When researching campgrounds, you may run across the three-letter designation COE. It’s an abbreviation for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is one of several federal agencies that operate campgrounds.
Camping seems like an odd sideline for a military branch or an agency that builds things, so let’s investigate. What exactly is the Corps of Engineers, and what can you expect at its campgrounds? Are these places you’d like to spend the night? Let’s find out!
What Is the Army Corps of Engineers?
Founded in 1802, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal agency in charge of public works. This construction-minded arm of the U.S. Army builds military facilities worldwide, and it also does important work at home.
A big part of the Corps’ domestic mission is to protect and restore our natural resources. This includes managing water, ensuring communities have enough of it, and it’s safe to drink.
To make all of this possible, the Corps designs, builds, and maintains dams and hydroelectric plants. While the agency has a military structure, most of its employees are civilians rather than Army personnel.
Did You Know? Establishing national monuments is another way the United States protects its lands and natural resources.
What Is an Army Corps Of Engineers (COE) Campground?
Many of the Corps of Engineers’ undertakings involve waterways and the public lands surrounding them, so recreation is a natural offshoot. They allow hunting and fishing on these properties, and camping is another way to make them accessible. In terms of amenities, COE campgrounds offer the basics. They’re not luxury resorts but are generally well maintained.
Where are COE Campgrounds Located?
With more than 400 properties in 43 states, the Corps of Engineers is a huge provider of recreation opportunities. Most of its campgrounds are on reservoirs, which are man-made lakes.
Chances are good; you’re not too far from a COE campground right now. According to the Corps’ website, 90 percent of its recreation areas are within 50 miles of a major city.
The Benefits of Corps of Engineers Campgrounds
People who love COE campgrounds say they’re a good value. They’re also not as crowded as other federal campgrounds. Meaning it’s easier to reserve a spot.
Because there’s usually no development allowed around COE sites, many of its campgrounds are in beautiful settings. Besides hunting and fishing, there are often opportunities for other outdoor activities. Kayaking, canoeing, cycling, and windsurfing are popular, and in some cases, you can even enjoy whitewater rafting or snorkeling.
Additionally, you can usually expect paved, level sites, well-kept grounds, and clean bathrooms with showers. Most of the campsites have playgrounds, and many of the lakes have docks and boat launches. Some even have beaches!
The Disadvantages of Corps of Engineers Campgrounds
Honestly, it’s hard to come up with many negatives about COE campgrounds. Some campers find their rules to be strict, especially the stay limits. But they all seem reasonable to us.
If you prefer camping in remote areas or boondocking, you may find COE facilities don’t offer a secluded feel. Also, the comforts are basic. Some Corps of Engineers campgrounds have full hookups, including sewer, but they’re the exception. Most campgrounds have water, electricity, and a dump station. And they usually have dry camping areas, too.
Can Anyone Stay at a COE Campground?
The Corps of Engineers campgrounds are open to the general public, and there are no restrictions on who can stay at them. The reservation process is similar to those for national park campgrounds. You can make a reservation in advance online at Recreation.gov and pay the fee upon arrival.
How Long Can You Stay at a COE Campground?
Staying longer than two weeks is wearing out your welcome at COE facilities. Like many other camping areas the federal government manages, the limit is 14 days in a 28-day period.
Did You Know? Dispersed camping on BLM land also has a 14-day stay limit.
These limits prevent people from moving in permanently and allow more people to take advantage of the campgrounds. The stay limit applies only to one Corps of Engineers campground at a time. In other words, when your time is up at one COE campground, you can move to another and stay 14 days again.
How Much Does a Night at a Corp of Engineers Campground Cost?
The cost varies from place to place, but many COE campgrounds have rates starting at under $30 a night. Some sites are as low as $22 a night, but $28 seems more common for partial hookups. If you want a campsite with full hookups, expect to pay $50 a night or more.
When making a reservation, research carefully. Some of the Corps’ recreation areas impose additional fees for things like parking and park entry.
Is Staying at Corp of Engineers Campgrounds Worth It?
COE facilities are not luxurious, so don’t show up expecting a resort atmosphere. Similarly, if you’re looking for a more secluded experience, they may not be suitable for you.
For those looking for a comfortable campground with well-maintained amenities, though, COE campgrounds are worth a visit. They’re a good value, and they offer the opportunity to explore areas you might not have discovered otherwise.
Have you ever stayed at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
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Thursday 8th of December 2022
Last month, we stayed at 2 COE cgs in OK and 2 in TX in order to try out our new E-bikes in warmer weather than a Colorado November. With our Lifetime Senior Passes, we paid a max of $15/night for a FHU campsite. We have stayed in COE cgs from NM to GA and TX to MN.
Tuesday 25th of January 2022
Hi, Maybe I missed it but I did not see a mention that seniors with an AMERICA PASS get 50% OFF their stay at COE campgrounds. This can be an important item for some of us. We are RV camping in 11 different COE campgrounds from March till June and all are 50% off. Saved us over $1000. For that price we could not buy propane and gas for a generator if we were boondocking.
Mortons on the Move
Thursday 27th of January 2022
Tuesday 25th of January 2022
C.O.E. campgrounds are tops. Your article did not mention that people ages 62 and older can purchase a "senior" pass for I believe $80 for life time of discounts. I did not mention the program name as it keeps changing. Ours was the Golden Pass and was $10 for a life time. The pass allows qualified holders free entrance to all federal parks and provides a 50% discount on camping fees. So that primo $28 campsite on the lake or river costs you just $14. We have years where the only campgrounds we stay at are C.O.E. combined with county, city and state parks. Yes we are dedicated senior C.O.E. babies. They do a great job.
Richard L Campbell
Monday 31st of January 2022
Plus, the Golden Passport is free for disabled individuals without regard to age.
Monday 24th of January 2022
My wife and I have stayed at many COE Campgrounds. We have never been disappointed . They don’t have all the Amenities that many private places have. One thing for sure, if you have a Senior pass camping is half price. We have reservations set for one in Florida.
Monday 24th of January 2022
I LOVE COE campgrounds! I always look for a Corps of Engineers campground... that's my first choice. We've been to one's on the canal and it was neat to watch the barges go up and down the river. We've been to ones that have not had Wi-Fi and we couldn't call out in an emergency but those are few and far between. We've been to some where the fishing was great and others where it wasn't so good. My reviews of all these campgrounds took place between 2008 and 2014.