The average hotel that can sleep a family of four–these days and in our experience–costs at least $80.
That’s a minimum, at least as far as dodging roaches and bathtubs that look like they’re used for rust storage ring around the bowls in the off season. For that price, you get two queen beds in a singe room, no privacy, and typically no access to the outside world. Well, maybe a portion of a cement walkway if you scored a motel, seedier as they may be.
You may also get a free continental breakfast–typically akin to what you might be able to source locally at the Mobile station down the street–and of course, a shower, climate control to some degree and cable television. Which you probably will have to turn off once the lighter sleepers are in bed.
We typically deal in camping on this website. We also, typically, tout the virtues of camping in places that feel like camping–whether that be a wide open spot in the desert, a secluded forest scene or even a state park with a fair enough chunk of wiggle room to keep you from seeing the next guy. That said, at times you’ll find yourself in an area that requires either a hotel or an RV park, and we think there’s a better choice.
No, this is not a “sponsored post.”
But by all means, should you want to visit some town or city or whatever that offers RV camping, neck in neck, elbow bone to bone with your neighbors, and you’re good to go with that, then go for it. But if you find yourself longing for a hotel room, and for comforts like electricity, a shower, a nice enough bed and some place to just get the hell out of this damn van for awhile, KOA’s cabin setup–and the ubiquity and uniformity of their offerings across the nation–is a fun way to go.
What Are KOA Cabins Like?
Well, there are a variety of them. At the lower end they’re a single room with a mini fridge. These “Camping Cabins” typically have a bunk bed and another double bed. A small porch is included in every type of KOA cabin we’ve ever stayed in. And usually a small area beyond that with a fire pit and some chairs.
These smallest offerings lack a toilet–you’re expected to use the main bathhouse associated with the campground–and given that, it’s harder to compare them to a hotel room. They tend to cost around $50 – $80 / night, though, which makes them cheaper than hotel rooms. TV, a shower — even a bathroom in the cabin — is rarely included.
When we bump up to KOA’s Deluxe Cabins, that’s where the comparison between a hotel room kicks in. A private bathroom, with shower, is included, as is television. Some of these even have separated rooms. A KOA we stayed at in Starkville, Mississippi had a full kitchen, with couch and table, as the main room. Beyond that was the bathroom, and then a bedroom with a large double bed in it. A loft above the main room held two additional twin beds. This particular place, perched lakeside with its own waterslide park, also had a rocking chair-equipped screened in porch, an open air deck with outdoor table and chairs beyond that, and then a fire pit before the lake rose up to meet us.
In Lubbock, the setup was a little different, a bit less spacious, but had privacy few hotels at this price point afford either. There was a small porch with a swing on it. The front door opened to a queen bed, high top table and mini-fridge (no other kitchen in this one), and then another bedroom with bunkbeds was behind door number two. Door number one being the bathroom.
Though it came up short on the actual kitchen, what it did offer was a closing door between the parents’ bed and the kids’ room. The outdoor area alone, with a porch and a swing and a fire pit for mom and dad to hang out with as the evening goes on, would be worth it, but having indoor separation from kids can be nice. Especially if you spend loads of time in an RV, or even on a road trip where everyone is together all the time.
So, bring some candles, some Barry White and the big bottle of whatever your favorite cheap champagne is. Unlike at a motel, you won’t have to drink it out of a paper bag while standing in the parking lot wondering if the cops are going to show.
These Deluxe Cabins cost between $80 – $150 / night, depending on where you’re staying. If $80 is the average cost of a hotel room, and I think you’ll find that to be the minimum in most places worth visiting, then that’s a good marker for comparing the crappiest hotel rooms to a pretty nice cabin. If $150 is the benchmark, then yes, you can get a hotel room that has multiple rooms for that price, and probably even a kitchen in it.
But, you’ll be stuck up in a hotel room. In a KOA, there are usually things to do. Creeks to fish or lakes to kayak, playgrounds and ice cream socials, a friendly neighborhood RV loop to walk or ride bikes around. You’re not trapped in a hotel room watching Triple D eat hamburgers. In a hotel room, if you have young kids, it’s weird to leave them in the room and go outside. In a KOA cabin, it’s more or less just a step out onto the porch like you may do at home. The value is absolutely worth it, even if you do end up paying $100+ per night.
Is it a viable way to travel full-time? No, not for most people. Is it a great way to get to certain places you’d otherwise have to stay at an RV park or hotel? That is the entire point of this article!
KOA Discount Program
You can become a KOA Rewards member, which costs $33 / year, and get a 10% discount off of all stays. So if you stay in just three KOA cabins and they each cost at least $110 / night, you make your money back. There are over 500 KOAs across the country, and typically one just about everywhere you might need one.
The discount also applies to regular camping. You get a free night of camping on certain weekends, if that’s interesting to you, and you can earn points that are good for this, that or the other. We’re not getting paid or compensated in any way for this article, it’s just a good idea if the concept suits you, but you also get several other perks and you can read about all of those here.
But aside from all of that, when it’s strictly KOA vs. hotel room, KOA’s value wins out every time.
That’s coming from someone who has, in the past and in a pinch, camped at a KOA, and would really never recommend camping there — but thinks the cabin setup is boss.
Examples of KOAs
You can find a KOA just about everywhere. They have a map of them here.
We’ve stayed in maybe a dozen over the twelve years we’ve been dragging RVs and vans down the road. Here are a few examples of typical KOAs.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
A prime example of when a KOA comes in handy. Hot Springs National Park is a curiosity, a “national park” that–as far as the natural aspect goes–resembles my grandma’s backyard in Central Pennsylvania. The appeal is the little historic downtown, which is largely privately owned, and the bathhouses along the other side of the street.
Admittedly, the hot springs themselves have never been on our to do list. But whether a place deserves the title of “national park” or maybe just “neat little town, could use some work” is not up to us to decide. When you’re going after a patch from every park, though, Hot Springs is a requirement.
The campground in the park–first come first served only, as they all should be–is quite difficult to get into. And even then, it’s a bit cramped. Other offerings in the area are a difficult-to-snag-a-reservation-at state park and a few RV parks, including the KOA. But what the KOA offers is its cabins.
We shared the bedroom space here, a bunk bed where the top was large enough for our 8- and 10-year olds, with a queen beneath. There was also a pull out couch, which I did not pull out, but did end up falling asleep on. Outside was a porch with a swing, and another deck area with a fire pit. RVs were perched above us, maybe 20 feet, on a cliff. Another cabin was immediately next door, but since they were angled, we never saw our neighbors.
Kids road bikes by us, workers on golf carts were abundant, and we could see the little fishing pond further down the hill.
A small stove and fridge kept our breakfast hot and beers cold. All around, a great way to stay in Hot Springs and neither allow the reality that we couldn’t get into the national park campground bum us out, nor have to awkwardly vancamp in an RV park.
Considering the unlikelihood that anyone would want to visit Starkville for their vacation, this place was fabulous. It sits on a reservoir and thus decided to stick a waterpark within its boundaries. Nothing trivial, either, the place would have been fantastic to beat the summer heat had the dam creating such a reservoir not have been damaged and forced the water levels below “waterpark” capabilities.
Even still, this was one of the more luxurious cabins in which we’ve stayed. A loft with two twin beds made for a heavenly fort for our young boys. A private, doored master bedroom with ample space around the bed gave us adults (and baby) our own little space, and the living room / kitchen area was nothing to scoff at. A high top table, pull out couch with a coffee table, and full kitchen made life easy. The outdoor deck, with a screened-in section and fire pit down in the grass, was a very nice bonus.
The sweeping views of the water, even low as it was, with reeds growing as steadfastly as they could out of the lakeshore and a thick forest in the distance, made me want to stay longer. This was, perhaps, the swankiest KOA we’ve ever stayed in, and that it’s in such an unusually non-touristic place is but a testament to how pleasantly surprised you might be when exchanging some run down Motel 6 on the side of the road for your own tiny house for the night.
Plus, the firewood was free with the cabin!
The KOA offering in Astoria — or more accurately Warrenton — is a gem. Yes, you get the usual cabin experience, but so much more with what’s available in the surrounding area. Fort Stevensons State Park has elk, beaches galore and a pirate ship. There’s Lewis & Clark National Historic Park nearby. And if the dedicated Steelers bar in Warrenton proper doesn’t fulfill your every need, or if it’s just not football season, Astoria, Oregon is a small town dream on the coast come true.
Terre Haute, Indiana
Anytime someone builds a miniature replica of an old west town, something where the kids can pretend they’re locked up in cowboy prison but still smile, well that’s a thing of beauty. Build it in the middle of the Middle, and you’re off to the races.
KOA Photo Gallery
For your final perusing pleasure, a quick slide show of some of the greater aspects of the KOA.