This post was updated on 7/18/2017 to reflect a change in the Clay County Reservation website. Scroll to the bottom for the update.
Smithville Lake is located just outside Smithville, Missouri in Clay County. It is a 7,200 acre lake created by the Army Corp of Engineers and is managed by Clay County government. There are three total campgrounds at Smithville Lake. Two of them (Crows Creek and Camp Branch) are on the 5,000 acres of public land and managed by Clay County. The third is Smiths Fork campground which sits on and is managed by the city of Smithville. We have reviewed Smiths Fork Campground before.
With 175 miles of shoreline, 777 campgrounds, 2 swim beaches, miles of biking/walking trails all just minutes from downtown Kansas City, Smithville Lake is a popular weekend destination. Camp Branch has nearly 330 unimproved sites and has 34 electric sites (30 amp service). Crows Creek is a little larger than Camp Branch, it has 415 total camping sites. Crows Creek has more electric sites than unimproved sites. Both Camp Branch and Crows Creek are organized into loops. There are several individual sites per loop.
This year, Clay County upgraded one entire loop, Loop C, at Crows Creek to have 50 amp electric service as well as water hookups at every site. This was a welcome upgrade to those who frequent Smithville Lake! The sites in Loop C cost $35/night, which is ten dollars more than their electric only sites.
We were invited to Smithville Lake for a Father’s Day Weekend camping trip with a few friends. We could not get into the loop they were in so we decided it would be a good time to try out the newly remodeled Loop C. I got on their website and found several sites to chose from; we booked site number 194. As you can see from the maps below, the site we booked appears to be individual sites. You can imagine our shock when we arrived and found that we were on a shared site. A shared site has one entry from the main road with space for two camping units. There are two picnic tables, two fire pits, and two electric boxes. The empty one below resembles a “y” with each RV having a space.
In fact, most of Loop C is shared sites. Shared sites are very nice when you are camping with friends/family/someone you know. It allows two camping groups to be close together. But when you are on a shared site with a total stranger, well, it feels intimate. Too intimate in fact. It is like that moment when someone steps into your bubble space and you want to step back but you can’t, so you divert your eyes to create the sense of space.
Let me just paint you a picture of how close we were to this complete stranger. Our fire pit was behind his camper. Our picnic table was behind ours. Our awning extended to just mere inches from his camper and covered his utility pole. The area behind us (opposite of our front door) was grassy and large but then we get into the old question: where does my site end and the neighbors site begin? While we were setting up our camper, our neighbor decided it was time to come out and do work on his camper, so he was literally standing in our space where we were setting up.
Thankfully for us, our friends were in another loop with ample space. So we spent the entirety of our waking time at their campsite or in the lake. Any time we spent at our campsite was spent inside the camper; mostly sleeping.
So, here is the bottom line. When you are at Smithville Lake you will find a sign outside Loop C that says most of the sites in the loop are shared. That information is not helpful to those of us who make advanced reservations using the website. No where on the website can you tell which sites are shared and which site is not. Even the map they pass out upon check in indicates that all sites in Loop C are individual sites. It is very misleading to customers and is a concern that I hope Clay County remedies soon.
Specifically, I would like to see Clay County update their website and their maps to indicate the shared sites. However, considering how long Clay County government took to allow online advanced reservations, I have no faith that a solution to this problem will be timely. So, before we left Loop C we drove around and took note of which sites were shared and which sites are not. We also noticed that in the shared sites there is a “better” side. So, if you are headed to Smithville Lake and Loop C with water and electricity sound good, please refer back here and check before you book. If you don’t you might end up diverting your eyes all weekend as you are uncomfortably close to a stranger.
On the map above; I have marked every shared site with a blue circle. I have marked the “better” of the two sites with a red star. If you want to be in the water/electric loop and all the single sites are full aim for the ones with the star; other than having someone at your backside you will have the better hand.
UPDATE as of 7/18/2017:
I heard this morning that perhaps the website had been updated. So, here is a video of me walking through it.
What do you think? Is it enough? I think the dropdown box under Select Spot Type that list all of the shared sites is confusing. I appreciate the popup box that tells me that loop C “has many double sites” is good but it only pops up if I scroll my cursor over that paragraph. If I have my cursor on the photo, no warning pops up. The map is still not updated, nor is the legend. If a consumer overlooks the shared site statement under the amenities they will still inadvertently stumble into a shared site. I am afraid that it is still a “BUYER BEWARE” situation on this website.