National Park Basics for Rookie RVers

When planning a national park camping trip, many RVing rookies 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 incompatible 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, Miami RV has found six simple ways to have a great RV camping experience.

Black Canyon, Gunnison National Park, Colorado (photo courtesy of

1. Research Your Route to the Park

Many national park campgrounds like Sequoia National Park in California 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 'Things to Know Before You Come' section of the park's website before you head out. 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.

Glacier National Park, Montana (photo courtesy of

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).

RV mishap, photo courtesy of

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 'Plan Your Visit' section. For parks with reserved 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. Finally, for the most accurate campground information including seasonal conditions, call the park headquarters.

RV mishap on Oregon coast, photo courtesy of

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 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.

RV boondocking, photo courtesy of

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 neighbor and limit generator use to only the most essential uses, like recharging RV batteries at the end of the day.

Malibu RV Beach Park, photo courtesy of

6. Know Your Gears

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. We can't begin to count the number of times we’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.

Travel tunnel in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, photo courtesy of

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