While spending a long weekend in western North Carolina last month, we camped at a location that, for many reasons, seemed perfect to us. And now, as we are making plans for an upcoming trip much further west, we are using that campground as a benchmark. More about that location later, but first a disclaimer: It is now becoming more obvious to me that what we see as an ideal campsite is very different than what most RV owners seek.
To some extent, this may be because we’re working full-time and have no children living at home. That means shorter vacations that are not structured around campground entertainment. Most campgrounds seem to be built for different RV owner demographics -- for example, retirees who don’t have time constraints on their travels, or parents who are camping with their kids. This explains the popularity of resort-like campgrounds that have built-in entertainment opportunities, including pools, sports facilities, and planned social activities. Longer vacations and family travel account for why larger (Class A and C) motorhomes are much bigger sellers than small (Class B) motorhomes like ours.
At the other extreme are RV owners who avoid campgrounds altogether, preferring to camp without services such as electric, water, and sewer hookups. For some, this is so they can stay at remote wilderness sites (“dry camping” or “boondocking”). Small motorhomes are particularly well-suited for this since they are maneuverable on smaller roads and are self-sufficient, at least for a few days. But dry camping is much more common among RVers who are just looking for a one-night stopover and don’t want to spend money on a campground. There are even websites and smartphone apps that help you locate free RV parking sites, such as Walmart parking lots. I understand the economics and convenience of that choice, but I confess that camping in a commercial parking lot is probably the very last thing I would want to do with my vacation time.
Regardless of our destination or our length of stay, our goals for identifying a suitable campsite have been focused on three main criteria:
• A scenic and/or peaceful site. This could be a beach, a mountain view, a marina, or a forest -- and it’s fine if that location is remote or is close to a city. Whether it’s the end of a day of driving or hiking/biking, being able to relax in a beautiful quiet setting is very therapeutic. This can happen in an RV park if the campsites are situated to maximize scenery and/or privacy, rather than to pack in as many RVs as possible.
• Services at the campsite (specifically, electricity, fresh water, and sewer hookups). Yes, we like the idea of boondocking, and it frees you from not having to plan ahead to reserve a campsite that has those services. Still, there is a planning trade-off, because boondocking requires that you plan and monitor your energy and water usage carefully, and it’s hard to imagine doing this for more than two or maybe three days. The major limitation (for us) seems to be fresh water use and waste water accumulation, which of course is greater when you need showers after enjoying outdoor activities like hiking, biking, etc. And for summer traveling, air conditioning to cool off the parked van can be important. Without an electrical hookup, powering that air conditioner from typical motorhome batteries is impossible and requires running a noisy generator, an unwelcome disruption to that quiet wilderness setting.
• Proximity to outdoor activities and to cultural activities. Vacations for us are partly to experience natural beauty, allowing us to immerse ourselves in hiking and biking and photography, and partly to enjoy good food as well as regional music and art. With limited vacation opportunities, we do not look at this precious time as an exercise in frugality. We are camping to be close to what we want to do, and we don’t mind spending a little more to stay at nicer campsites. Frankly, it all seems like an incredible bargain compared to our previous pattern of flying to destinations, renting cars, and staying in hotels.
Overall, we think of our motorhome as a mechanism to get somewhere interesting and to serve as a basecamp for exploration and activities; we don’t need the campground itself to provide entertainment. The best campground for us serves as both a getaway and a gateway, located within a short distance of the experiences we are seeking.
Which brings us back to that ideal campground I mentioned at the beginning: Just north of Asheville, North Carolina, is Campfire Lodgings, a small private RV campground located on a mountain ridge. We stayed at one of the “premium” campsites, which are all situated with unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Depending on whether you choose sites with that view or sites with more trees and shade, the cost is $45-65 per night. The campground is well-maintained by an attentive staff and includes cabins, yurts, hiking trails, a laundry facility, and clean private bathrooms/showers. It’s just a short drive to the great food and music and art galleries in downtown Asheville, the gem of western North Carolina. Perhaps it's a mistake to tell anyone about Campfire Lodgings, since I don’t want it to get too crowded; assuming it doesn’t, we’ll definitely be back.