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National Park Basics For RVing Newbies

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Before you head out for the first time onto national park roads, such as the Kolob Terrace Road in Zion National Park, with an RV, do a little research/Kurt Repanshek.


When planning a national park camping trip, many RVing newbies are surprised to learn that a stay in these public campgrounds is quite different from the usual RV park experience. From 1950s-era campgrounds with short parking aprons that are unsuitable for modern RVs, to strict generator use hours, the learning curve can be steep for inexperienced RVers. If you're a new RV traveler and considering a national park campground visit, here are five simple ways to have a great RV camping experience.

1. Research Your Route to the Park

Many national park campgrounds like Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah are located in stunning, scenic locations reached only via steep, winding roads. To prepare for any unusual driving conditions like steep grades or gravel roads, check the 'œThings to Know Before You Come' section of the park's website before you head out. Another tool that will help safely guide you to parks located in mountainous regions is the Mountain Directory Travel Guide, which provides the locations and descriptions of more than 700 mountain passes and steep grades in the United States. Finally, consider purchasing a GPS for RVs like the Magellan Road Mate RV, which allows you to navigate your route based on your vehicle's profile and driving preferences including avoiding unpaved roads, no U-turns and more.

2. Know the Size of Your RV

Once you're in the park it's not unusual to suddenly find yourself attempting to back into a parking space that's too short or narrow for your rig. To avoid this stressful scenario, know the exact height and length of your RV: take a bumper-to-bumper measurement (including any towed vehicles and utility trailers) of the length and height (remember to include air conditioning units and other rooftop objects like vents), then factor in the width (including all slide-outs).


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Know the size of your rig before you go under a bridge, such as the Rockefeller Bridge at Acadia National Park, or into a tunnel/Rene Agredano

3. Understand Campground Accommodations and Limitations

Many of our national park campgrounds were designed around beautiful, natural scenic features like rocks, trees and canyons. As a result, access can sometimes be impeded and force you to find other camping arrangements. Learn all you can about a national park campground's facilities by visiting the park's website and reviewing campground information in the 'œPlan Your Visit' section. For parks with reservable campsites, the reservation agency, shares many campsite details like parking space sizes and whether or not hookups are available. Next, consider the experiences of other RVers by joining RV discussion forums and posting questions in places like's 'œTravel' topic. Finally, for the most accurate campground information including seasonal conditions, call the park headquarters.

4. Get Ready to Boondock

National park campgrounds enhance the park experience by allowing campers to become immersed in natural surroundings '“ which means you won't often find common RV park features like full-hookups. As a result, you'll need to get acquainted with 'œRV boondocking,' which means to camp off-grid. First, understand how your RV works when it isn't connected to utilities by knowing how much power your appliances consume, Then, know how many days you can camp without emptying your waste holding tanks. Once you're in your site, practice extreme water conservation and propane use; remember, the less you have to stand in line at the dump station or rely on your generator for power, the more time you have to enjoy your vacation.

5. Don't Rely on Generator Power

Many first-time RVers find it easy to rely on gas-guzzling generators for doing everything from powering a microwave to watching television, but just because you can doesn't mean it's a good idea. Oftentimes national park campgrounds allow generator use, but only during certain hours and rarely past sunset. In addition, your solar-powered campground neighbors and tenters don't appreciate the ongoing drone of a generator or its exhaust, so be a Good Sam and limit generator use to only the most essential uses, like recharging RV batteries at the end of the day.

For many campers, traveling with the comforts of home can be a great way to experience the great outdoors, but when you're new to RVing there's a lot to learn along the way. To make the most of your road trips, understand your RV inside and out, talk to other more experienced RVers and remember that getting closer to nature means unplugging and slowing down enough to see the many reasons why our parks exist in the first place.

Rene Agredano is a full-time RVer who lives and works from America's most scenic spots. Since 2007, she's been roaming America's backroads with her husband and three-legged dog, while chronicling their adventures at


A fine article, but I think there's a very important point that wasn't mentioned.

New RV drivers or those come from flat country (no matter what kind of vehicle they drive) need to know that they MUST use lower gears when descending steep grades.  I can't begin to count the number of times I've been behind an RV or vehicle towing a trailer when the smell of smoking brakes has been overwhelming.  When brakes heat up, they often lose their ability to do their job.  The results can be catastrophic.

A runaway rig will provide a very memorable vacation story -- if you live to tell about it.

It seems that the rental RV folks do a good job of teaching people how to bring the machine back in one piece and it's rare to smell one of them.  But RV dealers?  Apparently not so much.  Trailer pullers may be even less likely to understand the need for low gears on downgrades.

In any case, it can be a matter of life or death.

And  this point cannot be overemphasized - please practice simple driving? Turn radius, the difference between turning right vs left, braking distances at different speeds, mirror placement.


All that simple stuff and more is so important. All you legally need is a driver's license to be legal; to be safe you need to practice and get competent.

Larger trailers and 5th wheels cannot get into the Redwoods campgrounds. The trees are too close together to navigate. We learned the hard way.


We are renting a large CruiseAmerica camper that accommodates 7.  Do we need to get a car, also, to see the UT national parks adequately?

I learned the hard way in a New Mexico campground :(

We could never find a spot in Olympic NP for a 29 ft 5th wheel. Many cases the tree limbs are too low and turns in campgrounds impossible. The worst was that sites that could be usable had concrete curb blocks halfway downdownload the length of the sites making them too small for our not very large 5th.

I would suggest you consider renting a car for a few days. Park the RV and then explore.  That will save you the extra driving if you took a second car with you.  We were okay in Zion, because we stayed in an RV park and use the park shuttle system to get to and around Zion.  Arches would have been better explored in a car. Also between Zion and Bryce there is a VERY tight tunnel.

Yes, if you want to truly experience the parks.  It's also much easier than unhooking your camper every time you want to do or see something.  It's well worth the money!


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