Luxury RV Parks Make Roughing it Easier
The sun was setting in the high desert mountains east of Los Angeles, meat was sizzling on the grill, and a throng of people milled around an outdoor kitchen, sipping red wine and laughing. The hosts of the party, Roger and Sandy Schield, circulated through the crowd, topping off glasses, shooting jokes and putting out platters of food to keep the mood light.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some guests were sitting on plush chairs next to the rock fireplace, while others gazed at the flat-screen TV, sat at the bar or ambled over to the artificial waterfall.
It could have been a party in the backyard of any upscale home except for one thing: This was an RV park.
Gone are the days when recreational vehicle parks were rustic campgrounds with dirt roads, wooden picnic tables and a single pay phone. Now many of them, like Outdoor Resorts Rancho California, in Aguanga (Riverside County), where the Schields own a lot, resemble country clubs, with their manicured lawns, golf courses, clubhouses, swimming pools and tennis courts. Some parks are going even further and adding water slides, spas, restaurants and summer camps for children.
“Campers expect a Ritz-Carlton type of experience,” said Randall Henderson, founder of Outdoor Resorts of America and president of resort development at Coburg, Ore.-based builder Monaco Coach Corp.
Parked behind the Schields’ open-air kitchen, bar and living room is their 40-foot-long RV. Outfitted with granite countertops, satellite television and a washer and dryer, it sits on a 3,800-square-foot lot the couple bought and remodeled last year. Their “neighborhood” is lined with similar vehicles, which cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1.4 million.
“All the owners get to play golf for free,” said Roger Schield, 70. “How many places can you do that? You can’t. When it comes down to it, it’s the peacefulness and the quiet of the area that draws us here.”
While there are RV parks across the country, most of the upscale ones are in places where there are a lot of second homes, like Nevada, Florida, Texas and Southern California. The Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, Texas, added covered RV storage last month and will open guest cottages with private patios in the fall. At Elk Meadow Lodge and RV Resort in Estes Park, Colo., there are outdoor chuck-wagon dinners with comedy shows and dances this year.
The Chronicle reported that industry representatives say residents of high-end parks like these are changing what it means to travel in an RV. Hitting the road means taking all the amenities of home with them, like cable television and Internet access. It’s a sharp difference from the experiences of their parents, who often liked to pitch a tent and camp in the woods.
“The World War II generation was used to going without, and they knew how to do things, or at least they weren’t afraid of cooking over a fire,” said Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds in Falls Church, Va. “Baby Boomers want everything to be fed to them, and they want it to be easy.”
The lifestyle in these parks doesn’t come cheap. A parking spot, which can be a plain concrete pad or have build outs like an outdoor kitchen and bar, can cost $68,000 to $280,000. At Aguanga, a concrete pad generally sells for $80,000 to $120,000. A monthly fee of $330 includes daily trash pickup, water, sewer, cable TV and golfing for members. Owners can rent out their lots when they’re not there for $55 a night.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), one of the country’s oldest operators, has also been going upscale, adding dog parks, jumping pillows, splash pads, swimming pools, exercise classes, patios and campfire pits to some of its 450 parks. This year, it is rolling out its own brand of coffee and cafes. “We have to be all things to all people,” said Mike Gast, KOA’s spokesman.