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Renting an RV offers chance to explore camping

Renting an RV offers chance to explore camping

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Cruising down Interstate 70 on the way to Lake of the Ozarks, I looked behind me into the expansive RV my husband was driving. My 7-year-old sat at one end of a leather sofa playing a video game on his iPad. My 9-year-old, also seatbelted in, sat at the other end, watching “Lord of the Rings” on a 24-inch flat screen. My dog, a 20-pound terrier mix, made himself comfortable on the queen-size bed in the back.

As we pulled into Ha Ha Tonka State Park for some hiking, I moved back to the kitchen to make some sandwiches.

Comfort and convenience. So, this is what traveling in an RV is all about.

But actually, it was about even more for my family. Smack dab in the middle of the kids’ hockey and soccer seasons, school talent shows and the busy work schedules for my husband and me sat fall break. The boys were out of school for 10 days. For three of them, we rented an RV from M.B. Thomas, 275 Lemay Ferry Road, and headed to Cross Creek RV Park at Lake of the Ozarks.

Turns out it was perfect timing. In the middle of the week at the end of the “lake season” we had the place to ourselves amid the changing autumn leaves, their explosion of crimson, gold and orange just beginning. And “just to ourselves” is just what we needed. It’s amazing what kids will do and say when it’s just you and a campfire. It was a perfect time to reconnect and recharge.


According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the top reasons travelers use RVs include enjoying outdoor activities, taking more mini-vacations, spending quality time with family and escaping the stress and pressure of daily life. So that was four checks for my family.

Many respondents in the survey cited the flexibility of being able to pack whatever they wanted and move from one destination to the next without unpacking. And 64 percent say they bring their pets along on trips. Check and check.

And RV ownership is on the rise. The number of RV-owning households has grown to a new peak of 8.9 million households, up from 7.9 million in 2005.

Lonnie Hall, president of M.B. Thomas, says he’s seen RV renters shifting in the past few years, from the long treks to shorter trips of just a few days and 300 to 400 miles.

Hall said some people rent RVs to see if they are interested in purchasing. He’s also seen an increase in younger RVers renting for a festival or sporting event.

“The best thing about RVs is the freedom it gives you,” Hall said. “That’s the first and foremost. You’ve got your meals and bathroom and everything there, and you are not stuck with motel reservations and finding food.”


When we were traveling from St. Louis to Montana last summer, it seemed that every other vehicle we saw was an RV. As we looked more closely, we realized many were rentals.

That put a bug in our ear. Rent an RV for a trip. See what it’s like. Would we like the confined quarters? Would we be able to maneuver one?

The first thing you have to consider is what kind to rent.

1. Towable trailer: These can be small enough to be towed by midsize vehicles, but they come in all sizes. Most have bathrooms, kitchens and plenty of sleeping areas. The drawback is that the family can’t move around in it while driving. The bonus is mobility of an extra vehicle when you reach your destination.

2. Motorized: Motorized RVs are vehicles designed as temporary living quarters that are built on a motorized chassis. The upside is comfort while driving. The downside is that it’s not easy to get around once you are in your campsite (unless you tow a car). The smaller they are, the easier they are to drive.

We chose a 28-foot motorized Chateau Class C by Thor. It wasn’t one of those monsters, so I was able to drive it (albeit nervously). It could sleep eight, with a queen bed in the back, a queen bed over the cab, a sofa that folded into a bed and a dinette that converted into a bed. It had a stove, oven, refrigerator, bathroom with shower and TV in the RV. Even better, it had a TV outside the RV and a retractable awning. Though we only got PBS at the campground, we couldn’t help but wonder about the possibilities of the RV for tailgating.

The folks at M.B. Thomas walked me through every step of how to work the components of the vehicle. And I used my phone to shoot video of Hall explaining the things I was afraid I would forget. They also gave me a number to call in case I forgot something (which I did) and to help me out along the way.


Cross Creek RV Park sits in a secluded area not far from the Bagnell Dam in Lake of the Ozarks. Owner John Peters and his staff took pity on us newbies and helped us hook up the RV at the site (this took only about 20 minutes).

Our site was one of five along an 8-acre fishing lake. The other four sites were empty. In the middle of the lake, with a boardwalk leading to it, was “Survivor Island,” a small piece of land you can rent for tent camping. With no one there, we took it over, fishing off all sides of it. The lake is stocked with bluegill and catfish. I’ll admit, we caught nothing, but that could have had something to do with our dog splashing around in the water and swimming after the ducks.

We found a fishing boat tethered to a tree. We grabbed it (with permission, and some oars) and set out paddling across the lake. With all four of us working together, I felt like we were on some reality show about growing closer as a family.

The campground also had a playground, a miniature golf course, volleyball, paddleboats and hiking trails. In the summer, it has a swimming pool, karaoke and live music. But the fall holds its own special attraction: a hayride through the park. With a nip in the air and the smell of wood burning, it was a perfect fall treat.

We spent our days boating, fishing and hiking, and in the evening we set up the fire. The boys would toss around a football, while I made dinner. Cooking over an open fire was a whole new experience for me, so I turned to the Web for some recipes before I left. Some, like a recipe for bacon, eggs and hashbrowns cooked — supposedly in 10 minutes — in a paper bag were not successful. We waited for 45 minutes of cooking, gave up and ate Pop Tarts. Others, like an apple dipped in a bit of cinnamon and sugar and roasted on a stick, were a huge hit. My 9-year-old declared them better than s’mores.

That is until later that night when we had s’mores. Then he declared nothing was better than camping and s’mores. {hr /}


RV information •

Cross Creek RV Park • RV sites are $30-$33 weekdays.

M.B. Thomas RV Sales •; our unit rented for $233.50 a night, but rentals start at $79.50 a day. We used about $150 in gas on the trip. The RV we took retails for about $92,000.

For a listing of area RV retailers (some also do rentals) •{hr /}



When • Jan. 9-12

Where • America’s Center, 701 Convention Plaza

More info •

Amy Bertrand is the editor of the Home & Away and the Let's Eat section of the Post-Dispatch. Follow her at, @abertrand on Twitter and on Pinterest at

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