So you think you want to be a campground host?

By June 5, 2018 Adventure/Travel, Getting Started
harbor in seward, alaska

In the world of full-time RVing, there’s this thing called campground hosting. A lot of retired folks do this and we thought here at Yukon and Bean we’d give it a shot even though we are soooooooooo far from being retired it ain’t even funny.

First, the definition of campground hosting could be: living full-time in a campground and working some agreed-upon number of hours for an agreed-upon time frame. Beyond that, campground hosting duties and expectations and wages vary WIDELY.

You can find out about camp host (and a whole bunch of other cool) jobs through a variety of online resources:

Lake Kenai, AlaskaThis summer, we’ve taken a campground hosting job at the Trail River Campground in Moose Pass, Alaska.

Trail River is a primitive campground owned by the National Forest Service and run by a private management company. Being a primitive campground means there 91 sites (BIG for a Forest Service campground) with six water stations around the campground where you can pump water by hand; there are 2-3 sets of trash cans in each of the three loops plus three dumpsters; and there are 2-3 sets of pit toilets in each campground loop. Trail River is a combination of self-pay envelopes and reservations online. We have no phones to answer as Recreation.gov takes care of the online reservations and people take care of their own payments using the self-pay envelopes.

Each day, we check the 28 trashcans and 17 pit toilets. We empty trash and replace bags. Refilling toilet paper is a recurring job, especially on weekends when the campground is full. And cleaning the 17 pit toilets…well, you can probably imagine what an awesome task that is (NOT).

Here are the Top 10 thing we’ve learned after just a couple weeks of campground hosting:

  1. People are good. The best part of the job is talking to the campers. We are fortunate to get a lot of locals from Anchorage who bring their families multiple times throughout the summer. They enjoy the quiet, fishing in Kenai Lake and Trail River, as well as hiking, and wildlife watching. There’s virtually no cell service and no internet service at this campground, so it’s an ideal place to practice unplugging.
  2. People are gross. Between the pit toilets and cleaning up fire pit garbage after folks leave, it can be a really, really dirty job. Just last week, we scooped boiled cabbage and broccoli out of a firepit after the campers left and picked out a bucketful of leftover aluminum foil, burned aluminum cans, and burnt plastic water bottles.
  3. People (a few of them) are dishonest. We have an honor system for firewood: $8 a bundle. Take your bundle(s) and leave your money in the box. Same with folks who show up to camp without a reservation. You can tell when you’re short on firewood compared to the money AND when you feel some quarters or sticks in an envelope that should have at least $18 in it. BUT – most people are awesome and honest. We choose to focus on those people.
  4. Microtrash is a BIG problem. Yesterday we spent three hours cleaning out 80+ fire pits and campsites. We scoured the ground and picked up bits of plastic, paper, food, and more plastic. And cigarette butts – so many f*ing cigarette butts. If you’re outdoors, please start being aware of the bits of plastic, cellophane, food, and other microtrash you drop without even realizing it. Finding and picking up microtrash is an EXCELLENT activity for kids to get involved it: it raises their awareness (and they are closer to the ground – HA).
  5. Pit toilets and firepits are not trash cans. Refer to #2 and #4.
  6. We don’t make the rules, we’re just here to remind the nice folks about them. For instance, you can have one car and one camper at your site but not two RVs. Or you can have two cars but not three. Or you can’t fish until June 11th for trout or Dolly Varden and you can’t fish for salmon ever in the Kenai Lake. Again, we don’t make or enforce the rules, we just share reminders.
  7. The amount of garbage in a 91 site campground can be overwhelming.
  8. Location is EVERYTHING. We are surrounded by gorgeous scenery (mountains, lakes, rivers, wildlife) and this makes hauling trash and scrubbing pit toilets bearable. Seriously, it does.
  9. If you’re cooking or eating, count on getting interrupted, especially on weekends. 91 sites = potentially 91 people with questions. We’re happy to answer them, but sometimes have to stop popping popcorn mid-pop to deal with something.
  10. Campground hosting can be really rewarding. We work hard to keep a clean campground, free of litter, with bathrooms that smell nice (hello, lemon-scented Pine-Sol). We rake out the day use sites, clean the fire pits, and keep our own campsite tidy. And sharing information, grabbing someone’s trash bag on our way to the dumpsters, or helping problem-solve with our guests is a worthwhile way to spend the summer.
  11. Training matters. If you’re going to be a campground host, ask what the training procedure entails. It will reduce your errors and eliminate a lot of questions, guess-work, and frustration. And this is true with ANY job.
  12. Before you say YES to a campground hosting job, ask LOTS of questions. Ask for daily, weekly, and monthly checklist of duties, and find out how long, on average, it takes to complete them. A good question to ask: what are the three jobs that have to be done that everyone hates doing? And listen carefully to the answer. Then ask the opposite: what are three jobs that people really enjoy doing! Ask to speak last year’s hosts for their ideas, suggestions, and opinions. Find out if you’ll be required to use your personal vehicle, for what, and how often and if you’ll be compensation for the gas, wear and tear. Study the size of the campground carefully. We didn’t fully realize how many pit toilets and trash cans there were at this campground, which was an unpleasant surprise. Find out what equipment and supplies will be provided to you and when/how to replenish them. Get details about how much of your time you’re required to be working or, at least required to be “on site” and available. Finally, figure out what payment and barter terms are and make sure you are clear. Are you getting a site for free in exchange for X hours of work? Do you have to pay for any utilities (electric is one we often see as an add on). When you reach your X hours of work, do they expect you to work more? How much will they pay you? Can you get any time off during your season? How do you arrange for that?

Remember that nothing in life is free – you are paid to do work at a campground in exchange for a free or reduced-fee campsite for a specified amount of time. Do your research and make sure you know what you’re signing up for so you can fulfill the terms of your contract and duties but not get taken advantage of.

And at the end of the day, meeting new folks and greeting returning campers is the best part of the job for us. That and enjoying everything there is to enjoy at a campground as gorgeous as Trail River. See ya around the campfire!

PS: This is our first host position and our newbie opinions only. If you’ve been a campground host and have information or suggestions to add, we’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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