6 Red Flags to Look Out for When Making a Campground Reservation
As a former librarian, research and analysis are two of my favorite things, and I apply those same skills to my campground bookings. If you learn to scour campground reviews like a pro, you’ll soon figure out which red flags to take seriously and which complaints to take with a grain of salt.
What to Look for When Picking Campgrounds
Aside from location and price, the main things I want in a campground are a secure setting, pleasant customer service, polite neighbors, well-maintained facilities, and good ambiance. But, more than that, I want to do a “vibe check” to see if the location is a good fit for my camping style.
Here are steps to take to find the right campground for you:
Look at the overall ratings on multiple platforms. You can find ratings on many websites, including Campendium, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, and more. I look at all options for extended stays. I usually camp at spots that receive four-to-five-star ratings, though I’ll occasionally stay at locations with lower ratings if I read the reviews and have proper expectations.
Scour the reviews. Doing a deep dive through the reviews will give you a lot of hints about a park’s ambiance, cleanliness, maintenance, customer service, and overall vibe. You will certainly come across people who hated the park and people who loved it, so make sure to read more closely to see what shaped the experience for each opinion. Below we’ll share some red flags that you should take seriously.
Look closely at the photos from travelers. Any RV park can look appealing in professional photos. Instead, look at the real photos from travelers. Campendium and Google both have a photo gallery feature. When I look at these, I try to get a sense of the campground and campsites.
Red Flags You Shouldn’t Ignore in Campground Reviews
Every camper is different. Some tolerate a lot of noise, while others want serenity. Some care for nice bathhouses, while others will never step foot inside the facilities. Despite differing expectations, here are some red flags you shouldn’t ignore.
Rude attendants or managers: If a campground gets several reviews saying the attendants are rude, they probably are. While every park might have an attendant who acts salty on a bad day, campgrounds shouldn’t have multiple reviews with complaints. I wholly support campgrounds having rules, but how rules are enforced can vary. A major red flag is when the management responds to bad reviews online with a snide or hateful tone. Then it’s clear their bad attitude was accurately noted in the reviews.
Noisy parties: Some campgrounds cater to those looking to have a good time and don’t enforce quiet hours. For those that don’t want to be at a park full of spring break revelers, it’s better to stay elsewhere than be upset about all-night parties.
Security: I don’t see this very often, but one time I didn’t book a park because it had repeated complaints about items being stolen from campsites. The reviews made it clear this wasn’t a one-time event. It was due to the location and lack of on-site security personnel.
Tight roadways and sites: I’m always a little stressed about parking our camper, even at an “easy” campsite, so if I read reviews saying roadways or campsites are hard to navigate, I usually stay somewhere else.
Cancellation policies: Some parks are strict about not refunding any money for sites paid in full in advance, even if you experience a death, serious illness, or other calamity. While it’s reasonable for parks to charge a cancellation fee, having to pay full price is enough to make me think twice, especially if I’m booking a longer stay.
Reviewer red flags: Sometimes, my red flag radar goes off about the reviewer instead of the park. Some reviewers are grumpy, and some don’t want to follow park rules. If you can read other reviews by the same person, you’ll usually figure out whether they’re the problem, not the campground.
What to Do if You’re Unhappy at a Campground
Sometimes, despite your research, you might end up at a campground that ends up being a poor experience or not a good fit for you. If that’s the case, try to determine whether your complaints are reasonable—and whether the campground can actually address them. If you’re upset about train noise or a muddy campsite, there isn’t much the park can do to immediately improve your stay.
If you have a complaint the park can address, approach an attendant or the manager with your concerns. Niceness goes a long way. Perhaps they can clean the shower house or do a better job of enforcing the quiet hours. That’s reasonable. Before posting a bad review, give the park a chance to make things right.
If a campground is unbearable, you may choose to leave—with or without a refund. Again, sometimes asking nicely will get your money back, but other times you have to cut your losses.
The best thing you can do for other campers is to post your own reviews. The more specific information you can provide, the better. People appreciate a heads up about concerns, especially if you’re fair about what the park can and cannot control.