Camping can fill our lives with great memories of outdoor adventures. We all want our camping trips to be enjoyable, and there are many factors that can determine the outcome of any particular trip. Some factors, like campground choice, how to get there, and when to go, we can control. While others, like weather or the noisy campers next to us, we cannot, and we are simply at their mercy.
The most influential factor in planning any vacation is the destination, and for our purposes that's the campground. But how do we know what to expect at a campground that we've never visited before? Sure, we can get the opinions of others, but that's not always possible. Or we can read descriptions on Web sites or in campground directories, but they aren't going to say anything bad about their campground because they want your business. The down side is when that attractive Web site description doesn't live up to its promises. So how can you avoid this happening?
That's where campground ratings may be helpful. There are several reputable organizations, which rate campgrounds based on user experience and other criteria. Their names may be familiar to you: AAA, Trailer Life, Wheelers, and Woodall's. Their ratings are a benchmark that measures how well a campground meets various industry standards.
Typically, only private campgrounds are rated. Public campgrounds at state parks, national parks and forests, BLM areas, and Army Corps of Engineers are usually consistent in their amenities, services, and regulations. I fairly well know what to expect when I camp at a public campground. On the other hand, RVers, fulltimers in particular, are more frequent visitors to private campgrounds and rely on ratings to gauge their expectations. So, what are the ratings and what do they mean?
- AAA Approved - AAA maintains a continual program to inspect and evaluate every campground listed in its AAA CampBooks. Each campground is inspected annually and must meet specified requirements in order to be listed. Campgrounds displaying the AAA emblem can usually be relied on for quality service.
- Trailer Life - Trailer Life rates campgrounds annually on three areas of service: completeness and quality of facilities, cleanliness and physical characteristics of restrooms and showers, and visual appeal and environmental quality. The highest ratings would be 10/10/10. You can find these ratings on Trailer Life's online campground directory.
- Wheelers - Wheelers uses a five-star rating system, with five stars indicating better than average in most services, three stars being normal expectations, and one star being below average. Ratings are collected by VIP Wheelers Reporters who have actually stayed at the campgrounds. These ratings are available in Wheeler's online campground directory.
- Woodall's - Woodall's inspects campgrounds annually to compile their "Diamond-W" ratings, the most thorough, yet complex ratings of them all. You can view campground descriptions and ratings on Woodall's Web site.