For many out-of-town vacationers, especially large families driving to their destination, lodging can be the single largest expense, with food running a close second. Camping in a recreational vehicle is an excellent way to reduce these outlays. Nightly rates at RV campgrounds are almost always cheaper than hotels, and a fully equipped (though small) kitchen means far fewer restaurant meals. These 15 popular tourist destinations have RV campgrounds nearby and, with one exception, the nightly rate is no more than $60. Some even boast on-site attractions of their own.
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Grand Canyon National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the famous canyon -- a gorge of the Colorado River -- is a natural wonder. Apart from jaw-dropping vistas, there are wildlife sightings and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, boating, and mule rides. The Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams is less than an hour's drive away and within easy walking distance to town, where a historic train ferries passengers to the national park. The campground is open year-round and charges a nightly rate of $43 for back-in spots and $48 for pull-through or buddy spots, all with 50-amp electric hookups; weekly rates are lower. There are shower and laundry facilities, free wireless Internet and HDTV, and access to a nearby indoor pool and hot tub.
A nearly unspoiled wilderness brimming with wildlife, forests (including one that’s petrified), rare plants, rivers, canyons, and waterfalls, Yellowstone National Park is probably best known for its geysers and hot springs. Enter the park and settle down at Madison Campground, situated yards from the Madison River, which offers excellent fly fishing. The location is serene but convenient -- 16 miles from Old Faithful and an easy drive to the Upper, Midway, and Lower Geyser Basins. For the 2016 season, the campground is open until mid-October. The sites are basic -- no utility hookups -- and the overnight rate is $23.50. There are public restrooms and dishwashing stations but no showers; pay showers are available elsewhere within Yellowstone.
Pristine blue water fills Crater Lake, created 7,700 years ago from a volcanic eruption and today the deepest body of fresh water in the United States. Take a scenic drive, bike around the rim, or hike one of the many trails. Clouds often obscure the lake, so check Crater Lake National Park’s webcams for up-to-the-moment guidance on the view. The Mazama Campground, located within the park, has 214 RV campsites available for $31 a night, or $35 with electric hookups. Starting in July, three-quarters of the sites are open to advance reservations only; the rest are available first-come, first-served, and generally fill up by late afternoon. The campground is equipped with showers, flush toilets, potable water, and laundry facilities.
Take a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico while vacationing on Mustang Island, one of the barrier islands along Texas’ east coast and across the bay from Corpus Christi. The town’s population swells in the summer with boaters, beach lovers, and others who are attracted to the burgeoning eco-tourism scene, which includes activities such as birding, dolphin sightings, and kayaking. As its name suggests, On the Beach RV Park sits astride the gulf. The daily rate for an RV spot shared by two people is $53, or $210 for the week, and covers electric hookup, cable TV, and Wi-Fi. Additional people, pets, air conditioners, and space to park an extra car, boat, or trailer up the price modestly.
Hug a tree at Sequoia National Park, home to the largest tree in the world (the General Sherman Tree) and other giant sequoias and old-growth specimens. If that’s not enough, take a gander at Mount Whitney, which is the highest point in the Lower 48, or be on the lookout for badgers, coyotes, woodpeckers, owls, and more. There are falls and meadows galore, trails to hike, and a “tunnel log” to walk through. Lodgepole Campground, 2 miles from the sequoia grove and 21 miles from the entrance to the park, takes RVs. The fee is $22 a night, and reservations are recommended. There are no electric hookups and generator use is strictly limited to three hours in the morning and three hours in the early evening. There are flush toilets on site, and showers and laundry facilities are a short walk away.
Naturalists will find their bliss at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon, Florida. The site envelops a mangrove swamp, seagrass beds, and tropical hardwood trees. Birding, fishing, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking are just some of the available activities. The small beachfront campground is open to RVs year-round and is especially busy in winter. Each site is equipped with an electric hookup, and the common area provides composting toilets and solar-powered showers. The nightly fee is $36; reservations are recommended.
This year’s unprecedented presidential campaign, not to mention congressional gridlock, has no doubt elevated Washington, D.C. to a must-see vacation spot. The Capitol building, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the National Zoo, the Botanic Garden, and museums of all stripes are some of the many attractions. Cherry Hill Park in College Park, Maryland, is the closest RV campground to the District. A city bus stops at the site every hour to ferry visitors to a nearby Metro station for a subway ride into the capital, and a private tour bus comes by twice daily. RV rates for two people start at $68 a night for back-in sites and $73 for pull-in spots, plus $5 nightly for each extra person (starting at age 5); premium sites cost $10 more. Amenities include electric hookups at every site, restrooms with showers, laundry facilities, free Wi-Fi and cable TV, playgrounds, a hot tub and sauna, and two outdoor pools.
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park is awash in magnificent wildflower displays, overflowing with diverse animal life, and filled with waterfalls and deciduous forests (leaf-peeping in fall is a prime sport). Bicycling, hiking, and fishing are some of the many things to do. The Happy Holiday Campground in Cherokee, North Carolina, offers back-in RV sites with electric hookups for $42 night, or $47 a night for pull-through sites; weekly rates are available. There’s a stocked lake for (free) trout fishing and a stream that requires a permit. Other onsite activities include a swimming pool and playground, tubing, crafts for kids, a game arcade, and hayrides.
During the last ice age, glaciers covering the Midwest carved a 5-mile series of gorges now known as the Dells of the Wisconsin River. These sandstone formations have made the Dells a popular tourist attraction since before the Civil War. The modern city of Wisconsin Dells is known as the Waterpark Capital of the World, and nearby Mirror Lake State Park is known for its natural beauty. Take a scenic boat tour, play a round of golf, hit the gaming tables, visit a museum, or just chill. Sherwood Forest Campground and RV Park is a couple of blocks from the city’s downtown River District. Rates for a full hookup site (including sewer, water, and electric) are $52 a night during the week and $57 on weekends. Fees cover two adults and children under 18; extra adults cost $5 a night.
Camp out on a piece of the nation’s history at First Landing State Park, the spot where English colonists came ashore in 1607. Now a national natural landmark, the park encompasses cypress swamps, lagoons, and a variety of unusual flora and fauna. It offers miles of hiking trails and 2.5 miles of beachfront. Nearby Virginia Beach is packed with tourists in summer and offers the usual assortment of beachside attractions, including a boardwalk and nightclubs. Back at the park, the nightly RV fee for out-of-state visitors is $41 with water and electric hookups; Virginia residents pay slightly less. RV reservations must be made by phone.
Civil War buffs surely have Gettysburg in their line of sight when planning a vacation. The historic battlefield is part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, where visitors can view artifacts from the Civil War and the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous 1863 speech extolling equality for all and the value of one union. There’s lots more to do in the area, from agri-tourism to ghost tours to golfing and biking. For cheap RV accommodations, pull into the Gettysburg Campground. Weekday rates for four people range from $49 for a basic RV spot with 30-amp electric hookup to $59 for a premium spot with sewer and 50-amp hookup; weekend rates are slightly higher. Amenities include Wi-Fi and cable TV, swimming pool, playground, laundry, game room, and RV repair shop.
Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks is a manmade reservoir created in 1931 when a hydroelectric dam built on the Osage River was completed. The serpentine lake snaking through former Ozark valleys soon became a popular tourist destination offering the usual set of summertime activities, including fishing, boating, golfing, hiking, and bird-watching. Shopping, another highlight, provides year-round entertainment. Part of the land abutting the lake forms the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Ozark Trails RV Park and Campground rents pull-through sites with full hookups (water, electric, sewer) for $35 a day, or $200 for the week. The rate includes free Wi-Fi and DirecTV, access to a swimming pool, rec room, and playground. There are also hiking trails on site.
Head for the Black Hills and stash the RV at Custer’s Gulch RV Park in Custer. The area is rich with wildlife (deer, elk, bison, prairie dogs, and more), fossil bones at Mammoth Site, caves that beckon explorers, hiking trails for the adventurous, and fishing spots for contemplative sport. Enjoy a patriotic moment at Mount Rushmore, just 23 miles away. Rates at the park range from $34 to $50 a night for two adults and two children under 13; each additional adult is $5 a night. Sites are outfitted with full hookups. The campground also provides free Wi-Fi and features hot showers, flush toilets, and laundry facilities.
Stone Mountain Park, about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, is home to the Confederate equivalent of Mount Rushmore: The visages of three major figures from the Civil War (Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis) are carved into the side of the dome-shaped Stone Mountain. The park also offers a variety of family-friendly attractions, including a petting zoo with goats that perform tricks, mini golf, and rope bridges and net tunnels. There is a history museum on site and an “historic square” with buildings dating to the 1800s. In-season rates for RV sites with water and electric go for $37 a night ($47 for lakeside spots); sewer adds $6 a night. Some sites offer cable at higher rates.
When the itch to try your luck at the gaming tables needs scratching, there’s always Las Vegas. The Circus Circus RV campground is in close proximity to the Strip. It offers full hookups and free Wi-Fi and equips each site with outdoor furniture. When it’s time to take a break from the casino, campground guests can take a dip in the pool or hot tub and treat the family dog to a free bath and a leash-free romp in the dog park. Golfing, hiking and tourist attractions, including the nearby Hoover Dam, offer plenty of diversions. Rates start at $36 for midweek and climb to $46 on weekends. There are shower and laundry facilities, and a seasonal hot tub and swimming pool.