The campground directory for big RVs that Ken Hamill and his wife, Ellie, publish these days is nothing like the one that they started in 2001, when, as Ken readily admits, they knew nothing about writing, printing and advertising.
Ken was a successful businessman who had sold his roofing supply company and settled with Ellie in the Texas Hill Country. They had been experienced RVers, working their way up from a pop-up trailer to a travel trailer and successively larger motorhomes until they arrived at a 40-foot Liberty Prevost.
When they got a big rig, they experienced the frustrations that can occur when you are driving a large motorhome and tow car and need room to maneuver. Ken said he would go into an RV park that he thought could accommodate his rig, and find that “there would be trees in the way and there wouldn’t be enough room to swing around.”
Existing campground directories proved inadequate for their needs, so the Hamills decided to create their own. They started with a book that covered only campgrounds in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, with brief sections on Florida, Las Vegas, the Northern California wine country and Utah’s Bryce and Zion canyons.
From that modest beginning, they expanded the book until they covered the whole nation. It took awhile because the Hamills won’t list an RV park in their book unless they have visited it.
As you will see on Page 18 in our review of the new edition of their book, Big Rigs Best Bets, the Hamills are quite detailed in their directory listings. They don’t just tell you about campgrounds that can handle big rigs, they assess the spaces, telling you where you can park, and, for example, which slots have 60 feet of room and which have 90 feet.
In their book collaboration, Ellie handles the computer work, while Ken does the fieldwork, measuring campsites by stepping off the space. In the course of his research, Ken estimates that he has looked at 30,000 to 40,000 campsites, “and I’ve stepped off everyone.”
The new 10th edition of Big Rigs Best Bets lists 1,150 RV parks, ranging from those recommended only for overnight stays to luxurious resorts. Most are private parks, but public campgrounds are also included. Every park listed in the book can accommodate a 40-foot coach with a tow.
Hamill said the users of the directory have many different criteria in selecting where to stay; some want luxury, others just want to be close to nature. So the directory has a wide range of parks, including some whose main asset is that they are near an interstate and are suitable for an overnight stay if nothing more. But Hamill won’t include any park where he thinks his readers would be uncomfortable.
“There are some parks that have become rundown or have turned into low-rent housing,” he said. But as he tours the country, Hamill finds that many parks are getting better, with more amenities and enlarged campsites to serve larger RVs. Some public campgrounds are being upgraded, too, he said, even adding Wi-Fi access. So many RVers want to be connected to the Internet while on the road that free Wi-Fi service is becoming an expectation. “Wi-Fi is just as important as a sewer hookup these days,” Hamill said.
The Hamills hadn’t included Alaska in their directory until the new edition that is being released this month. They and a group of friends spent the summer touring Alaska in their motorhomes. They traveled up the Alaska Highway and found 21 parks and 15 fuel stops to recommend from Dawson Creek in Canada to Delta Junction. In Alaska itself, they found 25 parks to list in their book.
As is customary, they took the time to visit every park and carefully assess each campsite.
The Hamills home base is at the Buckhorn Lake Resort in Kerrville, Texas, but they spend a good part of each year traveling. They could hire others to make campground inspections, but they don’t want to delegate that responsibility. They would rather gather the information themselves so they can be sure of their facts.
As Ken observes, “Credibility is the only reason we’re in business.”
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.