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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 can't emphasize enough going to a high school or shopping mall parking lot and setting up your own cone course. Be realistic about road dimensions, turns, and not only drive it, but get out an watch your partner drive it. If you set it up honestly [cones, milk crates, etc], and you find yourself hitting the cones or knocking over whatever you use to mark your course, then you WILL hit trees, other motorists, traffic signs, boulders, and whatever you find in the real world.


A few years ago, up in Alaska, I trained to drive an old schoolbus this method. I was going to be hauling tourists and didn't want to damage precious cargo. The practice was both tough, and essential, despite the fact that, at the time, I had been driving for at least 45 years.


Edited to add: I should have mentioned when practicing driving in your new land yacht, practice both directions - forward and reverse. If you get to your camp space and are unable to back into the only parking spot, it will not be pretty.

I have been the driver of a truck towing a trailer and losing my brakes going downhill.  The back way going down from Sequoia.  I have done this drive several times with no problem, but was behind a compact car whose driver had apparently never seen a curvy road or gone downhill before.  They would not pull over - although there were plenty of good sized spaces they could have done so in.   I had to grab the first larger pullout I could find - head for it, low gear and all brakes on.  God was definitely looking out for us that day.  Managed to get a Fordf-250 Supercab and 21 foot prowler trailer (when they were really heavy - lol) stopped.  A desperate search for items to chock the wheels with turned up yielded a whole lotta nothing.  I think perhaps this had happened before as this road is nothing but rocky crags and cliffs.  The trailer brakes areprobably what kept the whole shebang from going into oblivion.  A passing motorist agreed to call a wrecker for us in Three Rivers.  The wrecker came and took the truck down first since the trailer brakes were still holding and gave us a few chock blocks too.  We stayed with the trailer until they came back with a 3/4 ton truck with a BUMPER HITCH.  Our daughter and youngest son rode in front with the driver in seatbelts.  My husband, oldest son and I rode in the bed of the truck (filthy - all kinds of hazards) and they took us to the Holiday Inn in Visalia.  We were a rag tag bunch but very grateful to be alive.  Spent 3 days at Holiday Inn (they were wonderful) and got home in time to save our cat who got sick while staying with my mother.
We went a little nutzo as the kids grew up and bought a 31 foot 10 sleeper Jayco.  Had it for 11 years and enjoyed it, but at age 59 and holding desperately - at leas

Rick's advice about going to a large parking lot to practice driving is excellent.

Just yestedary, at the gas station near my home, I encountered a woman who had just purchased a large used RV.  She was pulling in to the gas pump for the first time and turned a little too sharp.  She contacted one of the bollards that protect the pump and tore the heck out of the side of her new rig.  On top of that, instead of turning the front wheels in such a manner that the rig would move away from the bollard, she just tried to back up along the same path and doubled the damage.  Damage to the bollard and pump island was also going to be expensive. 

Last week in Idaho, I was behind a large trailer pulled by a big pickup when the driver failed to use lower gears on a steep downgrade.  He lost his brakes -- but happily not too far from the bottom with only one sharp turn left.  When he hit that last turn, he was as far over on the wrong side of the road as he could get and still keep his wheels on pavement.  Thank goodness there were no oncoming vehicles or there'd have been one big Kabam.  The trailer brakes were smoking so badly I was afraid of fire so I pulled over to help if needed.  I haven't seen a man and woman so pale in a long time.

Heed Rick's advice and become a student driver again --- even if you've simply moved from one RV or trailer to another.  They all handle just a little differently, and little differences can have big consequences. 


what is the maximum length?

Karen, maximum length of what?

The answer to that question varies tremendously depending upon where you are and what you're trying to do. 

At Zion you need to take a shuttle to get to all of the scenic points and there is ample parking for rvs get  early to avoid waiting in line for the shuttle 

We want to travel with our 2 dogs.  Are we permitted to have them with us in the RV at the national and state parks.  We know there are limitations on where we can take them within most parks, but are more concerned with them being permitted to be in the RV camping areas.   

if you are renting one of those stinky RVs, dont worry about anything else.... enjoy the bedbugs...

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