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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


I haven't seen the RV age restriction in Natl Parks, but have seen it in some campgrounds that are park adjacent.

Hi everyone

As you all have experience with travelling by RV, I have a very important question. In June my son (18y) and I will make a road trip from San Francisco over LV to Denver to visit the National Parks. We booked a small RV (22ft) to make this trip as we wanted to be free and stay as long in the parks as we want to. We wouldn't like to be stuck to a fix schedule by booking everything in advance.

Now: people tell me that not booking in advance is not done in June. So my question is: does anyone has experience with this and how about the first come, first served  camp grounds?

Another big question is: people advice me to rent a car and cancel the RV! Would be cheaper, more flexible in the parks, ... .

Can anyone give advice on this very importand choice to make?


Thank you so much! Jeanique


Your link for the Mountain Directory Travel Guide brings up a book site but no results for that book. Try this instead.

Hi Jeanique,

Once school lets out, it is a lilttle hard to get into the most popular national parks without a reservation. If you want to wing it and try for a first-come-first-served campsite, it's best to time your national park visits for about a 10 am arrival. Most checkouts are by noon, so if there's a line to score a campsite, you'll get a head start. If you're traveling early in June you have a pretty good chance of getting into the parks on your route. Have a backup plan for camping elsewhere, just in case.

Another tip is to visit lesser known national parks and monuments. They're just as gorgeous and offer fewer crowds. 

As for traveling by car versus RV. I'm going to bet that the people who gave you that advice have never enjoyed the lovely pace of a long RV road trip. There's a lot to be said for having your own pillows, bedding and kitchen with you at all times. And with a RV that size, it's usuallly no different than trying to get a campsite when you have a car. If your RV was larger, in the 30' range, that would be different and yes, it would be very difficult that time of year. In addition, they could be wrong about the price comparison. I took a cross-country trip by car two years ago and the entire cost was literally only a few dollars less than towing my 27' fifth wheel and staying in campgrounds. And it wasn't nearly as much fun, especially because I had to eat road food. Yuk.

But otherwise, if the spirit of RV travel is calling you, listen to your heart and do it. I think you'll both  have a blast.

We consider the job of being the Navigator to be almost as important as driver. We have learned that the Navigator is a second set of eyes that can alert us of things the driver might miss. Like someone in front of you suddenly braking hard just when the driver us checking his mirror to change lanes or spot the nut job coming up behind you that is cutting in and out of lanes. Then after a hard day of navigating they help you get thru those cramped national parks.

Have been to some of these as a kid with the parents, we used a pop up camper and it was great, if in a no tent area, due to wild animals(mainly bears) there was usually another campground not to far away that was usable by pop up and tent campers. Left camper all set up at campground and explored the parks by car and on foot. Nothing like the chilly rainy night in a pop up camper and wake up to a crisp cold sunrise and see fresh snow on the mountain peaks. Even in summer. 

Yes. Once you set camp you won't want to mo e your camper, also some sights don't have parking for large vehicles. 

How wide was your trailer? Length?

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