Dump the printed books, use apps to find RV camping spots

Hot doesn’t begin to describe what August in the Badlands was like. The dashboard thermometer read 101 degrees and as we drove out of the Badlands National Park towards Interior, SD, the two lane blacktop shimmered with heat waves that even kept the area’s healthy rattlesnake population hunkered down in their burrows.

We approached a campground that the big thick campground guide book we had been thumbing through told us was a great spot to overnight. What it failed to mention was, there was no shade.

“Ahh, Mike, are you sure this is where we should stop?” asked Jennifer, trying to keep the tone of her “he’s gotta be nuts if he thinks we should be camping here out in the middle of the desert in the middle of August” secret thoughts from showing in the real words she spoke.

I didn’t answer. Instead I pulled over and hit my iPad and an app called RV Parks where, just a couple miles out of town on Highway 44, I found a listing for the Badlands/White River KOA. I called up details and saw, under Camp basics, “Yes” for Shaded Sites.

The Badlands/White River KOA offers great shade!

The Badlands/White River KOA offers great shade!

Ten minutes later we were in a spot, under a couple of shady trees, connected to power and so comfortable we didn’t even need to run the AC.

That is also where I tossed out the printed campground directory and decided that from now on, I’d use apps to guide my RVing.

We liked that KOA so much we spent two nights there instead of one.

Pages from the printed directory helped me get my evening fire started.

There are so many apps and websites out there geared for RVers these days that , I have accumulated a couple of screenfulls of RV related apps, mapping navigation and on-the-road guides.

I have 27 of them, in fact. For which I paid, cumulatively, less than I paid for the big printed guide. Printed guides are out of date before they hit the bookstores. Online guides and apps are updated all the time with current, relevent info.

Later last summer in West Yellowstone, Montana, I met veteran Class A owner Frank Russell, who, with wife, Ginny , travels pretty much fulltime in his 2007 Monaco.

Frank is 73 years old, hardly the stereotype of a tech savvy geek.

But mounted on the dash of his coach is a holder for what he calls “the official iPad.”

Why is that official, I wondered?

“This is the one we use for navigation and direction,” he explained, booting it up to show many of the same apps I use. He also has a checklist he calls call up that he goes over before leaving camp that details all the things that need stowing before moving the Monaco.

Ginny has her own iPad. They use that for e-mail, Facebook and finding recipes. Ginny also will use it to find local museums and antique stores in the communities they pass by.

“We are seldom out of range of cell coverage,” says Frank. “Even in campgrounds, we don’t like to rely on campground Wi-Fi because we’ve found they are very slow, if they work at all.”

So he makes his own network.

“We set up our own WiFi hotspot when we are in camp using the iPad ,” said Frank. “Usually we get a much speedier connection to the Net by just going through Verizon.”

Ginny showed me an app called HBO Go that, using the Comcast Cable account they have back at the suburban Philadelphia home. “Campground cable is usually not very good either,” she said. “So we can watch our favorite movies here.” She clicked out of that app and then opened the Netflix app. “We have this on the iPad, too, for movies” but, she said, since the iPad screen is limited, they often use their Apple Mac Book Pro for Netflix movies. They connect the laptop computer via a cable to their 42 inch flat screen.

The Russell’s don’t consider themselves very techy. I found myself impressed with their knowledge. Who says tech is only for the young?

Here are five apps I use a lot while I’m traveling in my RV. To check them out yourself, just do a search on the name of the app or click on their hyperlinks.

1) For Interstate travel, you sure can’t beat the handy iExit app for the iPhone and iPad and Android phones. It uses your device’s built in GPS capabilities to tell you what’s coming up in real time when driving on the interstate. Select your favorite chains and it will tell you which upcoming exits have them. Besides food, it shows what hotels are ahead, what RV services are there, where to get gas, ice cream, auto service, rest areas. Cost is just 99-cents.

2) My favorite campground app right now is the one I wrote about at the beginning of this column, the RV Parks app for the iPhone. I also use it on my iPad. It’s free.

3) Another excellent campground app for Droid and iPhone users, is the $3.99 We Camp Here app. It displays a map of nearby campgrounds. Click and you get detailed campground information. You can read and write reviews, call for reservations, view the campground website or even get turn by turn driving directions to get you to the campground.

4) Looking for a free place to spend the night in your RV? Try the $2.99 Walmart Overnight Parking Locator . This free app for the iPhone and Droids shows you which Walmarts in your area let you spend the night. It also lists which amenities are nearby.

5) What would a camping trip be without some great food? The Coleman Camping Cookbook is a great free app for the iPhone that features a meal planner, detailed menus and pictures for cooking everything you can possibly imagine.

Those are some of my favorites apps. Share your favorites in the comments below.





  • Bob

    Nice list of apps. I have used some of them. One I paid for was we camp here. I used to like it, but it would not load last time I tried it. I looked into why and the app is no longer on Google play and their web site is gone. Not sure when this all was shut down but, I would not recommend it now.

  • Liz Addison

    My “go to” app for campsites is RV Parks (the same one you recommended). It has a map that even works off-line!! How cool is that? If I ever find something amiss in the park information, I just hit the “feedback” button and within a day, I have a response. I actually feel I have a personal relationship with the woman on the other end of my e-mails. She is most appreciative of any information I can give her to help improve the app. My only complaint is that there is nothing comparable for Canada (where I live). Five stars for this app in the USA though.

  • Marie

    I’ve enjoyed using RV Parky a lot and have found it not only helpful, but accurate.

  • CCT

    It would be good if you have some scanning of the place before going on a camp, But thanks anyway for posting this,

  • mercedmann2013

    I could not find the “We Camp Here” app for Android it is not in the Playstore.