Everything You Hate About Your HOA, but in a KOA
Every year we make the pilgrimage to see Dave’s father and step-mother and this time I booked us into Hidden Valley RV Resort for two weeks at the beginning of June. It had recently become a KOA, literally during the off season it switched over to a KOA, and thus I felt a little more comfortable booking us into an unknown campground. There are many factors and decisions that go into us choosing a campground, but KOA has to this point always been a safe bet.
It wasn’t a safe bet this time around. In fact, there was much discussion between the two of us as to what our eventual star rating would be for this experience. I also didn’t particularly want our first campground review to be a non-five star review but sometimes life presents you with lemons.
The above picture is taken directly from the KOA app and the Hidden Valley RV Resort website. As you can tell it is a paved driveway with a berm on one side with a built in alcove for the picnic bench and your outdoor chairs.
So, imagine my utter shock and joy when we pulled into our site and this is what we got. No private alcove, no built up berm, no lush green grass just an average pull through site with nothing to justify it’s nightly rate. And to be perfectly blunt, it wasn’t the worst one of the pull through sites, I would have been more upset with the one that had a power box on it directly outside of where our back door would have been.
Let’s be clear here, prices are already very high in Wisconsin during their short camping season so when I pay high prices I expect the pictures to be realistic and accurate. This was not worth the cash expenditure we laid out. The non-paved pull through sites were exactly the same as what we received except they paid less. This isn’t about the money, although considerable at $80 a weekend night, it’s about booking one thing and getting something else. First time it has ever happened to us at a KOA.
Staff, Store, Security, & Wi-Fi
Wish the story was going to improve at this point but sadly it is not. Wi-Fi at the park was exceptionally bad. Not just the type of bad that full-timers complain about, but BAD bad even during the week when the park was emptier. It was flat out unusable and came with ridiculous restrictions.
If the park Wi-Fi is truly that bad, and believe me that was a good moment when I tested, then why bother to advertise that you have the amenity at all. When the park was packed to capacity on weekends, there was no chance of signing the attestation let alone using the Wi-Fi. This is the first KOA we have stayed at that had unusable Wi-Fi and did not have Tengo Internet as an option.
The staff was friendly but not overly helpful. Like every KOA we’ve stayed at they had the curbside pickup of trash. Only unlike every KOA we’ve stayed at, trash was picked up on a whim. We personally had trash site curbside for over eight hours before it was picked up, even though trash pickup drove by it multiple times with an empty golf cart. We watched our neighbors site have the exact same experience, except they left and new people arrived to have someone else’s trash littering the space. What a pleasant experience that must have been!
On the subject of trash, at check in you are informed that recycling is mandated and they hand you one white and one black trash bag. Our rig isn’t set up for recycling and leaving an open trash bag outside for critters, creepy crawlers, and the puppy to discover just isn’t a realistic option. Also, black trash bags for trash is beyond annoying! Please explain to me how the most common color for kitchen trash bags on the market is white but your campground decides that nope, recycling trash belongs in white trash bags. We don’t normally carry black trash bags on board, so off we had to go to find black trash bags to accommodate the rules. I was annoyed every single time I threw anything away. We both strongly suspect that the rules for recycle exist so that the campground can profit from the trash of it’s customers.
Security is non-existent. There is a “guard” shack as you pull in but it is only ever staffed on Saturday’s that we observed. Even then, it’s a bored and disinterested teenager waving vehicles on through. This was a vastly different experience than other KOA’s.
The store sells candy, fire accessories, etc. There are no basics to pick-up like milk, beer, or marshmallows. There is access to the concession stand in the store, and they do deliver to your site. Ordering from the concession stand requires exact change if you are having food delivered or a credit card. We can highly recommend the chicken fingers and the mini corn dogs. But stay far away from the pizza unless you like a soggy cracker crust and overly sweet red sauce.
Fireball was three and a half months old when we arrived, having a dog park was important to us and we were looking forward to Kamp K-9. Imagine our reaction when we discovered that “Kamp K-9” was not fenced and was near the busy road leading into the campground. Sure, we went a couple of times but always trying to balance our concerns for their safety and Fireball’s need to burn off energy. I can honestly say, if Wally had still been alive when we were here we would have skipped the dog area. He would have taken off and gone where the smells led him joyfully. We weren’t the only people we talked to during our stay who were also uncomfortable with “Kamp K-9” and the inherent hazard it posed.
This campground is a mixture of permanent seasonal residents that own their lots and overnight campers. There are in excess of 200 sites. It is far from an unreasonable assumption that there would be pools and hot tubs to accommodate the varying number of residents and guests. Instead what exists is a pool and hot tub suitable for a campground that has fifty sites or fewer.
There it is folks, the hot tub for over 200 camping sites. Yep, you can totally go to the local spa store and order the exact same spa for delivery to your home. It seats … wait for it … seven adults! That’s right seven adults in the spa.
It was a complete joke. It was far too small for the number of adults in the campground. Oh yeah, they limited hot tub time to thirty minutes. So if the drive in was stressful or you just got back from a long day with the family, don’t expect to relax in the hot tub for any length of time.
Not the best picture of the pool but you can see the deepest depth in this shot, 5’0. Yep, I could (just barely) stand flat footed in this pool. It is an odd kidney bean shape and was jammed packed full of adults standing around, kids playing, and/or oversized pool toys being used. So, the pool was unusable as well. It was also the only pool in the entire campground.
Pool and hot tub had weird hours 8-8 daily with adult hours between 3-4 in the afternoon. So if you want to relax in the water under the stars, that just isn’t going to happen here.
But despite all of these flaws, this wasn’t the biggest flaw of the water amenities. No that honor was reserved for the emergency phone located outside of the gate, up the stairs, and somewhere in the office. Yep, not making it up there was no emergency phone located within the gated pool area. Dave and I were not the only adults utterly baffled by this. Heaven forbid there is ever an actual emergency, I pray that someone is able to get inside and find the emergency phone quickly.
Discount Clubs: KOA discount applies, although the campground still flies the Good Sam’s Club flag out front.
Site Number: 196
Standard Review Items
Ambiance: It’s pretty but it is marred by the overall experience.
Cell Reception: AT&T reception was exceptional. Verizon was ok as well.
Drainage: Our site and the campground as a whole, did drain well after every rain storm and standing puddles were not an issue or concern.
Level Sites/Utilities: Site was reasonably level, utilities were stable. We did lose power once, as did the entire campground, but that was weather related when a super cell moved through the area.
Night Sky: There are no street lights and utility boxes at each site were unobtrusive. However, be warned the abundance of golf carts speeding around at night lit up like a Christmas tree can destroy the darkness in a blink of an eye.
Office Staff/Manners: Friendly, but just, if that makes sense. Unlikely to volunteer any information and getting information out of them was like pulling teeth.
Overall Amenities: We can say that they are non-existent for the money spent. Sure they have a pool and a dog “park” but in comparison with other campgrounds they are non-existent.
Pet Friendly: Pets are welcome but because of the issues with Kamp K-9 we wouldn’t consider it truly pet friendly. I fully expect when a KOA says it has a Kamp K-9 our dogs will be safely fenced and taking them to the dog park will not involve risking their lives in the process.
Pet Services in the Area: Being sandwiched between Madison, WI and Janesville, WI there are sufficient pet services in the area.
Road Noise: The campground is off of I35 but it’s at least two miles from the off ramp. One would expect the road noise to be minimal. However, that would be a false assumption. It was in the 90’s when we were there in early-mid June. Road noise will only increase in cooler weather.
Rule Enforcement: There was some enforcement of the adult hour at the pool but it was one warning with no follow up. Other rules (I.e. no clothes lines between trees) were routinely not enforced.
RV Services: None, no seriously non-existent. The brochure they hand you at check in tells you that the RV dealership down the road makes mobile calls. Called, nope sorry they really only handle seasonal issues and deck build-outs on seasonal trailers. There are no other mobile RV techs that service the southern Wisconsin area, the last one died of a heart attack in 2016.
Satellite Friendly: Our satellite was inoperable, awaiting warranty replacement of the turret, during our stay. The campground is covered in tall cottonwood trees and so there is a strong possibility that the trees in a particular site could interfere with satellite reception.
Store: A tourist trap, with large markups on items geared toward the kiddos.
Storm Shelter Facilities: Office/Clubhouse was the only listed storm shelter for the entire campground. I highly DOUBT the office would hold the number of people that could potentially be in the campground at any one time. I also know that there is no possible way that all of the people and their pets would fit in the office. I would have chosen to ride out any potential weather warning with the pets rather than risk going to the office with no room and without family members.
Wi-Fi: Yes it exists, no it should not be relied upon or counted as an amenity for this campground.
Dave and I spent a lot of time trying to come to an agreement with an overall rating. I wanted a one star rating, Dave felt that one star was vindictive. We settled on two stars, strictly because there is a lot of room for improvement. KOA quality team needs to come and stay for more than an overnight visit. In fact, I would recommend they send in a team undercover.
There are so many things that failed to live up to what we’ve come to expect from KOA’s. The visit wasn’t enjoyable in any respect. The pool situation, Kamp K-9, laughable Wi-Fi, site not matching what we paid for, and the road noise all combined to make this a miserable two weeks.
We compromised on a two star out of five star rating. There are many areas available for improvement by Hidden Valley with and without the help of KOA corporate. The surrounding campgrounds are no better but that is no excuse for the conditions at Hidden Valley.