Membership camping is a concept that has become popular with RVers of all ages.
Google “membership camping” and you’ll receive over five million hits.
This 3,000+ word guide should assist the you in sorting through the information, misinformation, and confusion about RV club memberships and discount camping in order to make an informed decision.
What are membership campgrounds?
Membership campgrounds are particularly appealing to snowbirds and full-timers who don’t want to spend all their time in one or two locations.
In exchange for purchasing a one-time membership and paying annual dues, you may camp free—or nearly free—for a specified period of time.
How do membership campgrounds work?
When you buy into a membership camping association, you typically pay a one-time fee, usually in the thousands of dollars.
You commit yourself to paying annual dues/maintenance fees that range from less than $100 to $600 or more.
Your membership usually entitles you to use the membership park for a designated time period—usually two to three consecutive weeks—and for a specified cost—often free but many now charge $1 to $5 per day as a “utility surcharge” or “service fee”. In some camping systems you may pay a $2 to $5 per day surcharge to upgrade from 30-amp electric service to 50 amps.
Usually the member must be out of the system for a week before again staying at a system campground.
Membership upgrades may also be available. In most cases they entitle members to stay for three weeks with no time out between other parks in the system plus other benefits which may or may not meet your needs.
Memberships can have terms limited to a designated number of years, or be “lifetime” and in some instances, transferable, so they can be sold or willed, much like any other investment.
Why buy a campground membership?
- Save money on camping fees
- Since member-only parks have more control over who camps there, they tend to have a higher level of security; some parks have 24-hour gated security while others offer 24-hour security patrols
- Amenities such as pool, hot tub, exercise room, and club house
- Some parks have free WiFi
- Activity directors plan activities
- Feeling of family
- Security of planning a trip several months in advance
- Fellow campground members we have met in our travels have been friendly; we have maintained friendships
Factors to consider before purchasing a membership
You need to understand your own needs and how they match the benefits offered through the membership.
Two main factors to consider carefully:
1. Use: Are you really going to use this membership?
How many days a year will you use it?
How many years will you use it?
2. Location: Are the campgrounds in areas where you plan to travel?
Most membership campgrounds are in Western, Eastern, and Southern United States.
What else should you be aware of?
- Bankruptcies (or Chapter 11s) of membership campgrounds can and do occur
- Will you be able to find space when and where you want?
- Dilemma of peak demands from January to March in favorite Snowbird destinations such as Florida, Arizona, and Southern California
- Are you willing to plan ahead? To make reservations 60-120 days or more in advance?
- Not all memberships are created equal
- Not all campgrounds within the same camping system are created equal
- Increasing cost of annual dues
- Utility surcharge and service fees
- A perception of decreasing site availability
- Increasing number of usage restrictions imposed on members
- Sales tactics can be high pressure; be wary of hard sell situations where you must decide within an hour whether or not to spend thousands of dollars—you wouldn’t buy a house or recreational vehicle that way, and certainly shouldn’t join a membership campground under that kind of pressure
Be sure to read the fine print
Questions to ask?
- Are my annual dues frozen (at age 65)?
- Is my membership transferable?
- Will my membership allow access to additional campgrounds if acquired at a later date?
- What is the process for getting a reservation?
- Can my family use my membership?
- If the membership camping system has financial problems, what will happen to my membership?
- If the membership camping system is bought out by another system, what will happen to my membership?
Here we’ll look at relative costs and walk through a cost analysis to determine if purchasing a membership camping system makes sound financial sense based on your current camping pattern.
Cost of Campground Membership?
Membership in a camping system involves an initial purchase price that ranges from under $3,000 to more than $10,000, plus annual dues or maintenance fee that range from less than $100 to $600 or more.
The derived benefits depend upon your travel pattern and projected usage. The more you use the membership, the more your savings increase.
Assuming that your objective in joining a membership campground is to reduce your camping expenses, then do the math.
Figure out how many nights you will need to stay in membership campgrounds, as opposed to non-membership campgrounds, to really save money.
Prices of membership campground systems vary; but let’s say, for example, your membership fee is $8,000 and the current annual dues are $400 per year. Let’s also assume you will use the membership for a minimum of 10 years.
The membership cost ($8,000 divided by 10 years) would amount to $800 per year. The annual dues would add another $400 per year.
Using these figures, it would cost $1200 per year to maintain a campground membership.
Campground fees at private RV parks vary with amenities and location (as they say in real estate, it’s location, location, location).
Some rates are hitting the stratosphere! How about the current rates at these resorts:
Campland on the Bay, San Diego, California: $72-$400 per night
Sunland Escondido RV Resort, Escondido, California: $39-$86 per night
South Carlsbad State Beach, California: $35-$50 per night (primitive sites with 35-foot restriction for RVs)
Boyd’s Key West Campground, Florida: $70-$90 per night (water/electric sites); $90-$120 per night (full hookups sites)
In spite of these astronomical rates, a non-membership campground charges on average at least $35 (+ taxes) per night for a camping site.
Dividing this $35 into the $1200 annual cost of a campground membership means you could potentially stay in a non-membership campground for 35 nights each year for what it would cost to belong to a membership campground.
In this case, if you think that during the next 10 years you will spend more than 35 nights per year in a membership campgrounds, it might make good financial sense to join.
Assuming an average nightly campground cost of $35, let’s project the costs beyond the initial 35 nights to determine potential savings:
30 nights (1 month) @ $35 $1050
60 nights (2 months) @ $35 $2100
90 nights (3 months) @ $35 $3150
120 nights (4 months) @ $35 $4200
150 nights (5 months) @ $35 $5250
180 nights (6 months) @ $35 $6300
- Check out several competing membership camping systems before signing on the dotted line.
- Visit or, better yet, spend several days in several campgrounds in the membership system.
- Listen to the sales presentation. Ask questions. Take notes. Take literature and copies of the contracts home to scrutinize and compare. Talk with current members. Sleep on it before making your final decision.
- Ask members if they would recommend joining. Do they have any difficulty making reservations? What is the financial condition of the camping system? Are they satisfied with the benefits derived from their membership?
- Know what you will be getting into before you buy.
- Joining a membership camping system should complement your RVing needs, make good financial sense, and enhance your enjoyment of RVing.
- And remember that not all memberships are created equal.
Membership campgrounds have worked well for us, but they are not right for everyone.
A number of companies offer re-sales of membership parks, usually at reduced prices. Individuals also advertise their own re-sales in RV magazines, RV-related websites, and local newspaper classifieds.
It is important that you fully understand the exact terms, benefits, and restrictions of the particular membership you are considering.
Throughout the years campground systems have sold a variety of membership plans, each slightly different—and most are different from the new memberships currently being sold.
Membership re-sales often are a bargain, but they can also be your worst nightmare.
Finding value in a membership resale, usually requires considerable shopping around and patience.
And, be cautious, there are many scam artists out there.
Expect to pay a minimum of $750 in transfer fees to register the resale with the membership camping system.
Be sure there are no hidden costs, such as unpaid dues, high transfer fees, or unusually high sales commissions.
And remember—Buyer Beware
In today’s post we’ll examine the two largest membership camping systems available in today’s marketplace.
Largerst Membership Campground Networks
Thousand Trails is the largest membership system of RV camping and outdoor preserves in North America. Their properties are known as preserves because they strive to protect the nature and beauty of the natural environment.
Thousand Trails currently offers premium outdoor destinations to more than 130,000 member families at over 80 preserves in 22 states and British Columbia. Members using the preserves bring their own recreational vehicles. They may also book rental accommodations located at the campgrounds or just visit for the day.
Free Wi-Fi is now available at most preserves.
The Thousand Trails system consists of Thousand Trails, NACO, Leisure Time Resorts, Mid-Atlantic, and Outdoor World.
Thousand Trails, along with Encore Resorts, is owned by Equity Lifestyle Properties, a real estate investment trust (REIT) traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ELS.
Thousand Trails has recently launched a new type of camping membership—the annual Thousand Trails Camping Pass.
The Thousand Trails Camping Pass provides unlimited access to many of its camping preserves. Starting at $585 a year, pass holders can access between 18 and 81 properties a year, depending on which specific zone or zones they choose.
Information: (800) 205-0606
Western Horizon Resorts (WHR)
Western Horizon Resorts (WHR) is an owner and operator of private membership, RV resorts, and RV travel related services.
Western Horizon Resorts, a privately held company, was founded by Jim Loken and family in 1984 and was designed to provide RVers with an exceptional outdoor vacation experience. Currently the corporation operates 18 resorts, Vista Group RV Insurance, and one affiliated camping network: Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR).
The Western Horizon system is located in eight states— Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Washington—with 3,000 RV sites and numerous rental trailers and cabins. Their highest concentration of parks is in the Sunbelt states of Arizona (Camp Verde, Casa Grande, Ehrenberg, St. David) and California (Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Ramona).
Free WiFi access is available at all member resort parks.
An introductory offer of 4 days and 3 nights of free camping can be accessed from the Western Horizon website.
Information: (800) 934-3443
In today’s post we’ll examine five regional membership camping systems available in today’s marketplace.
Holiday Trails Resorts (HTR)
Holiday Trails Resorts (HTR) is a Canadian owned RV resort company that started in 1983.
Holiday Trails is the largest multi-park camping system in Canada with campgrounds in British Columbia, Alberta, and Washington. They also have a reciprocal agreement with two host parks that are not company owned, but are available for member use as part of their membership system.
Holiday Trails Resorts is also open to the public for a nightly fee.
Holiday Trails owns seven RV resorts—two in Alberta (Drumheller and Lethbridge), four in British Columbia (Chemainus, Christina Lake, Cumberland, Rosedale), and one in Washington state (Ferndale), as well as Bridal Falls Motel (Rosedale). Located east of Hope, British Columbia, an eighth resort, Sunshine Valley is scheduled to open this fall.
Holiday Trails continue to add to their resort system and are currently working on acquiring a suitable property in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.
Introductory special for two or three nights of camping for $39.95 + tax is available from their Web site.
Information: (800) 663-2265
K/M Resorts of America
K/M Resorts of America offers eight resort locations in Washington state—Beachwood Resort (Blaine), Columbia Shores (Chinook), Diamond Point Resort (Sequim), Maple Groove Resort (Randall), Ocean Mist Resort (Ocean City), Old American Kampground (Newport), Travel Inn Resort (Elma), Ponderosa Falls RV Resort (Cheney)
Introductory offer of three days/two nights of free camping is available by filling out an Online Pass Request Form.
Information: (800) 392-5722 or (253) 896-4677
Colorado River Adventures (CRA)
Colorado River Adventures (CRA) offers seven RV resorts—five parks are located along the Colorado River in California, Arizona, and Mexico; with two additional parks in Julian and Cherry Valley, California.
An introductory offer of three nights of RV camping for $19.95 is available from their website.
Information: (800) 628-8424
Camperworld offers 10 private RV and camping resorts located in the state of Utah—Apple Garden Park (Park City), Bullfrog (Lake Powell), Echo Island (Coalville), Hot Springs Resort (Plymouth), Knotty Pine (Kamas), Lakeside (Duchesne), Nebo Loop (Nephi), Pine Forest (Dutch John), Pleasant Creek (Mount Pleasant), and Wahweap (Lake Powell).
Established in 1977, CamperWorld’s private and exclusive resort locations provide recreational experiences in scenic forested mountains, and on the banks of sparkling rivers, peaceful streams, and picturesque lakes.
All resorts have 24-hour security, full-service hook-ups, and upscale dressing and shower facilities.
Information: (800) 959-0722 or (801) 262-8166
Founded in March 1995, Outdoor Adventures is a Michigan based corporation dedicated to serving Michigan families.
Outdoor Adventures offers five easily accessible resorts, situated just minutes off I-75—Lake Shore (Davison), Lake of the North (West Branch), Saginaw Bay (Standish), Wilderness (Omer), and Rifle River (Sterling).
An introductory offer of three days and two nights of free camping is available by filling out an online request form
Information: (877) 881-9953
What are Membership Campground Associations/Affiliates?
Most membership campgrounds have an affiliation with other membership campground associations.
Membership affiliations are a network of RV camping resorts that have been approved to participate and provide use privileges to their members.
To join an association you must first be a member of a membership camping system that is affiliated with the campground organization.
The four major campground associations are:
- Coast to Coast
- Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR)
- Resort Parks International (RPI)
- Resorts of Distinction (ROD)
The camping resorts pay substantial affiliation fees and meet stringent requirements to participate in the campground association.
Affiliations provide a reciprocal service which expands the recreation and vacation opportunities derived from membership in a membership camping system.
Affiliations also provide a variety of other services and benefits for members.
The affiliation membership dues are separate from your membership camping system maintenance fee and range from $65 a year to about $100.
In addition, there is a daily camping fee of $9-$10.
There may be a requirement that in order for you to use an affiliated campground, it has to be located at a certain distance—100 or 125 miles—from your home campground or your home.
Coast to Coast Resorts
Coast to Coast Resorts was established in 1972 and is now owned by Good Sam.
Coast to Coast has nearly 300 membership resorts in its system and access to over 275 privately-owned parks at reduced rates.
This membership is only available to individuals whose home resort is affiliated with Coast to Coast Resorts.
Coast to Coast members may stay at resorts that are 125 miles from their home resort.
The Coast to Coast website includes information on Coast to Coast membership and a complete list of all Coast to Coast resorts.
Coast to Coast members pay $10 a night at affiliated resorts.
Annual dues are currently $89.95
Information: (800) 368-5721
Disclaimer: I am a member of Coast to Coast Resorts but do not represent or promote them.
In the next post we’ll examine three additional reciprocal camping associations.
In today’s post we’ll examine Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR), Resort Parks International (RPI), and Resorts of Distinction (ROD).
Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR)
Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR) was established in 1991 and is a network of private membership affiliated camping resorts offering affordable RV camping in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
This membership is only available to individuals whose home resort is affiliated with AOR.
AOR has nearly 550 membership resorts and privately-owned parks in its system.
AOR members may stay at resorts that are 125 miles from their home resort.
AOR is owned by Western Horizon Resorts
AOR members pay $9 a night at affiliated resorts.
AOR now charges a $3 reservation fee.
Annual dues are currently US$79.00
Information: (800) 934-3443
Resort Parks International (RPI)
Resorts Park International (RPI) was established in 1983 and is a leading member-only RV reciprocal camping program in North America. Their network includes 200 private RV resorts, 450 public RV campgrounds, cabins, and hundreds of condominiums worldwide.
This membership is only available to individuals whose home resort is affiliated with RPI.
RPI members may stay at resorts that are 125 miles from their home.
RPI is part of Equity Lifestyle Properties, the parent company of Thousand Trails
RPI Plus and RPI Preferred are available to members as an upgrade.
RPI members pay $10 a night RV site fee at affiliated resorts.
RPI charges a $2 reservation fee for each confirmed reservation.
Annual dues are currently US$65.00
Information: (800) 635-8498
Resorts of Distinction (ROD)
Resorts of Distinction (ROD) is a not-for-profit association of RV resort developers with about 100 affiliated membership resorts in its system including Western Horizon, NACO, and K/M resorts.
ROD is the only reciprocal network that lets you camp, travel, and stay, at affiliated resorts, free!
In addition to free camping, ROD offer a variety of other benefits to their members, such as identity theft protection, roadside assistance, and a condominium travel club.
Information: (800) 720-7633
Discount Camping Clubs
Unlike membership campgrounds, no contracts are required to join a discount camping club.
For approximately $50 a year, you receive a 50% discount on the nightly charge at a large number of private parks throughout North America.
The advantage is that you are risking only a one-year minimal investment if this option doesn’t fit with your RV travel plans.
Again, read the fine print.
Some parks have limitations on number of days, weekend and holiday stays, and during high season—in particular those are in Florida and other Sun Belt states.
Passport America, a family-run business, is the “original” 50% Discount Camping Club.
Passport America invented the 50% discount concept in 1992 and continue to improve upon the concept.
More than 1600 campgrounds across the US, Canada, and Mexico currently participate in the Passport America Program.
Passport America serves Canadian RVers with several hundred RV park locations north of the U.S. border.
Their stated goal is to save you money.
With the Passport America membership, members also receive a free subscription to RV America magazine. This magazine provides a fresh look within the RV Industry and provides members with many great features such as product highlights, and recipes from the road. It also provides members with updates to the current edition of the Passport America International Camping Directory.
Other benefits include free email address, trip routing, iphone/ipad app, RV and auto insurance, discount mail forwarding, and Passport America store.
Cost: $44.00 per year
Information: (800) 681-6810
Happy Camper Club
Happy Camper Club is a family-run 50% discount club for RVers.
As a member, you can stay at over 1,200 quality RV parks on a full hook-up site for half price.
Happy Camper focuses on primarily on U.S. travel with approximately 40 Canadian campgrounds now participating.
An introductory video is available for viewing on the Happy Camper website.
Happy Camper Club, Inc. is incorporated in the state of Louisiana where the founders, Bob and Anne Pierson, have owned and operated their two campgrounds for the last fifteen years. Bob’s background in the industry began in the 1980s with Thousand Trails where he worked in management and as a company director for over ten years, then decided to venture out on his own and buy his own parks.
Happy Camper Club is run on-site at the Monroe location of Shiloh Resorts, the Piersons’ home office. Bob passed away in 2007, and Anne continues to promote the club and work with the members they serve. Shiloh Resorts continues to be a family owned and operated business.
Membership includes Happy Camper Journeys magazine.
Cost: $49.95 per year
Information: (866) 67-SMILE; from Canada (318) 343-8608
Camp Club USA
Camp Club USA, the newest discount camping club, is owned by Affinity Group, the parent company for Coast to Coast Resorts, Camping World, and Woodall’s. Basically, it’s a clone of Passport America and Happy Camper Club.
Camp Club USA is the only half price RV club that emphasizes “nearly all of our campgrounds are rated 3 Diamond W’s by Woodall’s, the name in campground rating, or have an equivalent rating.” A browse through either Happy Camper Club or Passport America’s directory will reveal that this benefit can be claimed by all three clubs.
The Camp Club USA eNewsletter is sent out to members every month and gives the latest and greatest on all member benefits. The eNewsletter includes helpful articles featuring campgrounds, travel tips, and product reviews. Also, subscribers will be the first to know when new campgrounds are added.
In a recent press release (September 13) Bruce Hoster, vice president and executive director of Camp Club USA, indicated that the discount camping club has grown to 50,000 members and 1,200 campgrounds since it began in 2006.
In 2011 Camp Club USA will partner with the Woodall’s North American Campground Directory. Within the body of the Woodall’s Directory all Camp Club USA parks will be noted with a special symbol on state maps. And next to each listing, if it is a Camp Club USA Park, it will have the club logo next to it.
A consumer typically pays $49.95 to become a Camp Club USA member, but there are President’s Club discounts and other promotions for $39.95.
Cost: $49.95 per year
Information: (800) 391-2533
Research the track record of the company before you buy
Ensure that everything the salesperson promises is written into the contract
Don’t act on impulse or under pressure
Study the paperwork outside of the presentation environment
Ask about your ability to cancel the contract, referred to as a “right of rescission”
If, for some reason, you decide to cancel the purchase, cancel it in writing
There is considerable information, misinformation, and confusion about membership camping and discount camping clubs.