Address: 1878 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Park City, KY 42160
Phone: (270) 749-2891
# of sites: 68
Full hookup price: From $52/day
Open: Year Round
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Smaller campground
Tucked inside the Mammoth Cave region of Western Kentucky, Diamond Caverns RV Resort is one of the few tourist-oriented parks we have stayed in. On the resort's grounds (and walking distance from the campground) are the Diamond Caverns attraction and an 18-hole golf course. It is about a 75-minute drive to Nashville, Tennessee.
The closest supermarket is 12 miles away in Glasgow, and the closest restaurants are in Cave City, about an 8-mile drive up the Interstate.
Nearly all sites in Diamond Caverns RV Resort are full hookups and many have 50 amp. It is well-maintained and there is an abundance of green space throughout the park. Being a smaller park than most in the Thousand Trails family, most of the amenities, and even the dumpsters, are within easy walking distance. They have a pool, an excellent miniature golf course and, outside of pandemic times, what looks like a nice clubhouse and quiet room.
If you play golf, this is also one of the few Thousand Trails parks with a golf course attached. As far as the region, the resort is located six miles from the longest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park and the National Corvette Museum and Corvette Plant are just 20 miles south. The luscious Barren River Lake State Park is about 40 minutes away. When we checked in we were given a map with a list of over 100 attractions and destinations in the I-65 corridor, all within convenient driving distance.
The resort's reason for being, of course, is the cavern and it cost $20 per person to take the tour. As caverns go, Diamond Caverns don't compare to Luray in Virginia or Crystal in South Dakota, but it is an easy walking tour by comparison and it does offer enough of a variety of cavern structures to make the tour interesting. After looking at the guided tours online, we chose to see Diamond Caverns over Mammoth Cave, which was $18 per person, though either would probably be enjoyable.
As a photographer who enjoys taking shots of old and abandoned houses and barns, there was no shortage of subjects, with probably hundreds of photo opportunities during each drive around the region.
The counter help and business managers throughout Western Kentucky all seem to speak as sweetly as possible, even more than we noticed in other areas in the south. It's easy to get used to.
Sites in Diamond Caverns Resort are long and narrow, meaning that you are very close to your neighbors. With so few RV sites, in peak season reservations may be scarce. While the resort has plenty of green fields, all mowed and maintained, unfortunately they did not utilize any of them for off-leash dog space.
The Mammoth Cave National Park isn't anything like other national parks we have been to. There is no gated entrance, no entrance fee or park pass required, but also very little to see or do. The National Parks Passport gives no discount at all on tours or anything at all in the National Park. There are hiking trails, but my 1/4-mile nature walk to Sand Cave was not impressive and the woods are too thick to allow much scenery to enjoy.
Unlike our experience in Tennessee, where we saw virtually nothing but middle- and upper-class neighborhoods, there are many lower-income neighborhoods and farmlands in this part of Kentucky. Similar to what we saw in Louisiana and Alabama, there are houses and mobile homes that in most regions in the country would be abandoned and/or condemned, but here they have occupants. We surmised that with the economy of these counties being based on tobacco, which we saw everywhere, the crop's long downturn in America might be affecting jobs and income.
It was overly frustrating for me in attempting to get photos where roads were narrow, without any shoulders, but also as traffic was driving far faster than the roads dictated. I typically drive slowly on picturesque country roads, especially with narrow lanes, but I was tailgated without mercy or letting up, even when traffic was sparse, and I was forced to skip opportunities nearly everywhere we drove.
I would consider Diamond Caverns Resort a nice place for a personal retreat away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We highly recommend it during the off-season, when tourists are not flocking to Mammoth Cave or the onsite caverns, and when campsites are more available. It deserves four stars out of five for the park's cleanliness and serene location, as well as the numerous attractions in the area.
Scene: Competitive brothers-in-law live next door to each other on a suburban street, so when one puts Christmas lights outside his house, the other responds with a bigger and brighter set, unleashing a war of twinkling light-bulbs and neon displays which threatens to ruin both families.
Now, change Christmas lights to national Presidential campaigns, MAGA flags and Biden-Harris signs and you have the makings of a campground battle royale, and not very pleasant for other camping neighbors. Yes, you might be living full-time in your RV and don't have a sticks-and-bricks house in the suburbs to announce your allegiances. Yes, you have a right to post any political statements you want in your space (unless the campground rules prohibit it). Yes, you may well be smarter than everyone around you. And, yes, you might be a jerk.
Just because you can be a political animal in an RV resort doesn't mean you should. You must realize that friends and neighbors don't want to judge you; they want to have fun with you. In this polarized political climate, it makes no sense to alienate half of the people around you for no justifiable reason.
That being said, there are people who just can't help themselves, so I'm here to help them. Here h are some tips for staying out of the political fray:
1. No campaign signs or logos
Not much makes me angrier while traveling than to see décor from opposing candidates from those I support. I can easily ignore the local election materials, since obviously I don't have a dog in that hunt. But regional or national campaigns can be the tipping point for many American travelers. In a campground, that is magnified because of limited space and the unknown mix of out-of-state allegiances. Just say "no" to any political signs, flags or bumper stickers.
2. Have a small list of non-political topics handy
The weather usually makes a great topic for campground conversation. It's one of the subjects that most RV'ers can relate to and have stories about, along with black tank comedies and wildlife experiences. Perhaps a couple of poor experiences in other resorts would be interesting. If someone brings up a political issue, refer to your mental list and change the subject, stat!
3. Keep your TV volume down
Yes, you love the debates and your favorite news network. But why go to all the trouble of becoming apolitical in your park and then let the cat out of the bag via TV?
4. Avoid judgement
There are plenty of points of view to go around, and you don't have the corner on the market. If you, by chance, figure out that someone backs a party that's not yours, fight the urge to think poorly of them. Everyone has reasons for the way they think and for whom they support, and many people are single issue voters. Your party might not have that answer for them. Judge not lest you be judged. Believe me, it's much easier to talk sports or cooking with someone you don't think of as a moron.
5. Avoid becoming a political evangelist
I know what I think when I see a well-dressed couple coming to my door with a Bible in their hands... where can I hide? The last thing I want is a religious discussion at my front door. The campground should be a place of safety and comfort, in my opinion, and no travelers should be subjected to religious, political or marketing discussions that they want no part of, especially as members of a captive audience. Social media has given people a completely safe political space to preach to their heart's content. Your neighbors in the park can't just "unfriend and block" you in the non-digital world, so be kind and prevent the necessity.
So, I'm sure there are many other strategies you can think of. Please feel free to leave your suggestions as comments below.
Address: 14638 Travis Parkway, Caney City, TX 75148
Phone: (903) 489-0639
# of sites: 103
Full hookup price: From $35/day
Open: Year Round
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Shiloh on the Lake is on the shores of Cedar Creek Lake, a reservoir built for recreation and waterfront homes. It sits in a rural county, about an hour from the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area in East Texas. The campground is wooded and has about 2,000' of shoreline. Most RV sites have water and 50-amp power, and many have sewer hookups.
Shiloh's owners and staff are extremely friendly and helpful. The grounds take up almost 50 acres, so it's a sizable park for only 100 or so RV sites, They have cabins, screened shelters, boat trailer parking, a gazebo overlooking the lake, a roped swimming area, two docks and a fishing pier, and a fish-cleaning station.
Watersports and fishing opportunities are plentiful on Cedar Creek Lake and Shiloh's long waterfront gives campers ample space to dock or moor their watercraft and toys right at the campground. RV sites are not at all crowded in most of the park, and a few of them are close to the water's edge. The grounds are sloped and sandy, so mud is almost never a problem with rain.
Cedar Creek Lake is the fourth largest lake in Texas and has 320 miles of shoreline. The reservoir is 18 miles long and 8.5 miles wide at the widest point which offers plenty of space for everyone. You can rent a boat or take a guided fishing trip from several marinas and boating outlets on the lake. The county maintains three islands on the large reservoir as bird sanctuaries.
We were delighted to see an off-leash dog park, split by a fence between large and small dog areas. Beneath old-growth shade trees are benches for owners to rest, and there is a mix of grass and dirt for dogs to enjoy. Each side has a podium with waste bags and clean water bowls at fresh water faucets.
This campground primarily focuses on family recreation, so in peak season and on many weekends, there will be a large number of children afoot. Over Labor Day week, the park was full and extremely noisy. The thick wooded park also gives little sky view for satellite reception. Refuse bins are also quite a hike from many of the sites.
Like many rural campgrounds, Shiloh on the Lake is a bit of a drive from a larger town with a Walmart and other resources. The small towns around, such as Malakoff, Gun Barrel City or Caney City, do have a smattering of stores and restaurants, but you won't generally find what you're looking for without driving for a bit. Athens (and the nearest Walmart) is only 12 miles away, but it feels like 40, and the next closest city is Dallas, about an hour away.
All of the shoreline of Cedar Creek Lake is either privately owned or restricted by county facilities, with almost no public access open. This means that if you don't know someone on the lake, you'll have to access it from Shiloh. This is not ideal for photographing either the lake or wild birds.
The grounds are sandy, which is helpful for drainage, but also great for ants, which are everywhere through the campground. You will want to mitigate that exposure or you risk an infestation while you are parked, plus you'll have to do something to protect pets.
Shiloh on the Lake has many benefits and any detriments are far outweighed by its advantages. Better grooming, more sites with sewer hookups, a section cleared of trees for open sky, and perhaps more conveniently-placed trash bins would improve the property, but only slightly so. We would easily recommend Shiloh to RV owners, especially in off-season, so a 4-star rating is warranted.
Address: 1385 Old State Line Road, Saulsbury, TN 38067
Phone: (731) 376-0935
# of sites: 186 (140?)
Full hookup price: From $42/day
Open: 4/2 to 11/15
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Few sites with sewer
Cherokee Landing is a bit misnamed. A "landing" is defined as "a place where persons or goods are landed, as from a ship." There is no such place on the small pond they call Lake Cherokee, so at best it is named with tongue-in-cheek. I guess they could have called it "Pirate's Cove" with the same effect.o
That said, Cherokee Landing Campground is about an hour or so from Memphis and just a couple of miles from the Mississippi border.
The campground is clean and provides a lot of green space and shade for its RV sites. The lake is picturesque, if not large, and provides opportunities for fishing and canoeing. The park itself is dog friendly, allowing fences and corrals outside of the rigs. Almost all sites have cement pads, picnic tables and barbecue grills.
The park's proximity to Memphis gives easy access to attractions such as paddle-wheel riverboat cruises, Graceland, a Victorian village, and more. Any drive in the region will be scenic and will provide views of a wide variety of small town Main Streets, homesteads and farms. We saw deer and an array of birds every day of our stay.
Sadly, one can easily see that Cherokee Landing was once a great resort. Its Thousand Trails page lists 339 RV sites, but their campground map shows only 186 numbered spaces. When I took a quick walk around the grounds I found that at least one complete loop in the woods has been chained off for quite some time, and the campsites within are fully overgrown and unusable. With various other non-maintained spaces unworkable, I'm guessing there are closer to 130 or 140 available sites in the campground.
Only 21 sites in the park have sewer hookups. There were only two available when we arrived off-season and the last was taken by the next day. I can't imagine a full-hookup site being available very often in the summer. The TT page also lists 50 amp as being available but we didn't see anything but 30 amp anywhere.
Most common buildings, such as the "Comfort Centers" (restrooms and laundry facilities) and the recreation center, are aged and tired. Washers and dryers appeared like they are in their third decade of use, though offered cheap pricing per load. The lake is diminutive and does not have a boat ramp for launching your own small craft.
Though dog friendly, there is no off-leash area, though there is ample lawn space for a fenced dog park in many sections of the grounds. There aren't any dog walking areas, per se, and no pedestals with waste bags.
I went back and forth on my rating of Cherokee Landing between two and three stars (out of five) and decided on the higher valuation, basically because it is a clean and comfortable campground that I would recommend, at least in the off-season or for long weekends when sewer hookups may not be needed. I also try not to let lost potential or a downward slide effect my rating directly.
Address: 1246 Rains County Road 1470, Point, TX 75472
Phone: (903) 598-2260
# of sites: 293
Full hookup price: From $59/day
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Around an hour's drive east of Dallas, Lake Tawakoni RV Campground gives a rural lake camping experience to a good-sized metropolitan area. The lake is substantial, having 36,700 acres of surface area and approximately 200 miles of shore line. It has become a popular lake for swimming, boating, water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, picnicking, duck hunting, and more.
Unlike a few of the Thousand Trails resorts we've been to recently, there are plenty of full hookup sites in this park, and several 50 amp sites for Thousand Trails members. We were able to grab a site on the lake shore, which, again, is unusual for membership resorts. The sites are spacious, with many green spaces scattered between sites around the campground. Our site even had a large rock-paved patio with a sturdy picnic table about 12 feet from our front door.
There is also a great deal of shade throughout this park and, along with all the usual amenities, there is even a driving range for golfers. The shade offers some respite from the heat of the summer and gives campers a forest experience.
Lake Tawakoni itself is a draw for fishing and water sports and several visitors had bass and sporting boats with them, either on their nearby lake shore or in the site to take to the boat ramp. There are watercraft rentals and guided trips available in several of the small towns around the lake. Lake Tawakoni is known as the "Catfish Capital of Texas", but offers good to great fishing for several species of bass and crappie. The average hybrid bass on the lake weighs about 7 to 8 pounds.
As roomy as the sites are, they are also pretty muddy during and after rainstorms. The annual rainfall here is almost 40 inches, so chances are you get some precipitation, especially in the summer months. This section of Texas is a bit south of the primary path of severe storms, but not south enough to avoid them completely. There have been 142 tornadoes reported in and around Point, TX, since 1950 and they average two per year.
The roads through the park are also old and rough, with no smooth driving anywhere in the resort. I don't know if this is the case during winter months, but in August it was very hot and we were inundated with millions of gnats, especially drawn to any lights at night. Just taking the dogs for a walk in the evening allowed hundreds of gnats into the house. We never did figure out a good way to avoid it, however, the good news is that they didn't seem to be biting us.
There is no off-leash dog park here, though they have an huge amount of open space in which to assemble one. I would hope that one is in future plans.
Cell coverage is spotty in this region for all three of our providers -- Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. We have been able to get by for Internet with our booster, but making and getting calls has been sporadic.
A satellite dish will be useless in about 90% of the park. The thick forest canopy exists throughout the park and only the fortunate few who have sites on the north side of the open fields or with an open window above them can get their dish receiving satellite signals. I had one of those windows just south of my site and, after a couple of hours of moving the dish around, I was finally able to get my dish to see two out of its normal three satellites, though one was flaky and neither worked with any rain falling at all.
All-in-all, Lake Tawakoni RV Campground deserves a good rating, and I think of it as one of the better resorts we have stayed in. We plan on returning in the winter months when it's not so hot. The lack of an off-leash park and the condition of the roads and sites are the only things keeping this from being one of my 5-star resorts.
Address: 1204 Murfreesboro Road, Lebanon, TN 37090
Phone: (615) 449-2831
# of sites: 160
Full hookup price: From $50/day or $185/week
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Lots of mud and flooding during and after rainstorms
Upon arrival for our Tennessee visit at a Thousand Trails resort, we found no Internet and no sites available with sewer hookups. That left us no choice but to pay for a campground and TN 40 RV Campground was cheaper than KOA and close to family members we were visiting. That is where the advantages ended, however.
This park gave us decent weekly rates that computed out to around $27/night plus tax, almost half what the local KOA's were charging. They gave us a site with no notice and were extremely friendly. Not all sites here are spacious, but ours was.
Probably the biggest plus for the TN 40 RV Campground is its proximity to Nashville -- close enough to visit but far enough away to avoid its horrendous city traffic. There are a few very large lakes around (see my Tennessee gallery) and plenty of activities available on many rivers and lakes as well as various state parks and nature trails, such as hiking, fishing, boating and birdwatching. The Cumberland River winds its way through the region northeast of Nashville and feeds Old Hickory Lake and the Cordell Hull Reservoir. Southeast of Music City are the J. Percy Priest Reservoir, a 42-mile-long lake lined with a myriad of state parks and recreation areas. And then there's Nashville.
Unfortunately, the beautiful photos of the campground posted on their website must be several years old. We found no semblance of manicured lawn, just poorly maintained patches of grass. There were nasty potholes on the gravel roads throughout the park and years-old bulldozed piles of brush, dirt and rocks that are now part of the permanent landscape. The dirt in the sites could have used gravel to keep from becoming muddy quagmires after rainstorms, and even the grassy area flooded with about three inches of rainwater.
Probably the worst feature of the TN 40 RV park is the number of apparently low-income and transient families living there. There were dozens of young, half-bare kids running around without supervision and many feral cats evidently being cared for by residents. Even though their website states that no pre-2000 models of RV are allowed in the campground, we saw several older than that, and many that were dilapidated and/or broken down. We felt we were staying in a mobile home park in a poorer section of town.
With significant attention and maintenance, as well as a few capital improvements, this campground could be much improved, probably enough to recommend it. As it is, I cannot see it being an option for anyone unless they have a budget restraint.
(Click here for an article I wrote about Thousand Trails.)
Address: 7234 E State Rd 46, Batesville, IN 47006
Phone: (812) 934-5496
# of sites: 800
Full hookup price: From $56 /day (30 amp)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: 50 amp or sewer is based upon availability, kids driving golf carts
The Indian Lakes RV Campground reminds us a lot of the Thousand Trails Hershey resort, which is one of our favorites. There are several loops and a huge number of sites, and the park is packed with families in the summer. This resort is located about halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati among miles and miles of forest and farm land, smack dab in the middle of a green belt.
This park is spacious, with large tracts of green space and plenty of room in the RV sites. A small lake ambles around the resort with several spots for swimming and boating and giving nice photo opportunities. There are trees throughout the park but also many spaces with wide-open views of the sky, meaning most sites have satellite availability.
The brand new off-leash dog park was excellent -- large, fenced-in lawn area with round picnic tables with umbrellas. Our dogs couldn't wait to run around inside. The dog park was centrally located in the campground, unusual for many of these large resorts.
They have all the usual amenities found at the best resorts, including a restaurant, clubhouse, swimming in the lake and in a pool, a water park, camp store, laundry, playground, mini-golf, boat ramp, fishing, lots of hiking trails and much more. They cater to families and large groups and do it well, including utilizing an activities director and a large bundle of kids activities.
This portion of Indiana offers a combination of green woods, steams and rivers, state parks, and miles of country and farm roads, meaning that sightseeing and photo jaunts are excellent pastimes here.
Like you might expect, this resort fills with families and kids on the weekends, with nary a foot of lakefront free of children. This was especially disturbing during the pandemic, with hardly any social distancing or masks being used by the many large groups and visitors congregating. Quiet time doesn't start until 11 pm but on weekends the noise continued until well after midnight.
With 800 sites, this park is huge and easily overcrowded. Count on a full park on weekends during summer season. Like many large family-oriented resorts, children abound for the entire high season. There are also a ton of golf carts roaming throughout the resort, even creating traffic jams at times, and we saw many being driven by kids.
The all-too-common Thousand Trails issue of limited available sites with sewer hookups continues in this campground, and though we had reservations months in advance, we got the next-to-last available sewer site. An hour later and they both would have been gone.
If your pets are allergic to frogs, you'll need to watch them. During and after rain showers, which happen often in this region, frogs venture out throughout the park. We even had one get into our rig through the pet door.
The bottom line here is that Indian Lakes is one of the nicer resorts in the Thousand Trails system. With 800 campsites, it's also one of the largest. They are especially known for being family-oriented and cater to kids, which is not always ideal for retired full-timers, but if you don't mind a crowded campground, have kids or are traveling off-season, this park is highly recommended.
Click here for an article I wrote about Thousand Trails.
(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.