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5 Reasons to Avoid KOA Campgrounds

KOA campgrounds are a staple in American camping. When you see the big yellow sign, it’s unmistakable. You probably think family-friendly, smores, and shuffleboard when you think of a KOA. But are they as inviting as they seem from the outside? We’re about to spill the beans and give you reasons why to avoid KOAs. Let’s dive in. 

KOAs are well-known as a staple of camping, but are they worth it?

What Are KOAs?

KOA stands for Kampgrounds of America. There are more than 500 of them across North America. Marketed as a home away from home for people of all ages, KOA campgrounds started in 1962, by Dave Drum, on land in Billings, Mont. Four years later, the first KOA franchise opened in Cody, Wyo. After that, franchises popped up from coast to coast and today there are more than 485 KOA campgrounds in the US.

KOA campgrounds promote traditional camping with modern campsites and conveniences. They pride themselves on friendly service and staff up with workampers who often escort you to your site. Most KOAs include RV sites and rental cabins.

The KOA brand is committed to giving back to its communities. They partner with organizations, including their Care Camps, in which they offer children with cancer a chance to relax with friends and have fun at a KOA. 

Types of KOA Campgrounds

We also need to mention how not all KOA campgrounds are created equal. There are three main distinctions you’ll notice as you encounter KOAs across the country: KOA Journey, KOA Holiday, and KOA Resort. As you might expect, these different types have different levels of amenities included and are geared towards certain types of travelers.

KOA Journey campgrounds are designed for convenience for the traveler. They have big pull-thru sites and may have fewer or simpler amenities. These are typically not located near major attractions, or are more conveniently located next to main roadways. While you can stay longer periods in these parks just fine, you may notice a lack of features one may be accustomed to in one of the other park types.

The KOA Holiday parks are the next step up. They are designed for staying and relaxing while you explore the attractions an area has to offer. While they have more fancy campsites available and more amenities than Journey parks, they don’t quite have the resort-feel of the KOA Resort parks.

KOA Resorts, as you may expect, are in the fanciest tier. Complete with pools, activities, and on-site features like restaurants, shops, and more, your vacation could simply be the park – no need to leave the campground.

Crescent City Redwoods KOA Campground Overview | Camping near Redwoods National Park

5 Reasons to Avoid KOA Campgrounds

So far, we’re making it sound like KOA campgrounds are pretty great, right? Well, they are but there are five reasons to avoid them. Of course, it depends on what type of camper you are, but keep reading to be sure.

KOA Campground
Depending on what type of camper you are, a KOA campground can be either an excellent or an awful experience.

#1 They’re Expensive

KOA campgrounds are expensive for the type of properties they are. They’re not all luxury RV resorts, but we would classify them above a state park since they usually have full hookups and amenities such as pools and more.

However, it’s challenging to rent a site at a KOA for less than $50 per night, even some of the lower-tier KOA Journeys. Depending on the location, type of KOA, and season, you might pay upwards of $100 per night. While camping at KOA may help ensure you’re in a clean and well-appointed campground, these generally high prices might be hard for all campers.

#2 They Get Crowded

Since KOAs are well known, and they’ve been around for many years, they’re popular. Getting a campsite at a KOA campground usually requires reservations well in advance. If you decide you’d like to stay longer, either you won’t be able to or you’ll likely have to switch sites.

With the family-friendly nature of the brand, activities like the pool and playgrounds are usually quite busy. Facilities like laundry and showers might also have lines and wait times. If you’re looking for a laid-back, slow-paced camp spot, a state park might be more your speed!

Pro Tip: Have to work while on the road? Or maybe there’s a can’t miss sport game you must stream! If you need internet, this is How to Find Campgrounds with WiFi.

Campers Parking at KOA
Due to their notoriety, KOA campgrounds can get crowded.

#3 They Can Be Noisy

With kids, dogs, and a crowded campground, there’s inevitably going to be noise. If you prefer a quiet getaway, a KOA is likely not going to suit your needs. KOA campgrounds are active and, therefore, noisy. There are always activities going on and people coming and going. 

This is exactly the goal of KOAs, however, so if you’re looking for an active, social space to bring your family this might just be the ticket.

Crowded RV parking lot in front of mountain at sunset.
Attracting large crowds, KOA campsites can get noisy.

#4 Sites May Be Close Together

Campsites at KOA campgrounds tend to be close together. This isn’t only a KOA issue, but we bring it up as it’s a fairly consistent issue across their campgrounds. Even some of their larger pull-through sites are tight on the sides, giving you little room if you have slide-outs on your RV. 

#5 You’re Closer to People, Farther from Nature

KOA campgrounds tend to be closer to people and conveniences in towns. While some are near nature, they’re not necessarily off the beaten path. If you’re looking for a camping experience that is slightly off-grid with hiking trails, a KOA probably isn’t the best option. 

For those wanting to go completely off-road, boondocking on public lands is a great option. You can get out into nature and may not see people for days. It’s the perfect way to have a quiet getaway in the great outdoors.

Pro Tip: Camping with your furry friends? Keep them comfortable with their own camper! Read more about Are Dog Campers Ridiculous or Awesome?

RVS at KOA campground
KOA campsites do typically come with many family friendly activities.

KOAs Aren’t All Bad

Not all KOA campgrounds are bad. Your camping preferences are largely going to inform whether a KOA is right for you. And since KOAs are franchised and owned individually, each has its own look and feel (once you get by the big yellow sign). The reality is that some aren’t managed as well as others, which can exacerbate issues. Everyone’s experience will differ, and you may need to see for yourself how you like the campground giant. 

However, KOAs often have pools, activities for kids, and a camp store. Some even serve food and have full-service dog parks and wash stations. The Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA, for example, has a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch. Plus, they have mini golf and a thermal hot springs heated pool, and spas. While their sites are close together, they do a great job of putting bushes and flowers in between to give you some privacy. 

Ventura Ranch KOA Campground Overview - Santa Paula, California

Is Staying at KOA Campgrounds Right for You?

We’ve given our case for reasons to avoid KOA campgrounds, but they might be right for you. If you have the opportunity to stay at a KOA, let us know how your experience was. Being part of the RV community affords us all opportunities to learn from each other and find those hidden gem campgrounds along our journeys.

Have you ever stayed at a KOA campground? What was your experience like? Drop a comment below!

campers at KOA

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Jerry

Saturday 6th of August 2022

As I'm reading this article I'm staying at a KOA in Oklahoma. I reserved to pull through camping spots for myself and my son and grandchildren for two nights and 3 days. While this is close to the highway and the highway noise can be heard it does not bother any of us when we sleep at night in our travel trailers after a day of activities. For the most part we've stayed at the campground partaking and swimming playground a little fishing and walking. This KOA is next to a restaurant convenience store and gas station which makes it convenient for many travelers who want just a quick overnight stay and fuel to continue on to the more nature campgrounds that they want to go to at national and state parks. Well everything you said is true in an article, koa's to offer some more rustic locations and pricing, is left up to the parties to do their due diligence and research. That's for me I'm going to stay at a KOA if the need arises as I travel are great nation.

Tara

Tuesday 19th of July 2022

To each their own. We love KOA's! We love the having some people around us and modern amenities. And we enjoy meeting the owners of each one. And the brand is consistent!

Mark and Judy Harvey

Thursday 7th of July 2022

In June/July of 1978, Mom & I tented from Oakland, Calif. to see several national parks (Crater Lake, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Gr. Canyon, Mts. Rainier & Shasta, Rocky Mt Natnl Park, etc. We stayed at KOA's bc we knew they'd be clean & have non-coin showers. Cost us $4 per night! FFWD to Aug., '21 thru June, '22 -- Each month, for 1 to 3 nights per month, my husband and I stay at a NJ KOA outside of Phila., PA. We live in PA but travel to NJ for alternative cancer treatments (infusions) & appts., labs for me, as I was diagnosed w/breast cancer/had surgery in May, '21. This NJ KOA has been a God-send for us. We travel with a 7 year old and 8 mo. old (high energy) Australian shepherd pup. KOA's dog park has allowed us to survive this ordeal! This KOA has about 441 campsites, each of them close together. In Aug., '21 we paid $61/night for a "value" (smaller) site. Scraped the side of our van on its fire ring. ARGH! Sept., '21 cost $67/night. In winter, $71 to $77/night. In June, '22, $84/night! Became a $35 rewards member, trying to get a discount, over time. This KOA is SUPER quiet! ALWAYS! Many of its campers go to work from here, so they are gone all day. Upon arrival, a golf cart chauffeur guides each camper to his assigned site. Reserving a specific site # costs $15 for each reservation date. Clean rest rooms & laundry. Full hook-ups for us. We request and "end" site, next to woods, so our reactive pup becomes less distracted by movement of those around him. Staff has been welcoming, flexible in re-scheduling appts. (snow days - could not travel), super-caring, knowing why we stay there each month (They are located 19 miles S. of the wellness center that I go to for treatments.). We cannot say enough good things about this KOA. We stay there on Sun. thru Weds. We are not "vacationing" while there. We just need a safe, quiet, restful place to stay the night before my appts. Upon our 1st arrival there, the "go cart" man told us of the close location of places to get gas/food. That info was SO needed by us! We continue to frequent those businesses.

Jimbo Edwards

Thursday 23rd of June 2022

I stayed at several as a paying customer before I started working for them. I have work for KOA at three properties for several years and now I’m going to work at my fourth one. I really enjoy them OK do patron and working as they are pretty much symmetrical as you may have the same things in one as in another. You’re not usually surprised by things being different as you go from one to another.

Timothy

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

I have been staying at KOAs for over 28 years. I travel from construction job to construction job. I like that I can go online and reserve a site. If there are no sites available, then I check the next KOA. The price is comparable to private campgrounds. I usually don't stop for the night until late. They will post my site number on their board. Unlike a lot of private campgrounds, if I come after dark, I have to call someone. The KOA campgrounds are easy to get to. Easy to maneuver in and out of then.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 24th of May 2022

Great points! KOAs are a convenient option if you're arriving after dark.

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