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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Going Mobile

Spelling aside, KOAs are welcome journeys for travelers

We’re going to turn back the clock a few weeks and shine a light on our KOA-centric tour of Arizona, the Snowbird Center of the Universe.  

Kampgrounds of America is beloved for its high standards, offering sparkling clean washrooms, well-staffed facilities and sense of community for road-tripping RVers. Check into one of the parks affiliated with the KOA name and you’re going to get a certain level of quality and long list of amenities.  

We started our KOA tour in Gila Bend, a small crossroads town southwest of Phoenix. We arrived after a long drive from Borego Springs, Calif., and were immediately blown away by the recently renovated park.   

It’s absolutely gorgeous, right down to the pretty swimming pool on the edge of the desert.  

Independent owner and operator Scott Swanson is a former Hollywood producer whose family has been in the RV park business for some time. He and his partner, his mother, sunk more than $1 million in updates — and it shows. The park sits on the edge of the North Maricopa Mountains Wilderness and our deluxe pull-through site has a sweeping view of this dramatic desert landscape.  

Many of the spots at Gila Bend are occupied by seasoned snowbirds, and it is one of the friendliest parks we’ve ever visited. We lost count of how people stopped by to say hello, and even got invited to a party, which looked like a lot of fun.   

As with most KOAs, the Gila Bend franchise is situated just outside of town, so you really need a vehicle to explore the surrounding area. Many desert-lovers in Gila Bend use “side-by-sides” — ATVs that can handle the rugged dirt roads in the area.  

After a couple of days in Phoenix, we headed to Tucson’s Lazy Days KOA, a resort-style facility. Tucson is a bike-friendly city, and we took advantage of “The Loop,” a recreation path nearby.   

Tucson’s KOA was packed with families as well as the full-time RV crowd. The place feels like a small town, complete with an on-site restaurant serving Texas-style BBQ. Every day, a long list of activities was posted, and the weather was perfect for enjoying the resort’s two pools.   

Next up, we headed northeast to take in the impressive Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook. The small KOA park where we plugged in for a couple of nights is just off I-40 and it celebrates the Historic Route 66 connection with a lot of cool merch in the well-stocked gift shop.  

The park has a stopover feel, with nightly travelers checking in as they go from Point A to their dream destination. We had some interesting conversations with travelers from Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Canada.   

The final night of our fantastic tour of KOAs was in Flagstaff on our way to Grand Canyon National Park. This location is super cool because it neighbors a National Forest area with a series of hiking trails, and we climbed for a view of the valley below.   

That night, John made a roaring fire and we ate our dinner outdoors even though Flagstaff is at high elevation and the March temps are chilly. Nearby, a few families were doing the same, staying in cabins that the Flagstaff KOA offers.  

There are different levels of KOA experiences offered, with the more mobile parks being designated as Journey for overnighters, Holiday for the perfect vacation and Resort for the deluxe experience.   

After our excellent stays around Arizona — where 13 KOAs are located — we came away with a new appreciation for this time-honored brand headquartered in Billings, Mont.  

As with everything in our pandemic-challenged world, please check with individual parks on their operational status before booking a stay.  


Leslie Kelly
Leslie Kelly is a freelance writer.