Campgrounds: Our recommendations

We were still on the road, making our way back from Montana, when I promised that I’d post thumbnail reviews, good or bad, of places we’ve stayed since March. I apologize that it’s taken me a couple of months to pull everything together, but I’m ready to share.

I’ve divided the campgrounds into three categories: recommendations, qualified recommendations and probably-wouldn’t-go-backs. Each group is listed in alphabetical order. Click on any of the parks’ names to go to its website for more information.

Recommended: 7th Ranch RV Park

First, here are the places we unapologetically recommend:

  • 7th Ranch RV Park (Garryowen, Montana): The closest campground to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, this park surprised us. No pool or fancy amenities (other than a corral for guests’ horses) but the peaceful prairie setting won us over. Well-maintained, probably the best-designed place we stayed.
  • Abilene KOA Journey (Abilene, Texas): The word we’d use to describe the Abilene KOA is “welcoming” — entering the park through a tunnel of trees gave us a sense of arriving where we belonged (and offered relief from the Texas heat). Typical KOA, very well kept. Great camp store.
  • Amarillo KOA Journey (Amarillo, Texas): Another typical KOA, definitely up to standards. Great camp store. Free limo rides to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. Bonus points for knowing how to keep guests apprised under the threat of severe weather.
  • Anchor Down RV Resort (Dandridge, Tennessee): There’s truly nothing to fault about Anchor Down — it’s Disney World for RVers, expensive but worth the money just to say we spent a couple of nights there. Setting, amenities, design, upkeep, everything was top-shelf. Be sure to reserve a site with a fireplace.
  • Belvidere East/Exit 170 KOA Journey (Midland, South Dakota): Another prairie surprise for us, the Belvidere KOA had all that we expect from a campground. Isolated as it is (81 miles from the closest Walmart or fast food), everything required is provided in the camp store and by an on-site “café” that delivers. Best WiFi we’ve had during our journey, plus cable TV. Super hosts. The sunsets and night skies are the best amenities.
  • Cardwell General Store & Campground (Cardwell, Montana): A place we wish we could’ve spent more than one night. Easy access from I-90 (without being too close to the highway) and a picturesque valley setting. On-site gas, diesel, convenience store and sweet shop. (I recommend the huckleberry milkshakes.) Great hosts: “We have beer and cigars. What else do you need?”
  • Dakota Campground (Mitchell, South Dakota): I could argue that this was the best value of any place we stayed, one of two parks (along with the Belvidere KOA) where we camped both on the way to Montana and on our way back. The entire campground is located in a grove of mature trees, mitigating both heat and wind. Close to every service one might need, including a top-notch vet clinic that saved Dipstick’s life. WiFi was solid. Hosts were outstanding.
  • Des Moines West KOA Holiday (Adel, Iowa): KOA can be proud of this campground — it checks all the boxes, from amenities to programs to general tidiness, and everything was perfect. Great rural setting and helpful hosts. Close to the John Wayne Birthplace and the covered bridges of Madison County.
  • FMCA Campground (Cincinnati, Ohio): The first place we camped in Ernie. Nothing special, really — a “concrete park” with no amenities other than a dog park, but truly an ideal stopover for a night or two. FMCA members (we are) get two nights free each month.
  • Harrison KOA Holiday (Harrison, Arkansas): Featured in today’s header image, hands-down our favorite campground. Though it’s in the midst of expansion and doesn’t yet have the full menu of “Holiday” amenities, it’s relentlessly maintained. A full slate of cable channels and excellent WiFi, second only to the Belvidere KOA. Best hosts in the business. We’ve spent months here over three stays in northern Arkansas, and the Harrison KOA Holiday has earned our highest recommendation.
  • Mustang Run RV Park (Yukon, Oklahoma): Another “concrete park,” this one comes with amenities. No criticism whatsoever, great campground. Bonus points for having three underground tornado shelters (which we almost had to use).
  • Ontheway RV Park (Louisiana, Missouri): Fact is, this is nothing but a tidy gravel parking lot with hookups. That’s it. The hosts dropped by to help us get situated. At just $25 a night, Ontheway is a winner.
  • Polson/Flathead Lake KOA Holiday (Polson, Montana): Admittedly, a hillside park overlooking Flathead Lake and the Mission Mountains would be hard to screw up, but the Polson KOA makes the most of it — amenities, programs, upkeep, everything was outstanding. Maybe the best camp store we saw in our travels. The weekly huckleberry pancake breakfast is a can’t-miss. There’s nothing we didn’t love about the place.
  • Two Rivers Landing RV Resort (Sevierville, Tennessee): Here’s another place we wanted to stay longer (and at a time of year when all of its amenities would be operating). Perhaps the most meticulously maintained place we stayed. Great setting on the French Broad River. Absolutely perfect in every way.
Recommended: Polson/Flathead Lake KOA Holiday

In this group are parks we still recommend, even though they weren’t quite perfect:

  • Billings KOA Holiday (Billings, Montana): This is KOA #1, the original Kampground, and it has every amenity imaginable — from mini-golf to pool to playground. It’s right next to a spectacular stretch of the Yellowstone River. We found that the park is not, however, maintained to KOA standards.
  • Blue Ox RV Park (Pender, Nebraska): Adjacent to Blue Ox headquarters in Nebraska’s endless rolling farmland, this was a good stop. And for Blue Ox customers like us, it’s free. Though the hookups and pad were fine, the grounds were shabby (as in completely ignored). Not a good look for a company campground.
  • Cook’s RV Motor Park (Springfield, Missouri): Actually, this place is just fine — nothing special, not particularly polished. Great hosts. With some sprucing-up it might’ve gotten a higher recommendation from us.
  • Corbin/Laurel Lake KOA Journey (Corbin, Kentucky): I’d call this place “ordinary” — not the best KOA but far from the worst. Convenient to I-75, woodsy setting.
  • Glacier Peaks Campground & RV Park (Columbia Falls, Montana): The best thing about Glacier Peaks was that it is (for the area) relatively affordable, and that savings put us 20 miles from Glacier Park but closer to more services. Nothing fancy. A pleasant enough place to stay.
  • Lakeview Campground (Bull Shoals Lake, Lakeview, Arkansas): The wooded setting on Bull Shoals Lake is positively spectacular. Typical of Corps of Engineers parks, however, very few sites (including ours) can accommodate a 40-foot bus. We couldn’t get level. Electric-only.
  • Loyd Park at Joe Pool Lake (Grand Prairie, Texas): Like the Lakeview park, this was another wonderful setting, very well maintained, where the flat portion of our site was too short for us to get Ernie completely level. Still a great campground.
  • Lubbock RV Park (Lubbock, Texas): This was a close call — I almost put it in the third category. The hosts were rather standoffish and the place was tired-looking, with a dizzying array of signs commanding this and prohibiting that, but in the end I’d say that it was an acceptable place to stay. Level pad and good hookups. Storm shelter. We had trees.
  • Pigeon Forge RV Resort (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee): Here’s a place we wanted to love — well-kept grounds, super amenities, huge camp store, on-site pizza shop, right on the Pigeon Forge trolley line. The hosts are working hard to bring an old campground up to “resort” standards. We could even overlook the fact that it’s prone to flooding. Unfortunately, it gets dinged because the sites are crammed ridiculously close together.
  • Terre Haute Campground (Terre Haute, Indiana): I’d compare this former KOA to the one in Corbin, Kentucky — ordinary, but just fine. Petting zoo.
  • West Glacier RV Park (West Glacier, Montana): This is the closest campground to the West Entrance to Glacier Park, which means that it can charge whatever it wants — and it does. The high rates keep it from getting a high recommendation. If you want to be close to the park, though, this is a great place. Just be prepared to pay for the privilege.
  • White River Campground & Cabins (Flippin, Arkansas): When we camped there, right on the banks of the White River across from Cotter, this campground looked like it could use some serious love — it was a bit run-down. We’d go back, however, because it was solid. Since we left it’s come under new ownership, and that’s a promising sign.
Recommended: Mustang Run RV Park

Last, these are places we’d probably avoid for one or another reason:

  • All Seasons RV Park (Rozet, Wyoming): Easily the grubbiest place we’ve stayed in the last nine months. Self-serve park, no hosts. Glad we were there only one night. On the other hand, it’s the only campground on a lonely stretch of I-90 and the hookups were ok.
  • Dick’s RV Park (Great Falls, Montana): We chose this large park out of necessity, the only place we could get in to avoid driving Ernie in “red flag” wind conditions. It’s tucked between two elevated highways and a rail line — not the sort of campground we’d return to unless we had no other options.
  • Joplin KOA Journey (Joplin, Missouri): This place surprised us, and not in a good way — it definitely doesn’t measure up to what we expect from a KOA. If it doesn’t get some TLC, I wouldn’t be shocked if it loses its franchise.
  • Kansas City East/Oak Grove KOA Holiday (Oak Grove, Missouri): I almost moved the KC KOA up to the higher level — it wasn’t awful, really, typical KOA. A fine campground. What would keep us away is that it’s situated right on I-70. We don’t mind a little highway noise, but this was downright maddening.
  • North Sioux City KOA Holiday (North Sioux City, South Dakota): The only “gated” place we stayed, this was a little too urban for our liking. It had the shabbiness of the Joplin KOA and the noise of the KC KOA. Next time we’d drive past this one and look for something else.
  • Shelby RV Park & Resort (Shelby, Montana): See the word “resort” in the name of this campground? That’s because its ungroomed gravel sites are on an all-but-treeless hillside next to a Comfort Inn & Suites — and, allegedly, we had access to the hotel’s pool, hot tub and exercise room. Let’s just say that it didn’t look appealing.
  • Texas Ranch RV Park & Resort (Alvarado, Texas): As much as I hate to knock a place because the weather sucked, torrential rains caused this park’s sewer system to back up when we were there, flooding the grounds with inescapable nastiness. That made a memory we can’t shake. No, thanks.
  • Whistler Gulch RV Park & Campground (Deadwood, South Dakota): We truly enjoyed the setting of this park, its proximity to Historic Deadwood and being right on the trolley line. The sites are terraced into a hillside, however, narrow and close with almost no room to maneuver a large rig. If we’re ever in the area again we’ll choose a campground farther out of town.

It’s worth noting that we had exactly zero practical problems at any of the places we stayed. Water, sewer and electric hookups were, without exception, fine.

As we used to say, “your mileage may vary.” Travel is an exercise in adapting to circumstances. Just get out there and live your best life.

Recommended: Belvidere East/Exit 170 KOA

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

#LetsGoBrandon #FJB

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