As we close 2020 with record RV sales, spikes in RV rentals, high state park visitation numbers, and fully-booked campgrounds, RVers and campers are looking ahead to next year.
In addition to surveying Togo RV readers, we spoke to campground owners, RVers, and state park officials to find out what campground booking trends to expect for the 2021 season. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on RV travel, here’s what you should know about booking campgrounds in the new year.
Campground Booking Trends in 2021
Thanks to the ease and ability to isolate and socially distance, RV trips are proving to still be popular come 2021. Of the more than 500 survey respondents, 63% said they are planning to book 2021 campgrounds further in advance than they normally do. And 74% of respondents said that they are planning to use their RV more in 2021 than in 2020.
With 2020 set to conclude with record campground booking numbers—even with pandemic-related closures in the spring—this signals that booking campgrounds well in advance will be even more important in the coming year.
Campground owners and industry professionals echo these trends. “We have definitely had an increase in business and an increase of new-to-camping customers,” said Erin Thiem, owner of Inn Town Campground in California. “With our existing customers and the hopeful return guests, we are looking optimistically at 2021.”
This year marked a change in seasonality for campgrounds across the U.S. Many that normally see a dip in bookings during fall didn’t this year, and it’s a trend that’s expected to continue. Melissa Cummings, owner of Camp Riverview in Texas, said that May and September were much busier in 2020 than in past years. Angela Berti, marketing and public affairs coordinator for the New York State Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation, Western District, said the same was true for September and October in New York’s Niagara Region.
Campgrounds are also taking note of campers’ needs—like improving WiFi, adding more sites, and giving campers the option to choose specific RV sites instead of randomly assigned ones. “We’re petitioning local utilities to get them to bring fiber internet out to our location to help guests coming with the intention of combining recreation with school and work,” said Cummings. Ernest Ramstetter, owner and proprietor of Niagara Shores Campground in New York, is even adding 30 new RV sites to his property.
Togo Tip: With more RVers working and learning remotely, don’t expect the traditional camping season to hold up in 2021. Instead, expect the spring and fall months to potentially be just as busy as summer.
Campground Availability in 2021
Of our survey respondents, 74% said they’ve already had issues with availability at campgrounds when trying to book for 2021. “Many places for the summer months are already booked up. We didn’t have this issue in the past,” said one respondent who’s a fifth-year RVer. And a first-time RVer said, “We’ve been shocked at how far in advance we have to book to get spots.”
So, does all this mean that you should be booking your campground now for 2021? The answer will depend on your level of flexibility, your destination, travel dates, and the type of site you need. It’s also important to note that some campgrounds aren’t fully operational or are operating at limited capacity due to pandemic-related restrictions.
Berti shared New York State Parks’ booking numbers for context: As of the end of October, there had been 62,700 reservations for 2021 made with the New York State Park system, which is about 35% of the total reservations for 2020.
While some campgrounds, like Camp Riverview and Niagara Shores, are seeing steady 2021 bookings, others are seeing a jump in website traffic. Dean Geracimos of Blue Water Development—which owns six campgrounds along the East Coast—says that website traffic is up over 40%. Since their current campgrounds are closed for the season, this indicates that visitors are looking to book for 2021.
Typically, popular destinations are booked well in advance despite the pandemic, and we’re already seeing state parks and private resorts with record booking numbers heading into 2021. Kate Kemker and Kaaren Fox, owners of Cooperstown KOA Journey in New York, shared their tips for campers going into the 2021 season: “Book at least four weeks out from the anticipated stay dates to get the site you really want, and as early as you can if it’s a holiday or special event weekend. Consider camping on weekdays and non-holiday weekends instead, as pricing is slightly lower and campgrounds may feel more spacious.”
Another suggestion comes from a survey respondent who said, “Since everything books so fast, I end up deciding where to go based on where I can get a cancellation.” But Kemker and Fox warned: “Be aware of and understand cancellation policies, they’re not all alike.”
The advice we keep hearing? Book early—but if you haven’t booked your campgrounds yet for 2021, it’s not too late. Caleb Hartung, CEO of Campspot, told us that some campgrounds on the booking platform are booking up further in advance, while others are not. “I wouldn’t say there is a trend across the board to support that as it varies based on the type of campground and region,” he said. However, locations on the East Coast are booking up further in advance compared to other areas.
Togo Tip: If you have your heart set on specific dates at a location for 2021, look to book by February if the booking window allows. And if your favorite campground is booked up, take it as a sign to find somewhere new to try.
Top Concerns About RV and Camping Travel in 2021
Campground availability is the top concern of survey respondents when it comes to 2021 RV and camping travel plans. It’s followed by health and safety due to the pandemic, needing to change plans at the last minute, not getting money back in the event of a cancellation, and lastly, attraction closures.
Of course, the pandemic remains a steady threat to any plans in the coming months; 54% of respondents still anticipate COVID-19 impacting their RV and camping travels in 2021.
“Travelers, in general, are apprehensive to make long term plans given the current situation and uncertainty with the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t comfortable camping,” said Hartung.
If you are headed out to the campground, remember that it’s still important to follow local restrictions, wear a mask, and practice social distancing during any form of travel.
Survey methodology: We surveyed Togo RV and Roadtrippers newsletter subscribers from October 20 to November 2, 2020.