Is Membership Camping For You?

This article is intended to assist the consumer in sorting through the information, misinformation, and confusion about membership camping in order to make a more informed decision.

What is Membership Camping?

Sunset at Peace River Preserve, a Thousand Trails membership campground in Florida. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Membership camping is a concept that has become popular with RVers of all ages.

Membership campgrounds are particularly appealing to snowbirds and full-timers that don’t want to spend all their time in one or two locations and wish to save money on nightly camping fees.

In exchange for purchasing a one-time membership and paying annual dues, you may camp free—or at greatly reduced rates—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—sometimes free but most now charge $1 to $8 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.

Indian Waters RV Resort, a former Western Horizon membership campground in indio, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

What Factors Should I Consider Before Purchasing?

You need to understand your own needs and how they match the benefits offered through the membership. There are several factors to consider before signing on the dotted line.

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 I 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

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?

Skyline Ranch Resort, a membership campground in northern Virginia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are my annual dues frozen (at age 65)?

Is my membership transferable?

How do I cancel my membership when I’m no longer able to use it? (verify by reading the contract)

Will my membership allow access to additional campgrounds if acquired at a later date?

What is the process for obtaining 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?

And remember—Buyer Beware

The bottom line: Read the contract—every single word—before signing on the dotted line!

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thousand Trails, Western Horizon Resorts, and Passport America camping club but do not represent them or sell memberships.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Membership Campgrounds

Part 1: Membership Campground Contract Tough to Cancel

Part 3: Is Membership Camping Cost Effective?

Worth Pondering…

The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.

—Ben Stein

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