America’s National Park Service covers over 84 million acres in over 400 parks. Spread across 50 states and 6 territories, the NPS has something for everyone. From oceanside cliffs to high desert vistas and deep forest trails, there is a lot of nature to enjoy.
Droves of Americans and visitors alike choose to visit our national treasures yearly. With the wide-open spaces found in most of the parks, camping is an obvious choice. While many of the parks do offer amenities for RVers, all of them do not. Be sure to check what is available before diving in and going RV camping in America’s national parks. We’ve compiled a list of helpful information to make your trip even more enjoyable.
Take advantage of NPS free entrance days or the America the Beautiful passes. The prices of these annual passes range from Free to $80. One-time entrance fees at many parks start at $30 so annual passes can provide real savings. If you go on one of the popular free entrance days, prepare for large crowds.
Know Before You Go
Trip planning is always important. It can be even more so when you’re planning on visiting any one of the national parks.
- Route – Knowing how you’re going to get there and the current road conditions can be a lifesaver. Many parks are in desolate or wilderness areas where roads can turn treacherous at any time. Plan accordingly.
- Limitations – Keep in mind that driving your RV is not the same as buzzing along mountain roads in your convertible. Know your own limitations.
- Familiarization – Get to know the ins and outs of your RV (whether you own it or are renting it). If possible, do a few test drives around town before taking it out on the open road (or curvy mountainous roads). While some sites may offer pull-through entries, most don’t. You need to be able to back that rig in and maneuver it in tight situations. Know how tall and how long your RV is as there are some places where it just won’t fit. It’s also a good idea to know the laden (loaded) weight of your rig and anything you’re towing. Some roads and bridges have weight restrictions that may force you to turn around if you’re too heavy to cross.
- Accommodations – Each park is different. Some may offer a few pull-through sites but most don’t. Most NPS RV campgrounds are set up in one-way traffic loops. Tight turns, narrow tunnels, overhanging rocks and protruding tree limbs are common. Know what kind of obstacles you may encounter and have a plan to get out of any situation before you drive into it.
- Restrictions and Rules – There are rules and regulations at almost every RV camp you will ever visit. It’s a good idea to always check them before you make your reservation. You will have a problem if you plan on using your generator and find out they’re forbidden once you arrive. Same goes with the use of campfires. Especially during the fire season, campfires may not be allowed. If that’s how you plan on cooking your meals, you might be going hungry. Read the rules!
- Reservations – It is a good idea to book as far ahead as you can. The chances of you getting a preferred site (if one at all) go down the closer to your arrival date you get. Some parks have first come – first serve sites available on a limited basis. If you’re hoping for one of these, plan on being there very early in the morning to try to snag one.
Be Flexible And Be Prepared
Flexibility and preparedness go hand-in-hand. Things will go wrong at some point. It’s just the natural order of things. It is so much easier to “go with the flow” and be flexible — IF you’ve done a little prep work. Simply stocking up on food, water and supplies before you enter the park is a good start. While there may be park stores, sometimes there isn’t anything around for miles.
A few parks offer some hookups but more often than not, you will be dry camping or “boondocking”. This simply means that you and your rig will have to be self-sufficient. No outside power or water is going to be available. Be sure your good water tanks are full and your waste water tanks are empty before you leave home. It’s a good idea to plan for boondocking on every trip, whether you really will have hookups or not. A good backup plan is never a waste of time.
Enjoy Yourself RV Camping In America’s National Parks
One of the best pieces of advice we can give you is to have fun and enjoy yourself. Spend quality time with your family and friends exploring our great nation. No matter which of the parks you pick, you will come home with memories to last a lifetime.