When staying in a hotel, you can typically choose from the many known chains, ranging from motels to five-star accommodations, and go into your stay with certain expectations. While similar chains are less common in the camping world, there are several franchises and clubs. But, how do you know which to join and whose campgrounds you might like?
Here’s a deep-dive into some of the most popular RV chains and franchises, including KOA, Harvest Hosts, Jellystone, and more.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA)
One of the most recognizable campground brands is KOA. When you imagine a traditional campsite with a picnic table and a fire ring, you can thank John Wallace, the founder of KOA. From the first campground in 1962, KOA now includes more than 500 franchised parks.
Monthly and annual costs: You don’t have to be a member to stay at a KOA, but if you join KOA Rewards at a cost of $35 annually, you’ll save 10 percent on every reservation and receive other benefits.
Who it’s best for: The standard KOA is perfect for travelers looking for an overnight stay while on the road. KOAs with the “Holiday” moniker are developed with families in mind and offer more amenities.
Featured amenities: KOAs usually have a mix of full-hookup and water and electric sites. You will consistently find clean facilities, a camp store, and a playground. More developed KOAs can have everything from pools to waterparks, planned activities, and more.
Campground vibe: KOAs have a mix of overnight travelers and campers on vacation. The vibe is usually quite casual and relaxed.
Cons: The standard KOA campsite isn’t especially large. You’ll likely be close to your neighbor. While most KOAs are relatively consistent, there are outliers that can be better or worse.
Harvest Hosts is a membership program that gives RVers access to sites offered by private landowners. Sometimes the sites are on working farms, vineyards, or breweries, offering a truly unique experience with each stay.
Monthly and annual costs: The annual fee is $99, which gives you free stays at Harvest Hosts sites. You’re asked to spend at least $20 on purchases from your hosts’ businesses as a thank you. (With Roadpass Pro, you get a discounted rate on your annual Harvest Hosts membership.)
Who it’s best for: Harvest Hosts is mainly for adults who have a sense of adventure. You’ll find a variety of experiences and campsites, especially if you’re flexible.
Featured amenities: The experience is at the heart of a Harvest Hosts stay. Though some spots have electric and/or water hookups, these are rare, and a self-contained vehicle is required for camping. Each site listing provides details about the individual amenities.
Campground vibe: Imagine yourself petting alpacas and sampling local wines. You may not find a traditional campground experience—and that may be a plus.
Cons: Generally, you can only stay 24 hours at a site, and tents, hybrids, and pop-up trailers aren’t allowed.
- Easton Country Club
- Mancos Brewing Company
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts
The first Jellystone was developed in 1969, as its founders specifically set out to create family vacation destinations. To this day, families remain the focus for the 80 parks that are part of the chain.
Monthly and annual costs: No membership is required to stay at a Jellystone. If you stay frequently, join the free Club Yogi Rewards to earn points toward prizes.
Who it’s best for: Jellystone is great for families. You can have a whole vacation in the park, if you wish.
Featured amenities: The parks usually have a mix of full-hookup and water and electric sites. You’ll generally find a plethora of family-friendly amenities and activities, including themed weekends, waterparks, character visits, and more.
Campground vibe: Jellystones are usually energetic. Expect to find kids splashing in pools, golf carts buzzing around, and surprise visits from Yogi himself. It’s a party for the preschool crowd.
Cons: Though families are the target for Jellystones, that doesn’t mean you can’t stay there sans kids. Just know before you go that this won’t be a quiet nature retreat. Also, some Jellystone locations charge additional costs for some activities, which can be pricey if you have several children.
Thousand Trails is a membership program and campground network that’s quite different from the other options on this list. Aimed at full-time and frequent travelers, this program offers free stays at over 80 locations with an annual fee.
Monthly/annual costs: Pricing starts at $630 annually for access to campsites in one of five U.S. zones. Additional pricing can open up more zones and parks.
Who it’s best for: A Thousand Trails membership is best suited for full-time travelers or those who will camp enough at included sites to recoup the $630 cost (approximately 5 to 15 nights).
Featured amenities: Amenities vary from park to park, but most have full hookups, water and electric sites, and family-friendly amenities.
Campground vibe: Thousand Trails campgrounds are independently owned and operated, so you won’t necessarily find consistency across the different parks. Read individual campground reviews to find out more.
Cons: Some parks set aside a limited number of sites for members, so you have to book months ahead for popular destinations. Also, terms can be confusing, so you need to read carefully and ask questions to see if Thousand Trails is a good fit for you.
Sun Outdoors owns and operates 175 campgrounds, with more added frequently. Resorts, glamping, and seasonal sites are the brand’s focus. Sun Outdoors aims to provide a true vacation experience.
Monthly and annual costs: No membership is required or offered.
Who it’s best for: Both families and adults without kids can enjoy a stay at Sun Outdoors. Travelers who want a resort-level vacation experience are the target.
Featured amenities: Sun Outdoors resorts often offer full hookups and manicured sites. The amenities are usually top tier, including large pools, huge recreation areas, restaurants and bars, and on-site activities, with offerings aimed at both kids and adults.
Campground vibe: The resort vibe carries through every element. It’s somewhat luxurious, while still being comfortable. You should feel like you are on vacation, not like you’re camping out.
Cons: Nightly rates are on the higher side, with many locations costing $100 a night or more. However, that price does include campground amenities, without requiring extra fees for anything other than food or rental items (like bikes and paddle boards).
Considered the “nation’s largest RV club,” Good Sam is quite different from the franchises and chains mentioned above. Good Sam doesn’t own or operate the 2,100 Good Sam parks, instead the campgrounds are affiliates. They’re rated by Good Sam, and members receive a discounted rate. Since this isn’t a chain or franchise, parks run the gamut from simple roadside stops to over-the-top resorts.
Monthly and annual costs: Membership is not required to stay at Good Sam parks. Membership starts at $29 annually, which gets you a 10 percent discount on nightly stays, as well as a bevy of other benefits, including discounts at Camping World, Gander RV, Pilot Flying J, and more.
Who it’s best for: If you travel frequently and prefer to book private campgrounds, you may save money with a Good Sam membership.
Featured amenities: Being a Good Sam member gives you access to a portal, which provides trip-planning tools, campground ratings and reviews, and more. Good Sam parks do not have consistent amenities across parks.
Campground vibe: Since the parks are independently owned and operated, there isn’t a consistent vibe. Highly-rated Good Sam parks are generally good, clean private campgrounds.
Cons: Some travelers have noted that the rating system isn’t consistent across the parks. It’s good to check reviews on other sites, including Campendium, to learn more before you book.
Hopefully this will help you decide what chains, franchises, and memberships are right for you. If you’re new to RVing, don’t feel like you have to join any specific program—especially if it costs money. Travel for a year to see what your camping style is, and then decide. Along the way, try out different campgrounds to get a feel for your own preferences.