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We Said No to Thousand Trails: BEST DECISION EVER

Are you thinking about a Thousand Trails Membership? We thought about it before we went full time in our RV. But we said no to Thousand Trails. It is not a good fit for the way we RV. So many people ask us about Thousand Trails. We thought it was time to share all the reasons we decided not to join. 


What is Thousand Trails

Thousand Trails is a membership program with 81 campgrounds across the continental US. They offer several membership levels with different prices and rules for each. We won’t review every membership level, but let’s discuss a few levels to give you an idea of what it is all about.

Cheapest Membership Level

Thousand Trails zone pass region map, you me and the rv, say no to thousand trails
Zone Pass Regions

The entry-level membership is called the Zone Pass. You can choose from 5 different zones and 81 campgrounds, which are divided among those zones. The current cost for a zone is $599. Although there is an ongoing sale for $100 off the price of a Zone Pass. You can add on other zones to your initial zone purchase for $49.

  • Northeast – 14 Campground
  • Southeast – 23 Campgrounds
  • Northwest – 18 Campgrounds
  • Southwest – 18 Campgrounds
  • Midwest – 8 Campgrounds

After your first 30 days of use, you may be charged $3 per night for this membership. This membership level allows you to stay up to 14 consecutive nights, and then you have to leave the Thousand Trails system for 7 days. There may also be a high use restriction during peak seasons for the campground. Reservations can be booked up to 60 days out.

High-End Membership Level

thousand trails, you me and the rv, say no to thousand trails

The Elite Basic membership is a high-end Thousand Trails level less restrictions but at a higher price. If you purchase the membership as a resale (which is what I recommend), the average cost is about $3700, with an annual fee of around $600. 

This level will include all 81 campgrounds across the country. You can also stay up to 21 nights at one campsite before moving to the next Thousand Trails campground. Unlike the Zone Pass, you can stay 365 days a year at a Thousand Trails campground. Also, you can make reservations up to 120 days in advance. This level also may have high use restrictions and limit your stay to 14 days per campground during peak times. 

This Elite Basic membership includes a few bonuses. You will receive 50% off cabin rentals and discounts for up to 8 family members each year. 

Thousand Trails Add Ons

Thousand trails zone map with the trails collection, say no to thousand trails
Zone Pass and Trails Collection Campgrounds

Thousand Trails has a few upgrades that can be purchased and added to memberships. Prices and benefits will vary. We will review the Trails Collection. 

To purchase the Trails Collection, you must have an active Thousand Trails Membership. This add on is currently $299 and adds 108 Encore resorts to your membership. For 90 of those campgrounds, there will not be a nightly fee but the remaining 18 resorts require a nightly fee of $20. 

These resorts have a limited number of available sites, usually about 10. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. These resorts do not allow stays longer than 14 days. They also require 7 days out of the Trails Collection after 14 days. 

Boondocking with harvest host, favorite places to camp, you me and the rv
Boondocking at a Harvest Host Winery in New York

Sample Thousand Trails Camping Costs

campging fees

The best way to save money using a Thousand Trails membership is to use it as often as possible. Using the Elite Basic Membership purchased as a resale with the Trails Collection add on we will calculate nightly fees. The calculation will be for someone staying a full 365 days of the year in a Thousand Trails campground.

  • After 1 Year of Membership
    • $3700 resale purchase price + $600 annual fee + $299 add on = $4599 for initial cost
    • Nightly average after 1 year $12.60
  • After 2 years of Membership
    • $600 annual fee + $299 add on = $899 year 2 costs
    • $899 year 2 + $4599 year 1 = $5498 
    • Nightly average after 2 years $7.53
  • After 3 Years of Membership
    • $600 annual fee + $299 add on = $899 year 3 costs
    • $899 year 3 + $899 year 2 + $4599 year 1 = $6397
    • Nightly average after 3 years $5.84

The longer you have the membership, the cheaper your average nightly will be. By spreading the initial purchase price over the years you use the membership will lower your overall average nightly stay.

Now let’s do the same calculation for someone staying 6 months of the year at a Thousand Trails Campground.

  • Nightly average after 1 year: $25.27
  • Nightly average after 2 years: $15.06
  • Nightly average after 3 years: $11.69 diesen beitrag lesen

Staying only 90 days during the year at a Thousand Trails Campground

  • Nightly average after 1 year: $51.10
  • Nightly average after 2 years: $30.54
  • Nightly average after 3 years: $23.69

As you can see how often you use the parks will determine how quickly your initial investment will pay off. 


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New York Harvest Host, Say no to Thousand Trails, you me and the rv
Harvest Host Winery, New York

Why We Said No to Thousand Trails

Location

The location of the 81 campgrounds are very limited. You can see on the map above all the campgrounds are along the coast of the country, leaving a vast amount of the county without a Thousand Trail campground. We don’t want to plan our travels based on the location of a Thousand Trails campground.

military campground, colorado springs,
Peregrine Pines Military FamCamp, Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Private Campgrounds

Private campgrounds are our least favorite places to stay. If it were possible, we would never stay in a private campground. They are usually overcrowded and overpriced. We don’t need amenities such as pools and playgrounds, so we don’t want to pay for them.

Our preferred places to camp include

  • Army Corps of Engineer Campgrounds
  • State parks
  • National parks
  • City and county parks
  • Boondocking: BLM, Forestry land, water management land
  • Boondockers Welcome
  • Harvest Hosts
  • Military Campgrounds
Military campground
Fourth Cliff Recreation, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts

No Reservations

When we first started RVing, we made reservations for 3-4 months ahead of time. But it became a problem when we wanted to stay longer or change plans altogether. Now, we prefer to wing it. We book a day to a week in advance. The only time we book far out is for rallies, family events, or other special events like the Balloon Fest. 

The Thousand Trail parks can book up quickly, especially the campgrounds, with a limited number of available sites. So it would make it difficult for us to get reservations with such short notice. 

military campground
Fourth Cliff Recreation, Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts

Camping Costs

The main reason people join Thousand Trails is to save on camping costs. Our first year of full time, we averaged $16.50 per night without Thousand Trails. That is within our budget of $30 per night. Now that we have our lithium and solar we hope to boondock more frequently which will lower our nightly average.

Our second Nomadiversary will be May 12, 2020. We will calculate our full time RV living costs and share them with you at that time.

Our Full Cost Breakdown

Positive Thousand Trails Reviews

There are many people who love Thousand Trails memberships and use them regularly. Check out a view reviews from folks who have memberships.

*The Getaway Couple does an excellent job breaking down the costs of all the Thousand Trails membership levels in Thousand Trails Membership Options.  

Boondockers Welcome Fort Wayne, Indiana
Boondockers Welcome Fort Wayne, Indiana

Our Favorite Places to Camp

There are many options available for us to stay at reasonable prices. We choose a location we want to explore and then find a campground close by. We don’t mind driving up to 30-60 minutes to explore an area if the campground is right.  

Army Corps of Engineer

  1. Average price is $18-35 per night
  2. American the Beautiful Senior Pass or Access Pass saves you 50%
  3. We have stayed for as little as $9 a night
  4. Beautiful campgrounds that are always on the water
  5. Anyone can camp, you don’t need an affiliation with the military
  6. Many of the COE campgrounds do not have full hookups

Finding COE Camping: Our Favorite Place to Camp will provide more information on how to find and book a COE campground.

Our Favorite Army Corps of Engineer Campground

Military Campgrounds

  1. The benefits of staying on military installations include safety, ability to meet more veterans, MWR activities, commissary, exchange, and the package store
  2. We have paid $18-50 per night and $450 monthly, but it could cost more in high-cost areas such as California
  3. We love using military campgrounds for monthly stays such as when we have doctors appts 
  4. Monthly rates do not include extras fees such as electric 

The DOD updated the rules for access to military installations on January 1, 2020. If you are a military veteran you may qualify to use military campgrounds even if you did not retire. Check out Veteran Access to Military Campgrounds for more information.

Military Campground Review

Boondockers Welcome

  1. Boondocking on private property
  2. Membership program $50 per year
  3. Unlimited use
  4. Locations can be found on the website like an Airbnb
  5. Over 2000 available hosts  
  6. You can see Host locations before signing up for a membership 
  7. You can stay multiple nights. Our longest stay is 5 days.
  8. Many of the hosts have hookups! The listing will have available amenities 
  9. Some hosts may charge a small fee of $5 a day or ask for a donation if they provide amenities like electricity. But you are not required to use them 

We are affiliates for Boondockers Welcome. If you use the link and code: YouMeRV you can save on your membership.

Fort Wayne Boondockers Welcome

Harvest Host

If you have been a part of our community for a while, you know how much we LOVE Harvest Hosts.

  1. Harvest Host is a camping membership 
  2. It costs $79 per year for the basic plan and another $29 to add golf courses
  3. Membership allows you to stay overnight at 1037 businesses
  4. Farms, museums, wineries, breweries, amusement parks, and golf courses are included
  5. The businesses don’t charge extra when you arrive, but they hope you will purchase a meal, tasting, fresh fruit or veggies
  6. If you don’t drink, don’t worry 45% of Harvest Hosts are not alcohol-related businesses

We are Harvest Hosts affiliates use this link and the code HHFRIENDS15 to save 15% on your membership

Our favorite Harvest Host was an Alpaca farm in Maine. We saw the birth of a baby alpaca. It was a fantastic experience. Red, the owner, was so nice! You have to check out the video. It is one of our best!

Our Favorite Harvest Host

Boondocking

We love the peace and beauty that we have found while boondocking. The stars are brighter, the air is fresher, and the songs of the birds are sweeter. We have stayed on BLM land in Arizona, Forestry land in New Mexico, and water management district land in Florida.

Boondocking on BLM land, you, me and the RV, say no to Thousand Trail
Boondocking at Empire Ranch, Arizona

City Parks and County Parks

These are some of the best-kept secrets of campers! Sometimes they are a little harder to find but worth it. Most of the time, they are small, quiet campgrounds. We have stayed for as little as $9 a night with full hookups! They may not always have full hookups, but they are always hidden gems. I find them by using Allstays and RV Trip Wizard.

Boondocking in Quartzsite, AZ, say not to thousand trails
Boondocking in Quartzsite, Arizona

State Parks

We all know about state parks and how great they are, but did you know many will give you a discount if you have an America the Beautiful senior pass or Access Pass? Not all states allow the discount, but some will so don’t forget to look at check out. 

Reserve America does not allow the discount. So if you are booking using this platform, you will not be permitted the discount.

Alafia River State Park, Lithia, Florida, say no to thousand trails
Alafia River State Park, Lithia, Florida

Will We Ever Buy Thousand Trails

Although we make a point to never say never currently, the answer is a strong no.


Before You Buy a Thousand Trails

Find out how you want to RV before you purchase any membership. There is not just one way to RV. You just have to figure out your preferred camping style.

  • Boondock most of the time
  • Full hookups ONLY
  • Only national or state parks
  • Everything in between

If you prefer national parks or boondocking, then Thousand Trails may not be a good buy for you. But if you only stay at locations with full hookups, then it might be an excellent fit for you. 

Talk to everyone you can find with a Thousand Trails membership and ask them what they love most about it and what they hate about it. Also, ask them how often they like or dislike the campgrounds under the Thousand Trails umbrella. It might help you make your decision.

Boondocking on Water Management Land in Florida
Boondocking on Water Management Land in Florida

Buyer Beware

If you are planning to purchase your own membership, look closely at the reviews of the campgrounds. We have heard and read a lot of negative reviews about many of the campgrounds included in the membership. You may not have a choice in which site you are assigned and may be stuck in the least popular site in the park.

Boondockers Welcome, New Hampshire, say no to Thousand Trails
Boondockers Welcome, New Hampshire

Don’t Buy New! 

Buy a resale. People stop RVing all the time for one reason or another and sell their Thousand Trail membership. This will slash your costs. The Getaway Couple can help you purchase resale in Thousand Trails Membership Options.


Thousand Trails Questions

We hope this answers some of your questions about Thousand Trails. We also hope it will make the decision easier for you. The best decision is always an informed decision.

Thanks for stopping by. We hope to see you on the road someday!

Phil & Stacy

Author Stacy, You, Me & the RV, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, 2020

Disclosures: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate programs. These programs are affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and other affiliated sites. It does not cost you anything to use these links.

10 Comments

  • Avatar

    Liz

    One other thing to consider. If you are a tent camper you are restricted to 7 days no matter what your contract says. I’m a tent camper by choice because RVs are not for camping and I like the feel of camping. I inherited my membership which cost my parents the equivalent of $12000 in today’s dollars. Yearly maintenance dues are several hundred dollars. But they don’t like tent campers for some reason. So hard these days to actually camp instead of glamp.

  • Avatar

    Richard Hubert

    Phil & stacey –

    Have posted our experience with Thousand Trails – which was very positive.

    But one thing I did not mention was how else we “camp” in our RV. We are full timers and
    also have memberships to Escapees, Harvest Hosts, Good Sam and Passport America. Also like to boondock and stay in State and local parks when possible. So while we love Thousand Trails they are not always the best option. So like you we try to use all available resources. But for the travel routing I outlined in my other post Thousand Trails worked great. For our future travels up through the western Mountain states they have nothing to offer – too bad but we have other options.

    For you – since you are apparently retired military you have some additional options we do not. Plus you seem to strive for variety, and get that through all your options – in total agreement on that.

    Hope we can run into you guys on our travels around this great country!

    • Avatar

      Treva

      we have Harvest host and really enjoy its options. We also have thousand trails that we were given with our motorhome when we purchased. We only have a 1 zone pass at this time. Unfortunately we havent been able to use it much. We mostly stay at state and nationalnparks. When my husband was in the airforce we used some military campgrounds. Unfortunately he did not retire from there and we are unable to use them now. We don’t full time but alsobuse city parks for some destinations.

  • Avatar

    Richard Hubert

    Thousand Trails Membership Comments –

    Have had the basic Thousand Trails Membership for 2 years – 1st time because it came with the RV (38’ Winnebago Class A) we bought (from the dealer), and the 2nd time because we were traveling on the West Coast and then Florida. We love Thousand Trails and will renew again – depending on our travel plans.

    In our 2nd year we have used Thousand Trails (and Encore in FL) parks extensively. Our initial membership was just for the NW Zone, but we added the SW zone as it included California. We traveled up through CA, and then into Oregon and Washington, with much more time on the Oregon coast. Spent many weeks in many of the T.T. parks there, and they were quite nice and in good locations.

    As we came into the fall we came back down into CA staying at several more T.T., including one of the best – Yosemite Lakes, a few miles outside the entrance to Yosemite N.P.. Beautiful park in a great location. Left there and traveled over to Las Vegas, spending 2 weeks in the T.T. park there. Added the SE zone to our account, and then headed directly cross country, spending some time in one of T.T. parks in TN before heading down into Florida. Stayed at all 3 T.T. resorts there, but quickly realized that we needed more options since FL is a big state and the 3 parks there did not provide comprehensive stay coverage. So we signed up for Trails Collection so we could then stay at a number of the Encore parks there. As spring came we headed north through Georgia, S. Carolina and N. Carolina, spending our last 2 weeks in the T.T. park on Lake Gaston, NC. Beautiful!

    Continuing north we left the SE zone, but did not sign up for the NE zone as their park coverage there was much less, and we have family throughout New England where we could mochdock.

    So – in summary of all that travel – over the course of a year –

    Cost –
    Thousand Trails Basic – $425
    Additional Zones – 98
    Trails Collection – 199
    TOTAL – $722

    Nights –
    Thousand Trails – 98
    Trails Collection (Encore) – 28
    TOTAL – 126

    Avg Cost/Night – $5.73

    So in terms of cost Thousand Trails worked out great for us.

    Further comments –

    T.T. Locations – as many have noted, locations of the Thousand Trails and Encore parks are very bi-coastal. Too bad no coverage in the Western Mountain states – Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. I know that many would love to have T.T. parks to stay at there.

    Park Conditions – most T.T. parks are good to excellent. Only stayed at 2 we thought were sub-standard (due to access issues), and a number we thought we superior. Never had a bad night in any of them.

    Reservations – We learned how to use their reservation system extensively. We always started on-line, but sometimes had to call in as the phone operators were able to see things / make changes that were not on-line. We did learn to never take no for answer. By that I mean – if no spots were available when & where we wanted to stay – we just kept checking. And this usually worked great as cancelations came in and spots opened up. Sometimes we would check the next closest park and could often find openings there. Also learned that often personnel at the park could help us as well on their computers.

    We would make reservations as far out as we could, which was usually only a few weeks.
    I know that a number dislike the T.T. reservation process, but we learned how to use it and make it work for us.

    One suggestion for T.T. – Add the ability to set up a Wish List, so when cancelations come in you know who would like to fill those vacancies.

    Overall we found Thousand Trails to be not only a great value, but to offer many parks in great locations. Personnel were always extremely friendly and helpful, and we will be signing up again once we can again begin travel.

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share all this information! I know it will help someone in research mode!! Safe travels.

    • Avatar

      Kathleen Kissee

      As full timers, we are considering the premier plan so we can jump from park to park with zero out time. As Getaway Couple suggested, we are looking at resellers.

      With COVID, a lot of CA State and County parks are closed and being our home base, it’s becoming expensive to stay in the private RV parks. We are looking at $1600 a month for August and September (peak time). We figure – why not take that money and sink it into TT?

  • Avatar

    Kenda

    We have purchased Harvest Host and Passport America, I am on the fence about Boondocker’s Welcome. What drew you to using them? Are there plenty of midwest US options? What memberships did you decide on for your first year? Did you adjust any of your memberships for year 2?

    Thank you!

    Kenda

    • Avatar

      Youmerv

      We had HH when we started out and added on BW when we were ready to reserve our first place. The beauty of BW is you can see the locations. So if you want to stay at one of their host locations that is when I would join. If it doesn’t fit your schedule or location hold off. We love being able to boondock for more than one day so we can explore the area.

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