December 07, 2021

Introducing Jim - the Best Campground Host Ever!

The photos in this post were taken in and around the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho.  Since it’s an area of such exceptional beauty, don’t be surprised if they turn up again in future posts.

When you camp at privately owned RV parks, there is often an office on the premises that’s staffed by the campground owners, managers or paid staff.  Frequently you’ll find a small store on site and, perhaps, a laundry room and recreation room.  Various staff members are usually available to direct you to your campsite, take charge of campground activities and keep public areas like pools and playgrounds clean.

When you camp in public campgrounds, you don’t usually find a campground with staff or services like that unless you’re camping in a well-funded State Park.  Often all duties fall to a Campground Host, especially in federal facilities like those under the U.S. Forest Service or Army Corps of Engineers umbrellas.  Hosts are typically hired by the public agency that operates the campground or by a concessionaire that's responsible for staffing and maybe operations.  In exchange for a list of chores and a specified number of “on duty” hours, hosts may receive compensation in the form of actual pay, a free campsite for the duration of their tenure or some combination of the two.  As a result of this arrangement, the Campground Host is often the only contact the camping public has with the “owners” of the public campground – meaning the state or federal agency, city, county or region that operates it.  Just as a single server in a restaurant can make or break your dining experience, a Campground Host can positively or negatively impact your camping experience.

Regular readers know that Alan and I are huge fans of public campgrounds.  Their locations take advantage of the best of what Mother Nature has to offer and better position us for the outdoor activities we love.  Campsites are usually more spacious and private than those in a privately owned RV park and the views from them can be spectacular.

Due to our preference for public campgrounds, Alan and I have met a number of Campground Hosts over the years.  Most were excellent hosts – like the one at Singletree, a U.S. Forest Service Campground in Utah.  He not only offered us a better campsite than the one we had reserved, but also helped to move us there quickly before it was snapped up by a walk-in.  We’ve only met one host who was an extremely poor fit for the job.  He was stationed at an Army COE campground where the dump station had just been refurbished with some new concrete work.  Although he continued to promise to find out when it would re-open and whether or not we could use the dump station at a neighboring COE campground, he just never delivered.  We ended up traveling to our next location with full tanks and dumped upon arrival.  And then there’s Jim.

Historic Pole Creek Ranger Station

Just as the headwaters of the Mississippi was the one destination around which our entire trip to Minnesota and Michigan was planned in 2015, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho was the single destination around which this year’s trip was built.  Everything else was gravy.  Delicious gravy, but gravy nonetheless.

Alan and I met Jim when we were cruising the area around Stanley, Idaho, looking for a place to land to explore the Sawtooth Mountains.  We had planned to stay near Stanley for four nights but, honestly, the nighttime temps in the mid-teens scared me away.  Our rig is truly a four season travel trailer but I, apparently, am not a four season camper.  By the time the temps at night “warmed up” to the mid-20’s, we had just one night to spend in the Sawtooths if we were to keep to our planned itinerary.

Not far from the small town of Stanley, we came upon Sunny Gulch Campground, a U. S. Forest Service facility with 45 campsites.  It was gorgeous!  Just GORGEOUS!  Since it was later in September, there were plenty of open campsites, and Alan and I drove slowly through both loops looking for one we liked.  We fell in love with site #13 – a wide-open site with no neighbors that would give us a stunning view of the Sawtooth Mountains out our big back window.  We immediately began planning our move from Round Valley RV Park in Challis, about an hour north of Stanley.  Although we rarely stay at private RV parks, Round Valley was a real gem and we highly recommend it!

Site #13 at Sunny Gulch Campground near Stanley, Idaho

As we drove past the Campground Host’s site, we noticed two things.  One, the host had an Outdoors RV travel trailer just like we did, although his or hers was a newer and different model than ours.  And two, the host’s tow vehicle was a GMC Sierra 2500 which is what we tow with, as well.  We hadn’t even met Jim and we liked him already!

Alan and I figured that our time at Sunny Gulch would be short with an afternoon check in of 2:00 p.m. and only one night to stay.  Even so, we decided that a short stay would be better than missing out on this exceptional find.  So, we tracked down the Campground Host.  Jim turned out to be a friendly, easy-going guy around our age who was both informative and welcoming.  It was obvious that he took his duties seriously and really enjoyed being at “his” campground.  And guess what!  He told us that there was no need to wait until afternoon to check in since it was off season, there were plenty of sites available and the campground had reverted to first come, first served.  Excellent news!  Jim, we’ll be back tomorrow morning!

Our version of "mountain biking"

During our stay at Sunny Gulch, we enjoyed our time with Jim so much that I asked him if he’d be willing to participate in an “interview” and, to my delight, he agreed.  So, readers, meet Jim, the best Campground Host ever!

A special thank you to Jim's wife, Carla, for sharing this photo with us!

Jim, how long have you been camping and why did you start?

I've been camping since I was 6 years old when my parents first took me & my siblings (about 60 years ago).  As an adult, I've camped in most all of the western states both in tents & RV's.  My parents taught me the love of camping, hiking and motorbiking.  I've also enjoyed the hunting & fishing that goes along with camping.

Why did you decide to become a Campground Host?

Over the last 15 years, I've always wanted to try to be a host.  It looked like a fun thing to do, allowing me to spend my summer in the mountains.  Sunny Gulch has always been my first choice as a place to host.  This year I finally decided it was the right time to look into hosting.  While camping in June, I got all the information to apply next year.  When I came up to Stanley for July 4th, they asked if I was still interested because they were short handed.  I said yes & a week later I was hosting.  Now that I've got my foot in the door, I hope this can be an annual job until I'm tired of it. :-)

Aside from having to clean the restrooms, what’s the worst part of your job?

The worst part of my job after bathrooms is having to tell people that we are full.  They have all their gear (bikes, kayaks, etc) and are excited to get set up but I've got no site.  I really hate the disappointed look on their faces.

And the best part of your job as a Campground Host?

The best part of hosting is meeting & talking to people from all over the country.  I was amazed at how many people travel all the way to Stanley from the other side of the United States to see the beauty there.

Do you have a particularly memorable experience as a Campground Host that you’d be willing to share?

There were so many memorable experiences & conversations but the one that stands out is when a couple of ladies from NY & Boston visited.  One of them said she was a professional photographer for a national magazine & took some pictures of me saying I might be famous one day.  It was a really fun time with them.

What do you consider the three most important items in your RV toolbox?

The three most important items in my RV tool box would be duct tape, mouse traps & my battery operated drill.

What three food items are always in your RV refrigerator or pantry?

The three food items I've always got on hand are eggs, coffee & beer.

What outdoor activities do you enjoy in your spare time?

I really enjoy hunting & fishing in my spare time.

If you could be a Campground Host anywhere in the United States, where would that be?

The only place I want to host is at Sunny Gulch Campground, Stanley, Idaho.

What advice would you pass along to outdoor enthusiasts like yourself for enhancing their experiences in and enjoyment of our magnificent public lands?

I'd recommend outdoor enthusiasts do some research on hiking trails and any other recreational activities in the area they’re visiting and get out and experience something new.

How about any tips for brand new RVers who are just getting to know their rigs and heading out on their first adventures?

Tips to new RVer's are to know the height of your RV so you don't hit tree limbs, be sure & close your vents & windows before traveling and also make sure everything is put away & secured inside before traveling.

Can you think of any good questions I should have asked but didn’t?  Or any final tips you’d like to share?

I'd recommend if you're traveling a distance to a new area, you should check to see if you can make reservations in advance so you have a site when you arrive.

Thanks so much, Jim, for sharing your story, memories and advice with us!

As it turned out, Alan and I agreed that we couldn’t leave Sunny Gulch after just one night and we squeezed in a second one.  That, of course, had an awful domino effect on our upcoming reservations and I spent a bit of time over the next several days re-working our trip while on the road.  Stressful, yes, but oh so worth it!  The time we spent with Jim made a memorable stay even better.  He even came to our rescue at one point by lending us his voltmeter to check the battery in one of the sensors on our tire pressure monitoring system.  Every once in a while you run across someone who is just a perfect fit for his or her job, and Jim is one of those people.  At the risk of embarrassing the poor guy, I have to say that, of all the Campground Hosts Alan and I have met over the years, Jim stands out as the absolute best.  I hope you enjoyed meeting him as much as we did!

A warm and heartfelt thank you goes out to Jim for agreeing to this interview, as well as for his kindness during our visit.  (Thank you, Jim!  You really are the BEST!)  I left a list of a dozen questions with him, and he emailed his responses to me once his seasonal job at Sunny Gulch had ended and he was back home.  Those of you who travel know that the connections you make with others on your journeys can brighten your days and enrich your experiences.  And so it was with Jim, our Campground Host at Sunny Gulch.  The next time we visit the Sawtooths, ya gotta know where we’ll be staying!



  1. Mary,
    Great story and great pictures. Here's hoping Jim remains a host for a long time so we can meet him on our next trip west. You gotta love guys like that! Have a great week! Joe

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Joe! As I'm sure you and Helen would agree, the connections we make during our travels really do impact our experience in a wonderfully positive way. I, too, hope Jim continues to host - if or when he steps down it will be a real loss for the camping community!

  2. I have to admit that you may have no equal in picking picturesque campgrounds, and I liked the interview; I'm not sure I've seen that before, since most of my posts are about, well, me. Knowing that I have been laid up has apparently lulled you into a sense that my bad grammar sensor has been dormant. Well, along with my recovery from this ordeal, my antenna is working again. ...his or hers was a newer and different model than ours. I'm sure you meant to write "from" instead of "than" but were distracted, right? See? I knew there was a good reason for this slight hiccup in your usual perfection. I enjoyed the post; after so long a confinement, it was a welcome reminder that nature's beauty is still out there.

    1. Mike, I knew it was only a matter of time before my favorite Grammar Enforcement Officer was back on duty. I enjoyed the reprieve while it lasted. I'm glad you liked the interview! Jim was a good sport about the whole thing and we both actually had fun putting it together. As for picking picturesque campsites, thank you for the compliment. I consider it a labor of love that pays off every time we pull up to a site and say, "Oh WOW!"

  3. Mary, what a fun post to read! Jim sounds like a wonderful host who clearly enjoys helping people. It's nice that you honored him for his commitment to his job. That's another gorgeous campground you found—it's going on our list.

    I laughed at your comment that although your rig is a four-season trailer, you are not a four-season camper, LOL! We've been caught in some winter storms with temps in the teens...brrrrrr!!!!

    1. Laurel, truth be told, we explored a half dozen U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the Stanley area and came up with only a few sites we really liked among them. (Have I mentioned that I'm VERY picky about our campsites?) Then we hit Sunny Gulch and it was a game changer for us. Jim was an unexpected and much appreciated bonus - one of those warm and wonderful connections you make on the road if you're lucky. Whenever you and Eric make it to Sunny Gulch, I hope Jim's your campground host!

      Our Creek Side, like your Arctic Fox, is well insulated and, of course, we have a furnace that runs on propane. So, it's really a question of how high we want to set the thermometer. We do have to deal with winter temps in the teens at home, but I figured there was no need to endure them while we were on vacation. Yes, I'm definitely a weather wimp!


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