Like everyone else, RVers want to save money, and a Thousand Trails membership is one of the more popular suggestions.
If you’re looking to cut costs on overnight fees, fuel, attraction tickets, and more. Sometimes a membership will offer perks and benefits that help save money.
But is Thousand Trails still a good membership for RVers in 2023?
Let’s take a closer look!
What Is Thousand Trails?
Thousand Trails is one of the largest networks of campgrounds in North America. It includes over 80 locations in 22 states and British Columbia. Members can stay without paying nightly fees, but the campgrounds are also open to non-members.
Rental accommodations like cabins, cottages, yurts, and tiny houses are also available at some locations. Yearly dues of around $630 are paid by members.
Where Are Thousand Trails Campgrounds Located?
Thousand Trails campgrounds are located in 22 states and British Columbia. Although they’re spread out across the United States, the majority of them are along the coasts from Maine to Florida and Washington to California and in the state of Texas. There are very few in the Midwest or Mountain West regions of the country.
There are five different zones within the Thousand Trails network. They include the Southeast, the Northeast, the Southwest, the Northwest, and the Midwest. The Southeast has the most locations with 23. The Northwest is next with 18 locations.
Camping Pass members only have access to one zone unless they pay for additional zones. Other Thousand Trails members have access to all five zones.
What Are the Different Types of Thousand Trails Memberships?
There are five different memberships offered through Thousand Trails, with an optional Trails Collection package that can be added to any membership. The cheapest option is the Zone Camping Pass, and the most expensive option is the Adventure membership.
Zone Camping Pass
As mentioned above, the Zone Camping Pass gives members access to one of the five zones. For $70 more, members can add other zones to their membership. Members pay $630 per year for the Zone Camping Pass and can stay overnight for free for up to 14 consecutive nights.
This membership requires guests to stay out of the Thousand Trails system for seven nights before they can return. The booking window is 60 days.
The newest Thousand Trails membership is the Cabin Pass. This pass allows guests who don’t have an RV to stay within the Thousand Trails system as the various rental accommodations. It costs $1,495 per year, and the optional Trails Collection is included for free for the first year.
These members can book vacations up to 60 days in advance and stay for up to seven days at a time. Then they have to be out of the Thousand Trails system for 14 nights before returning. As with all of the Thousand Trails memberships, Cabin Pass members don’t pay any nightly fees.
The cheapest of the park-to-park memberships is the Elite Basic. This Thousand Trails membership allows guests to travel from one Thousand Trails location to another without any time out of the system. This means RVers could pay zero nightly fees for an entire year if they stay solely in Thousand Trails campgrounds.
The booking window is 120 days and costs around $7,995 upfront, with annual dues of $630. Campers can stay in one location for up to 21 days before having to leave that campground.
The next level up from the Elite Basic is the Elite Connections. This Thousand Trails membership allows guests to travel from one Thousand Trails location to another, just like the Elite Basic with a few upgrades. These members have a 180-day booking window, which gives them a much better chance of making reservations in popular campgrounds.
Additionally, Elite Connections members receive one week free in a standard cabin rental for the first five years of their membership with 50% off additional standard cabin rentals. It costs $10,345 upfront, with annual dues of $630.
The most expensive Thousand Trails membership is the Adventure at $16,595 with annual dues of $630. But there are more perks. These members receive the same 21-day stay limit and park-to-park accessibility, but they have a much larger booking window.
Adventure members can book campgrounds 180 days in advance. In addition, the Trails Collection is included at no extra cost, and these locations can be booked 90 days in advance. No other membership level allows reservations to be made 60 days before arriving at a Trails Collection location.
For full-time travelers or snowbirds, this is a huge advantage. No other membership allows extensions during high-use periods, but Adventure members can purchase two extension weeks during high-use periods. Additional perks include five free weeks in a standard cabin, ten free weeks in a getaway cabin, and a free RPI RV campground membership for two years.
Trails Collection Add-On
The Trails Collection is an optional add-on to any Thousand Trails membership. With this membership, you have access to over 100 additional locations for $330 per year. These are across the country and not zone-specific.
So even if you have the Camping Pass with the Northeast Zone, you can stay in a Trails Collection location in Arizona for free. The booking window is 60 days (except for Adventure members) and the stay limit is 14 nights.
What Are the Benefits of Owning A Thousand Trails Membership?
The primary benefit of owning a Thousand Trails membership is certainly the free overnight stays. Consider if you camp five nights per month. With the $630 cost of a Zone Camping Pass, that comes out to $52.59 per month, $10.50 per night. You won’t find a $10 rate at any campground in the country that offers amenities and hook-ups.
For full-time travelers who may stay at Thousand Trails locations 200 nights a year with an Elite Connections membership, the $10,345 upfront cost breaks down to $862 per month, $51.73 per night for the first year. Once you just pay the $630 annual fee for the second year, the cost is $3.15 per night for 200 nights of camping.
The campgrounds themselves aren’t luxurious, but they offer what travelers need. Most of them have full hook-ups, while some offer 50-Amp service for a slight fee of $3 to $5 per night. There are usually activities and events planned throughout the year at these locations, and many campgrounds have basketball courts, playgrounds, lakes, laundry facilities, activity centers, and more for guests to enjoy.
It’s also a great way to meet other travelers, especially families. Many traveling families are looking for ways to save money, and a Thousand Trails membership can do that if used accordingly. At many of these locations, you’ll find kids riding their bikes or swimming in the pool, or playing tag at the playground.
How to Take Full Advantage of a Thousand Trails Membership
Membership is only good when you use it. You can pay $99 to join Harvest Hosts for a year, which is much cheaper than $630, but if you only stay one or two nights, is it worth it? Have you really saved any money?
The same can be asked about a Thousand Trails membership. In order to take full advantage of this network of campgrounds, you must regularly use the benefits. If you purchase an Elite Basic membership for $7,995 and only stay in Thousand Trails locations ten nights the first year, you’ve spent $799.50 each night. However, if you stay ten nights per month, then you’ve spent $66.63 each night.
You also need to consider how often you’ll be camping to select the right Thousand Trails membership for you. If you intend to travel full-time, the Adventure membership may be worth it, as you’ll be staying overnight in locations all over the country. If you intend to travel just a weekend or two a month to the local Thousand Trails campground, then a simple Zone Camping Pass should suffice.
Why A Thousand Trails Membership Isn’t For Everyone
Even with the free overnight stays, access to dozens of campgrounds across the country, and discounts on cabin rentals, a Thousand Trails membership still isn’t for everyone.
If you travel the Midwest or Mountain West, it doesn’t make sense to buy a Thousand Trails membership since there are very few locations in those regions.
At $630, the Zone Camping Pass is a great deal for someone traveling the summer in Texas, where there are seven locations.
A Thousand Trails membership also doesn’t really make sense if you prefer to boondock. The network includes campgrounds with amenities and hook-ups. These aren’t located in beautiful scenic spots like Red Rock Canyon.
They’re usually close to the main highway and easily accessible to provide convenience. Some offer a more natural setting than others, but staying in a Thousand Trails campground probably isn’t the best fit for RVers who enjoy waking up to the sound of crashing waves along the shore.
Is A Thousand Trails Membership Worth It?
A Thousand Trails membership is absolutely worth it in 2023 for full-time travelers who will be spending most of their time in regions with Thousand Trails campgrounds. For snowbirds heading to Florida, Texas, or Arizona, the Trails Collection is almost essential for access to more parking options. A must since so many RVers visit those states during the winter.
Even for weekend warriors, a Thousand Trails Zone Camping Pass or Cabin Pass is a great option. But only if you’re going to use it frequently. If you want more flexibility on where you can go on the weekends, then the Thousand Trails network will limit you.
But if you just want a place nearby where you can kick back and relax with the kids, check out the Thousand Trails locations to see if there’s one within a few hours.
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