Dec 282009

I’ve had a few e-mails from readers who noted that we are currently staying at a Thousand Trails preserve and wanted to know if I felt that  Thousand Trails membership was a good investment.

As I have said many times before, like anything, a campground membership can be a good investment if you use it enough. If you don’t, it’s a waste of money. I know Thousand Trails members who get a lot of value from their memberships, and others, like Terry and myself, who really don’t use it enough to justify the annual dues.

We knew going in that it would take us some time to free up our schedule enough to really take advantage of our membership, and we got it cheap enough that we can handle that.

We have stayed at Thousands Trails and NACO campgrounds in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Ohio, and visited preserves in several other states. Most have been more than adequate for our needs, but overall we have not found them to be the idyllic resorts that the fancy brochures the marketing people put out depict.

This is our third visit to the Colorado River preserve in Columbus, Texas, and the first time that we have not had problems with electrical power (so far). As in past trips, the electrical posts at several RV sites are covered with plastic bags and inoperable, so even though the campground is supposed to have 94 campsites available, a number of them are out of service. Nobody ever seems to get around to repairing them.

This lack of maintenance seems to be a common theme at many Thousand Trails/NACO preserves across the country. We have been to some preserves where interior roads were in poor shape, and others where swimming pools and hot tubs were out of commission. There have been a couple that we have not even visited, because of the poor reports on them posted at the Thousand Trails Yahoo group.

Despite maintenance problems at some locations, every preserve we have visited or stayed in has been very clean, and the staff have always been very friendly and helpful.

Be aware that this system was designed for family camping, so in the summertime you can expect lots of kids, bicycles, smoky campfires, and such. If this isn’t your thing, like us, you will probably want to avoid the preserves when school is out of session.

Many Thousand Trails members have expressed concern over the growing numbers of RV sites that are leased out on a seasonal basis, taking them out of the pool for traveling members. These are usually the most desirable sites in the preserves. Given that, we still have always been able to find a site at any Thousand Trails or NACO campground we have visited.

What really burns me up is the fact that they have hired an outside company to handle annual dues payments. This company is also a collection agency, and there has been a lack of communication between them and the Thousand Trails office a couple of times in terms of posting payments.  Twice the dweebs at the outside company have called us and acted like we were deadbeats, when in fact the payment was already made, but Thousand Trails had not updated the records they share with them.

If you are interested in a Thousand Trails membership, be sure to get a nationwide one, with the NACO package included. And be aware that no two Thousand Trails memberships seem to be the same. It’s all about how good a negotiator you are and how hungry the salesman is, as to pricing and what added benefits your membership may have.

You can come to a preserve and sit through their sales spiel, but be aware that like all campground membership sales reps, some of the folks hustling these memberships are very much into the hard sell. A new membership will cost you thousands of dollars. Or, like us, you can buy a used membership.

There are tons of folks out there who have Thousand Trails/NACO memberships who just want to get rid of them and stop paying the dues. You can find a used membership for anywhere from free to about $1,000. Some people ask a whole lot more for them, because they believed the salesman who sold it and told them they could always get their money back.

When we decided we wanted a membership, I simply put a post on the Escapees forum and was swamped with folks wanting to unload theirs for anywhere from free to $5,000.

We got our membership used for $100 plus the $750 transfer fee, from a lady whose husband died and she wasn’t RVing any more. We can stay at any Thousand Trails or NACO park nationwide for fourteen days, and go directly to another one with no days out of the system. The original owner wanted to give it to us, but my attorney said to give her $100 to make it a binding contract.

Our annual dues are $500, which gives us 50 nights of camping, and after that, we pay $5 a night. If we wanted to pay higher annual dues, we could stay in Thousand Tails/NACO parks 365 days a year. So it can be a good bargain if we used it enough, which we hope to do, now that our schedule is not so complicated.

If you are considering a used membership, always call Thousand Trails and give them the contract number and ask what it includes, and if there will be any changes if you buy it. Here is a link to a website where you may be able to find a good deal, if you are looking for a used membership

And while you’re online, check out Bad Nick’s new blog post What Does It Take? and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – A cloth is not woven from a single thread.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  14 Responses to “Thousand Trails, Pros And Cons”

  1. I’ve been a member of Thousand Trails/NACO for 4 1/2 years. Everything that Nick has said is true. I received mine free much in the same way as he did and will give mine away when I no longer use it. I upgraded this past April to the Elite membership for $4000. I took the free membership after looking into the location of the parks and speaking with friends who were members. It serves my needs as the majority of my winter travels takes place in CA, OR, and WA. The upgrade was most important to me as it gives me 21 days in each park. Do look for older contracts as TT’s will no longer be selling “lifetime” contracts. They will only be selling them in packages from one year to five then you will have to sign up for a new contract if you wish to renew. This is not as good as it sounds in the long run. You will be out multiple thousands of dollars if you wish to stay with TT’s under terms that may not be as acceptable. Nick and I both pay $5/night after our initial 50 days is used. Other contracts have folks paying nothing up to $18/night. So check them out.

    The parks are clean; the workers are nice; there are things to do. There are lots of kids on holidays; electricity is problematic; some areas are run down. Some are rural and are definitely not “upscale” resorts. I like the folks that vist the preserves. I particularly like the animals on them — deer, bobcats, turkeys, bunnies, etc. The salesman for my upgrade was far from pushy but then, I knew what I wanted and didn’t.

  2. We’re in the stage now when we probably ought to sell our membership. We’ve had it for a long time, bought it when the prices were highest, and have upgraded consistently. Our dues are frozen at $488 a year, we can go to any park in the system, 50 free nights a year, beyond that, only $2 a night, and we can stay three weeks at a lime. While we like the parks and the system, most of the preserves are nowhere near where we want to be when we travel! Will we accept an offer? No, not yet, but we’re teetering.

  3. We’ve had Thousand Trails, LTR and NACO off and on since our kids were little. We spent every weekend (almost) camping in their Washington and Oregon parks … fabulous. We still visit those parks. The current membership we have was purchased by searching Craigslist postings all over the country. We paid past dues and membership transfer fees. For about $550 a year we can stay as many nights as we want in some fabulous locations without an additional fee. The stay at Palm Springs alone more than makes our membership worthwhile. Most folks pay more than our whole annual dues just to stay there one month! Sure there are issues at some of the parks and the harder you look the more issues you’ll find. There are some fabulous parks in some fabulous locations. And, there are some we really don’t care so much for. Families do fill the parks in the summer … especially those close to the beach. But, then again, they fill all the parks. Everyone needs to do what works for them. It’s not for everyone but it sure has saved us a bundle of money.

  4. I have the TT membership but hardly use it… We have only visited a couple of them but stayed many times in the Orlando, Florida one… We are hoping to use it more when we travel the west coast… Thanks for the info Nick… Also did you do a post on condensation in coaches? We are having a problem with water forming in the closets in this freezing weather. I am desperately trying to figure what to do… Please email me if you have any suggestions at Have a great day & travel safely… Thanks for your help!
    Happy New Year


    Great newspaper website Nick. Thanks for the very helpful info on TT.

  6. I looked at all the memberships parks and then due to our lifestyle and where we travel and how we travel, I decided not to buy any of them. We do have Passport America. I bought a lifetime membership when they offered it (around $275). We have definitely gotten our money back on that one and continue each year to get good value. We also belong to Escapees, Good Sams, FMCA, AAA where we can sometimes get discounts on stays at parks. Golden Age pass (senior pass) helps and occasionally boondocking helps as well. Since I like electric hookups we mostly stay in a park. We average each year any where from $11.00 to $17.00 a night’s stay depending on what part of the country we are in.
    It is important for anyone looking into these memberships to ask themselves if they will be USING the membership. If you buy one, you are on the hook for the annual dues whether you use the membership or not. You have to use the membership or it’s not worth it for you to buy it. Also, do research on your home park. Is it stable? What happens to you if it stops being in the system? I have attended a number of resale seminars at Escapees and FMCA and there are lots of stories from audience members about the negatives of their memberships.
    As others have said the memberships can be great if the parks are where you go and if you USE the membership to get the value out of it each year. But just remember, it’s easy to buy the membership and not so easy to sell the membership. You also will NOT get your money back if you bought the membership at a high price. Nick got his membership at $100 plus transfer fee. You can buy memberships from resellers at very low prices without transfer fees. This shows you the real value of the membership as an investment. The membership is not an investment. You buy it to use it.
    So buyer beware. Be sure you understand ALL the ins and outs of what you bought, what it really gets you and what it’s worth on the resell market. You have to evaluate its useful for you and your lifestyle. Park memberships are not for everyone.

  7. We know all about those high pressure sales tactics! We fell for a free 3-night stay at Western Horizons and got the hard, hard sell! Walked out and would never go back to one even if it was free.

  8. We also bought a used membership..but when we bought, we bought one just like Suzy and Jerry have–it was a $2 a night and a frozen membership–BUT when it went back through Thousand Trails (and they have to go back to corporate) they changed it–we pay $5 a night and still can’t complain. Like Nick said, it is only a good deal if you use it. Never buy a membership directly from TTN-also find a used one, to get a better deal.When you look at it, even if you only use it 50 nights a year, you are only paying $10 a night. Some of the parks are in really bad shape and others are wonderful. The one in Batesville, Indiana called Indian Lakes was in terrible shape last year.

  9. Good info Nick. I’ve always wondered how those memberships worked and if the parks lived up to their luxurious claims. A little too pricey for me, even used since I cold never use it enough. Thanks again.

  10. Just try to cancel your thousand trails membership and you will see what kind of a company they are. You are stuck with it and the dues until your contract is up or until you die. And they will ruin your credit score with there own in house collection agency. They are despicable and I would advise anyone not to buy into it.

  11. my wife and i have had a membership for eight years now and recently have become very disappointed with the public beong aloud in.We paid $5000.00 for members only camping where we could fell comfortable with whos camping next to us.We left public camping because of all the trouble there these days (stealing,drunken parties,and the filthy bathrooms.Now thousand trails has opened the door for this element to come in.And the leasing of sites has turned some parks into nothing more than storage facilities,just take a look at rancho oso in california where people are storing furniture on there sites.I have the video to prove it which i will post on the internet soon.Many and i mean many long time members are suggesting a class action law suit.

  12. I have a membership for sale for a good price we love it but cant go no more 310-872-4050 for details.

  13. We just bought our membership and have no annual contract. We pay 400 per year and get 30 nights of camping free. After that is 3 dollars a night. We can stay 3 weeks at a time if we’d like to. If we want to continue next year we pay our dues, if not, we don’t. We have access to leisure time and encore resorts as well. We are Washington residents so we frequent Washington, Oregon and BC. Unlike most of the posts, we are parents of young children and love that the parks are full of events for them to enjoy. We just stayed at beautiful Grandy creek and our kids enjoyed the flashlight lollipop hunts, duck races, outdoor movies, jumping pillow, volleyball games and ice cream socials. We can’t complain about any of the parks we’ve been to. Folks are friendly, things are clean and well kept. If there are loud parties the staff are quick to quiet them. I would recommend Thousand Trails to all of our family and friends

  14. looking for a reasonable membership all inclusive we don’t have a lot of money but time we have want to see the United States at our leisure. Thanx

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