Favorite Campgrounds in the US

Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs CO

For all the hype about 2020 being the year of the RV, with sales, rentals, and campground reservations booming, we’ve actually used our RV the least since 2016. Aside from a couple days in January at the tail end of winter break (which may as well be years ago), we’ve been in the RV for a single week in 2020. With the pandemic and shut downs, smoke from the terrible fires nearby in California, and general uncertainty – in the end, we just stayed home. 

This decision was made easier by the fact that during our one trip in June we had our first major problem with the RV. When we got to our last overnight spot, the living room slide out wouldn’t completely… slide out.

The living room and bedroom slide outs, key to expanding the interior space. We have a third slide out on the passenger side.

Fortunately the side retracted all the way so we could still drive. But, we didn’t want to risk taking the RV out again until we got it fixed. We’ve also been living with the front door step not automatically retracting, although we have a workaround for that (workaround = kicking the step in). It made sense to get both issues looked at, along with a few other small things on the “someday we should fix this” list.

We’ve been working with a mechanic in Southern California since we bought our first RV. Rather than finding someone new here in Reno, especially for something major like the slide out, we decided to bring the RV back to our trusted mechanic, coordinated with a quick visit to see family and friends at the end of August.

It was wonderful to be out of the smoke, back at the ocean, and with friends and family even for a short time.

It’s now mid-October, and our main objective is to pick up the RV, get the tow bar installed on our new Explorer, and drive back up to Reno before snow starts in the mountain passes. Then, maybe, we’ll start thinking about plans for winter break.

In the meantime, I’ve been taking a walk down memory lane. When I was putting together photos for a recent post, I was struck by how many great campgrounds we’ve stayed at and, frankly, lucked into. When we’re traveling, the main things we’re looking for are: a site with hookups that can fit our 36-foot motorhome; good cell service; and a place that will accept our dog Otis, a pit bull mix. (Many private campgrounds have dog breed restrictions, whether for insurance or other reasons. We’re up front about traveling with a pit bull and have always been able to find a place to stay, but it can take additional time and calling around.)

The bottom line is that finding the perfect campground and ideal campsite have not been our priority. We’ve learned to make the best out of wherever we stay. We focus on exploring the area, enjoying what the campground has to offer, and, if there isn’t much on offer, appreciating that we can retreat into our comfy RV. We’ve certainly experienced our fair share of just OK campgrounds with this pragmatic approach, but we’ve also managed to find some amazing places without too much effort.

I wanted to share some of these spots to revisit our favorite destinations, and to highlight the great variety of campgrounds and RV parks out there. Since this was a lengthly intro, here are five places chosen at random, with more to follow in another post.

  1. Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground, Beullton, CA

I have to start with the very first campground we stayed at when we started full-timing in 2016, and a place we loved so much we returned two more times that year. Located on the Central Coast of California, Flying Flags was a convenient stop for when we went back to visit LA, but it’s also in one of my favorite places in the whole state, the Santa Ynez Valley. If you’ve seen the movie “Sideways” you know what I’m talking about: vineyards and wineries, rolling hills, majestic oak trees, small towns with rustic charm and great food.

What we love about Flying Flags: The big pool. The bocce ball court and playground. The camp store stocked with local wines. Warm cookies when you check in. The cute vintage trailers and cabins to rent. Nice paved roads for bike riding. Big dog park. Awesome clubhouse. Spa-like showers. Top notch laundry room. Easy access to Highway 101 and surrounding attractions (wineries!). All of this in a beautiful, natural setting.

We’ve spent a lot of time at this pool.
How cute?!
When the kids tire of the outdoors they retreat to the clubhouse.
Somehow I don’t have a photo, but Charlie learned to ride his bike at Flying Flags on our first visit! Rita took her bike riding to the next level by following a group of boys down a steep (but short, and we were watching) hill.

When we were last at Flying Flags the grounds were being expanded and still under construction. There are now THREE pools, additional recreation areas, and glamping accommodations. This is a luxury RV resort, in a prime California location, with a price tag to match. Still, we find it worth the splurge for all the reasons mentioned. We can’t wait to go back and swim in all the pools!

  1. Sportsmans RV Park, Fort Bragg, CA
The RV Park is nestled in the Noyo River harbor. Those of a certain age may recognize this location from the opening credits to “Murder She Wrote”.

To make it clear that it’s not only resorts with multiple pools on our list, Sportsmans RV Park in Fort Bragg is next. I debated its inclusion – I want to highlight campgrounds that truly stood out, not just the place we happened to stay at in a destination we loved. And even though this RV park isn’t much more than a small parking lot, with zero pools, Sportsmans had a distinctive character that made it memorable.

While the town of Fort Bragg has a commanding location on the Mendocino Coast bluffs in Northern California, Sportsmans is down on the working harbor of the Noyo River. We were a short walk from a long crescent beach where the dogs could run free while we watched fishing boats return from the ocean. The owner of the RV park also ran an adjacent, open air restaurant right on the river, a popular local spot with live music and excellent seafood. The grounds of the RV park and restaurant were covered in weather-worn fishing and boating gear in a way that felt completely authentic.

Off leash dog beach on Noyo Bay
This gives you an idea of the decor. Rita ate her first oyster at Django’s!
View from the deck at Django’s.

We fell in love with the rough-around-the-edges charm of Fort Bragg and the gorgeous coast, but if we didn’t stay at Sportsmans we never would have discovered the intriguing Noyo River harbor community. It’s our first choice for when we’re back on the Mendocino Coast.

  1. Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs, CO 
What a setting!

We were blown away by this state park campground. There’s a huge variety among state parks, but as they typically have limited hookups and spotty cell service, we’ve mostly stuck with private campgrounds and RV parks. I can’t remember the details of how we ended up booking Cheyenne Mountain, but it’s remained one of our favorites. The campground has a dramatic location in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with expansive views out over the plains.

The campsites themselves are excellent: paved and level, with full hookups, and spaced well apart in four separate campgrounds. We ended up with a spectacular site in the Swift Puma area, on a ridge with unencumbered views.

What a campsite!
We made quick friends with the family across the way. All the kids rode bikes and later made s’mores together, and we even visited them when we were in Boulder a week later.
As soon as we arrived the kids started playing next to our campsite.

We had a great time exploring nearby in the town of Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods State Park, and a huge, wonderful dog park with a creek running through it. But we would have been content just staying at Cheyenne Mountain riding bikes, hiking, playing in the woods, and taking in those views. 

  1. 1000 Islands / Association Island KOA, Henderson, NY
The causeway to Association Island

When we were traveling through upstate New York I was hoping to revisit the Thousand Islands. When I was a kid, one of the yearly car camping trips we took with a group of families included this archipelago in the St. Lawrence River, and it’s remained a fond if vague memory. I don’t know where we stayed those 30-odd years ago, but when I found out there was a KOA (Kampground of America) located on its own island in Lake Ontario nearby, I knew we had to stay there.

Association Island was first developed in 1905 as a corporate retreat for the National Electric Light Association (later General Electric). It served as a YMCA camp and a US Olympic sailing team training center before being abandoned and finally turned into a private RV park in 1999. We love staying at KOA’s for their kid- and dog-friendly amenities, and our experience at Association Island was one of the best.

We stayed over Fourth of July weekend and the place was packed. Typically we try to avoid peak crowds, but just leaned into it this time. Rita and Charlie were in heaven with the packs of kids everywhere: at the pool, jumpy pillow, playground, game room, and holiday bike parade. They got to ride recumbent bikes for the first time and play arcade games – no quarters needed! Chris and I maintained our sanity at the secluded campsite right on the water that we managed to score.

We lucked into a waterfront site over Fourth of July weekend.
Small sampling of the campground kids, with bikes decorated for a parade.
The “parade” quickly lost any semblance of organization, but Rita and Charlie had a great time riding around in a pack.
The view to the right of our site, with a nature trail through the woods.

If we had ended up stuck in the middle of all the action I might be telling a different story, but our experience was a perfect mix of Kid Fun and peaceful campsite. It was clear that there were groups of families camping together for the holiday, having a blast, which brought back fond memories. (Although I’m glad we weren’t camping next to them.)

  1. North Beach Campground, Burlington, VT
Our second campsite at North Beach.

North Beach Campground, run by the city of Burlington, is a woodsy and peaceful park that’s located right downtown and next to a beach on Lake Champlain. We loved it so much we extended our original two nights into five by moving sites, and would have stayed even longer if they weren’t sold out over the weekend. 

We made the most of our few days in town. The beach was a popular spot, with picnic areas, a playground, and concessions in addition to the swim beach, but it never felt crowded. I loved getting to walk the dogs by the water in the quieter early mornings and evenings. The park was right next to the Burlington Greenway bike path, and we had a great family ride into town for soft serve ice cream. Even the public library was particularly charming, with a lively kids’ area, and gardening tools to borrow.

The path from campground to beach running under the bike trail.
Pretty North Beach
So good!
Sublime Lake Champlain

I do remember a couple nerve wracking moments driving our RV through the narrow streets of Burlington to get to the park. But it was well worth the effort for the few blissful Vermont summer days we experienced, thanks to our stay at North Beach Campground.

More favorite places to follow!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Denise Gagen says:

    Great!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you!! It would be great to get to visit some of these places together!

      Like

  2. Hello there. I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the years in a small town in New York that overlooks Lake Champlain. As you know, that lake is a beautiful body of water. Neil Scheinin

    Like

    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Oh cool! It is so beautiful. We stayed at an RV park on the water in West Chazy before Burlington. Love that area! I grew up on Long Island but never really explored upstate until this trip.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I grew up on LI too. In Roslyn. Where did you live?

        Like

      2. MichelleNeale says:

        Out near the end of the North Fork, in Southold 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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