California’s Crowded RV Parks Reality Check

RVing in California used to be a no-brainer, with endless choices of accommodations wherever you went. But not anymore. As we made our way up from the vast stretches of SoCal’s open desert into more populated areas, we were shocked at what we discovered.

Humboldt County RVing Redwoods

Driving north into Humboldt County.

Plan Well to Cope with California’s Crowded RV Parks

If you ever make your way up into the far northwest reaches of the Golden State, you’ll fall in love with the weather and natural beauty. While the rest of the nation is still waking up from winter slumber, most of California is enjoying springtime weather.

Being a dog is great too. In Humboldt County, you can walk on the beach for miles without bumping into people.

Humboldt County beaches

Plenty of elbow room for dogs on Humboldt County beaches.

The journey from south to north is best made this time of year, but there’s only one problem: you’ll have major challenges finding affordable and reasonable RV accommodations. As summer approaches, bank on it getting worse. For instance:

  • Dry camping at a state park costs almost as much as a full-hookup parking spot in RV parks.
  • Free camping is practically non-existent in urban areas.
  • RV parks of every kind are packed with full-time residents. Good luck finding a spot.

The last point is what shocked us the most. California has always been a pricey place to live, but in the ten years since we hit the road, one thing is obvious when you pull into parks. Many residents are using RVs as permanent, long-term shelter. The California Housing Crunch is at epic proportions. And it will affect your RV travels here. Even our Passport America discount couldn’t save us more than once.

From the moment we pulled into Kit Fox RV Park, located in the former ag-town of Patterson, we knew the crowds weren’t just vacationers or snowbirds headed home.

The California Dream Gone Awry

Four years ago when we stayed here along Interstate 5, Kit Fox RV Park was nearly empty. This time around, only a few back-in spaces remained for overnighters. Today it’s crammed with working-age renters with kids, dogs and RVs in varying levels of condition. Every morning they leave to go to work, presumably in the Bay Area.

Trying to find a spot for more than a few nights became tougher as we wound our way up into our old stomping grounds of Humboldt County. Every RV park, whether it was a “nice” park or a crappy fairgrounds, was full of permanent residents. By the time we made it to Redwoodneck Acres Fairgrounds in our former home town of Eureka, the scope of the problem was magnified a hundred times over.

California's crowded RV parks

Redwood Acres is now a housing development.

This wasn’t our first visit to Redwood Acres and we thought we knew what to expect. But this visit turned our expectations upside down. The fairgrounds was never meant to house permanent residents, but now the near-capacity, tight parking spots have morphed into a permanent housing development. Ramshackle RVs with tarps are the norm, housing families who appear to be clinging onto the last affordable housing in a county that was relatively affordable when we left in 2007. The school bus arrives to pick up kids every week day. People are living lives in a gravel parking lot with no amenities other than a run-down restroom facility.

Modern Hooverville Parks Reveal the Future

California's crowded RV parks

They are not overnighters.

We had deja vu after leaving Humboldt. On our way out of California, we pulled into the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley, a small farm town off Highway 99. This spot had a 4-star rating from 2013 on RVParkReviews.com. We figured “How bad could it be?” When we arrived, we turned around and left. The park was in such bad shape and the RVs so dilapidated, we had to leave after our three-week, rainy stint at Redwood Acres. We cracked open our wallet and headed 20 minutes north to the overpriced but swanky Feather Falls KOA Resort in Oroville. After parking on a nice, grassy and wide-open spot, we thanked the Universe for our blessings. At least we had the option to be there.

No matter what your politics are, if you look around many of California’s crowded RV parks without stay restrictions, you cannot deny what you see. The lack of obtainable jobs, education and opportunity for untold numbers of people is clearly growing. When hundreds of Hooverville shanty towns sprout up and people in one of the “richest” states on the planet cannot afford to live in “real” homes in established neighborhoods, our country has a major problem. It has long been said that California is the trend setter for the rest of the nation, even the globe. If that’s the case, we have more major problems ahead.

The question is, what are we all going to do about it?

 

 

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15 Responses to “California’s Crowded RV Parks Reality Check”

  1. Hi Rene & Jim,

    I’ve been meaning to reply to your post about a book that came across my Librarian’s desk (figuratively speaking). I started to read the galley of a book coming out in September. It scared the pooh out of me and I haven’t picked up again. The author takes a very negative view on work camping. Her thesis is that retirees can’t afford to retire and are forced to live in RVs full time and get subjected to Amazon’s poor work conditions as well as other negative workcamping conditions. https://www.amazon.com/Nomadland-Surviving-America-Twenty-First-Century/dp/039324931X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495137912&sr=8-1&keywords=nomadland

    As someone who would like to semi-retire early, I had to do some deep breathing after reading just a couple of chapters.

    • Teri, thanks for bringing this book to our attention. We remember that author’s Atlantic Magazine article well. What a biased, junk journalism piece of sensationalist crap! Don’t let it sway you from living your dream. Most of it is totally exaggerated and not what we have found to be true in our 10 years on the road and workamping. I’m curious about the book, if only to review it for my writing assignments. Would it be possible to get the hard copy from you? If so please contact us. Thanks so much.

      • I had a feeling you would recognize the author’s work. I sensed she had a huge bias about the lifestyle.
        I don’t have access to a hard copy. If the publisher sends me a copy, I will share it with you. I don’t get that many hard copies. Since you review books and write articles, you might be able to be approved to get digital ARCs or galleys. Nomadland was available from here: http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com and the other place I get galleys: netgalley.com. I signed up as a librarian but they also approve Writers & bloggers who review books. I’ve seen lots of reviews on Goodreads that note they received a galley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. You just can’t ship most the middle class jobs to China and expect those displaced to become coders/programmed. It doesn’t work.
    I’ve spent a long time as an RV’er and volunteering in the affordable housing development & policy sector. It’s a major problem all along the West Coast.

    • Couldn’t agree more Scott. Without bigger government investments in education and training for all occupations, this will continue.

  3. California visitors are among the most transient of any state. I think more of the problem besides the obvious high cost of land and taxes is that unethical park owners are allowed to operate the dumps while still collecting fat rent checks without having to maintain or invest in the parks. For a state that is so highly regulated they sure have an enforcement problem. Don’t get us started on their state parks, poor management, aging or non-existent services and billions of tourism dollars are literally going elsewhere.

  4. Great article! Found you through RVDailyReport. We are Californians and we are also full time RVers. Without getting in to my background or experience I can tell you that California is not leading anyone anywhere this time. The state politically, socially and economically has been led so far astray that it will likely not find its way back. For example there are two bills before the State Legislature with a high likelihood of passing: 1. a mandate requiring all electricity to come from renewable power 2. a mandate requiring ALL vehicles be all electric by 2030ish. They are also working on regs to make gas powered appliances illegal also.

    Already professionals are predicting a 40% increase in electricity rates in the state within the next 4 years due to existing, but not yet implemented, regulations. Just this last week it was reported that the state experienced the largest outflow of “educated” residents in history. Smart folks are leaving while the folks who can’t are stuck in this socialist mess.

    In 5 years people will wonder “what he heck happened to California” when the rest of the country is humming along and this state is in the dumps.

    As for us, thanks to the soon to pass ACA repeal, we will be finally “moving” to a friendly state!

    Oh and we are currently in Oceano CA paying $58 per night in a complete dump! Last week we were in Lompoc where we witnessed a homeless persons pitbull viciously kill another “regular” RVers small dog.

  5. Wow, thanks everyone for confirming what we saw throughout California. It came as a big shock to us because we spend most of our time in remote areas. The more we saw this scenario played out all over the state, the more I wondered if the big rebound of the RV industry’s annual sales is connected to this situation. Are more RVs being sold because people need them for permanent housing? I venture to guess that yes, that’s probably the case. In the packed RV parks, many of the brand new looking models were clearly housing permanent residents.

    This whole situation reminded us of our first year on the road in 2007. As we drove through the upper Midwest we saw ominous signs of the coming recession, while the rest of the country was still doing a happy dance over real estate sales. In Michigan, motorcycles and boats were for sale everywhere, and right outside of Detroit there were tons of homes for sale. This wasn’t the case in the rest of the country — yet. So now I wonder, are these packed RV parks signs of something much worse just ahead? I fear that it could be, and I have no idea what to do about it.

  6. I have seen this as well. I saw another article illustrating your point today. It is a premium now to stay at a true “recreational” park vs one which has become more like permenant housing.

    http://m.independentnews.com/news/rv-residents-at-fairgrounds-concerned-about-moving/article_4e231e3c-3048-11e7-baa4-172457157dd8.html

  7. This is heartbreaking, but not unexpected. We left California in 1979, and attempted to return in 1989. But housing affordable housing near where jobs were, was scarce then. Tried it again in 2002, our last attempt, it was impossible to afford housing and find jobs that would cover the cost. We visited in 2009, and I remember the price of a 2lb loaf of Velveeta was about $10, where it was only $6 in Texas. Same with milk and other groceries. We never could afford to go home, again. I’m not surprised so many people have resorted to RV living.

  8. California State Parks are poorly maintained and a rip-off. The RV homeless are even more evident in urban LA. After living in the LA area for 16 years we sold our house, moved our domicile back to Oregon, and bought an RV. I feel for people still struggling in California but don’t see a solution.

  9. A year ago my wife and I retired and we began our travels up the California and Oregon Coast and we found exactly what you are describing. It was a huge shock to find that we had to do so much pre planning and make reservations a week or two in advance in order to stay a couple of nights at a so-so park. Many parks are just full time housing for small mobile homes. One park in Auburn that we were able to stay a month at had 70 spaces with only four over night spaces available for travelers. Every other space was for monthly’s. I often mentioned the lack of space to the folks behind the desks at the parks we stopped at and they told me they were hearing the same thing all the time.

    It looks like a serious problem on the California and Oregon Coast and I wonder if it won’t have a big impact on the RV industry in the West if folks don’t have places to go. Another issue is finding affordable storage for the RV that isn’t 60 miles out of town when you’re not using it.

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