We just returned from a week-long trip in our Coachmen Apex Nano travel trailer to Williamsburg, Va. and Washington, D.C. It was the longest trip we’ve taken in the camper so far, and I’m happy to report it was a ton of fun!
There’s lots to talk about from our trip, but one of the things that stuck out to me the most, was the difference between private RV resorts and state park campgrounds. Up to this trip, we’d only taken the camper to state parks, so we really didn’t have a frame of reference for other places.
During this trip, we stayed at three different privately-owned campgrounds (meaning, not a state or national park). Each were very different in their own ways, which I’ll cover in future posts as I plan to write a review on each. But today I wanted to compare and contrast the differences between what we saw in privately-owned campgrounds versus state parks.
Private RV Resorts & Campgrounds
When you think of these properties, think KOA, Thousand Trails, or of an independently-owned campground. From the three places we stayed during our trip (one was a Thousand Trails property, the other two were independently owned), here’s what I liked best:
- Strong WiFi and TV signal: Two out of the three had amazing WiFi and TV signals. The third was in a pretty remote location on a lake, so the WiFi was non-existent. When you’re on a sight-seeing vacation like we were (meaning, we weren’t trying to relax in nature and be offline), being able to come home at the end of a day and watch a little TV or catch up on emails was a really nice perk.
- Nicer restroom facilities: we definitely noticed an improvement in the bathrooms and shower areas in the privately-owned places versus what we’ve experienced in state parks. It was almost what you would find inside a nice gym locker room – plenty of counter space to get ready, ample shower facilities, and clean.
- Level lots and parking pads: Unlike state park facilities, which were built to preserve the integrity of the nature surrounding it, private campgrounds are built with one thing in mind – getting RVs to park there. So most, if not all, of the lots and parking areas are fairly flat.
- More family-friendly amenities: All three of the campgrounds we visited had great amenities. From arcades, mini golf, camp stores and and pools, visiting some of these places was similar to visiting a nice hotel. Two of the campgrounds had full-size basketball courts, a pool and playgrounds, which the kids loved.
- Crowd sizes and packed sites: It could’ve been because we were traveling during the peak summer vacation season, but the campgrounds we visited were PACKED and some of the sites right on top of each other. You literally felt like you were sitting with your next door neighbor. If you’re looking for some peace and tranquil quiet, check the reviews before you go and make sure it’s not in a heavily touristed area.
State and National Park Campgrounds
These campgrounds are any place that falls under the management of the U.S. National Parks Service or a state park service. Most, if not all, are more focused around the natural beauty of the area where it’s located, whether it be mountains, coastal or somewhere in between.
Having visited several state parks within South Carolina so far, here’s what I’ve liked about these campgrounds:
- Natural resources: The best reason to visit and stay at a state park is to enjoy some of the natural beauty the area has to offer. Whether located at the base of a mountain range, at the beach or on a lake, all of the state parks we’ve visited have had plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, such as hiking, biking, swimming and more.
- Spacious camp sites: While not all parks are created equal, most of the state parks we’ve visited so far have had plenty of room for us to spread out in our site without us feeling like we were parked on top of our neighbor. Add to that the natural beauty of the area, you’re more likely to be able to kick back at your site and look out on an amazing sunset or enjoy the forested area you’re camping in.
- Inexpensive: compared to private campgrounds, staying at a state park facility is much less expensive per night, which can make for a more affordable vacation.
- State and national park passports: we love collecting the stamps you can gather from park ranger stations at both state and national parks. It’s a nice memento of your travels.
- Outdated facilities: depending on where you are, some state park facilities have seen better days, especially in the bathroom areas.
- Weak WiFi: in this day and age when it seems even when we want to disconnect, we really can’t, it’s nice to have a WiFi signal to tap into. State parks are great for a long weekend getaway when you really want to get off the grid, but not really good for longer stays if you really need to be online for periods of time.
Trying to decide what type of campground is right for you? I’d say it really depends on what you’re wanting to do while you’re there. If you’re really focused on getting outside, feeling like you’re “camping” (even though you’re in the comforts of a camper), and getting outside of the hustle and bustle, state and national parks might be a good choice. These are also good places to visit if you’re on a strict budget.
However, if you’re looking to visit a popular tourist destination city, like we did to Washington, D.C., we found the private RV resorts to be a much less expensive option than a traditional 3-star and up hotel. Since most of these resorts have many of the same amenities as a hotel, you really come out ahead in your vacation budget planning.
Hope this helps you as you plan your next adventure! Happy glamping!