Who can stay at military campgrounds? Generally, the answer is all personnel on active duty, most military retirees, some other veterans, and some DOD employees.
Who can stay at military campgrounds?
Roughly the groups are outlined as follows:
- Active duty and families of active duty — including reserves who are currently on active duty.
- Gold Star family members, where the service member died in armed conflict.
- Military retirees that get retired pay regardless of whether or not they retired from active duty.
- Some other veterans that did not retire. This group expanded in January 2020 to include all disabled veterans and veterans awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
- Some employees of the Department of Defense (DOD) and sometimes even retired employees of the DOD.
- Sometimes local commanders open their campgrounds to nonmilitary and non-DOD civilians.
Usually, there is a preference for active duty, but the other categories don’t usually establish a pecking order. Sometimes the active-duty preference establishes longer lead times for registration. The other groups usually fall on a first come – first serve order.
DOD Instruction about who can stay at military campgrounds
DOD Instruction 1015.10 is the regulation pertaining to recreation facility access.
It also depends on each location to set its own rules. Local rules supersede the instruction which usually creates a more restrictive benefit — but not always more restrictive. The only way to know is to call ahead to make sure you qualify — get reservations as far in advance as possible.
Typically the campgrounds are on the military base. If you don’t have access to the base then either get access to the base (which is more difficult than you may think) or find some other place to camp.
Things change often
Sorry to be evasive on the answer, but not only does this change depending on the service branch and location, but this also changes due to changes in the law. The most notable recent law change was in January 2020. The Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act took effect on January 1st, 2020. This expanded the list to include disabled veterans and former prisoners of war. Veterans awarded the Purple Heart medal for injury, even if it did not result in disability, are also included.
Even though this “new law” took effect at the beginning of this year it isn’t being applied. At least not yet. It appears the campgrounds nor the bases they are established on, have made provisions for the new group of veterans.
Sometimes retired civilian DOD personnel are included on the above list. Rumor has it that some local commanders have opened recreation facilities to nonqualifying civilians for a variety of reasons including to have enough revenue to sustain operations.
Military campgrounds are considered recreation facilities but frequently this description gets blurry. Some military campgrounds are occupied by active-duty personnel as if it were a housing option. Most military campgrounds have rules restricting this use by issuing stay limits. Other military campgrounds have very few active-duty personnel. Active-duty personnel are usually given preference pertaining to reservations, but not always.
The term homesteader is given to people who elect to stay as long as possible. These are not just active duty. Many military retirees have decided on long-term stays at military campgrounds as a lifestyle. Campground managers often turn a blind eye to what is referred to as “homesteaders”.
Sometimes homesteaders have had the run of the place and create an insiders group of campers who watch out for each other. There have been cases where a local commander has fixed the problem and in other cases, the problem persists.
There is a location in Tampa that has a reputation for being an insiders club with very limited access to outsiders who desire a short-term recreation stop. Sometimes snowbird insiders make reservations for the following year while they are still at a location before any campsites are released outside the clique.
Campground managers fill all the available spots with little regard for travelers, bragging that they have very high occupancy. Most recreational campers quit calling, give up, and look elsewhere. The reservation system (stated as if there is only one system) is easily exploited by loyal insider patrons and cooperating managers.
Rumor has it that some services give preference to members of their own group — such as Air Force personnel on Air Force bases, but I haven’t found this at any location that I have been at.
COVID changed many things about who can stay at military campgrounds
With good intentions and an abundance of caution, some commanders have restricted access to numerous bases in an effort to keep infected outsiders out. I think this represents a shift from previous American ideals espoused in the motto “live free or die” to the more current ideal of “better safe than sorry”.
I have heard rumors of the base commander clearing the family camp and putting the RVers on the road during the early COVID scare. Things today seem to be getting a little less drastic.
One of my favorite Navy idioms for many years was “now muster the over-reaction team” which is like a similar statement, “anything worth reacting to was worth overreacting to”. The same people would make a “mountain out of a molehill” and like Chicken Little, running around proclaiming that “the sky is falling”. Sorry, I am very tired of this virus…and the trends in American culture.
If you qualify, then get an ID card that establishes general base access. Call ahead and reserve a campsite whenever possible.
Post updated January 3, 2023.
Posts about our stays at military campgrounds
Whidbey Island near Oak Harbor Washington
Campsite Review: Saguaro Skies Campground Glendale Arizona
Campsite Review: Gila Bend Campground Gila Bend Arizona
Campsite Review: Lake Martinez Campground north of Yuma Arizona
Campsite Review: Desert Eagle Campground North Las Vegas Nevada
Campsite Review Clear Lake Campground west of Spokane Washington
Campsite Review: March ARB Campground Riverside California
Campsite Review: Seal Beach Campground Seal Beach California
Campsite Review: Palm Oasis NAF El Centro El Centro California
Campsite Review: Del Mar Beach Oceanside California
Point Mugu and Seal Beach Port Hueneme and Seal Beach California
Campsite Review: Point Mugu Campground Port Hueneme California
Campsite Review: Vandenberg Campground Lompoc California
Campsite Review: White Sands Missile Range east of Las Cruces New Mexico
Fort Huachuca west of Sierra Vista Arizona
Campsite Review: Agave Gulch Campground Tucson Arizona
Campsite Review: Gowen Field Boise Idaho
Jim Creek Naval Radio Station Arlington Washington
Campsite Review: San Onofre Beach Campground San Clemente California
Campsite Review: Lake O’Neill Campground Oceanside California
Camping at Camp Pendleton Oceanside California