Managing Full-Time Camping Costs in Beautiful Places

At Gunter Hill Park

One of the biggest challenges for me as I continue on full-time living in my Airstream is managing the cost of camping fees. I’m a retiree and until I generate new streams of revenue, I am on a very modest income. Luckily I have a lifetime senior pass for the National Parks and federal campgrounds. I snuck in under the price increase and it has become my most important coupon. I know there is talk of changing the program, but for now, it works well for me.

A lot of b/vloggers who full-time will swear by BLM land and that’s great if you live and camp in the west. I don’t. So, I swear by Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds because I get half-price camping on already very reasonable nightly rates. I averaged $12 a night at ACE campgrounds.

I recently stayed at four ACE campgrounds and want to highlight them here. If you are not familiar, you’ll get a sense of the options they offer. I didn’t have a lot of experience with them until I camp hosted this summer at Highland Ridge in Wisconsin. (See my previous posts for pics and info). Now I’m loyal! ACE parks have well maintained grounds, have on site camp hosts, and some have manned gatehouses and close the gates at night (with camper only access). As a solo traveler, I enjoy the measures they employ. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov. Cell service? I use ATT cell service and mention my experience for access. I link to Campendium reviews where you may get more cell coverage info. Recreation.gov sites are linked in the title and sometimes include cell access on their site pages.

Clinton Lake – Bloomington East campground, outside Lawrence, KS.

I spent nearly two weeks here and enjoyed it. Unfortunately the beach was closed due to flooding.

Sites are asphalt with picnic table and fire ring. My site was level and easy enough to navigate. I had a “lake view through the trees” site. In this campground there are only a couple sites with clear views of the water. All sites are W/E. There is another campground in the park, but it was closed due to flooding that never left after spring rains. Welcome to climate change. My cost – $10/night.

Campground: This place is very popular with 100 sites, so it gets busy. There are 2 washers/dryers available. The shower house is not great – needs some upkeep and better lighting. Onsite camp hosts are helpful and there is a host hut, but no gates. The grounds are nice and well kept, so walking is easy and pleasant. Bonus are flush toilet bathrooms sprinkled around the grounds. There are 4 dump stations with potable and non-potable water at the campground entrance with plenty of turnaround and access space. I’m willing to take my Airstream to the dump mid-stay if that is required.

Location: The campground sits on a peninsula between two earthen dams. The tiny hamlet of Clinton sits outside the park. Lawrence (a big college town) is 20 minutes away. Cell signal was ok. The drive to town is through farm country and across one of the earthen dams. Kansas City (where I have friends and family) is about 45-50 minutes away on the Interstate, so it was an adequate basecamp for me.

I would have stayed longer, but the park season was over, so I had to move on. I give this campground ⛺️⛺️⛺️1/2 (grounds) / Campendium review

Seven Points campground on the J. Percy Priest Reservoir, outside Nashville

This is one of the best campgrounds I’ve been to, but wait, because there is an even better one! Seven Points is on a very large lake – technically a reservoir and huge Army Corps dam is nearby.

Sites: The lakefront sites are built on concrete pads that are really nice. I did have to slightly level, but it was fine. Then there is about a 4 foot stairway drop to the picnic and fire ring patio, which is about 2 feet above lake level. Talk about primo seating! The sunsets on the lake are not to be missed. I had to move to a lake adjacent site to extend my reservation and I still had a beautiful view. The site was not as nice, but still very comfortable. Sites are W/E. My cost – $13/night.

Campground: The camp hosts were very helpful and the grounds are beautiful. The shower house is nice too. No laundry here. The dump station has only one site and the flush hose is on the opposite side of the drive as is the potable water, further up the drive, so a bit awkward to use. There is a gate house and the gate does close overnight. Cell signal is good. There is a full beach in the park and boat launches. On weekends, this is a popular day facility and there are parking areas for that at the boat launches. I was there in late fall, so the park was not busy with boaters, but filled with long term campers like me.

Location: Downtown is about 20-25 minutes depending on traffic, but major retail is 15-20 minutes. There are lots of things to do in Nashville, so this is a great basecamp. I stayed for a week and would have stayed longer, but again, the campground was closing for the season. I give this park ⛺️⛺️⛺️⛺️ 1/2 (site, lake, and city convenience) / Campendium Review

Deerlick campground, outside Tuscaloosa, AL

This was a last minute add to my itinerary because of a change in plans. I needed a low cost place to stay for five nights while waiting for my next campground reservation in Montgomery.

Site: This is a W/E campground and I did not use the dump station. The campground sits on a bluff and the water body was several hundred feet below my narrow campsite through a wooded ravine. The sites are bi-level with stairs to the picnic patio. The area is well-maintained. My site was not entirely level (asphalt drive and concrete pad), but easy enough to adjust. Cell service was only a bar, but very strong. I streamed effortlessly. My cost – $13/night.

Campground: The campground is small and sites have a lot of privacy in the woods. I saw some deer in the park and there are lots of trails that are easy to walk. There is a nice shower house and washer/dryer to use. Normally I go to laundromats to do multiple loads, but the park was so empty it was ok to monopolize the appliances for an afternoon. The campground has a guard house and very friendly, on site camp hosts. I’m sure this place is very busy in the summer, but in late fall, it was barely half full. There are day areas on the water to launch boats and go to the beach but require driving from the campground. There is a campground stairway to go down to the water’s edge, but for me, what goes down, eventually has to climb back up, so I passed on it.

Location: This is a remote campground on a huge ACE property. It’s about 25 minutes from the nearest retail. That was a big downside for me. When you only camp for a weekend, it’s not a big deal. But for me, full-timing, I often need to run for grocery, laundry, and wi-fi. You will cross two earthen dams on the way to town that create Lake Nicol and Lake Tuscaloosa and the drive is very pretty. I give this park ⛺️⛺️⛺️/ Campendium Review

Gunter Hill Park – Catoma Campground, outside Montgomery

This campground is a gem – hands down the best ACE park I’ve been to. I wish they didn’t have a 14 day limit, which is what I stayed. I would stay here for months.

Sites: The Catoma campground is full hook up, not common in ACE parks. There is a second campground that is older and is W/E only. I had a waterfront site on the Antioch branch-off from the Alabama River. The waterline was about 50 feet below me, but I could hear laps of water when boats went by, water fowl were abundant, and the tree line along the shores were in full fall color. It was beautiful. The site was a long concrete driveway and perfectly level with a nice picnic area and fire ring. I had good cell signal, adequate for streaming. My cost – $13/night.

Campground: The grounds are large so you have privacy and distance from neighbors. I took some very nice walks around the park and deer were sighted. There is a lovely walkout on the water for viewing and sitting at one end of the campground. There are numerous clamshell pull-through sites off the water as well as deep back-in sites. The showers are private and lockable (a bonus). No washer/dryer but town is only 15-20 minutes away. There is a gate house and on site camp hosts filled with southern hospitality. This campground is open all year. It was nearly full while I was there in November, so make your reservations early.

Location: Montgomery is a 15 minute drive through farms and ranchettes, a Dollar General is a five minute drive away, and propane is 20 minutes. I experienced a cold wave of below freezing nights during my two week stay and was glad to have nearby propane! Even though the weather got cold, there were some mosquitos. This is the south, after all. The serenity of this park was wonderful! I give this park ⛺️⛺️⛺️⛺️⛺️ (campground, full hook up, water body) / Campendium Review

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