Is Thousand Trails Worth it? Our Comprehensive Review after 6 Years / 823 Nights of TT Camping (2020)

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After 6 years of life on the road, traveling as full-time RVers, we reviewed our biggest RV-related expenses, to see what this footloose and fancy-free lifestyle has really been costing us each year. We start by answering one of our most often asked questions. Is our Thousand Trails membership worth it? In this report, we share what TT has cost us, how much we use it, and whether or not the money we’ve spent on our Thousand Trails membership has been worth it. We have written a ton about TT over the years, but this is the first time we’ve done such an extensive review after so many nights of camping.

A lot of people are looking for ways to save money on RV camping right now. And with Thousand Trails running sales on new membership upgrades from time to time, we hope that the information we share here helps you make an informed decision for your own RV lifestyle and budget.

We have so much info to cover on every aspect of the expenses related to our RV life since 2014, that we decided to break it up into a series of posts. This is the first, so keep an eye out for other articles coming up on our 6 years of full time RV travel expenses!

NOTE: Thousand Trails is currently running their Labor Day Sale on Zone Camping Pass and new membership upgrades until 9/14/2020. Click here for best quote.

What Camping Membership(s) do we Have?

We’ve actually had just about every kind of camping membership out there! Passport America, Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome, Good Sam, Escapees, Coast to Coast…. But the core of our camping membership arsenal is Thousand Trails. 

Since 2014, we have purchased two different types of Thousand Trails memberships, plus an ‘add-on’. Let’s go over those, their key benefits, and what they cost us.

Annual Zone Camping Pass

Even before we started our full time RV life in mid 2014, we purchased an annual Zone Camping Pass with 2 ‘zones’ (there are 5 zones nationally) about two months before we hit the road. We wanted to start making our summer reservations 60 days in advance. Back in 2014, this cost us $545 (plus tax) and enabled us to stay up to 14 nights at a time at 37 campgrounds, across the two zones. We had the South West and North West Zone with 18 parks each, plus the South Lake Tahoe Encore property which was included as a bonus.

We then needed to stay ‘out of the system’ for 7 nights, before we could stay at another TT campground. Our ‘7 days out’ of the TT system at other RV parks, usually cost us around $200-$300 for the week, depending on where we stayed (eg. state parks, private campgrounds where rates were usually $30-$40 a night, sometimes buy 6, get 1 free.)

Years ago, TT used to charge a $3 nightly fee after the first 30 days of free camping, but they don’t anymore. In the 4 months we had our Zone Pass, after the free 30 nights we were charged for some stays, but not others – which seemed odd. We used 68 nights of our Zone Pass, so we should have been charged for 38 of those @ $3 each ($114) but we were only charged for about half of them. We didn’t keep track, but estimate we paid about $60 in additional nightly fees. We are glad TT doesn’t charge the $3 nightly fee anymore, as it was just a nuisance more than anything. Occasionally you’ll come across a TT campground that MAY charge $3–$5 a night for a handful of sites, say in a new 50 Amp section. But it’s rare, and we usually pick another site. We stayed only a few times in a site with this small charge, but we didn’t track the cost as it was so minimal. It is rare and optional anyway.

Sometimes we would stay at a TT park for 4 nights, then move to another campground for 4 nights and so on, then finish up with 14 nights. You can stay up to 4 nights at a time and keep moving every 5th day indefinitely, for no nightly fee, with NO time out of the system. But we work while we travel, and this became VERY tiring. By September, we had learned of a membership upgrade that would allow us to slow our travel pace, stay longer, and save on those “weeks out”. We really liked our TT membership, how much it saved us, and the friends we made in the campgrounds (an unexpected bonus). Even though we’d only had our Zone Camping Pass for about 4 months, we had already gotten our money’s worth, so we decided to take the leap and buy the more expensive membership upgrade, knowing it would save us even more in the long term.

NOTE: We cover the latest 2020 TT pricing here. These days, you can pick up a Thousand Trails Zone Camping Pass for $585 or under $500 during special promotions like their current Labor Day sale

Elite Basic Membership Upgrade

The Elite Basic is the entry level TT membership upgrade, and at the time we bought our membership, it was the one with the most benefits and number of campgrounds. We bought this as a resale 6 years ago for $2,500, but you will pay a lot more for one now as TT has become so popular. Used memberships are cheaper than new ones, but we have noticed the price difference (saving) isn’t as much as it used to be. 

These days, we see pros and cons to both new vs used, and the different options in terms of pricing and timing. We’ll cover this in more detail further down. In addition to the Elite Basic membership, TT now also offers Elite Connections and Ultimate Odyssey upgrades. These offer more benefits, like a longer booking window and stays which can be of high value for many.

But our Elite Basic membership still works just fine for OUR needs. We can stay for 21 nights at a time, and move directly to another campground, with NO time out of the TT system. This means we save on those ‘weeks out’ which really started to add up. Now we pay NO nightly fee when we stay at Thousand Trails. Just our annual dues which are under $600 a year for our Elite Membership. In December 2014, we paid $549 in annual dues and in 2019 we paid $586.16, so the annual dues increase incrementally each year. Twice a year we can also extend our 21 day reservation by 7 days to stay a total of 4 weeks for just $29. We have also done that a couple of times.

We are able to stay at ALL of the TT campgrounds around the country – about 81 parks across 5 zones. And we have a 120 day booking window which makes it easier to secure the reservations we want. 

Trails Collection Add-on

A few years ago (in 2018) Thousand Trails created a new membership add-on called the Trails Collection, which offers up to 14 nights of camping at 110 of their Encore RV Resort properties. Most charge no nightly fee, but a handful do charge $20 a night. We initially paid $199 in 2017-2018 and it went up $214 in 2019 – but the 2020 pricing for the Trails Collection is $299 a year. This add-on is included on our annual dues statement.

We jumped onto the Trails Collection as soon as TT announced it, as it was a no-brainer and amazing value for money. The Trails Collection more than doubled the number of available campgrounds we could stay at, and the annual fee for this add-on is less than the cost of a week’s stay just about anywhere else. We also like that the Encore parks in the Trails Collection offers more geographic diversity than TT alone, around the country.

You can learn about the latest pricing and specials on all TT memberships here

Total Nights Stayed at Thousand Trails

So, how many nights have we spent in the Thousand Trails camping network each year, since 2014? 

2014: 137 nights (68 on Zone Pass, 69 on Elite Membership for half year July – December)

2015: 200 nights

2016: 88 nights

2017: 132 nights

2018: 124 nights

2019: 126 nights

2020: 16 nights (half year January – June)

As you can see, we have spent a total of 823 nights camping in the Thousand Trails network. That works out to be an average of 137 nights a year, or just over 4.5 months (more than a third) of the year.

You will also notice that we spent well over 100 nights a year in TT during our first 5 years (except 2016) but hardly spent any time in 2020. That’s because we spent January-February driving around in a rental RV in Florida plus another RV rental trip in Texas, where we DID stay at Fun-n-Sun RV Resort. Shortly after that, we ended up boondocking for 5 weeks in the desert when the pandemic ‘shelter in place’ order was issued. 2020 has been an unusual year for almost all of us!

We have a really robust off-grid system on our RV now, as well as big holding tanks. This makes it much easier to camp off grid for extended periods, so we’ve been doing more of that. Then we traveled to Colorado to spend a few months, however TT doesn’t have any campgrounds in Colorado. So we don’t anticipate staying in TT much this year until we head south for the fall/winter. Right now, we have about 63 days of reservations (at no nightly fee) for Thousand Trails campgrounds in the south west. 

Of the 823 nights, we spent 231 nights (about 28% of our time) in Encore / Trails Collection parks, while 592 nights were spent in Thousand Trails campgrounds.

Boondocking in the Arizona desert

How Much Has Thousand Trails Cost Us?

We added up all of our expenses related to buying and using our Thousand Trails camping membership from mid 2014 – mid 2020. 

This includes the purchase of our Zone Camping Pass and Elite Basic Membership Upgrade in 2014, Annual Dues on our Elite membership (2014-2019) and the Trails Collection add-on (2017-2019), plus nightly fees for Zone Pass extra nights and Trails Collection / Encore.

  • Total TT Investment: $7,242 (over 6 years)
  • Total Nights of TT Camping: 823
  • Average Annual Cost of our TT membership: $1,207
  • Average nightly stay: $8.80 (based on 823 nights)

Of course, if we used our TT membership more, obviously we’d save even more. 

Spending 137 nights on average at Thousand Trails means we’re spending 228 nights on average each year somewhere else! And paying quite a bit more for that.

If we didn’t buy our Thousand Trails membership, we would have spent significantly more on RV camping fees over the years than we have. Buying our membership when we were still RV newbies seemed like a lot of money at the time – but we knew it would save us even more in the long run and it did. 

So, let’s take a quick look at that.

How much has our TT membership saved us?

What we would have paid for those camping fees, had we NOT bought our Thousand Trails membership? Let’s compare it to paying regular nightly rates at campgrounds around the country. 

In our experience, most campgrounds and RV parks tend to range from $25–$80 a night, depending on the location and amenities. The midpoint of that is about $52.50. But let’s be conservative and base our calculations on $35 a night for an ‘average’ campground. Let’s keep in mind that weekly and monthly rates at campgrounds are often less expensive than paying by the night, so we think $35 is a fair average to use.

If we’d spent our average annual 137 nights of TT camping at a non-TT campground and paid $35 a night, it would have cost us $4,795 instead of $1,207. 

So, based on that nightly fee, our Thousand Trails membership has been saving us around $3,588 a year. 

That’s a total saving of $21,538 over our 6 years of full time RVing.

Of course, you can do the math on what the savings would have been at higher or lower nightly campground rates. As we said, we feel $35 a night is pretty conservative. And as you might have already discovered, it’s really is not that easy to find campgrounds for $35 a night anymore, especially at peak times and holiday weekends.

Remember, these numbers don’t reflect the total cost of ALL of our RV camping expenses! We are only comparing the number of nights we actually spent at Thousand Trails campgrounds, on average each year. We’ll cover our total camping costs over the past 6 years in a separate article.

 

How much could YOU save?

Let’s take a look at what our nightly camping fees would average with different levels of usage, staying within the TT camping network. This may help you get a sense for how much YOU could save, if you were to use TT for more or less time than we did.

  • 100 nights a year: $11.56 a night
  • 200 nights a year: $5.78 a night
  • 300 nights a year: $3.85 a night

We actually know a lot of people who stay almost exclusively at Thousand Trails campgrounds – over 300 nights a year is common. 

TT tends to be popular with those on a fixed income, families, or anyone – like us – who simply wants to RV inexpensively, with the convenience of hookups and amenities.

For us, thousands of dollars each year on our RV camping fees has been HUGE, and of course, the savings could have been much more. But we are personally very happy with the mix of our travels and type of stays over the years, as we’ve had a lot of variety. Our travels are not ALL about how much we save, but it sure does help!

 

Cost / Benefit Summary of Thousand Trails

When reviewing our total financial investment in Thousand Trails against how much we’ve actually used the TT system, this is our takeout.

For us, investing in our Thousand Trails membership has absolutely been worth it.

Being able to camp at Thousand Trails campgrounds for only $8.80 a night – for just one third of each year for the past 6 years – has easily saved us over $21,000 so far.

When we hit the road as RVers back in 2014, we really had no idea what to expect. Managing our expenses was important. And the way we looked at it, the less we spent on campground fees, the more we had to spend on other fun stuff – like eating out, adventures, activities and the occasional splurge on more expensive (non TT) RV parks in prime locations, like Niagara Falls and Key West, Florida.

Our TT camping membership is what has enabled us to do that, comfortably, and really enjoy the variety of our RV travels.

Some years we stay in TT parks more than others, but we bought our Elite membership with a 3-year view. Our intention was to use it enough in the first few years to justify the larger, initial investment. After that, we really only need to camp 3-4 weeks a year in the Thousand Trails network to make it worthwhile continuing to pay our annual dues (ours are under $600 a year). And if we decide we don’t need it anymore, we can just cancel it. But we don’t see that happening.

Typically, we only stay at TT campgrounds when it suits our travel itinerary. If we’re exploring the middle of the country where TT doesn’t have many locations, we don’t stay at TT. That’s when we’ll use one of our other camping membership options – like Harvest Hosts, Passport America, or Coast to Coast (a recent camping membership purchase that we’ll share more about soon).

Knowing that we pay a fixed amount for our annual TT camping membership and we can use it as much as we want – while saving us thousands of dollars each year in camping fees is well worth it to us. It’s been a huge factor in making our RV life financially sustainable, enabling us to keep on RVing in the longer term. And that is priceless.

Some of our favorite RVing memories have been made at Thousand Trails campgrounds, and we’ve met some of our closest RVing friends that way too. So while we joined Thousand Trails for the cost savings, it’s worth nothing that these other, unexpected benefits to our membership have exceeded our expectations.

 

Playing golf at a Trails Collection park – Clerbrook Golf and RV Resort in Florida

What are Thousand Trails parks like?

A lot of people ask about the standard of TT parks. And how easy is it to get a camping reservation at Thousand Trails? We’ll tell you straight up that TT is not perfect! Some campgrounds are better than others, but we pick and choose the ones we prefer to stay at more often. We have shared a lot more detail about the parks we’ve stayed at in our campground reviews. We would consider most TT parks to be ‘good’ and some ‘very good’ and certainly worth the price we pay for them!

We can usually get the reservations we want when booking in advance, using our 120 day reservation window. But if we’re trying to secure a campsite at the most popular places during peak seasons, without a lot of lead time, then we may have to adjust our dates or find somewhere else to stay, if they are full. But we’re finding that to be the case at most campgrounds these days anyway – ones you pay a nightly fee for! So for us, the positives of TT still far outweigh any potential downsides. Just know what you are buying and manage your expectations and weigh up what’s most important to you. Upscale RV parks or saving money? That’s why we have shared so much about Thousand Trails over the years, to provide an accurate understanding of what to expect, before you buy. We have noticed that those who are well researched before buying a TT membership are usually happy with it. 

Campground prices are going up

We are definitely seeing a trend that nightly campground fees are rising each year. Along with increasing demand for RV sites, there are so many new RVers hitting the road. And more people able to work remotely. We’re seeing $45 a night on average more of the new norm in 2020. But we don’t have to worry about that so much with our Thousand Trails membership, as we’re now just paying our annual dues ($800 in 2019 for our membership plus Trails Collection add-on). 

We like the convenience of booking online 

Travel planning can be time consuming. And we don’t really enjoy having to research campgrounds for hours on end, or call around RV parks to check on campsite availability. We like the convenience of being able to make our TT reservations online and adjust them as our travel route changes. Sometimes we do call the TT reservation line, and find them to be very helpful. As RVing gets busier, and with their staff working from home during COVID-19, we have found call wait times can be longer than usual, which requires some patience. But again, we are finding this to be common with many campgrounds now, as they are all so busy. And we don’t mind a little inconvenience when we’re saving so much money.

RV camping by the marina at Sunshine Key and RV Resort in the Florida Keys (Trails Collection)

How to Buy a Thousand Trails Membership

Well, we hope this article has been helpful! If what we’ve shared has you interested in learning more about Thousand Trails memberships and how you can save on your own RV camping fees, we’ve shared some additional useful info and contacts below to help you get the right TT membership for you.

You have a couple of options for buying a Thousand Trails camping membership – new or used (also known as a resale). There are pros and cons to both so you’ll need to decide which is the best way to go for you. We’ve written a ton of articles to help you understand them all, which you will find rounded up here. Or you can just go straight to our recommended contacts below for more info and to get a quote. We’ve shared some key tips below.

Buying a New TT Membership

Whether you are looking to start with a Zone Camping Pass or get a membership upgrade like an Elite Basic, Elite Connections or Ultimate Odyssey you can buy these directly from a Thousand Trails Membership SpecialistYour membership will activate immediately so you can start making reservations right away. You can also finance your membership with Thousand Trails so you can pay for your membership by the month, instead of paying a lump sum up front. 

And, when you no longer need your TT camping membership (say if you decide to stop RVing or your life circumstances change) you can sell your membership on the resale market and recoup some of your initial investment costs. Just keep in mind that the sooner you get a TT membership the sooner you’ll start saving on your campground fees. That’s one reason buying new makes a lot of sense these days, as you can start using it right away, instead of waiting for the resale transfer period.

It’s a good idea to pick up one of these new TT memberships during one of their special promotional sales, as you will save quite a bit. You can get on the list to find out when the next sale is.

This is who we recommend you buy it from…

Jim & Brandy Reneau, TT Membership Specialists with friends @ Fun-n-Sun RV Resort, Texas

Who We Recommend for Buying a Used TT Membership

Call TT Membership Specialists Jim and Brandy Reneau on 770-622-4188 or email brandy_reneau@equitylifestyle.com – that’s them in the blue and white hats above at a German event at Fun-n-Sun RV Resort in Texas. 

You will always get the BEST deal from Jim and Brandy when you mention RVLOVE

We’ve had a long standing relationship with Jim and Brandy. We trust them to take great care of our RVLove community. 

We guarantee Jim and Brandy will get you the best deal available – whether it’s a Zone Camping Pass or a membership upgrade like the Elite Basic, Elite Connections or Ultimate Odyssey – year-round.

Ask Jim and Brandy about the current TT Labor Day sale prices (until 9/14/2020).

Yes, Please send me the latest and info special promotions on Thousand Trails camping memberships.

The pool at Fun-n-Sun RV Resort in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas (Trails Collection)

Buying a Used/Resale TT Membership

While you can’t buy a Zone Camping Pass as a resale (you can only get those direct from TT) you CAN buy a used membership upgrade like the Elite Basic, Elite Connections, Ultimate Odyssey. You can also buy some of the older TT memberships like the VIP, Platinum and Platinum Plus. These have fewer campgrounds available, but some of those memberships offer different benefits, that are no longer available direct from TT and may appeal to you. You will still be able to stay 21 nights and move from park to park, and buying used is still cheaper than buying new. BUT there are a few things you need to be aware of when buying used – and these come down to time and money, so keep these in mind when weighing up your options.

  • Resales/Used TT memberships usually take about 4-8 weeks to buy, process, and transfer ownership into your name, so you’ll want to plan ahead. This option may not work for you if you want/need your membership right away to start making your camping reservations weeks or months in advance eg. booking your winter camping in Florida, California, Arizona etc. 
  • You will also need to have the money or credit card to pay for a resale membership upfront in full. And while you will save money buying used, it is important to note that for MOST resale memberships, you won’t be able to sell it once you’re done with it, as the full camping benefits only remain intact for the original purchaser (when new) and for ONE resale buyer. So if your situation was to unexpectedly change and cause you to stop RVing, you likely won’t be able to sell your used membership and recoup some of your investment (unless it’s a Platinum membership.)

If you aren’t in a rush to start using your membership, you have the funds to buy it outright, and/or you’re looking for a specific kind of membership benefit that is no longer available directly through Thousand Trails, then buying a used/resale TT camping membership is a great option.

Who We Recommend for Buying a Used TT Membership

To buy a used TT membership, contact Kim or Chad Hoel from Campground Membership Outlet on 800-272-0401 or send an email to kimberly@membershipoutlet.com and mention RVLOVE for the best price and service. Or simply complete the quote form below and they will get back to you with more info on inventory, pricing and availability.

Used/Resale Thousand Trails (and other) memberships (like Coast to Coast) are available year round from Campground Membership Outlet, and we have a great, long standing relationship with them as well. They will take excellent care of you! Just let them know you’re a member of the RVLove community.

Yes, Please send me more info on current inventory and pricing for Used and Resale Thousand Trails memberships

Final Comments

If you’re interested in getting a Thousand Trails membership but aren’t not sure which way to go, don’t worry! It really doesn’t matter whether you buy your TT membership new or used – from Jim and Brandy Reneau of Thousand Trails or Kim and Chad Hoel of Campground Membership Outlet. All of them offer a fantastic service and will take care of you, helping you get set up with the best membership for your needs, timeframe and budget. But, based on our experience, the sooner you get started with a Thousand Trails camping membership, the sooner you will start saving money and enjoying your membership benefits. Time really is money, in this case.

One thing we will say is we are SO glad we did our research in advance and started our RV life from Day 1 with our TT camping membership – as we were able to save on our RV camping fees right away. In hindsight, it would have been great to start with the Elite membership from the beginning, but back then we didn’t know it even existed (it wasn’t even mentioned on the TT website like it is now!) 

Starting with the Zone Pass was a great, low cost way for us to try out the TT system before diving in. As by the time we DID upgrade to the Elite after 4 months of full time RV travel, we were already confident that it would work for us, and weren’t afraid to spend the larger sum of money, as we knew the savings would come back to us quickly.

Last but not least. We know that Thousand Trails certainly isn’t for everyone. But as we have shared, TT has worked really well for US over the past 6 years. And of course, we plan to keep on using and enjoying our membership benefits as we travel. We’ll keep sharing our experiences and campground reviews with you.  

Happy Trails!

– Julie and Marc

 

How to find Thousand Trails Campgrounds

You can find Thousand Trails (and Encore / Trails Collection) campground locations and reviews in a few places. We always recommend reading up on reviews to check them out as they can vary quite a bit.

GOT COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS?

We would love to hear from you. Drop us a note in the comments section below.

32 thoughts on “Is Thousand Trails Worth it? Our Comprehensive Review after 6 Years / 823 Nights of TT Camping (2020)”

  1. I would encourage anyone new to RVing to buy the zone pass and try out some of the parks for a year. We bought the zone pass on a 4 year contract (discount given) and upgraded with a resale Elite membership last year. We added the TC when it became available. Your reviews match our experience, we love TT. You guys do a great service to the RV community with your detailed reviews and blogs.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience Todd. This will be helpful to those considering TT. We agree with trying TT out with a Zone Pass first, to ensure you like the campgrounds and system first, then upgrading if it you do. Knowing what one is getting into first and managing expectations is key to increasing the chances of a positive experience – like you and we have had. Thanks for your kind words about our content. Wishing you all the best!

      Reply
  2. When I bought my latest camper I received a free year in one zone. That was in February. I have yet to stay at any of theTT campgroundS. Every site I look at looks horribly packed in and little if any shade. I guess if you are into swimming pools and other sports it might be a good deal but as a widower with a dog can’t see staying at one of their sites. I’ll stick to state and federal (corps of engineer) parks. But thanks for the review.

    Reply
    • Hi Rich, you didn’t mention where you are located. TT parks are all different, We have stayed at many with plenty of shade and you get you pick your campsite. The parks can be busy – especially from Memorial Day to Labor Day, peak summer season, But to be honest, that’s the case with many campgrounds these days as RVing is so popular! The amenities are appealing to many – but we rarely use amenities except for the laundry. TT is not for everyone but it’s worked out great for us. As a widower with a dog, we can appreciate you would enjoy quieter places without families… we like state parks too. Haven’t stayed at a COE park but we have heard they are great. You might prefer trying a TT park in fall when it’s not as busy, or even winter – but winter in the south does tend to get busy (everywhere). Wishing you all the best and glad you enjoyed the review! Happy trails!

      Reply
  3. Our experience mirrors yours to a degree. We started with the Zone Pass. Then, we decided we were gonna go Full Time and bought a used Elite membership. We found some favorites that we loved going to (like Palm Springs) and some that we either packed up within hours and found somewhere else to go or only stayed overnight. Unfortunately, after a year and a half we had to come off the road to become caregivers for my parents. But we’ve kept our membership and the moment we’re no longer “needed”, we’ll be returning to the road and to TT. For the most part, we love what TT afforded us to do and really wish they’d invest in renovating the more run down locations. You can see that in their heydays, these were beautiful establishments and it’s just sad to see them run down. In some places, it seems they bit off more than they could chew. And just need to gradually make basic improvements to bring them back to their luster. Slow and steady. And we’ll just keep doing what we were doing as well.

    Reply
    • Well said Gwen. Similar experience indeed. Hopefully you will be able to get back out there in time. We are seeing improvements happening to several properties but you are right – it can be slow going – big infrastructure projects, getting the budget approved, city approvals and such… hopefully within a few years they will all be back up to an improved standard, but like you, we pick and choose. All the best to you!

      Reply
  4. My parents bought a used TT membership from a family member when they retired and had it for about 15 years before they decided they were too old to continue camping. During that time, we always had a family courtesy card, which started out around $30 per year. That allowed us to camp up to 21 days a year at a TT campground. Which was a great savings! Now they have passed that membership on to my sister, who bought it from them, and we have a courtesy card through her, which is now $109 per year. We are going camping with two other family members for ten days over Labor Day weekend and after, and we are still saving over $400 on just that one camping trip using the courtesy card. That is one benefit that you didn’t mention, and I’m not sure if it’s just a certain level that offers that or if most of the memberships offer that. But you can give family members a huge discount on camping at any TT park by getting them a courtesy card for about what it would cost for 2 nights of camping. We work full time, and so having the ability to get a reservation at a TT for about once a month is certainly worth it to us. We live in South Florida, and so we normally use Wauchula, though we have also stayed at the Orlando Resort. I don’t think that the “Trails” ones are available to us or the “Elite” ones, but they may offer a discounted rate (like 10% or something). It’s ok, we like the Wauchula one as it’s on the Peace River, and is a quiet campground. Yes, we have seen the quality fluctuate, and we heard that was due to less funds coming to them for maintenance, and things happen that are not expected.

    For example, one of the roads had a long row dug up by a camper who drove out of his site and forget to lift his stabalizer, which dragged halfway up the road tearing up the tarmac until he realized it and stopped. They just didn’t have funds to call in a road repair crew for that one half a road, so it stayed that way until they could. I don’t blame the owners for that, its thousands of dollars to repair that, and they didn’t charge the camper who did it, though I think they could have.

    I’m not saying it’s like that for all the parks, but I do know for that one park that we frequented enough to call it our “home park” that they did maintain it to the best of their ability, but sometimes irresponsible campers made that more difficult.

    We also planned a trip to Williamsburg, VA a couple of years ago, and stayed at a TT campground that was about an hour away from the historic site. Saved us over $300 in camping fees because it was free to us. The family courtesy card is well worth the price to us at least.

    Reply
    • Great point Beth! We did forget to mention the family courtesy cards, how fantastic you are getting such great value out of yours! And your family has been using the membership so much too. You made another great point about the damage to the campgrounds – these things do happen (camper damage) and a lot of people don’t think about that. It’s often to easy to just blame a big company, but from what we see, hear and know, they are definitely invested in making improvements – but it is often a bigger, more complex, time consuming and expensive proposition than people realize… Glad you are getting your money’s worth and more! Cheers!

      Reply
  5. OMG, if you need to make a long winded article on whether a TT is worth it or not than it probably isn’t. After your first page I lost interest. I would need to transform all of the useless information you just provided onto a spread sheet
    In order to make comparison and at the end I was waiting for a toll free number saying if I act now I get free bed sheet too.
    Worse then buying an extended warranty. There needs to be a better explanation.

    Reply
    • Congratulations – you are the first person in over 5 years or writing in-depth articles to complain about and criticize the level of effort and detail we provide in our TT reports! Yay you. Really, there is no need to be rude and disrespectful to the amount of work we invest to help others. Maybe have a think about that. So let me summarize it for you in 10 words.

      6 years, 823 nights, over $20K saved (conservatively) on campground fees.

      That work for you? It doesn’t take a spreadsheet to work out if that’s worth it or not. The article helps answer many of the hundreds of questions we constantly get about TT. Sorry if it didn’t meet your criteria. TT has been well worth it to us. Sounds like it is not for you. All the best.

      Reply
  6. It is consistently bad. We have been members for 30 years. My wife and I bought our membership before we were married so we would have a safe place to camp with our expected family.

    The plan worked great for a few years. As TT went through mergers and acquisitions, they gradually declined in quality. The last acquisition has destroyed the TT system.

    The parks are not maintained. E.g. Lake of the Springs. Our new 40ft coach was scratched because the roads and shrubs were not maintained. The scratches are deep in the paint and cannot be rubbed out. Florence, Oregon has the same problem. We blew a tire pulling out of a site. (A large sharp rock was placed next to a drain, which I did not see. Shame on me.)

    In general, we have found Thousand Trails managers are arrogant, rude and only support TT rather than provide help to their customers.

    Save your money. There are plenty of alternatives to Thousand Trails.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear of your experience. It sounds like TT is not for you anymore. But it has worked well for us – the campgrounds and the service. Honestly we have generally found TT managers, call center staff and employees to be friendly and helpful. So not sure where you go, but it’s not been our experience. Many others like us are also grateful for an affordable way to RV camp, despite it not being a perfect system. We have heard things were different 30 years ago, but we can only base our report on what has been true for us in our 6 years of membership. There are options for everyone and ultimately it is up to each individual to weigh up whether TT is right for them or not. We are not aware of any alternatives to TT that allows us to RV camp around the country for so little cost – if you can please share some comparable examples, we would love to hear about them. Thank you!

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  7. We had TT for 1 year primarily because of St. Clair RV Resort was within 10 minutes of family. This place appeared to be a defunct campground that was re-opened WITHOUT improving any of the property. Many sites were on very uneven ground, the mini-golf course was ripped up and overgrown, swimming pool was “being repaired”, the game room had 3 video machines, 2 did not work.

    Another camper voiced his displeasure stating that, as it was listed as a “resort”, he had booked a whole month in this disaster of a resort. Others we stopped at did not seem to be in the best of condition. Needless to say, we have not renewed because of the disappointment in their parks.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience – curious when this was, and what other parks you stayed at? We spent 3 weeks at St Clair and liked the proximity to Port Huron, Canada etc. It was a bit rundown in places but the pool was open. It is worth keeping in mind that all campgrounds will have periods where they are making repairs or things don’t work, we have seen that at upscale parks too on occasion. We agree – the resort term can be misleading for some properties. It’s always best to read reviews of places, especially before booking long stays. Sounds like you had the one year zone pass and were able to use it to camp affordably near your family. So hopefully you got your money’s worth in that time and lucky you were able to just choose not to renew after a year. We did find it eye opening to see the Detroit area in general has really suffered over the years and the entire surrounding city is in a state of disrepair, since so much of the automotive industry has left the state. One of the highlights of our stay was visiting the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and Greenfield Village – we had a wonderful weekend exploring them. Cheers, Julie

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  8. We are not members but did have reservations at their campsite at Mammoth Cave. Asked for a pull thru and reserved it. Got to the park and a member had moved to the pull thru so back to the office then they wanted to move us to a back in. We ended up canceling and moving down the road. The park wasn’t that great anyway. Don’t think we will try that again.

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  9. We tried TT because we were moving from Florida to NC. We made a reservation at one place that was sooo bad, we didn’t bother to check in. Rundown campers on blocks everywhere, bumpy, narrow roads, garbage throughout and they were going to shoehorn us in a space that couldn’t fit a car, much less a small class C. The next place was ok, but mostly liveaboards. Not a level site anywhere. No one was checking sites to see needed repairs. Roads again were filled with potholes and very narrow. We got there a bit early and the person at the desk said we’d have to wait cause she was busy. An hour later she finally got to the customers as rigs piled up. No friendly face, no customer service. If this is typical of TT in our zone, we’re done. We then stayed at a beautiful city RV park for a month till we closed on our house.
    To us, not worth it. I hope TT will clean up their act and not call these trailer parks resorts.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience, you didn’t mention specific parks. They are not all the same, that is for sure. For occasional campers, perhaps TT is not the best option. But for full time RVers like us or those on a budget, or prefer to save their money on other experiences, TT can make the difference between being able to RV full time or not. From our experience in ALL 5 zones, your experience of customer service is atypical. But we also go in with smiles on our faces and a friendly attitude just about everywhere we go, and if someone seems stressed, overwhelmed or having a bad day, we try to consider what they might be dealing with and try to give them a smile of our own to help brighten their day. TT certainly is not for everyone, we like small city parks too.

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  10. We purchased a TT membership with our first Class C in 1998. All in all, sad to say as time went on it slowly became a monumental waste of money.

    The quality of their parks took a nose dive in the 2000’s but ever hopeful we kept paying the annual $450 plus dues. We tried to to sell our membership but finally just stopped paying dues three years ago.

    TT may be an attractive deal for seniors on a very tight budget, but the parks are in no stretch of the imagination resorts with perhaps the exception of two or three on the Washington coast and maybe Rancho Oso near Santa Barbara.

    Reply
    • Yes TT almost went bankrupt several times over the years. It would have closed down completely if the current parent company, Equity Lifestyle Properties, had not bought it, and ALL members would have lost their investment. So while we empathize with those who bought TT back in the early days and have witnessed how it has changed, we can only report on the experience we have had since joining in 2014. For us, the cost savings have been worth it. We are not seniors on a very tight budget, but appreciate the cost savings and benefits it has offered us over the years. We like Bend, Palm Springs, Verde Valley, Kenisee Lake, Maine, Seaside, South Jetty, Orlando, and many others… We also like Rancho Oso, but as we work, it’s impossible to get sufficient internet to do so. It is not for everyone, but as camping expenses continue to rise, we only see more people being unable to afford nightly camping rates – and TT helps us overcome that. All the best.

      Reply
  11. We purchased a TT membership with our first Class C in 1998. All in all it was a monumental waste of money. The quality of their parks took a nose dive in the 2000’s but we kept paying the annual $450 plus dues. We tried to to sell our membership but finally just stopped paying dues three years ago.

    TT may be an attractive deal for seniors on a very tight budget, but the parks are in no stretch of the imagination resorts.

    Reply
    • Hi John, sorry to hear of your experience. We agree calling them ‘resorts’ is a stretch. We have heard the parks today aren’t like they were a couple (or few) decades ago. TT had a lot of financial trouble over the years and almost went bankrupt a couple times as we understand. Equity Lifestyle bought them a while back (more than a decade) and has been slowly trying to get them improved. TT certainly isn’t for everything, but as we explained in the article, and shown by the math, our membership has been very worthwhile for us. TT does not only benefit seniors on a very tight budget. We are 40-something working age professionals, and we like to RV affordably. Our TT membership has enabled us to do that, full time, for over 6 years – and for that we will always be grateful. TT is also popular with families, who otherwise could not afford to life the RV life. Is TT perfect? NO. And we openly share that in our articles in trying to help people ‘manage expectations’ to avoid disappointment. But we like to stay focused on the positive, and the savings we’ve enjoyed and the friendships we have made, have made our investment in TT worthwhile for us, and many others. Hope you have been able to find other RV parks and campground you enjoy more! All the best.

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  12. We were Tt members for over twenty years,visiting dozens of parks across Texas and the southwest. The last five years or more we have seen a serious decline in quality and up keep of the parks,dumpsters over filled,trees untrimmed, sites so unleveled you would need a wood stack to level up. Amenties closed, always being renevated. People living there with campers on blocks,a junk yard out front, few sites for large rigs. We cancelled our membership after attempting to sell for a year.thousand trails is a white trash trailer park and no more.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear that was your experience. We’d be interested to know exactly which parks you were staying at to experience this. We have found the standards to vary somewhat across campgrounds around the country, but there are many parks we really enjoy returning to – we tend to pick and choose. We’ve seen some parks in need of improvements and others have really been updated since our first visit. But we have heard they aren’t the same now as they were 20+ years ago. We know the company went into decline over a decade ago and Equity Lifestyle Properties bought them to rescue them from bankruptcy, at least as we understand it. It’s taken a while but we are seeing improvements to properties eg. Lake Conroe, TX – some more than others. At places like Kenisee Lake, Ohio, we noticed the annual sites were kept VERY well, nicer than the annual sites. but we have also seen some as you described. Point being, it has not been our experience that all campgrounds are as you described… when did you cancel your membership? We are still grateful for how much TT has saved us over the years as it has made full time RVing affordable for us and we’ve met some wonderful people. We must respectfully disagree with your closing comment, however, as that was rather a harsh generalization, and presume you haven’t visited all 80 campgrounds when making that claim.

      Reply
      • One person’s level of quality is different from another. We have been to most of the parks in Texas and the sw region going California and a few in the tenn. valley and surrounding areas. Great twenty years ago but no more. The so called upgrades havent happened and it has been over a decade. The Conroe camp had some of the sites up graded but the majority of the park is still very poor.texoma park had eight sites open for members while all others were full time livers. Thus white trash trailer park, come on man.

        Reply
        • Yes that is true – everyone has different levels of quality. And this is why we always aim to manage expectations for people considering a TT membership. Those expecting upscale parks will be disappointed, sites are not paved, not always level. Our priorities were managing our budget – and TT has allowed us to do that. We don’t spend a lot of time recreating in the campgrounds, as we work inside the RV a lot and go exploring elsewhere. But as a place for us to park our RV, have electricity, water and sewer (at most parks) it’s been great. We do pick and choose our parks. Lake Conroe had some substantial upgrades but interior roads needed attention – but they may have been improved as we haven’t been back in a few years. Kenisee Lake was very nice and most of the seasonal sites were beautifully kept, we found many similar in Maine. Some others the RV sites can be rundown, yes. But what we are hearing from you is a broad generalization – we do not agree this is the case for all TT parks. Some are certainly better than others, as we stated, we pick and choose and return to the ones we really like eg. Palm Springs, Verde Valley, Kenisee, Maine, Orlando, and more… plus Trails Collection / Encore parks. My point is this. The article was NEVER intended to be a report on the best quality RV parks. It was specifically about how much money TT has saved us over the years and if it was worth it TO US. And it was. That was our experience.We don’t expect everyone’s experience to be the same. If it had not been for TT, we would have had to spend an additional $20K+ in camping fees over the past 6 years. It has enabled us to afford to RV full time for the past 6+ years. Many we know are forced off the road as they can’t afford it. We don’t mind occasional average campgrounds so we can afford to also stay at much nicer ones when we choose. And there ARE many TT / Encore parks that we actually find to be very nice. For those who want a higher standard of campground all the time, we would certainly say perhaps TT is not for you. Of the 80 parks around the country, we’ve been happy enough with the vast majority of them for our needs. But each to his own. All the best.

          Reply
    • Thanks for the detailed article. I’m curious about something. We’ve stayed at a couple of TT parks as non-members. The parks were fair to okay in terms of upkeep/quality, but the check in process was awful. After waiting in line, they take your money and then say “go find a spot and then come back and let us know the number”. In the Oregon park we had to drive around a large park with many tight turns trying to find an empty space large enough for our rig. I guess if there aren’t any suitable spaces you are out of luck. We have never gotten this kind of treatment anywhere else. We have avoided TT ever since. Do the TT parks treat everyone this way, or only non-members?

      Reply
      • It is common / standard process for TT members to drive around the campground to find the RV site that will best work for their RV as all have different needs. We then call the TT office or drop by letting them know which site we selected. Some parks can be tighter than others, but it does sound like your experience was just ‘different’ to what you have previously experienced or expected. We have a 40′ motorhome and have never not been able to find a spot, but sometimes we have more options available to us than others. TT is a membership based campground network and the vast majority of people are members who understand how the system works. So I can understand how, as a non-member, if this process wasn’t explained to you it could seem a little unusual. Personally, we like being able to pic the site we like for our rig, but we understand others don’t like the process. Hope that helps!

        Reply
  13. We live in BC Canada and if the border was open we would be getting a TT membership but as it stands now I cannot see the point of it.

    Reply
    • Yes, unless you plan to stay in the Cultus Lake campground in BC enough to justify the cost, now may not be the time for you. But if you planned to spend 2 weeks or more in a year at Cultus Lake BC, then a Zone Pass might make sense just for that campground.

      Reply
    • We NEVER rely on campground internet at ANY campground, TT of otherwise. Internet varies widely at locations and campgrounds and towns across the country and so there is never a clear or satisfactory answer to this. We always say to people, if internet is important to you, get your own WIFI / mobile connectivity solution… campground WIFI across the board is too inconsistent to RELY upon. And we are speaking about campgrounds across the board – NOT TT specifically. If you are doing occasional email or web surfing it may be OK to use campground internet, but it’s also going to be a public network, which we also never use, for security purposes. Not sure if its the answer you wanted but its the best one we can give.

      Reply

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