In 2015 we were resistant to military base campgrounds: the added layers of security and rules seemed an unnecessary set of hurdles unless location and price provided a strong advantage, as it did in Key West and Monterey. But this year we have been significantly more amenable to taking advantage of these highly subsidized campgrounds. Sometimes they are simply affordable but otherwise forgettable stopover points, e.g. Joint Base Charleston or Earle Naval Weapons Station in New Jersey. But sometimes they are fantastic deals, like the tiny but glorious campground in Newport, RI. We stayed in five such base camps during our late spring journey up the east coast, but have not done so since.
All that changed during our recent sprint south with our first stay at an Air Force Base Family Campground, Scott AFB in Illinois. The location was nothing to write home about, but the price ($20/night), security, and access to low cost base amenities such as the commissary and laundry made it a decent value, competitive with Passport America participants. So as we researched our short stay options during our route planning towards Florida, I made a point to carefully check into the military campgrounds. The result of which has been three Air Force Base Bases in a row as we traveled through Tennessee and Georgia.
ARNOLD: The first was Arnold AFB Family Campground in Tullahuma, TN. This moderate sized campground is located on a ginormous piece of government property. We had to travel six miles through the heavy forest from the front gate to the recreation center, and then another several miles to the camp itself. This is what I mean by extra hoops to jump through on military bases: google usually doesn’t know which gate you need to enter by or where the recreation centers are. You often have to go to a couple of different places and ask at each one. Regardless, we found the right spot and got settled in. And if we thought Scott AFB a good deal, this was an outstanding one: a more picturesque setting on a large lake, with far larger individual sites, a robust free wifi, and for only $15 a night!
Was it perfect? No: the gravel sites were not particularly level, the bathhouse and other campground facilities were dirty and in need of upgrade, and it had no camp host to coordinate after hours requirements. But despite all that, it was a significantly better value and experience than Scott AFB’s offering ($5 cheaper, better views, more amenities) and with just a little bit of work, such as fresh paint and maintenance on the bathrooms and the securing of a camp host to keep them up, it could be outstanding.
The other thing to mention is the golf course. Like all AFBs, they had a nice set of links. The old military joke is that the Air Force, upon procuring money for a new base, builds the golf course and amenities first, and when they run out of money for the air strip, they just go back to congress to get that, because, heck, the base is already built and who can say no to a new bomber runway, right? Yeah, its totally true, they all have nice courses and landscaping, and since I had just bought a $12 set of clubs and bag, I took advantage of the $7 twilight rate to play nine holes on two of our three nights there. Considering I have not played in 15 years I was not unhappy with my score of 53 for each set of nine. The group of deer I spotted on the first hole fairway and green each evening was a bonus.
DOBBINS: After Arnold we moved south to Atlanta and Dobbins AFB. This is an odd one for us to review: we had no small amount of trepidation since they had been absolutely savaged in the RV Park Reviews and received very moderate “damned by faint praise” comments in the Military Campground reports. And yet this is prime example of reviews being, quite simply, out of date. The campground has clearly gone through a heavy amount of improvement since most of those write ups, and we found nearly every negative issue mentioned to have been resolved. It was in excellent condition, with a brand new bath house and laundry facility, each site properly maintained, and the surrounding area quite nice. Given that this is one of a handful of RV parks close to Atlanta, with the private options in the $40+ per night range, Dobbins is a great value and deserving of far better reviews than you will find on line.
The camp is tiny, only 18 sites, with no reservations accepted, but since we arrived on a Monday we didn’t anticipate a problem getting a spot. We were surprised to find only one site available upon arrival though, so never assume! At $14 a night for the electric and water, it was also a better deal than Scott, but with no wifi probably not as great a value as Arnold, depending on what you hold important. We only stayed one night and did not explore the base, so we can’t comment on the golf course, commissary, exchange, etc.
Returning to my 2015 theme about military campgrounds having additional layers of security and hoops through which to jump, Dobbins drove this home with the requirement to drive to the commercial truck delivery gate on the back side of the base, and there call security at the posted number and wait for a guard to open and clear us. Not a huge deal, just one more thing, especially since google maps doesn’t seem to have the different gates available for guidance.
ROBINS: Finally, we continued south to Robins AFB near Macon, GA. After six roughly 200 mile legs in a row since leaving Minnesota, it was nice to have a shorter, three hour run. Unfortunately, the need to find Gate #4 for commercial and oversized vehicles, combined with google’s uncertainty and topped off with confusing directions once inside the base proper, meant for a four hour journey, regardless.
But what we found upon arrival! The Family Campground office may only be open a few hours each day, but they have a rigid and professional system in place to handle after hours arrivals. Our reservation and welcome package was posted on the office bulletin board, along with detailed instructions for any non-reservation people that might show up. And the price and facilities are fantastic! For $15 we got a spacious, full hook up site on a fully leveled concrete pad in the light woods. Is that too many services for you? Then select the power and water only option for $8 a night!
It doesn’t end there: the bath house was clean, and the laundry facility was… free! The campground boasted a playground, nice office, ponds with docks, recreation room, amphitheater, etc. In short, it was being managed well and given the funding and maintenance attention it deserved. And finally, after three strike outs at Scott, Arnold, and Dobbins, Robins actually had the frequent camper package for sale. At a $40 one time purchase price, we are confident it will pay for itself more than twice over in the first year alone.
The golf course at Robins was better (and more challenging) than at Arnold, but also had a fantastic twilight, no cart rate of only $8 for nine holes. Had it not been for an electrical problem with our rig necessitating a push south for repairs (more on that next post) we would have stayed three rather than two nights at this great camp.
Of the four AFB Family Camps we at which we have stayed, I would have to rate Arnold the best value if wifi is important, but give Robins top honors if it is not or if you can live with electric and water only. And since the office told me that wifi services are coming later this year, that might give Robins the clear victory.