Most people know they can keep their vacation costs to a minimum by staying in campgrounds and cooking their own food.
But travelers are also discovering that some campgrounds and RV parks have on-site restaurants where the food is so good it’s worth the drive just to eat there.
“The campground industry is clearly evolving when it comes to food service,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. “Some parks offer coffee and donuts or pancakes in the morning, while others offer basic food service items in the afternoons and evenings, such as hamburgers and hot dogs. But there are a handful of campgrounds and RV parks that are finding great success with their own on-site restaurants, which offer everything from award-winning salmon to comfort foods, like biscuits with gravy and baked chicken.”
One case in point is Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground in Klamath, California. The 33-acre park already has plenty going for it as a vacation destination, being bordered on three sides by the Redwood National Park plus having one-quarter mile of frontage along the Klamath River.
But Kamp Klamath is also gaining notoriety for the quality of its smoked salmon, which has won seven regional cooking competitions in the past five years, including smoked salmon-tasting contests in the annual Yurok Tribe Salmon Festival in Klamath, as well as smoked salmon-tasting competitions held at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, California, and the Jackson County Fair in Central Point, Oregon, some 200 miles to the northwest.
“People vector in from all over the world just to taste our salmon,” said Kamp Klamath owner Aaron Funk, who opened a 12-seat restaurant in his park last year after initially gaining fame for his smoked salmon, which he slow smokes in the campground over red alder.
Funk’s restaurant, the Big Foot Grill, also has a tasty menu, with everything from homemade blackberry pancakes with blackberry syrup to barbecued salmon and chicken as well as several Tex-Mex dishes. Guests can also barbecue their own meats. The restaurant has become so successful that Funk has tripled its capacity this year to accommodate up to 28 guests.
Funk also offers his guests “all-you-can-eat” salmon and chicken bonfire barbecues on Saturdays throughout the summer. “We’ve had people from Europe, Asia and Australia contact us to make sure they stay at our park when we’re having our live music and bonfire barbecues,” Funk said.
Bill and Carolyn Strong, owners of Sundermeier RV Park and Conference Center in St. Charles, Missouri, have developed a similar following. While travelers often stay at their park because it is located near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Trail, many also camp there so that they can eat at the park’s restaurant, the 92-seat Beef Eaters Restaurant.
“We are famous for our prime rib and our steaks and clam chowder,” Carolyn Strong said, adding that the restaurant has had the same chef for the past eight years. “We’ve even had people from the East Coast taste our clam chowder and say, ‘This is better than what we have at home,’ ” Bill Strong said.
MotorHome magazine named Beef Eaters Restaurant the number-one restaurant in RV parks and campgrounds in 2005. Sundermeier RV Park also has the Banquet Center of the Little Hills, which caters wedding receptions, corporate and social events, and has the ability to host visiting bus tours.
Campland by the Bay in San Diego, California, also provides catering services for local residents through its restaurant, the Hungry Wolf CafÃ©, which specializes in “awesome Southern barbecue,” according to Kimberley McAnally, a park spokeswoman.
Here’s a sampling of other special restaurant and food service offerings by campgrounds and RV parks across the country:
Discovery Ministries in Eminence, Missouri. This Christian-adventure campground, which features RV and tent sites as well as three cabin rentals, offers family-style dining. “People rave about our biscuits-and-gravy mornings, our vegetable cheese chowder or chili noons and our spaghetti nights, not to mention our oven stew, chicken tetrazzini, vinegar coleslaw and chocolate cinnamon cake,” said park spokeswoman Colette Freeman. “They really are the best in town.”
High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kansas. This park offers complimentary morning coffee from Kansas’s own Blacksmith Coffee Roastery as well as complimentary tea from Kansas’s Cloud County Tea Company.
Mio Pine Acres in Mio, Michigan. This park features an on-site pizza parlor that draws at least as much business from local residents in the city of Mio as it does from campers spending the night at the campground. “My mom makes the pizza and we have all the toppings, from pepperoni to mild peppers to mushrooms,” said park co-owner owner Wayne Purchase. “She also makes break sticks. She starts off with a pizza dough and then she puts garlic butter on it, then cheese, and then she bakes it and cuts it into strips. It is wonderful.”
Palms RV Park in Dickinson, Texas. This park is building an all-new, on-site sports grill called Backe’s Bullpen, which is expected to open in July. “It’s going to be Astros-themed, with plenty of signed baseball memorabilia,” said park spokeswoman Susan Evans, who added that the restaurant is partially owned by Houston Astros pitcher Brandon Backe. “The restaurant will be 2,800 square feet with a large, palapa-covered patio. Guests will be able to walk over and enjoy lunch and dinner daily and breakfast on the weekends,” Evans said, adding, “There will be plenty of sports-watching opportunities as well as great music. Outdoors, customers will be able to enjoy a beverage and a game of horseshoes or washers while they wait for their food.”
Sagadahoc Bay Campground in Georgetown, Maine. This park offers its guests a chance to pair fresh-cooked lobster with clams that the campers have caught during the day. “Our campers go clamming on some of the most beautiful hard-packed sand in Maine,” said park owner Patricia S. Kosalka. “I’m talking Maine steamers, not quahogs that are found in Massachusetts and points south. The town allows us to sell clam licenses for $21 that are good for seven days. You can dig enough clams on the first day to pay for the license – a great deal. And the clams go well with the lobsters that are provided to our campers by a local lobsterman and his wife who cook them and deliver them hot.”
Sunset Lakes Resort in Hillsdale, Illinois. This park has a grill that offers a full range of “comfort food,” including burgers, hot dogs, oven-baked chicken, tenderloins, jerked pork, prime rib and steaks as well as soft-serve ice cream. The grill also handles special menus for large groups, including weddings, rallies and retirement parties. “We have not had a menu request we could not accommodate,” said Jay Maier, the park’s marketing director, adding that the park’s biscuits and sausage gravy are “raved about.”
Thunder Bay Golf & RV Resort in Hillman, Michigan. This park offers a four-hour, world-class gourmet dining and wine tasting experience, which is complemented with a horse-drawn carriage ride through a 130-acre elk preserve. The resort also offers the same package in the winter months with a sleigh ride.
Newport Dunes Resort and Marina, Newport Beach, California. The waterfront RV park recently remodeled its on-site restaurant, the Back Bay Bistro. The food is superb, with lunch opportunities daily, dinner service Thursday through Saturday (Sunday in the summer), and breakfast on the weekends, with Sunday brunch served from 9am til 2pm. The menu is exquisite – Kobe beef sliders, anyone? they melt in your mouth – and the setting is unique, with a retractable roof allowing guests to feel as if they’re dining under the stars.
For More Information
Campland on the Bay, (858) 581-4200.
Discovery Ministries, (573) 226-3213.
High Plains Camping, (785) 672-3538.
Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground, (707) 482-0227.
Mio Pine Acres, (989) 826-5590.
Newport Dunes Resort and Marina, (949) 729-DUNE.
Palms RV Park, (281) 957-5533.
Sagadahoc Bay Campground, (207) 371-2014.
Sundermeier RV Park and Conference Center, (636) 940-0111.
Sunset Lakes Resort, (800) 747-5253.
Thunder Bay Golf & RV Resort, (800) 729-9375.