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Where Do We Camp? RV Parks, State Parks, & Boondocking

    Each RVer has a preferred type of campground. Some enjoy the convenience of full hookups at an RV park and others want to be out in nature with more privacy. As we began this RV adventure with Bex, we had our own ideas of what we’d prefer. But we were RV newbies, so I was curious to see how our opinions change as we travel. And now that we’ve been camping in Bex for 2 years, we have some actual experience to back up our original opinions.

    Here are our thoughts on RV Parks, state parks, and boondocking, as RV Newbies and how we feel now:

    RV Parks

    Our First Thoughts:

    Getting started RVing, the idea of staying at an RV park did not excite us. Maybe our disinterest in RV parks stemmed from the fact that we’re both introverts. Maybe it’s because we travel with two small children, and we’re always very aware of how much they might be disturbing other people. Maybe it was our desire to be as close as possible to the action (and inside National Parks if possible) or because we would rather choose the most affordable campgrounds. Whatever the core reason is, we were not very interested in staying at RV parks.

    How We Feel Now:

    After 2 years of part-time RV trips and 196 nights spent in Bex, we still feel the same way. We have only spent 27 nights at an RV park. We usually use RV parks as a quick overnight reset where we shower, do laundry, and get ready for another week of dry camping in a national park or on the way home from a trip when the weather has gotten a bit too hot for parking lot boondocking. But some of our RV park stays were very intentional and enjoyable, like our 4 nights at Disney’s Fort Wilderness or the 4 nights we used an RV park in New Hampshire as a jumping off point for a lot of amazing sightseeing. We also booked an RV park for a couple nights to visit family on the way home from a trip, switched to an RV park when our boondocking spot was looking dicey in stormy weather, and stayed at the Nashville KOA while Ryan had work meetings and I took the kids on a fun tour of the city.

    I’m honestly not sure how to count the 4 nights we dry camped at an RV park in Moab while visiting Canyonlands and Arches National Park, but I included it here. We didn’t need the hookups but wanted the convenience of the RV park amenities instead of a boondocking spot a little farther away from the national parks.

    All that said, staying in RV parks is usually our last resort. If the other camping options aren’t available or the state parks fees add up to the pricier RV park with laundry services, we’re happy to stay at an RV park for a couple of nights.

    State Parks

    Included under this category are state parks, city parks, Army COE, and other with developed campgrounds that generally give campers a sense of seclusion in nature while offering dump stations and dumpsters and possibly other hookups.

    Our First Thoughts:

    State parks seemed like the ideal campground to me. Many of them have electric hookups, which means I don’t have to worry as much about how hot it will get during the day. (Boondocking in 90 degree temps is not for me!) Campsites have a little bit more space, and a little more privacy between sites with trees. Many campgrounds have their own trails and lakes, so we don’t have to leave the park to see the beauty that the area has to offer.

    How We Feel Now:

    We love state park camping! This category covers nearly 35% of our camping. (We do a lot of Harvest Host and quick overnight parking lot stays too, but if you take those out of the equation, state parks cover 45% of our camping travel itinerary.) Sometimes we’re just staying for 1 or 2 nights, but often the state park itself is what we are planning to visit.

    One downside we have been frustrated with are the additional fees that are sometimes tacked on at state parks. Florida has a daily utility fee, Colorado and South Dakota have daily vehicle fees, and Texas has a daily per person fee, just to name a few. If we’re planning to visit that state park for a specific reason or we’re staying long enough in that state to justify the annual state parks pass, these fees don’t usually chase me away. But if we’re just looking to spend 1-2 nights on the way somewhere else, I will often end up booking a full hookup site at an RV park if it ends up being close in price to the state park campground after fees are added.

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    Boondocking in National Parks

    Our First Thoughts:

    My first impression of National Parks campgrounds was that they are essentially boondocking locations that aren’t free. That might sound like a lose-lose situation, but it wasn’t not to us! The National Parks make up a large portion of our must-see list, and we loved the idea of being right in the middle of the action. I was nervous about our small solar set up with a lot of boondocking but I was confident in my trip planning skills to be on top of booking those highly sought after sites months in advance!

    How We Feel Now:

    In the past 2 years we’ve camped in 7 national parks! And while it can be a bit annoying at times to spend money on a campground with no hookups, camping inside the national parks is incredibly convenient! It’s the main reason we’re sticking tight with Bex, even though plenty of people have told us that we’d be upgrading to a larger RV by now. You just can’t be the location (and often the views!) of national park campgrounds.

    We had a bit of trouble keeping our batteries from dying in Acadia our first year (there are a LOT of trees there!), but now that we have an upgraded solar and battery system, boondocking for several days in a row is going much better.

    Boondocking on BLM Land

    Our First Thoughts:

    Boondocking majorly appealed to us for a few reasons. For one, it’s free. And for another, it seemed to be the best way to get the most privacy and the most beautiful views. Unfortunately, boondocking is mostly inaccessible to us here on the East Coast, because we’re nowhere near BLM land. I also wondered if I’d prefer paying $20-30 a night in order to be in the middle of the park I’m intending to visit instead of staying farther away on free land. I didn’t want the extra stress of needing to get out the door quick enough to beat the line of cars that forms every day outside of each national park. We were excited to get out and try some boondocking to see how we liked it!

    How We Feel Now:

    As I expected, several times over the past 2 years we have chosen to stay inside the national park instead of boondocking for free nearby. But we have also chosen to boondock on BLM or national forest land a few times and really enjoyed it. Our favorite BLM boondocking so far has combined a beautiful scenic location with privacy between fire rings (how you can most easily identify sites on BLM) and proximity to sight seeing. If we can’t use the boondocking spot as a jumping off point for our sightseeing, I think the we’d get a little restless to move on after a day or two. But that probably has something to do with the stage our kids are at.

    One thing I didn’t expect was being able to stop overnight on BLM instead of a Cabela’s or Cracker Barrel when we’re traveling out west. I think we’ll definitely continue looking for these single night stopover points as we continue to travel, especially the ones with gorgeous views!

    Looking ahead to the next year of travel, we’re planning a lot more state and national park camping, but we’ll probably need some RV park stays as we get closer to summer. And I know Ryan is hoping for some more scenic BLM sites!

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