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Mission Bay RV Resort

Many California parks like Mission Bay RV Resort in San Diego, are booked for summer weekends, but they offer chances midweek for cheaper camping sites.

This year is shaping up to be an exceptionally busy year for California campgrounds as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and record RV sales, according to a release from the CampCalNOW RV Park and Campground Alliance (CampCalNOW).

But while weekends have already booked up in many locations through the summer months, campgrounds and RV resorts still have vacancies.

“You just have to know where to look. You also have to use different strategies to plan your getaways, using Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays as your start dates instead of Thursdays or Fridays, which book up before any other dates,” said Dyana Kelley, president and CEO of Camp-California.com, the travel planning website designed by CampCalNOW.

Camp-California.com provides links to more than 300 independently owned and operated campgrounds, RV parks and resorts, which not only feature tent and RV sites, but unique accommodations, ranging from cabins and cottages to furnished glamping tents. Some campgrounds even have teepees and furnished Conestoga wagons.

Camp-California.com is a critical resource for camping enthusiasts,” Kelley said, “because most of the campgrounds we showcase are independently owned and operated and are not listed on other websites.”

Here are several reservation tips from campground and RV resort operators across California:

Think Midweek

At Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort in Newport Beach, cottages are already 100% occupied for summer weekends, and so are many beachfront campsites. Summer weekends at Campland on the Bay and Mission Bay RV Resort in San Diego are also heavily booked, according to Jan Yerzik, director of marketing for Terra Vista Management, which manages the three resorts.

But that doesn’t mean these resorts do not have any availability.

“Since weekends routinely sell out, campers have a better chance of booking weekdays. Many campers depart on Sunday, so the slowest days may be Sunday through Wednesday in the summer,” Yerzik said.

Midweek Rates Are Often Lower

There’s another benefit to starting your vacation midweek: Rates for campsites and rental accommodations are usually lower during the week than they are on weekends.

Consider Shoulder Season Camping

While summer continues to be the busiest time of year for campgrounds across California, spring and fall are not nearly as busy, which increases your chances of finding a campsite or rental accommodation. “Early June and late August offer more availability to plan summer vacations,” Yerzik said. “If you can travel in September or October, the weather is still spectacular in Southern California, and you will find more campsite options along with off-season rates.”

Look for Hidden Gems

“Take the opportunity to visit a destination off the beaten path,” counsels Jennifer Ludovice, director of marketing communication strategy for Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), which owns and operates numerous RV resorts in California and across the country. “Instead of heading to a popular vacation area, try visiting a more secluded, remote or rural destination. For example, are you looking for a Napa Valley getaway? Head just a little farther north to Russian River RV Resort in Cloverdale and enjoy camping along the banks of the beautiful Russian River while staying within minutes of several wonderful wineries.”

Other hidden gems in the ELS network include Rancho Oso Camping Resort, which is in the Santa Ynez Mountains a little over 30 minutes from Santa Barbara, and Pio Pico Campground in Jamul, which is about 30 minutes from San Diego’s Gaslamp District, which has many wonderful restaurants and stores.

The Financial Benefits of Planning Ahead

The more advance planning you do, the greater your success will be in finding the campsite or rental accommodations you desire. Many campsites and rental accommodations can be booked up to a year or more in advance. There are also financial advantages to advance planning. Yerzik notes that many campgrounds and RV resorts have revenue management systems that automatically adjust rates based on occupancy. So, the further you book in advance, the less you will pay for your campsite or rental accommodation.

Don’t Wing It

“The days of just showing up at a campground on a weekend and expecting an available site or cabin are not common anymore,” said Scott Cory, who owns and operates the Ventura Ranch Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in Santa Paula. “Currently, Ventura Ranch is almost sold out on weekends for the next four months with its RV sites, cabins, and Safari Tents. There still is availability in the teepees and Conestoga Wagons. Cabins, by far, are receiving the highest demand. High-end RV sites, premium sites with patios and larger spaces, are right behind those.”

Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina in Newport Beach

Parks like Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina in Newport Beach, are telling campers not to wing it when it comes to booking a site this year.

Cory said much of the additional campsite and cabin demand this year is being fueled by first-time campers.

“I highly recommend camping guests place their reservations now,” he said. “You can always cancel if you cannot make it, but you will be assured a chance to go camping.”

Tim Tack, co-owner of the Coleville/Walker KOA in Coleville, in the Eastern Sierra along U.S. Highway 395 near Topaz Lake, also recommends that travelers book their reservations in advance and not wing it. “I would discourage people from just showing up at campgrounds (during the summer months),” he said. “A lot of times, we’re sold out.”

And when that happens, he said, travelers can wind up having to keep driving until they find a campground with available space, which can be tough to do during the summer months. Travelers can avoid the risk of that happening by simply making their reservations in advance of their trip.

Review Cancellation Policies

Don’t forget to review the cancellation policy where you will be staying. “You do not want to be charged for failing to adhere to the cancellation policy,” Cory said, adding, “Cancellation fees can be zero to minimal if the cancellation policy is followed. These are different than hotel cancellation policies so it is wise to double-check them.”

Ludovice said ELS is offering a 48-hour cancellation policy on daily and weekly RV site reservations made through RVontheGo.com.

Book The Correct Site for Your RV

Know your RV’s length and book accordingly. “When reservations are tight, please be sure to reserve a site that can accommodate the actual size of your RV,” Jerzik said. “Don’t risk being turned away or having to pay yield pricing to upgrade your site at the last minute.”