Driving with Donna: Exclusive Camping Discounts for Veterans
Posted: November 21, 2023
Categories: Travel & Lifestyle
Driving with Donna: Exclusive Camping Discounts for Veterans
Vic and I just celebrated our fourth anniversary and our third year of full-time RV living. We both know how very fortunate we are to have found each other and to be able to live the life we do. I personally wouldn’t be able to enjoy an earlier-than-typical retirement if I hadn’t spent 20 years in the Navy. Not only do I enjoy a regular retirement income and access to health care, but as a Navy retiree, I also have access to military family campgrounds (FamCamps) and we both enjoy camping discounts for veterans offered by state and national parks, as well as private campgrounds across the United States.
Traveling in our RV full-time means we are always looking for value when it comes to campground stays. We spend a portion of the year volunteering, or workcamping, in trade for a campsite in an RV park, but most of the year we are just traveling and exploring. When we aren’t boondocking for free, the nightly cost of a full hook-up RV site can really add up.
How Veterans Can Save on Camping
Fortunately, many campgrounds offer discounts for different groups, like camping club memberships or senior citizens. We always ask about those that apply to us and very often find that many offer military discounts for veterans. Sometimes, it’s a flat percentage discount off the nightly rate, while other times, it might be a free night for any stay longer than a weekend. We have learned that this isn’t always disclosed on the campground’s website, and if I don’t see it anywhere, I’ll call or email.
I don’t recall the campground’s name, but during our recent travels, we hit the discount trifecta – they offered a discounted weekly rate, a 10% discount for senior citizens and a free night for veterans! We stayed eight nights in a full hook-up campsite at a family campground for less than $35 per night, well below our preferred average rate of $45 per night. That savings can buy a lot of indulgent meals out!
What are military FamCamps?
Military FamCamps, or recreational campgrounds, are another benefit we enjoy. Even when they aren’t any less expensive than a nearby private campground, they are sometimes located in places where other campgrounds are scarce. Last summer, we enjoyed staying at Williams FamCamp, just minutes from my son in Denver, Colorado.
One of our favorites is Blue Angel Recreation Park near Perdido Key, Florida. For $28 per night in 2022, we had a spacious, level, concrete pad site with a fire pit, picnic table, well-maintained bathhouses and laundry facilities. This winter, we will stay along the coast in Gulfport, MS, for just $16 per night, though this campground is on an active military base for the armed forces and not in a recreational area.
How do military veterans access campgrounds?
Veterans who aren’t sure of their Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) access eligibility can read this comprehensive article: “Authorized Users of Military Campgrounds.” This unofficial website is also a good resource for finding military campgrounds, but it is not operated by MWR or DoD and should be used simply as an additional resource in your search for campgrounds.
Are military discounts available through America the Beautiful?
Many RVers already know that having an America the Beautiful Senior Pass or Access Pass will sometimes discount campground fees by 50%. Other passes in the series allow free daily entry into national parks and other federal recreation areas that charge a day-use fee. In 2019, free entrance was expanded to include active-duty and retired military veterans just by showing an ID card. Along with this change, disabled veterans were granted eligibility for the America the Beautiful Access Pass, granting the same 50% camping discount for veterans and seniors. You’ll want to check out the Entrance Passes page on the National Park Service site for the most up-to-date information and the process for obtaining any of the passes, as well as what benefits they offer.
How do veterans get free access to state parks?
State parks each have their own fee schedules and discounts, and not all of them offer veteran discounts for camping. In fact, many don’t unless you are a resident of that state, like Georgia. Oregon is one exception and has an amazing benefit for disabled veterans, regardless of residency. Once you are approved for the special access pass, you can camp in their state parks for up to 10 nights free per month. We have taken advantage of this multiple times!
Other states offer discounted entry fees or day pass fees. Arizona and Florida are two that I know require you to apply in person, showing proof of military service. They then issue a pass that you can show for discounted or free entry into day-use areas. Then, there are a few states, like New Hampshire, that will honor America the Beautiful passes.
How do veterans find camping discounts?
Finding the discounts, or which states and parks offer what discounts can be time-consuming. The easiest thing to do is call and ask the individual campground if it’s a private campground or operated by a local municipality. For discounts at state parks, it may be easiest to do an internet search for “Georgia (or other) state park camping discount for veterans” or a similarly worded query for the specific state park.
For national parks, Corps of Engineer campgrounds and other federally managed campgrounds that are found on recreation.gov, it is as simple as setting up your account on the website and adding your passes to your profile. At checkout, you simply apply the pass and watch your total camping fee decrease. For those BLM and national forest campgrounds that don’t take reservations, you may have to dig a little deeper into their individual websites, but if they are federally managed, it is generally safe to assume you will get a discount if you have the appropriate America the Beautiful pass. You just need to be sure to have the pass on your person when you register at the campground.
Are there non-profit programs that offer discounts to veterans?
Aside from the benefit that Oregon State Parks offers disabled veterans, and some private campgrounds that offer a free night with the purchase of a minimum number of nights, I’ve only found one non-profit program that offers free camping for veterans. It’s called Tents for Troops. I’ve not used it yet but did confirm with a couple of the campgrounds listed on their website that it is an active program. You will likely need to call the campground to take advantage of the program. I’ve added it to my list of resources when looking for campgrounds!
Can veterans get other camping-related discounts?
In addition to discounted camping, there are numerous camping and RV-related discounts to be had. Yeti and E-Z UP both offer product discounts, as do many national retailers. We took advantage of Lippert’s military discount when purchasing our recliners by calling the Customer Care Center to place our order. Some retailers offer discounts for veterans and gold star families year-round, while others take advantage of military observances like Memorial Day or Veterans Day.
Any time we are making a big purchase, I do an internet search for that brand or call the retailer and ask. Sometimes, you have to register through a third party like id.me to verify your military service, and other times, you simply show your ID card at check out. Restaurants, museums, tourist attractions and really any place that charges an entrance fee might offer a discount. You just have to ask!
Can military personnel take advantage of discounts without an ID card?
No ID card? That’s okay most times, too. If the discount extends to those who served but do not have a VA Medical card or a Military Retiree card, you can sometimes show your discharge papers or, like Vic, show your driver’s license, which indicates veteran status. And sometimes, just telling them you are a veteran is all it takes.
Is it okay to take advantage of military discounts?
I’ve talked with veterans who don’t feel right taking military member appreciation freebies. Sometimes people just want to show appreciation, and I’m happy to enable them that feel-good moment. I’m proud of mine and Vic’s service and happy to take advantage of the goodwill of any retailer or program that offers a discount. Sure, many do so as a marketing gimmick, but most are genuinely motivated to honor our service. Who am I to disagree with that?
The way I see it, it all comes around. Because we can live and camp the way we do, we are also able to continue giving back in our own ways, volunteering and donating to causes that are meaningful to us, or spending those savings on local cuisine.
When it comes to finding camping discounts for veterans, you just need to remember three things:
- Places may differ on their definition of veterans: disabled veterans, resident veterans, all veterans, retirees, active-duty military, etc.
- Ask for it if you don’t see it advertised.
- Always, always, say thank you when it is made available.
Lippert Scouts Donna Weathers and Vic Mulieri are retired veterans who have been traveling the U.S. full-time for the past two years. They alternate their time between months-long volunteer gigs at state and national parks and road tripping in between those opportunities. Unencumbered by deadlines, pets or kids, they often have no idea what day it is and have forgotten how to set alarms. Their home on wheels is a 5th wheel toy hauler, and they love exploring the outdoors, historic places and great restaurants wherever they visit. To follow Donna and Vic’s RV adventures, be sure to subscribe to Donna’s blog at wheretonowus.travel.blog.