Is a Thousand Trails Zone Pass right for you?

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One of the important aspects of planning for our RV lifestyle was putting together our budget. As we live, travel and work full-time from our RV, campgrounds fees had the potential to be one of our biggest monthly expenditures. We wanted to create as much certainty as possible around the financials so we could feel confident about pulling this whole thing off without blowing the budget! So before we even bought our RV and hit the road, we researched the various types of camping memberships available – Escapees to Passport America, RPI and Thousand Trails – to name a few. We liked the Thousand Trails (TT) model best as a starting point, as we felt their “Zone Park Pass” offered excellent value for money and was a great way for us to get started and try out their campground network, for a minimal investment.

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

Now, if you watched our “6 months on the road: Our 4 Biggest Changes” video update you would be aware that we ended up switching over to an Elite membership five months into our 12 month Zone Pass membership. If you are traveling extensively, this may also be a good option for you, but there is a whole smorgasbord of Thousand Trails membership options available and making sense of them all can get kind of complicated and confusing. That’s why we decided to share what we’ve learned about both the Thousand Trails Zone Park Pass and the TT Membership Upgrades (such as Elite, Platinum, Platinum Plus, Alliance) in two separate articles (as outlined below) that each focus on a certain membership type.

If you aren’t yet a Thousand Trails member and are exploring whether or not it’s right for you, then we’d recommend you start here and learn about the the benefits and limitations of the TT Zone Park Pass first.

If you already have a TT Zone Pass and/or plan to travel more extensively, I’d recommend you jump right over and read our other post: Thousand Trails Membership Upgrade: Elite, Platinum and more

Before we dive in, please keep in mind that we are by no means “experts” in this area, nor are we affiliated with Thousand Trails in any way. We’re just a regular couple who have invested a lot of time and energy in researching our options before spending our hard-earned cash and become TT members! It is our hope that by sharing what we’ve learned along the way, you will find it easier to determine the best kind of membership to suit your needs and get the best deal in the process.

Ready to learn more? Let’s go!

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

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What is Thousand Trails?

If you haven’t already discovered this by scouring their website, Thousand Trails (TT) is a national campground membership network of over 80 private RV resorts and campgrounds (also called preserves) in 22 US states and B.C., Canada. Most (not all) sites offer electrical, water and sewer hookups, BBQ pits and picnic tables. TT offers sites for all types of RVs, tent campers, rental accommodations such as cabins, cottages, travel trailers, yurts and even covered wagons! Facilities vary by location but typically include a clubhouse, tennis/pickleball courts, pool, hot tub, laundry, restrooms/showers, library, RV storage, store, nature/hiking trails, playground, game room, horseshoe pits and so on. Some locations have mini golf, fishing and organized activities. TT campgrounds are gated, providing security with a ranger station at the entrance (some manned 24 hours) with gate codes for member access.

TT has been operating as a member organization since 1969 and currently has over 100,000 member families. The way we see it, TT is kind of like a “campground timeshare” but with less cost and commitment.

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What is a Zone Park Pass?

The Zone Park Pass (also known as the Zone Pass) is an annual camping pass that gives you access to campgrounds in one, two or more “zones” around the country. The Zone Pass provides flexible, any-time access at TT campgrounds within the zones you select at the time of purchase. Thousand Trails has divided the country up into 5 zones: Southwest, Southeast, Northwest, Northeast and Midwest with each zone having between 13 and 23 campgrounds. You simply pay an annual fee to access the TT preserves – the number and locations available to you will depend on the “zone/s” you purchased as part of your membership.

The Zone Park Pass is kind of the “gateway drug” to Thousand Trails. It’s cheap, quick and easy to get started and, as a full-time RVer, once you start enjoying the benefits and appreciating the value you’re getting, you just may get hooked and want more! (That’s when you read our other blog post about upgrade options).

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What does a Zone Pass cost?

Strangely enough, there are a few different answers to this question – it all depends on who you speak to and what questions you ask!

At the time we purchased our Zone Pass in May 2014, they were running a “buy one zone, get one free” deal for $545, so we scored both the Northwest and Southwest Zones for that price. The sales rep we spoke to was keen to seal the deal, so she offered us a bonus – adding on Tahoe Valley RV Resort, an Encore property in South Lake Tahoe – this gave us access to a total of 37 campgrounds. She also advised that we could “swap” one of our zones during the year – for example, we could swap out the Northwest (or Southwest) Zone for say the Midwest Zone, effectively giving us access to 3 zones within a twelve month period, all for $545.

According to Thousand Trails website at the time of writing this article, a “One Zone Pass” still cost $545 for one year with no ongoing commitment. You can pay for one year and either renew it the following year or not. The TT website is no longer promoting the “buy one zone, get one free” promotion that we scored, so we called them this week to ask if we could still get that deal.

2017 UPDATE: This year, the cost of a Zone Pass increased to $565 and additional Zones are now available to add on for just $49 per zone. There is also a new Trails Collection add-on option available which gives you access to 110 Encore Properties nationally for just $199 per year. See our blog post to learn more about the Trails Collection.

2019 UPDATE: This year, the cost of a Zone Pass increased to $585 and additional Zones are $54 per zone. The Trails Collection add-on is now $214 per year. Click here to learn more.

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

The first sales rep I spoke to advised they have a new “two-zone” promotion and shared that if you want two zones (or more) the cost per zone goes down from $545 to $425 per zone, but there’s a catch – it requires a four (4) year commitment! So now, if you’re considering two zones at $425/zone over 4 years it ends up being a total commitment of $1,700! You can pay this monthly over the 4 years, which works out to be $35.41 per month and after the 4 years, you can cancel your contract by providing advance notice in writing. Now, if you’re a vacation camper who sticks to one or two areas, this may work for you. But if you’re planning to full-time and explore all of the states like us, this is unlikely to be the best option for you! We explain why further down.

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Knowing how ‘negotiable’ Thousand Trails can be when it comes to selling you a new membership option, the next day we decided to use their “live chat” feature to connect with another TT sales rep. This one quoted me $545 for one zone but was quick to offer a $100 discount if we paid in full that day, thus bringing the cost of one zone down to $445. Not bad. We then mentioned we knew other members who had purchased the “two zones for the price of one” deal for $545 last year and asked if that offer was still available. The “live chat” sales rep confirmed that if we committed today and paid upfront in full, they would honor last year’s deal of two zones for $545. Sweet! Sometimes it just pays to ask. 🙂

When you are ready to buy your zone pass, don’t just simply pay the first price TT quotes you! They can usually do better and you may be able to get the same deal down the track, even if you don’t buy it same day. Of course, we can’t guarantee it and they certainly won’t tell you that – they are trying to sell you a membership after all! If necessary, hang up the phone and call back to speak with a different sales rep and see if you get offered the same deal or manage to find something different.

Although they may not appear on the TT website, there are all kinds of promotional offers available behind the scenes, although you may need to ask some leading questions, such as:

  • If I commit and pay in full today, can I get two zones for the price of one?
  • Are there any bonus Encore properties available that you can add onto my membership?
  • Do I have the ability to swap out one of my zones for another within the year?
  • What are my options if I want to pay by the month?
  • What other promotional offers, options and bonuses are available?
  • What’s the best you can do if I pay for one year up-front today?

You may or may not be able to score a deal like we did, but even if you manage to buy the One Zone Pass upfront for $465, you’ll still find it a very affordable and easy way to travel and camp.

You may also notice a National Zone Camping Pass advertised on the TT website, offering access to all 5 zones for $2,995. We don’t recommend the National Park Pass as (in our opinion) it’s overpriced and does not deliver nearly as many benefits as an upgrade which you can get for much less. Save your money, keep reading this article (and then this one) before you even think about pulling your credit card out of your wallet!

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What do you get with a Zone Pass?

Here’s a snapshot of the Zone Pass terms and conditions, as outlined in our 2014 contract. These may be subject to change if Thousand Trails decides to amend the Zone Pass terms, but this gives you a good general overview:

  • TT Gone CampingAccess to all of the campgrounds in the zone(s) you select
  • Unlimited day use and unlimited overnight camping in your own RV or tent
  • Camp free for 30 nights each year
  • Stay additional nights for just $3 per night (includes electric, water, sewer)
  • Stay at one preserve for up to 14 consecutive nights, then stay out of the TT system for 7 nights before you stay again at any preserve
  • Stay up to 4 nights at any preserve and move immediately to another, without any time out of the system
  • Ability to make reservations up to 60 days in advance (online or by phone)
  • Ability to book rental units, cottages, trailers and yurts within the campgrounds
  • Access to low cost RV storage areas at many preserves
  • 20% discount when staying at Encore properties
  • Ability to add the new Trails Collection add-on with 110 Encore parks for just for $199 a year

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

Buyer Beware!

While the 4 year, $35.41 per month option may initially seem appealing, you need to remember that you are entering into a 4 year contract that you cannot cancel without paying out the balance in full. If you have any doubts at all about committing for that length of time, or if you are a full-timer who wants to keep your options open to upgrading your membership (as we did) at any time within the next 4 years, you will be better off just buying the One Zone Pass, paying for it upfront in full, and only being committed to a one year contract. The more you read and learn in this article (and the next) the more you will understand why.

What’s the average nightly campground fee with a TT Zone Pass?

If you’re prepared to move every 4 days and stay only within the TT network, you could theoretically camp 365 days a year with Thousand Trails for $545. This averages out at around $4.25 per night, after factoring in the $3/night after your first 30 nights of free camping. While not impossible, that’s a pretty frenetic pace for anyone to keep up for an entire year, not to mention geographically limiting, as Thousand Trails doesn’t have campgrounds in every areas you’d most likely want to visit.

So let’s look at the other option. If you camped 14 nights at a TT park, then stayed out of the system for 7 nights, 14 nights in, 7 nights out and so on for an entire year, you could theoretically camp within the TT network for about 243 nights a year, which averages out at $4.87 per night. You will also need to factor in the costs for camping out of the TT network. Let’s say you spend 16 weeks a year out of the TT system at $200 per week ($28.57 per night) and this adds up to around $3,200 a year. That means your overall annual camping fees would amount to just under $4,400, or $367 per month.

When you consider that most campgrounds with hookups range between $30-65 per night, it’s easy to see why Thousand Trails represents such good value, especially for full-timers like us! With electrical, water and sewer included, it’s pretty hard to beat.

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

What are our thoughts on the TT campgrounds?

While the purpose of this article isn’t to provide reviews of individual campgrounds, we can share a little about our experience, having stayed at dozens of their parks so far. It’s important to be aware that the size, location, sites, amenities and standard of each campground can vary quite widely. Here, we share a handful of examples to give you an idea of our likes and dislikes of some of the preserves we’ve visited.

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We’ve stayed at some parks that are very well maintained with excellent facilities, such as Palm Springs and Seaside and others that are very run down like Soledad Canyon in Acton, CA where a lot of the electrical sites are broken. We’ve experienced wonderful views and a lovely environment at Rancho Oso in Santa Barbara, CA and Ponderosa in Lotus, CA and we’ve been bored senseless at Lake Minden, CA (108 degree summer temps!) as we don’t really like fishing and they don’t have a pool. We’ve been nestled among lush, leafy green trees in Florence, OR and stuck in a dry dustbowl at Morgan Hill, CA (we know, it’s neither TT’s nor California’s fault there’s been a three year drought). We’ve had trouble getting our packages delivered to Pacific City, OR yet had mail and Amazon packages personally delivered to our door by the friendly rangers at both Cloverdale and Oakzanita Springs, CA. We’ve had insufficient cell signal/internet for us to work from Whaler’s Rest, OR and Rancho Oso, CA and enjoyed super fast, reliable connectivity at Chehalis and Mt Vernon, WA (among others). Navigating our 36 foot motorhome was a breeze in Birch Bay, WA and Palm Springs, CA and more of a challenge (though do-able) in Oakzanita Springs and Cloverdale, CA. Whaler’s Rest and Pacific City in Oregon were ideally located across the road from the beach while Soledad Canyon in Acton, CA was almost an hour’s drive by car away from the beaches, Santa Monica, Hollywood and other L.A. action. The campground in Long Beach, WA was a little cramped with one electrical pod for every 4 rigs to share, but the people there were super friendly and we had one of our best days ever biking the trail right behind the campground. We’ve heard other members complain about the TT campgrounds they don’t like, when some of those very campgrounds end up ranking among our favorites!

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The short answer is, it really all comes down to what you like and what is most important to you in a campground. We don’t live in a perfect world and Thousand Trails campground certainly aren’t perfect either. Yes, we agree the company could spend more money upgrading some of their campgrounds, internal roads, sites, electrical posts and facilities, and we do see upgrades taking place here and there. It all comes down to the dollars they have available. Personally, we’d be OK with an increase in our annual dues to support more park upgrades, as we are full-timers who use the TT system fairly heavily, but I’m sure not every one of their 100,000+ member families would agree or welcome a price hike!

In our opinion, it’s difficult to compare Thousand Trails campgrounds with many others that charge $35+ per night, as you’re simply not paying anywhere near that kind of money to enjoy the TT member benefits year round.

We definitely appreciate nice places and campgrounds and we often stay at nicer parks outside of the TT system. If you have a preference for staying in upmarket campgrounds on a more regular basis, then Thousand Trails may not be for you. If however, you don’t mind campgrounds that are occasionally a little more ‘rustic’ then you’ll probably be just as happy with TT as we are. It all comes down to your expectations and attitude. We tend to be the kind of people who focus on the good and positive things in life, so we tend to appreciate each campground and experience for what it is. We also like to stay at as many TT preserves as we can and form our own opinions. The parks we enjoy most we return to, the ones we enjoy least we don’t, it’s as simple as that. You will find there are plenty to choose from and in the end, it’s up to you – we all have different preferences.

Finally, one of the things we do enjoy and appreciate greatly about being Thousand Trails members is the sense of community it offers. Now that we’ve been traveling for 7+ months, we are starting to see some of the same people at different campgrounds and have been forming many new friendships on the road. You may have heard us talk about the sense of community and new friends we’ve made through Thousand Trails in our “6 months on the road video.”  Being full-timer RVers, we place a high value on the social aspect and the ability to create a new community on the road is important to us. It’s hard to find that in public campgrounds unless you’re a member of some other kind of RV club with social groups (such as Escapees).

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If you are looking for a cost effective way to camp year-round, in our opinion you can’t go wrong starting out with a basic TT Zone Pass – it’s so affordable for what you get, especially if you full-time like us, and you’re not tied down by a long term contract. But again, read our other post about TT membership upgrades before making a final decision. Who knows, depending on your situation, it may be better for you to start with an upgrade right away?

To become more familiar with the TT preserves, we suggest you visit the Explore Campgrounds section of the TT website, check out a few RV park reviews and discover for yourself what other members have to say about their experience at each of the parks. You can also watch the excellent TT campground videos made by Gone with the Wynns.

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

In summary, here’s our “Cliff Notes” version of what we see as the pros and cons of Thousand Trails and the Zone Pass:

PROS

  • Affordable – it’s a great, low cost way to try out Thousand Trails out and see if you like them
  • Low commitment – pay for your contract upfront and simply renew annual fee yearly
  • Variety of locations – choose from 13-23 campgrounds per zone within the network
  • Amenities – clubhouse, pool, spa, sporting facilities, laundry and more
  • Community – meet and befriend other members as you travel and camp together
  • Some (not all) campgrounds are in great locations (eg. near the beach, sand dunes, state parks)
  • Good choice for the part time vacation camper

CONS

  • Some parks are not as well maintained and/or have inferior electrical posts (some are quite rustic, a few may even be rundown, though this can change over time as they conduct property upgrades)
  • RV sites in some parks can be close together like a parking lot, or difficult to access with big rigs
  • If you commit to a 4 year payment plan, it may prevent you from upgrading to another membership in that timeframe
  • Some (not all) campgrounds can be in more remote areas and a bit of a drive from area attractions
  • Campground WIFI tends to be slow or unreliable so having your own WIFI setup is recommended if you depend on it (see our post ‘How Technology Keeps us Mobile’)
  • Some areas can have poor or no cell coverage (maybe 10-15% in our experience on the West Coast)
  • There are no TT campgrounds in UT, ID, MT, CO, NM, SD, ND, NE, WY, KS, OK, LA, AR, MO, IA, MN
  • The  TT Zone Pass is not available to residents of MN, MS and SD

After all of your research, if you’ve decided a Zone Park Pass is right for you, let’s recap on how you can get the best bang for your buck!

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Useful Links and Contacts

Here’s some more information you may find useful:

Thousand Trails – explore campground amenities, see photos, watch videos

RV Park Reviews – search for specific states and campgrounds and read up on what other members think of TT campgrounds

Gone with the Wynns –  watch TT campground videos (among others) on their YouTube Channel

Thousand Trails Zone Pass Membership Sales: If you think a zone pass might be a good fit for you, be sure to read this article on How to get the best deal on a zone pass

Well, that’s about all we’ve got to share with you about the Thousand Trails Zone Pass! We hope you learned something new and feel well informed to make the best choice for you.

If you are an extensive traveler and want to learn more about the Thousand Trails Membership Upgrade Options (eg. Elite, Platinum, Alliance) and why we chose to go that route, please click here. It will educate you about the benefits, differences and the process – you may even going direct to a membership upgrade option is a better fit for your needs than a Zone Pass. And we’re confident that by reading this article before you buy, it can save you a HUGE amount of time and money. We’ll do our best to keep this article up to date as things change over time. If you happen to learn of any changes that Thousand Trails makes to their plans, rules or inclusions, please drop us a line and let us know.

2019 UPDATE: We just overhauled our Thousand Trails article on Zone Camping Passes with the latest information and prices. Jump over and read it here.

Was this article helpful to you? Awesome! Here’s how you can thank us!

1. “Like” this post and share it with your social networks, friends, family – anyone that may find it useful

2. If you decide to buy a Thousand Trails Zone Pass, reach out to our contacts in this article about How to get the best deal on a zone pass. You certainly don’t have to do this, but if you are feeling all warm and fuzzy about the time, effort and money we’ve saved you and you want to say “good onya”, you can give TT our details as your referring member: Marc & Julie Bennett #298683360. Thousand Trails will apparently send us a gift card as a little ‘thank you’ which will buy us dinner! And for that, we will thank YOU! Yay! We love win/wins 🙂

3. We always love to hear from you – please us what you thought of this article in the comments section below. If you scored a great deal on your TT Zone Pass, let us know by sharing the details with us here! It will also help others who read this article and related comments.

© RVLove.com

57 thoughts on “Is a Thousand Trails Zone Pass right for you?”

  1. You do a fantastic job explaining the TT membership. I live in CO and was bummed when I read there were no TT sites in states I want to explore(UT, ID, MT, NM) My question is what campgrounds do you stay and would like to get info on that. Also what other memberships cover those states and others TT doesn’t. Thanks

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  2. Beware of Thousand Trails so called “assessment fee” that covers “Increases in insurance premiums, utilities and taxes”.. sounds like a load of horseshit…they get $550 from me EVERY year… they said I’d I don’t pay it my account would go into collections and I wouldn’t be able to camp.

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  3. Absolutely great article, thanks so much, I read TT website and still did not understand what I would even be buying! Your easy to understand, comprehensive, and informative article has helped us sooooo much in our plans for our around the country trip. We still don’t know if we are going to dry camp out of our SUV or buy a very small rv and go that route. Thanks for the time and energy you have put in to collecting and organizing all this info. I agree with the other reviewers, TT should be paying you as their marketing managers! Happy trails. Rodney and Luna Smith

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    • Is that what you found on the TT website? I was not aware of that – have you tried calling to confirm and ask why? If that is the case, you should have a few other options: 1. Consider FL or TX for domicile or 2. Buy another type of membership that is NOT a zone pass ie. one of the membership upgrades – you can buy some less expensive ones on the resale market – see our in depth blog post about it here https://rvlove.com/2015/01/28/thousand-trails-membership-upgrades – I would call Campground Membership Outlet to find out what options are available to you and what memberships are a fit for your needs and budget. Their details are in the blog post – tell Kim /Chad we said hi! They are very helpful. We have friends who are SD residents who recently bought an Elite resale membership from CMO, no issues at all.

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      • I noticed this too … It’s written as the last “CON”

        * The TT Zone Pass is not available to residents of MN, MS and SD

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    • Hi Angela,

      We have just confirmed with TT that SD address can’t be used for their initial contract on Zone pass. With that being said, you can use your friends’ or family’s address (I would keep and have your membership card send there. I would also try to use an address of a campground or a place where you are staying, as long as they will allow you to get mail and you can wait 2-3 weeks there for your mail to arrive. Once you have your Zone pass there is no problem with SD address. Good Luck!

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  4. Very good article and thanks for the info. I do have a couple of questions. Can Encore Parks be included in one of the memberships as parks you stay at for free, or do you just get a discount at them with a TT membership? Also, how important is the 210 day versus 90 day reservation window option? Obviously best to have 210 days, but if I find a membership with everything I want but only has a 90 day reservation window, will parks full up before 90 days out? If I want to make a reservation in January for Palm Springs or Florida does it have to be done more than 90 days out, or would 90 days be good? Thanks

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    • Mark – every TT contract is different, which is why it can get so confusing… some memberships do have some free Encore parks included for a certain period of time (say up to 5 years) but if you don’t have that option as we do not, we still get a minimum of 20% discount on Encore Parks, but because we have a Ready Camp Go and RPI membership as an optional add-on to our Elite membership (we pay $159/year for that option) we can stay at Encore parks for about $28 a night including ‘resort fees and taxes’ so hope that helps. At times we also book a stay at an Encore park using the special promos advertised in the back of the Trailblazer Magazine TT puts out. Re the res window, some parks (even if you have a 210 day window) still only have a 90 day reservation period because of the original camping network they were part of…. personally, while we look to book as far out as possible (ours is 120 day res window for most parks) we have never had an issue making a res 90 days out, or even 60 days out when we had a zone pass.90 days to book Palm Springs or Florida would be just fine – based on our experience. Of course, that is always subject to change depending on how busy they may start getting as more RVers hit the road, but honestly, the parks have several hundred sites (Orlando has 800+) and for the most part, many people just aren’t that organized or plan that far ahead (and even if they do, plans change regularly). We have rarely had an issue, you will be fine, especially if you don’t leave popular parks bookings to the last minute 🙂 Hope that helps!

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  5. Thank you for your much needed information. Our question is, am I to understand that during the day time the camps are open to the public to use with no charge ? Thus forcing the people whom buy a contract to share in the benefits of the camp site so the company can get more people to join ?

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    • Hi Frank, not sure if I am entirely understanding your question, but I do not believe the TT campgrounds are open for day use to people who are NOT TT members, the public can choose to stay a night (and use the facilities) and pay the daily camping rate (which is expensive for a night compared to other RV parks – presumably to incent people to see the value in a membership instead) hope that answers your question. There is security at TT parks to prevent the public from coming in to use for free. It’s a member based camping network.

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  6. Hi Julie,

    My husband and I have been following you for a while and we are hitting the road in May. We have been pulling our hair out trying to find places to stay as we start our adventure and I came across your post after looking at a Thousand Trails park in California.

    We are more than likely going to start out with a Zone Pass (although I think I will still have my husband call your broker to discuss options) but I had a question. . . is it true that you always have to drive around to find your own spot at a TT park? I’ve seen that mentioned a lot in the reviews – it’s not a deal breaker, but we are curious about it.

    After making our reservations for May – July we were surprised at how expensive it is, and this sounds like a really good option since we are going to be full timing.

    I really appreciate you sharing all of this information! We hope to see you on the road somewhere – we are actually in the process of purchasing a Tiffin 35QBA and we couldn’t be more excited about hitting the road.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • HI Julie, glad you found the article – yes you do have to drive around and find your own site. It has it’s pros and cons depending on how you look at it, we actually like picking our own site. If you call Jim about the Zone Pass he will work with you to get the best deal (better than you would get over the phone with an agent) and it would also be worth calling Kim at Campground Membership Outlet… if you plan to full-time TT is really a no-brainer as it saves so much money! We figure for every week we have to stay ‘out of the system’ on a Zone Pass (at $200-250pw at another campground) it doesn’t take long for that to add up and in less than a year you could have allocated that $ toward the TT membership upgrade and been able to stay 21 nights and move park to park. That was the most attractive thing to us, being able to travel slower! Hope that helps – and hope you love your 35QBA! We’re excited for you!

      Reply
    • The parent company Equity Lifestyle Properties (ELS) owns Thousand Trails AND Encore. The deal you get on Encore properties depends on which TT membership you have. As a general rule, TT members save 20% on Encore properties. But our membership for example is an Elite and we bought the RPI (Resort Parks International) add-on which allows us to book Encore properties for about $20 a night + taxes/fees, which is a substantial discount. It is different to the Good Sam membership as that is am RV Club whereas the TT membership is a member based camping network.

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  7. Julie,

    My partner and I are in the beginning stages of seriously considering the 5th wheel lifestyle post retirement. We truly appreciate the information and insight you have posted for all newbies like us.

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  8. Thanks for all the great advice. We have been thinking about a Thousand Trails pass for a while now and began looking into it more since going full-time in August of this year. I contacted Jim and he was as helpful as you stated and knew you guys right away (hopefully your gift card will be on the way soon). If we enjoy it as much as you do, I’m sure we will be upgrading by the time our first year is up.
    Kim & Alan
    fivedogsandus.com

    Reply
    • Oh I’m glad Jim took good care of you. The Zone pass is a good, low cost way to trial the system without any long term commitment and if you’re like us, may find it’s the gateway drug to a bigger membership! LOL Virtually free camping with hookups (and amenities) is definitely attracting to us full-timers. Enjoy!

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    • Hi Kim and Alan, glad to hear Jim took good care of you. We get so much value out of ours and hope you do too. The Zone Pass is a great low cost, low risk, low commitment to try the TT system before deciding if you want to invest in the upgraded membership. Cheers!

      Reply
    • Hi Pat, glad you got great value out of your TT membership! I just sent you an email recommending you contact Chad or Kim at Campground Membership Outlet – they have a long list of people waiting to buy memberships just like yours. Let them know we said hi! They will take good care of you and get you a fair market price for your membership and do all of the legwork/paperwork, deal with the buyer/TT etc, makes it nice and easy for you. All the best!

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  9. Wow, great info.. Thanks for sharing. We have our new Grand design fifth wheel….waiting for our special order truck. Eagerly waiting!!!!!

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  10. We bought a Zone Pass on a ‘Buy one, get one free’ promotion on a reference from friends who are avid TTers 4 years ago. We got the Northwest and Southwest zones and have been very happy as it works for our style. There are 4 of the campgrounds, or Preserves, within an hour(ish) drive of us so it’s easy for “hook and go” weekends. Staff is always friendly and accommodating.
    Since the DW retired last fall, we will be doing more traveling, so may look into upgrading. For now we are happy with out TT zone membership and experiences!

    Reply
    • HI Lee, that is exactly what we started out with too – 2 zones (BOGO) in the NW and SW zones and we loved it – totally got our money’s worth even in the first 4 months before upgrading to the Elite, but that’s only because we are full-timers and wanted the ability to spend 21 days, go park to park and not be out of the system. You are in a fantastic location being so close to 4 parks so you can use on weekends. It’s the ideal membership for you right now, but if you ever do go fulltime, the Elite upgrade is worth considering (just get a resale instead of a new one through TT as it will save you at least $2k, possible $3K.) Happy Trails!

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  11. How do you know if a TT location is full-up (no spots available)? Do you really just have to drive there and hope there is a spot?

    Reply
    • We always reserve a spot ahead of time, using their online reservation system. If you have a confirmed booking, you have a confirmed spot. Of course, once you arrive, THEN you have to drive around to FIND your spot… you are guaranteed a space but not a SPECIFIC space. We’ve been to places that are pretty much full but never not found a place to park (as long as we had a res).

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  12. Hello there! We are in the process of researching RVs and campgrounds. I’m so glad I came across your site. I saw that you mentioned about reserving for 14 days, then being out of TT locations for 7 days, then repeat. Is 14 days the most you can reserve? We plan on full time living in an RV but won’t be able to travel full time just yet so we’re looking into places where we can “live” without paying huge rental fees. We live in the San Diego area. Thanks in advance.

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  13. Thanks for the super helpful article. We are just now looking into Fulltiming next year and heard goods and bads of TT. So you article was really great for us to read. All of your posts are really informative and we really appreciate the time and effort you put out for us fellow travelers. Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi guys, glad you found it useful… yes we too have heard good and bad about TT… in our opinion it comes down to two things:
      1. Expectations – if you expect champagne style campgrounds when your paying beer prices, yes you’ll be disappointed, as they are not ‘high end’ but more rustic overall in our experience. Some are very nice, others less so.. depends on each location, the quality can vary quite a bit across the group. For example, Kenisee Lake in Ohio, which we just left, was lovely and one of the nicest campgrounds we’ve stayed at – very well maintained. Whereas Soledad Canyon in Acton, CA was a bit of a dump with many broken power boxes etc. There are very few parks (only 2 so far) that we would be unlikely to return to in the future.. and we are people who like nice things, places etc… but we don’t mind a little rustic either. We’re camping after all. As long as we have good internet power, water and sewer/dump station and in a decent location, we’re pretty happy. After all, it’s practically free!
      2. Due Diligence – as long as you do your homework and know what you are getting into, you’re less likely to be disappointed. Some people buy without doing proper research. Others have invest $10K or so in a series of membership upgrades and then get annoyed at how much they have spent when others (like us) can pick these same memberships up for thousands less. BUT we did our homework.

      We have heard that in years gone by, TT has also made promises to members that may not have been delivered upon and that the maintenance at some properties has gone downhill, if we had paid $10K for a membership, we might be upset about that too.. but we didn’t. So we can only report based on our own experiences and believe that if you buy “right” you can’t beat it for value for money, especially if you are a full-timer. Even if you only use the system part of the time, it helps subsidize your other campground fees overall. Good luck getting ready to Fulltime, it’s a good life 🙂

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  14. Mostly a good article but you have one glaring false statement. I wouldn’t mention it but you highlight it several times and make it one of your “Pros & Cons”. It is a VERY GOOD idea to purchase a 4 year zone as it saves you over $480.00 over the 5 year period you pay dues. (That’s all a zone pass is, dues.) When you upgrade to Elite your dues remain frozen at that $425 per year for the 4 year period, as opposed to an ever increasing $545 per year after your promo year. At the end of four years, if you are over 62 (and didn’t purchase a used membership) you then freeze your dues at the current $545 for as long as you are a member.
    Thanks,
    John

    Reply
  15. Hi Judy,

    Glad you found the article helpful. There isn’t actually a link to the Elite program that I am aware of – I could never find one – I would suggest you just get the facts from the TT agent on the new membership:.. I don’t think the agent would respond too favorably to this article as they don’t make money that way. I would just ask them about resale options and the advantages of buying a new elite compared to a resale… And decide for yourself if that is worth the extra money to you. For some people (say those who want to be able to pass it along/will it to family) it may be worthwhile, but for us it wasn’t. Just don’t allow yourself to be pressured to buy on the spot – give yourself time to research all the options and go with the one that works best for you. Chad is also very helpful to speak with when you are ready to buy. Good luck!

    Reply
  16. This has got to be a sign: My husband and I have an appointment tomorrow with a 1000 trails agent to discuss their programs.
    I have looked everywhere for information about them.

    Would you please send me the url to Elite so that I can compare.
    Your information is MORE than helpful. Especially for us as
    we are getting ready to be full timers. We have purchased a 2015
    rig and getting ready to take the plunge.

    We have been living on our trawler and I am at the age where I
    want to be a land lover. Thank you, thank you for this information. Will take it with us when we meet with the Agent.

    Judy

    Reply
  17. Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply. I’m going over the numbers now between a zone or a fairly inexpensive 2nd hand contract. That contract would easily pay for itself in two years, especially if I counted other campground fees vs boondocking. I’m just not sure I want to be stuck in a contract. Are these contracts dissolvable? The cost of the one I’m considering is so low if I just cancelled it I would be out less than the zone in three years – counting only 86 days in the system.

    One thing about me is that I like security blankets. So I often buy extended warranties, keep a go bag, car always ready etc. So having a place to dock for two weeks and more up the road, does seem to fit that need. On the other side of the coin, I like the wilderness and solitude and I don’t think TT fits that at all. But with a maintenance fee this low, it seems like a good piece of security blanket.

    Mike

    Reply
    • TT is a pretty low cost/risk investment. We took a 3 year approach to our membership, but most you can even put on “hold” after year 2 and just pay out the 3rd year then cancel it – which you would need to do in writing. Be sure to carefully read the terms and conditions of the contract you get into as they can all differ quite a lot. Beware of “Alliance” memberships (resale) – people give them away but you still have to pay the transfer fee and the TEN YEAR contract starts over again with you! Don’t commit to a contract longer than 3 years (think that’s the shortest unless you go with a Zone Pass which is year to year) and find out what the “place on hold” rules are. You can’t be in the wilderness all the time – you need to eventually go somewhere to dump, refill your tanks etc… TT is a good balance for that to give you overall coverage. Note TT isn’t in every state either, so look at their locations to ensure they fit your travel needs. Just be careful of the resale2nd hand contracts – especially if they are “cheap” – the terms and conditions may lock you in longer than you wish. We avoided an Alliance membership for that very reason. The contract term is the big kicker – read the fine print of the one/s you are considering. And read our articles VERY carefully – more than once if necessary! Finally, if in doubt, call Chad at CMO. He’s a great help. Good luck!

      Reply
  18. Very nice article and helpful in my decision on the TT system. I was wondering what you do with your dolly when at TT sites? I had read a comment elsewhere that they don’t allow dollies. I’ve been unable to find a set of rules for TT other than a 2008 version which made no mention of dollies, but added fees for a 2nd vehicle.

    Also, how difficult have you found it to get reservations? Are they often full during the summer or other busy times? I’m about to go full time and thinking my first year should have a little stability in it with a campground system.

    Reply
    • HI Mike, thank you, glad you found it helpful. You are wise to have some stability in your first year until you get into the swing of things, it certainly worked well for us. In Answer to your questions:
      1. We have never had a problem with our dolly at TT (or anywhere). Ours fortunately can fit/slide about 2/3 of the way under our coach… and if in shorter sites, we’ve still been able to fit the dolly somewhere on our site – often we leave it hooked up on the coach. We have never had to store it elsewhere or pay an additional fee either… weird you read a comment to that effect. Of course, this is based only on our experiences on the West coast so far.
      2. For popular places and at peak times of year we aim to book as far ahead as our membership contract will allow. When we had a Zone Pass, it was 60 days…and we didn’t have any issues at all getting the places and dates we wanted because we booked 60 days ahead. Now we have an Elite upgrade and our reservation window is something like 210 days… but still, we book well ahead for places like Palm Springs, CA in the winter…and it can be trickier to change/adjust the dates as the dates get closer, as there may no longer be availability to alter it. I’d recommend you book your preferred dates and places as soon as the 60 day window opens up. You can’t have more than 2 bookings in the system at any one time during holidays but as soon as you check into the first preserve (over a holiday period) you can book another one, thereby having 2 concurrently in the system again.
      3. Yes campgrounds do get full/busy in the summer but we’ve never found it to be a problem or unpleasant at all. TT tends to have a lot of families and kids – we don’t have kids – but I don’t know if we’ve just lucky or what, but we can’t recall any situations we’ve had problems in that regard… we tend to be pretty easygoing though and mostly find TT members to be nice and friendly people.

      Hope that helps. The Zone Pass is certainly a very economical way to get a taste of TT and be sure it works for you before considering a larger investment in an upgrade. Can’t beat the value really, especially for us full-timers@ Good luck with it and hope to see you on the road!

      Reply
      • Hi Julie, so I just completed the purchase of a VIP membership, 3 weeks in, none out, unlimited stays, 120 days reservations etc.

        I have a question that I have not seen answered, kind of about TT but also being fulltime. If you need to fix a leak or replace a fan on your roof, does TT object to this? If so, how and or where do you find the ability to remove some sealant and put more down? Where do you wash your rig at?

        And lastly, what is the arrival procedure at TT? Including how do you park, setup camp etc with a dolly in mind?

        Thanks,
        Mike

        Reply
        • Hi Mike, Oh great! That membership should serve you well 🙂 In answer to your questions, we see mobile repair companies/vans in TT campgrounds all the time, in fact some of them are promoted in the campground welcome brochure. Last fall, we had a mobile repair guy come and change the oil for us at TT in Florence, Oregon. No problems at all. Now, re the sealant repair you speak of, we’re not too familiar with that – is it a messy job? Sorry, cannot help you with that one. Re washing our rig, when we are staying at a campground that permits it (not in CA where they are in drought) we sometimes wash at the CG… some CGs will charge a fee for this. Once we paid a mobile cleaning guy to wash our rig for us at a TT campground in CA as he had a special system/setup and brought his own water… and was really inexpensive at about $65 (we tipped him well on top of this) as it hadn’t been washed for some time, being in CA. Also, you will find truck washes or even the occasion carwash that has an RV-friendly lane..Re arriving in TT, we are about to share a short video on this… but in brief, when you show up, have your membership and ID ready (though often they don’t even ask for it) at the office/ranger station. They will give you a “packet” and explain their process (slightly different for each campground) but generally you put the sheet with your name/date of departure in a visible place facing out, plus a swing tag for your TOAD with the security codes on back to hang from your rear mirror. You drive around and select your own site then report the site # back to the office. We usually drop our toad off the dolly to drive around and select the site first as it’s easier. And dolly is rarely if ever a problem, sometimes you will get a pull through and other times you will need to unhook and back into your site. Our dolly slides under our coach in need. Hope that helps!

          Reply

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