Tag Archives: internet

Advice: getting Internet while RVing

A lot of people are interested in being able to get on the Internet as they RV. While campgrounds may advertise the availability of WIFI your internet experience will be iffy at best. We’ve found decent WIFI to be the exception rather than the rule. Your best chance of getting good WIFI is to stay in more upscale facilities and/or in urban campgrounds. Even then, we’ve found that some places that advertise WIFI only provide it if you go to a specific location. At that point you’ll generally be competing with other RVers who are on the same Internet connect. Evenings and weekends can be brutal for even the most basic internet operations. If you want to do Netflix – sorry, but it will be practically impossible to do on WIFI at 99% of the campgrounds you visit. So, the bottom line on WIFI is this: for the occasional user; for the person who just wants to check email once a day – campground WIFI will probably be sufficient. For Facebook addicts, for people who like to surf the web, and especially for people who “need” internet for business or home schooling – you’ll need a different solution. Many people get WIFI boosters to extend their reach to the campground WIFI (we have a WIFI Ranger). Just know this: reaching out farther to connect to a pitiful campground WIFI won’t make the connect speed any faster, it will only save your walking to the Activity center, etc. to access that same poor connection.

The alternative is cell data. Companies like Verizon will happily sell you big buckets of data for a price. If (and that’s a big “if”) you are staying in an area with decent cell coverage for your carrier, you can do fairly good using your cell phone as a hot spot or, even better, using a dedicated hot spot device. There are two big cautions here. First, you do have to be in range of a cell tower for your carrier. Verizon is the undisputed leader in coverage but for the RVer who truly wants to get away from it all there’s the real possibility that you’ll get away from cell coverage too. Second, it’s going to cost you. Be ready to fork over serious cash if you want to web surf and Facebook to your heart’s content. Again, forget Netflix. Just streaming one movie will eat up a good part of your month’s allotment of all but the biggest buckets of data. Also, even as there are WIFI signal boosters there are cell signal boosters. Our Weboost Drive can make a real difference in internet connectivity. Just remember that you have to have a signal to boost. If you have, say 2 bars of 4G a booster can give you a boost of a bar or maybe even two. Sometimes that is a noticeable difference in connect speed.

One strategy people use is to have service from two different providers. You might be in range of one but not the other. Again, though, you are buying that capability.

This is, of course a very general overview. There are websites and books on the topic that get into the weeds of this subject. Depending on your needs, you may want to spend some time researching this topic using these resources. One of these best is Technomadia’s RV Mobile Internet site.

Campground Review: Natchez Trace Thousand Trails near Hohenwald, TN

100_4824.JPG At the conclusion of my previous review of Natchez Trace Thousand Trails near Hohenwald, TN a couple of years ago I commented that on a future visit I hoped to see some of the maintenance issues of this campground addressed. Frankly, as we finish up our second stay here, I have to report that my previous review is still accurate. If nothing else, I’d say the mile and a half road back into the campground has even more potholes than it did two years ago. I mentioned that good WiFi was one of the real bright spots, but this stay it wasn’t working well with lots of dropouts even with a strong signal. I mentioned it at the office a couple of times and near the end of our stay someone may have looked at it because it finally settled down and disappeared less often.

100_4825.JPG As we arrived there were two other rigs just ahead of us. We found out they were a mom and dad from the northeastern part of the country meeting their son and his family from Texas for a two week stay together. They were very disappointed in the campground. The son wasn’t a member and had paid the “rack rate” for a two week stay in his brand new 5th wheel. After walking around the campground for a long time, looking at every available site and digesting the news that there were no 50 amp sites at all, they settled on a couple of rougher sites next to one another. The next day they pulled out, looking for a nicer campground. I don’t know if they got a refund or not.

Let me say that I think that was a bit of an over-reaction. Anyone who looks online can see that there is only 30 amp service here. Still, for someone looking for a nice campground with some amenities I can understand the feeling of disappointment. For us, the campground itself is at the low end of “acceptable” and not a place I would look forward to visiting aside from it being easy on my camping budget as a fulltime traveler. The primary other positive is that our stay coincided with the peak of the fall foliage here and the colors were glorious.

I don’t understand the layout here. At the front gate there’s a store, pool, min-golf, and lake access. However there are no campsites. The campground for members is a mile and a half away, over a very rough and hilly road. There’s plenty of room for a campground in a big, wide open area near the amenities and I have no idea of why anyone ever thought isolating the primary campground as it is would be a good idea. Aside from that I know the long term residents and the staff of this Thousand Trails are still hoping cooperate will finally turn its attention to this long neglected campground. I suggest that happen sooner and not later.

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Campground Review: Cherry Glen Campground – CoE – Saylorville Lake, Iowa

This is our second stay at this nice Corps of Engineers campground, located on Saylorville Lake, northwest Des Moines, IA. Things this stay are much the same as they were when we were here two years ago, so you might want to check out my review from that stay. I’ll just focus on a few fresh observations in this post.

PHOTO_20150626_120615.jpg One thing I noticed this stay is how many campsites are rather unlevel front to back. Our site is steep enough that I have the landing gear of the 5th wheel extended about as far as I’ve ever extended it. I think a larger motorhome might end up with the front wheels well off the ground in this site. There are, of course, a number of spots that are level or at least “level enough” but because of our site I began noticing others and realized that several sites are like this.

PHOTO_20150626_115653.jpg Also, I’ve learned that, while there are no sewer sites here, there are several water hookup sites scattered around the park. The reason I missed them on our first stay is that the water spigots aren’t near the electric posts. Instead, they are stand alone water hookups either along the roads between the campsites or well behind them. I think that originally the idea was that people would be able to get water from communal spigots at various places around the park. At some point the decision was made to allow the closest campsite to the outlets to claim them and hook up to them if they wanted. There’s an extra $2 charge for those campsites (since we have an America the Beautiful pass we pay half for the site, making the extra charge just $1). Someone told me that the common practice is for the person in a water campsite to put a “Y” splitter at the faucet so that people can get water out of it even though someone is hooked up to it. If having a water hookup is important to you be sure to study the campground map when making reservations here.

My Verizon has a barely-working 3G signal here. It seems to work okay during the day and then as evening comes it slows down considerably. I was able to get satellite TV by putting the dish up close to the road. I’m guessing that people with a portable dish have a considerably better chance of getting satellite than do those with a roof mounted dish.

In my previous review I mentioned some bad weather and we had a repeat of that our first night here. We kept an eye on things as a couple of tornado warnings were issued for the counties just west of us. Aside from considerable rain falling, though, we came through the warnings without any problem.

We still like this campground a lot and will likely make it our place to stay when visiting family here in central Iowa.


Campground review: Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, Groveland, CA

PHOTO_20140825_174925.jpg We think there’s a lot to like about Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails, located 18 miles east of Groveland, CA and about five miles west of the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park.

PHOTO_20140829_193149.jpgThis is a big campground with over 200 full hookup sites plus a large dedicated tenting area, several cabins, and two “Yurt” villages.  There’s a nice playground, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard, volleyball and basketball courts, and mini golf.  Our stay included Labor Day weekend and most of those features got plenty of action.  Our Labor Day stay also included a concert by a talented country-bluegrass band that we enjoyed very much.

After Labor Day things slowed down dramatically and we enjoyed quiet days and pretty star-lit nights.  The campground is located in a valley and a stream runs through the campground.  This is a dry time of the year and there’s a serious drought so the stream wasn’t very impressive but I imagine it’s a lot nicer in the springtime.

PHOTO_20140826_102601.jpg One thing we like about this particular Thousand Trails is the common sense layout.  There’s an area set aside for seasonal residents and near it an area for “retail” non-member RVers.  The Yurt villages and tent area (of course members can pitch their tents in any available RV site if they want) also have their own areas. I wish other Thousand Trails would adopt this common-sense approach.

PHOTO_20140826_102312.jpg The sites along the stream are the most popular.  They are shaded and several are 50 amps.  We thought they were over-rated because the stream was nothing to get excited about, the sites stay full and are close together, and they were difficult if not impossible for those wanting satellite TV.  There are also two “field” sections of the campground.  They are pull through sites but exposed to the full sun.  We opted to stay in the section close to the horseshoe pits.  We had nice afternoon shade, good satellite TV, no nearby neighbors, and (a real bonus for us) using our WiFi Ranger we could reach the park’s WiFi from our camper.

PHOTO_20140830_182201.jpg Usually we use our 4G hotspot for the internet but that’s a complete no-go at this campground.  Using our Wilson Sleek cradle I could get 1 or 2 bars of unreliable 3G – really not enough to even have a decent phone conversation.  That left us dependent on the park’s WiFi.  By staying in the section of the campground closer to the Activity Center we had slow, but somewhat useable internet.    Also, to our surprise, when I went to plug in the electric we had 50 amps – something not even listed on the campground map.

We were disappointed and surprised at how far it really is to Yosemite valley.  Even though a National Park entrance is only five miles from the campground it’s actually about 30 miles down to the valley – and those miles are twisting, turning, and sometimes steep miles.  Here’s a tip: the YARTS bus stops right at the campground and will take you to Yosemite valley.  The cost for the two of us was actually about what we would have spent on fuel driving in and out.  I suggest you drive in and see the more distant sites and then ride the bus for future visits to the valley.  They offer senior adult discounts and even have a three trips for the price of two special.  Also, there’s no park admission fee for those on the bus!

No review of Yosemite Lakes Thousand Trails is complete without mention of Highway 120’s New Priest Grade.  This 7-8 miles of road is a non-stop 5-6%, switchback filled challenge that must be faced to come to the campground.   The uphill side is also the side with the dropoffs.  It will test the vehicle’s engine and the driver’s nerves.  The downhill side hugs the side of the hill and it will test the vehicle’s transmission and brakes and the driver’s skills.  There are two other nearby roads.  One is the shorter and much steeper (15%) Old Priest – no one with a RV has any business on it and law enforcement agrees – RVs are banned from driving it.  There’s another route that includes Greely Hill road.  We checked it out and I decided it was better to just stay with New Priest.  Here’s my take on it: if you are driving a RV that you know is underpowered or overweight or especially long you should think twice before tackling this section of road.  However, most people with a properly set up RV and moderate driving experience can drive it.  Hundreds of RVs, tour buses, and logging trucks do it every week.  The YARTS bus drivers told me that their top of the hill speed target is 25 mph which they gear to hold down the grade.  They also suggested that one keep an eye on oncoming traffic, making room for bigger vehicles, especially those coming downhill.  On one had, this drive should be taken seriously.  On the other hand, a lot of people do it with no problems whatsoever.  We came up the grade about 25 mph and the engine was working hard.  Our clutch fan came on early and stayed on all the way up and a ways beyond.  We came down at 20-25 mph.  I had to tap my brakes on some of the hairpins.  Really, I thought coming down was easier than coming up.

The reward is a nice campground near a beautiful National Park.


Campground review: Mt Vernon Thousand Trails, Bow, WA

photo 2.JPG The drive from Ellensburg to the Washington coast was beautiful and interesting – taking us up and over the Cascades. There are some fairly steep grades, mostly downhill, when heading west. For some reason the GPS got me off the freeway at one major interchange near Seattle and we had a few miles of narrow road, winding through the country and up and down over several hills before we finely made it onto I5 and began the final leg of our journey.

PHOTO_20140525_161119.jpg Getting to Mt Vernon Thousand Trails at Bow, WA is a bit of a leap of faith. You exit I5 onto Bow Hill Road and make your way to the campground without a single road sign. Not only that, but you turn at what appears to be only the entrance to the Skagit Casino. The road is marked as the entrance to the casino, there’s a “dead end” sign, and you basically drive a road that is part of the casino parking lot. At the northern end of the parking lot, you continue down a road marked “no thru way.” It looks for the world as if you are headed for an overflow parking lot for the casino. Then, at the end of that road, low and behold, you’ve arrived at a large, “hidden,” campground.

100_2774.JPG The roads through the campground are wide, gravel roads that are in pretty good shape. Many of the campsites are both deep and wide, big enough for most any rig. Many are cut into the woods, providing a great deal of privacy (but making it nearly impossible to get a satellite TV signal). There are some sewer hookup sites on the western side of the campground. They are pretty popular but there’s a price to pay for using them: not only will it be a challenge to get satellite TV at most of them, they are also situated quite close to the busy and noisy Interstate.

100_2775.JPG The eastern side of the campground is quieter with no sewer connect but RVers in one section in particular (nicknamed “satellite row”) have a better than average chance of getting a satellite signal. Some of those sites are more crowded together than those in the rest of the campground. It’s quieter on the eastern side most of the time. The exception is Saturday evenings. Just below the campground is a raceway that’s in full swing on all but winter Saturday nights. The noise of the cars and announcers is very loud. Happily, this is just a Saturday night thing. We at least got to enjoy the fireworks they shot off on Memorial Day weekend!

PHOTO_20140523_120152.jpg The campground has a nice Activity Center and large, heated pool. These are out near the entrance – quite a walk from most of the campsites. We saw people swimming even when the outside temps were in the mid-50’s. We decided to let them enjoy it without our joining them!

100_2767.JPG We heard reports of people having low electrical voltage, in fact, we had the same problem our first night. Because of that, plus low water pressure and a failure to get a satellite signal, we moved to the “satellite row” area after our first night’s stay. After that, we had no water or electrical issues for the rest of the time we were there. I had a decent 4G cell data signal but it was having problems. It would work for a while and then throughput would just stop. The only way to get it back was to turn on “airplane mode” on the phone, then turn it back off. Things would work fine for a while and then I’d have to jump through that hoop yet again.

We like Mt Vernon Thousand Trails although the lack of sewer hookups might be a big enough deal for us to go elsewhere, or at least plan for a shorter stay, in the future.

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