Did you know the military operates campgrounds on many of its bases? They are an affordable option for your travels around the United States if you are an eligible patron. Situated in some of the most picturesque vacation destinations, military campgrounds and the bases they reside on offer numerous amenities. And they are usually a great value! Read this guide to learn more about how to take advantage of this terrific benefit!
Who is Eligible?
The military has a large system of campgrounds and recreation areas. But who can use them?
Although bases tend to have their own specific rules on this, in general, to use a military campground you must be an active duty service member, National Guard or Reservist, military retiree, or 100-percent service-connected disabled veteran. Surviving family members of service members killed in action who have access to other benefits like healthcare and medical retirees and their families also typically qualify.
New as of Jan 1, 2020: Under the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, all veterans with a service-connected disability rating (between 0-90 percent) can now use the base exchanges, commissaries, and many MWR facilities INCLUDING campgrounds! Read this article for instructions on how to access the base if you fall under this new access category.
If you want to look up the official DOD policy, it is DOD Instruction 1015.10, enclosure 3 which details the Authorized Patronage of Military MWR Programs. But it is important to note that each service has written its own regulation. There’s also a common saying in the military, “There’s a waiver for everything,” which basically means each base can do what they want.
In our travels so far we’ve come across one military campground, the Grassy Pond Recreation Area managed by Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, GA that even allowed non-military affiliated civilians to stay.
Your best bet is to check well ahead of your planned visit to verify specific eligibility rules.
Where Can I Find Them?
Our favorite resource for finding military campgrounds is a free website, militarycampgrounds.us. This privately run website has a map feature that allows you to see where there are military campgrounds. Then it provides detailed information and reviews (with photos and often videos) of each campground.
You can maneuver around the site as a guest, or sign up to get a log in and post your own reviews. We try to review every campground we stay at, and I’ve noticed many others do too.
Are They Any Good?
Military campgrounds range in size and quality, just as civilian campgrounds do. Our recommendation is to read the reviews mentioned above, not just looking at the number of stars, but to see if the writer cares about the same amenities as you do.
Many military campgrounds are big rig friendly with full hookups, but there are older ones that only have partial hook-ups. Some even have overflow or primitive camping areas with no hookups. Most are located on the base, which offers normal amenities like swimming pools, commissaries, and fitness centers. However, some, like the Blue Angel RV Park are off-base and have their own activities like kayak rentals, sailboat lessons, paintball, and mini-golf.
Can I Make Reservations?
Many base campgrounds take reservations which really makes planning simpler. This is especially helpful in locations that are in touristy spots. For example, Florida is a high-demand area in the winter. MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL takes reservations one year in advance and manages a very large (100+) waiting list. On the other hand, Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach is first come, first served.
The Navy even has an online reservation system, http://ngis.dodlodging.net. NGIS stands for Navy Gateway Inns & Suites, but many Navy campgrounds allow reservations on the site. We’ve used it successfully for a couple of Navy campgrounds in Florida, and one in Tennessee. The only thing we don’t like about the system is that you have to type specific dates and see if anything is available. If not, you change your dates and try again. There is no feature to see the next open available date like the National Parks system.
What If I Don’t Have An RV?
I love that many military bases even rent travel trailers and tents!
Offerings may include trailers that remain in place at the base campground for you to enjoy with your family. Other bases have travel trailers you can rent to behind your vehicle to travel.
Finally, most military campgrounds offer tent campsites and you can rent the tent too!
Other Important Tips
Verify Base Access
Due to heightened security requirements, many bases/posts only allow RVs and trailers to enter via commercial vehicle gates. These are often closed after hours and on weekends. We’ve been to a few that have required us to contact base security to meet us at the gate. Always check with the campground during duty hours for specific instructions on base access.
Pay A Visit To The Outdoor Recreation Office
Outdoor Recreation programs vary by location, but most have rental equipment like kayaks and bicycles. Some even run a marina with rental boats and certification courses. Many also have trips & tours to local attractions. No matter what your plans are, it is always a good place to start before you go out exploring the local area!
Check Out Discounts at the Base Information, Ticket, and Tours Center
Whenever we move to a new base, we always check out the Information, Tickets, and Tours (ITT) office. This is where you can get special military discount tickets for a variety of local attractions. There is an ITT office on most military bases and even many satellite locations.
The ITT office also has tons of brochures, highlighting lesser-known local events alongside the major attractions. It’s a great way to get to know the area around the base and discover a new part of the country.
Military Campground Reviews
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