10 Useful Tips for RV Camping in National Parks

RV Camping in National Parks is truly an awesome experience.

Fortunately, we have had the ability to visit 14 of the 63 National Parks while traveling in our RV. In addition, we have also visited numerous other National Park Service locations. 

Of course, visiting the National Parks in an RV takes some preparation, and planning. Our 10 useful tips for RV camping in National Parks will help you enjoy amazing camping adventures.

Our RV | Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Our RV | Badlands National Park, South Dakota

1. Buy the American The Beautiful Pass

RV Camping in National Parks

We highly recommended purchasing an America the Beautiful National Park Pass if plan on visiting more than one NPS site in a year.  This $80 annual pass gives you free admission into more than 2,000 sites across the nation. The America the Beautiful Pass includes entry fees for national parks, forest service land, and much more. We have found that most national parks have entrance fees of $25-35. Therefore, the park pass can pay for itself in as few as three park visits. 

Each pass provides free entry for one passenger vehicle and its occupants,  or the pass holder plus three adults at per person fee areas. 

If you are in the military, have a permanent disability, or are over 62, you may be eligible for a discounted pass. Passes can be purchased online at the USGS Store or at most national park entrance stations. 

2. Pick Right Time of Year

Rio Grande Village RV Campground | Big Bend N.P.
Rio Grande Village RV Campground | Big Bend N.P.

It is important to pick the right Park for the time of year you plan on traveling. We certainly learned this lesson the hard way. We traveled over 2,000 miles to the Big Bend N.P. in Texas during the month of August. To say that it was hot, and unbearable at times, is an understatement, In addition, not all Parks are open year-round. 

Of course, most people want to visit the National Parks when the weather is perfect. Finding a balance between great weather and peak tourist season is key to avoiding crowds. Most often the national parks see their most significant number of visitors on weekends and during the summer months. 

In addition, if you are flexible with your travel dates, try to avoid holidays and peak travel times such as spring break and summer months. Visiting the more popular parks such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Arches National Park in May or September instead of June or July can make a big difference in your experience.

3. Know Your RVs Dimensions

Our Freedom Elite 22FE
Our Freedom Elite 22FE

While nearly all national parks offer RV camping, they don’t all accommodate large RVs. In addition, limited space and tight turns within the campgrounds and the access roads make it difficult to operate larger RVs. We have found that many parks have size restrictions and cannot accommodate larger RVs in any of their campgrounds. Yet other parks have limited spaces for large rigs. 

We took our RV to Yellowstone N.P. and stayed at two separate campgrounds. The Grant Village campground (430 sites) only accommodates RVs up to 40 feet. However, the Fishing Bridge RV Park was able to handle larger rigs at 172 sites. 

4. Make Campground Reservations Early

Like so many other Rv travelers our cross-country travels occur during the summer months. One of the most important lessons we have learned is that you’ll need to do a fair amount of planning. The main reason to plan early is to ensure you get a site for your RV.

Many reservations can be made up to six months in advance. Therefore,  if you want a June 1 reservation, the earliest date you can make it is January 1. We have learned to make a note on our calendar to do this. The early you book, the better your chances of securing a site you want. 

Of course, if you can’t get a reservation you can try to get a walk-up or first-come, first-serve site when you arrive at the park. We do not recommend doing it this way, but it is possible! If you decide to try your luck at securing a first-come campsite, you will need to arrive at the campground early in the day. You can often speak to the Ranger at the entrance gate and learn which campgrounds and campsites may be available.

5. Look Outside Of The Park for RV Parks

Our RV At Zion River Rv Resort
Our RV At Zion River Rv Resort

With the rise in RV travel, you may run find it hard to get a reservation at the Park you are hoping to visit. However, do not let this deter you from making those plans. We have found that many of the national parks have RV campgrounds in close proximity, and many even offer discounts and travel accommodations. Of course, staying in the park is oftentimes a highlight of the trip. However, you can still enjoy the parks, and all they offer if you stay outside of the park. 

6. Be Prepared to Dry Camp

One of the benefits of  RV camping in National Parks is experiencing nature without the noise and distractions of the modern world.

Therefore, like any other time you are making campground reservations it is important to review the campgrounds amenities. We have found that many of the campgrounds in the National Parks do not offer full hookups. We have been at some that have electric only, water only, or no hookups at all.

In exchange for giving up these comforts, you get to enjoy the full natural beauty of the parks. In addition, everyone needs to disconnect from time to time, and national parks are the place to do it.

7. Prepare For Limited WiFi and Cell Service

Yellowstone National Park Entrance
Yellowstone National Park Entrance

This lesson we first learned at Yellowstone National Park and then again experienced at Big Bend N.P. Often times the National Parks are remote and have natural features that will block these signals. However, it should not deter you from going. 

As a matter of fact, we found this to be a blessing in disguise while visiting Yellowstone. It did not take the kids too long to overcome the fact they were disconnected from the technological world they were used to. For the first time, they spent their entire camping adventure riding bikes, running around with other kids, making new friends, and enjoying all that the park had to offer. 

8. Have An Activity Plan For The Park

Hiking Bright Angel Trail | Grand Canyon N.P.
Hiking Bright Angel Trail | Grand Canyon N.P.

The most important part of RV camping in national parks is planning what you want to see and do in the park. The national parks are tremendous and often cover a wide area of land. For example, Yellowstone is 63 miles from north to south. We learned that It is nearly impossible to see and do everything in one trip. Therefore, you need a plan ahead of time. The National Park Service website is a great resource for this. 

We recommended making a list of activities, trails, sights, and experiences that are important to you, and your family. One great way to learn about the park, and find things to do, is the Junior Ranger Program.

However, don’t plan too much to do in one day. Time for relaxing at the campsite and enjoying the view is half of the fun! 

9. Start at The Visitor Center

Panther Junction Visitor Center | Big Bend N.P.
Panther Junction Visitor Center | Big Bend N.P.

We always start at the park’s visitor center. We learned this lesson when we first arrived at Grand Canyon N.P. This park is so big we had no idea where to start. Thankfully, the Park Rangers helped us build an itinerary. 

In addition, the exhibits and park movies are some of the best ways to develop an understanding of what makes the park special.

Once you’ve learned about the park, you can ask a Park Ranger to point out on a map the things to see and do in the park that align with your family. 

Regardless of what it is you want to do the Park Ranger will be there to help. 

10. Slow Down and Have Fun 

Snow Angels at White Sands N.P.
Snow Angels at White Sands N.P.

This seems like a given. However, we have learned that many of the parks can become overwhelming due to their size, and activities. You may not know if you will have the opportunity to return, and will want to ee and do as much as possible. At some of the bigger parks, this could easily take some of the fun away.

The purpose of RV camping in National Parks is to slow down, relax, and enjoy your time with your family. Be sure to add some time to sit by the campfire, relax, and enjoy your time at the park.

Conclusion

RV camping in National Parks is a great way to spend time with your family, learn new things, see great things, and relax. 

Of course, it takes some planning ahead of time to ensure that it is enjoyable. Millions of people visit the National Parks every year. So to ensure you are one of them and enjoy your time there, be sure to be prepared ahead of time. These 10 tips will help ensure you have an enjoyable, and memorable, trip. 

We love to hear from our followers. Please leave a comment below. 

Have you traveled to the National Parks in an RV? Or, have you camped in the Parks in a tent? Do you have any additional tips for camping in the National Parks?

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About Us

We are a  family of four who travels all around the country in a small RV.

So far we have RV camped in 33 different States, visited 14 National Parks, and 17 National Park Sites. 

Being self-proclaimed National Park Geeks we are on a mission to see as many as possible!  

We hope our blog will inspire other families to spend time together, and create lifelong memories. 

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