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
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
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 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.
Sample Thousand Trails Camping Costs
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
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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Why We Said No to Thousand Trails
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- Average price is $18-35 per night
- American the Beautiful Senior Pass or Access Pass saves you 50%
- We have stayed for as little as $9 a night
- Beautiful campgrounds that are always on the water
- Anyone can camp, you don’t need an affiliation with the military
- 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.
- The benefits of staying on military installations include safety, ability to meet more veterans, MWR activities, commissary, exchange, and the package store
- We have paid $18-50 per night and $450 monthly, but it could cost more in high-cost areas such as California
- We love using military campgrounds for monthly stays such as when we have doctors appts
- 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.
- Boondocking on private property
- Membership program $50 per year
- Unlimited use
- Locations can be found on the website like an Airbnb
- Over 2000 available hosts
- You can see Host locations before signing up for a membership
- You can stay multiple nights. Our longest stay is 5 days.
- Many of the hosts have hookups! The listing will have available amenities
- 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.
If you have been a part of our community for a while, you know how much we LOVE Harvest Hosts.
- Harvest Host is a camping membership
- It costs $79 per year for the basic plan and another $29 to add golf courses
- Membership allows you to stay overnight at 1037 businesses
- Farms, museums, wineries, breweries, amusement parks, and golf courses are included
- The businesses don’t charge extra when you arrive, but they hope you will purchase a meal, tasting, fresh fruit or veggies
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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