not have cell reception, the danger of going without repairs is real.
Medical attention can also be difficult to summon. If a serious event were to occur, such as a hiking incident or heart attack, there is a definite risk of not being treated in time. Unfortunately this may be a risk one must accept for this lifestyle, and makes cell and Internet boosting even more valuable. A first aid kit is a vital supply, and if you spend a great deal of time in the wilderness, possibly a satellite phone or a flare gun might be appropriate.
1. Security concerns- While camping in the forest, desert, bush or badlands, personal protection and security should be of significant concern. There are risks of theft, intrusion, wildlife encroachment, accident, injury and becoming lost, and all can be somewhat lessened or alleviated to some extent.
First to plan for is communications, including informing friends and family where you are, for how long and where you are going to be and when. Checking in with ranger stations or host facilities can be very helpful when entering a large wilderness. Maximize your cell and Internet abilities, though this might not be possible due to complete lack of signal.
Beyond terrain, choosing a site with safety and security in mind can be the most important decision you can make.
Theft and human intrusion can be thwarted with custom door and compartment locks (most RV have shared standard keys) and deadbolt, good lighting and some form of personal protection, such as hand gun, rifle or shotgun, bear spray, taser, and even a perimeter trip wire alarm. I have motion-sensing LED lights in six positions around my rig and they have been invaluable. I won't comment on whether firearm protection is the best solution -- this is always a very personal choice -- but you need to have protection that will give you a chance to survive if the worst should happen.
Much of what helps against human intruders may protect you from bears and other wildlife. You probably are already aware of the potential of food drawing hungry wild animals to your campsite, so take those precautions.
Last, a first aid kit complete with diagnostic and informational booklets is vital to remote camping. Don't skimp on this, perhaps the only tool you have to survive an injury until you can get to a hospital.
I am not trying to scare people out of dry camping, but staying safe does require planning. If you have any other concerns, thousands of RV'ers are expert boondockers and are overwhelmingly eager to help a novice.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.