Are Thousand Trails memberships worth the cost?
Whether you’re new to RVing or you have been on an RV adventure for decades you have probably heard of Thousand Trails. One of the oldest RV park membership organizations in the US and Canada, Thousand Trails offers casual campers and full-time RVers a host of membership benefits. There are 81 parks dispersed through 5 regions and with an add-on package called The Trails Collection you will also have access to Encore RV Resorts throughout the country. The Encore parks add over 100 campgrounds to the network.
There are many different membership levels in the Thousand Trails network and each level offers different benefits. Within each level, there are also unique variables that can impact membership benefits. These memberships are sold directly by Thousand Trails but they can also be legally obtained from resellers, on the secondary market. By purchasing a membership from a reseller you may be able to significantly reduce the overall cost of the membership.
Start with the Basics
My traveling partner and I purchased our basic membership well over a year ago for about $575 from a Thousand Trails representative. Then we added The Trails Collection for just under $200 (that price has since increased) but when we got ready to upgrade to a higher level membership, we bought that upgrade from a reseller. The process of buying a membership on the secondary market takes quite a bit more time and you must purchase all of the attributes and limitations that are built into whatever membership you purchase.
As I said earlier, these memberships may have unique features, so generalizing about what you will receive at each level, is just that, a generalization. For example, a membership that has been resold before cannot be resold again, with the exception of the unique membership that we purchased which has a specific clause written into the contract allowing us to resell it at some point in the future.
The Details Are In The Contract
Since the details in each contract can be very specific, I suggest reading the entire contract carefully before you commit to buying it. Additionally, if you are negotiating with a Thousand Trails membership director to purchase a brand-new membership and you have specific needs or requests, it might be worth negotiating with the representative to get your specific requests incorporated into your contract. Higher-level contracts can be quite expensive, up to $16K+, but they have lasting value and they can be passed on to your heirs, or resold in the secondary market.
It’s Not FREE Camping, but it Can Be a Savings
The basic membership entitles you to camp in a Thousand Trails RV park for two weeks and pay no camping fees. Plus the basic membership allows you to make reservations up to 90 days in advance. When you have a basic membership which costs approximately $600 annually, you will be required to vacate the property for 7 days, before returning to any Thousand Trails RV park.
At the beginning of this article, I asked if the membership was worth the cost. Technically, yes! For around $600, you could conceivably camp for 240+ days a year and pay nothing extra but this basic membership annual membership fee. If you camped for 240 days in Thousand Trails parks, that would equate to less than $2.50 per day for camping fees.
Basic Thousand Trails Membership From A Logistical Standpoint
Is this scenario possible? Yes, but it is not probable. The logistics alone would make this almost impossible. You would need to camp for two weeks in a Thousand Trails park. Exit for one week and return to a Thousand Trails park for another two weeks. Then repeat that throughout the year. You would also need to make reservations for those stays. And if you can only make reservations 90 days in advance, you’ll discover that during the peak season, it can be difficult to find vacancies in Thousand Trails parks since the higher-level memberships give members longer lead times for reservations.
If you can only make reservations within a 90-day lead time and you are competing with many other members who have 120 or 160-day lead times, you will, no doubt, find that most of the better Thousand Trails parks are full during the peak seasons. That is, after all, one of the benefits of paying thousands of dollars for the more expensive memberships. In addition to the longer reservation lead times, the more expensive memberships allow stays for up to three consecutive weeks. Plus, they can camp back-to-back in different Thousand Trails parks with no “out of system” week between stays.
We have met many Thousand Trails members who camp exclusively within the Thousand Trails and Encore system. They move around the country camping in one Thousand Trails park after another. They paid for the more advanced membership and their annual dues. But they do not pay for any other camping fees. For full-time RVers, this may be an attractive option.
What Can You Expect at a Thousand Trails Park?
Many Thousand Trails parks are very nicely appointed. Some have recreational opportunities such as pickleball, tennis courts, swimming pools, mini golf, ping pong tables, boat rentals, nearby golf courses, on-site activities, recreational centers, and a host of other recreational opportunities.
Some of the parks are quite old and the infrastructure–water hookups, sewer, and electrical–is certainly not state-of-the-art. Many Thousand Trails parks have limited sites with sewer connections. But almost all sites throughout the system have both water and power. Also, there is usually a convenient dump station on-site. The sites are typically rustic, and many sites are not level, so you need to pick your site carefully.
Final Thousand Trails Membership Verdict?
We have stayed in many Thousand Trail parks and found them to be generally pleasant and functional. Initially, we started with the basic package. After a year decided to upgrade to a higher membership level which permits 3 consecutive week stays, 120-day lead time for reservations, and back-to-back camping reservations. We made this decision so we would have more camping options on our full-time RV adventure. We do not stay exclusively in Thousand Trail parks. But our belief is that this membership network is worth the money. And if or when we’re done RVing, we will be able to sell the membership.
How about you? Are you a Thousand Trails member? Do you think the membership is worth the cost? Share your experience in the comments below. And then join the Thousand Trails discussion via iRV2 Forums with even more fellow RV enthusiasts!