The Best National Parks for RV Camping
Jul 22, 2019
Plus, Tips Before You Go
Yes, they’re crowded, and sometimes they’re overcrowded, but there’s a reason why so many people visit our national parks even when they have to elbow their way to get to those beautiful campgrounds.
National parks are awesome. Yes, they even fit the true definition of “awesome.” They’re not just rad, or cool, or pretty great, or lots of other ways people misuse the word. They’re awe-inspiring. You know when there’s a thick line outside a restaurant’s door that you’ve probably picked a good place to eat, right? National parks are the same way.
So, when you’re planning out your next RV camping trip, you don’t always have to search hard for those out-of-the way places. Nationally-recognized RV parks and campgrounds are easy to find, and there’s always lots to see and do. So what better way to see them than from the comfort of your family RV?
We’ve picked a few spots that we think you need to see. These national parks are all also known for being RV friendly, as long as you don’t expect to get too cushy in these wild places.
Rocky Mountain National Park — Sure, this national park is one of the most crowded of them all, and that’s because it’s just so easy to see some amazing sights on an RV trip. You can drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. with a literally breathtaking summit of 12,183 feet. There’s elk, marmots, and other wildlife, and you won’t need a scope to see them. The park’s wide, paved roads lead to many beautiful spots and are friendly to RVs, although the actual campgrounds are limited to rigs no longer than 30-40 feet, and there are no hookups. There are RV campgrounds just outside of the park, too, if you didn’t reserve a spot six months in advance. Many other beautiful spots are a short hike away from many paved parking lots. The park’s also beautiful in all seasons. You can spend a summer here and never run out of places to see or things to do, or in Estes Park, the town that contains it.
Arches National Park — One of the few national parks where you can see just about all the best features without leaving your vehicle. You can cover the 18 miles of paved trail that show off all the amazing geological features in one day, if you’d like, and top it off with a nightcap, as the park is one of the best places in the country to see a dark, starry sky. There is only one campground, Devil’s Garden, and it does not offer hookups, but you can rough it for one night or enjoy Moab’s stocked plethora of RV parks. Reservations are accepted from March to October, and they are first-come, first-serve between November and February. You can spend a couple days here and take everything in, which should give you the chance to explore Moab’s many other offerings, including another National Park, Canyonlands.
Yellowstone National Park — This one is no surprise, as it’s probably on everyone’s list of places to visit. But Yellowstone offers a LOT more than Old Faithful (though you really should see Old Faithful, too). The park spans three states and is chock full of mountain streams, waterfalls, lakes, and trails. There are also wolves, bears, and bison. The park has 12 campgrounds, complete with an RV park, Fishing Bridge, that offers full hookups—although it is closed in 2019. Only five of these Yellowstone RV destinations take reservations ahead of time.
Devil’s Tower — This is the monument (the first in the U.S., by the way) that had a starring role in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The movie wanted it for a reason, as it’s a spectacular site, one of the country’s most unique formations. Rock climbers love it, but if you’re not up for that, you can always enjoy the view and maybe stay a night, if your RV is less than 35 feet and you don’t mind staying without hookups. It’s also in the Black Hills ofSouth Dakota, so it’s a good stop on a trip that should include Mount Rushmore, two amazing caves, Deadwood, and the Badlands.
Zion National Park — One of the best places to visit. Just like Rocky Mountain National Park, the park offers a shuttle service that will take you to many trailheads and all the major attractions. The park also offers river trips, canyoneering and, of course, a lot of hiking. This park is also a popular destination for RVers, so reserve your spots six months in advance, especially if you plan to go in the summer. There are three campgrounds in the park and several outside of it.
Grand Canyon — If you haven’t been to this incredible place, you really should go. It actually lives up to the hype, and there are many ways to experience it other than just viewing it at one of the vehicle turnoffs. There’s even a place that offers full RV hookups and accommodate rigs up to 50 feet, with a dump station, laundromat, and showers, on-site. That’s the Trailer Village RV park. There’s also a free bus service that will take you to many different views and lots of hikes for all abilities, including the famous overnight trek into the belly of the canyon beast.
You probably want to visit the park’s South Rim, by the way, instead of the North Rim.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park — This is a national park that feels more like you’re exploring untamed land with wildlife, wildflowers, and “smoky” mountain views, and yet, your RV is welcome at most of the campsites. This makes it one of the most RV-friendly national parks in the country. However, no hookups or showers are available, but toilets and running water is available. Half of the campgrounds accept reservations, and half are first-come, first-serve. Also, rangers only let you in if you sing “Smoky Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap. I mean, we assume that’s the case. There’s always Google if you’re in a pinch. Better have service, too.
Everglades National Park — The park remains a favorite despite the tens of thousands of pythons that have mowed through some of the native species, especially in the remote southern regions. That’s because there’s still a chance to see manatee, American crocodile, and the Florida panther. Be safe. Be cautious. Be educated before you go.
Two campgrounds, Long Pine Key and Flamingo, accommodate RVs, and there are many places you can walk on boardwalks to enjoy the wildlife and the views. Just keep family members close. Which is a good idea for any outdoor excursion, if you ask us.
Redwood National Park — This park offers some of the best views of the massive, old trees that make up forests you’d normally only see in a movie about tree gods or warriors or that James Cameron movie about blue people. Some of the trees are even older than you, if you can believe it, and seem to touch the edges of the universe. Four different campgrounds accommodate RVs 25 feet long or a bit longer, depending on the campground, although, again, none of them offer hookups. Those size restrictions are enforced, as the campgrounds were built in the 1940s.
Yosemite — One of the best national parks in the world for rock climbers, if not the best, thanks to two classics formations, El Capitan and Half Dome. The park was the star attraction in the recent documentary hit “Free Solo” about Alex Honnold’s free climb of “El Cap.” The park also offers hikes to view waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and Glacier Point. There are 10 campgrounds that can accommodate RVs of varying length, with 40 feet being the maximum. Dump stations are provided, but there are no hookups, and generator use is severely limited.
Five things to know about national parks:
It’s cheaper if you buy in bulk
National Parks have an annual pass that allows you to enter any national park all year, or another pass that gives you repeated visits for a year to that one place. These passes aren’t much more than the weekly pass many buy to get into the park. So, if you’re going to visit more than one park this year, or you’re going to see one national park several times, you should buy the yearly pass.
Consider going during the off-season
Some parks may offer the same sights year-round, such as Everglades, and may even have nicer weather in spring, such as the Grand Canyon. The off season will probably offer cheaper rates and much less people. This doesn’t always work because, say, Rocky Mountain National Park’s best trails are still full of snow as late as May, and Longs Peak doesn’t open until late July at the earliest, so you’ll be missing out on some cool sights. But other parks will welcome you coming at a time other than the summer.
Regardless of what month you are traveling, RV reservations are strongly recommended, and try to make them six months in advance, as soon as they open.
Size is everything
Your RV could be too big for many national park campgrounds, that is, unless you’re one of many Fleetwood owners, as most of our RVs are under 35 feet in length. That makes them perfect for a national park vacation.
However, you should always know the restrictions and consider staying just outside a national park if you’re concerned, as many towns offer reputable campgrounds within shouting distance, usually with more creature comforts, such as hookups.
You’ll have to rough it… maybe
Many would laugh at the idea of a cozy Fleetwood RV being considered roughing it, but there will be some things you’ll have to go without, including hookups. Many national parks also limit the hours you can run a generator. You may, for instance, want to research how long you can go without emptying your waste tank and how much power your appliances use.
However, because we’re always thinking of new ways to keep our RV enthusiasts on the road, we encourage all RVers to check out the Fleetwood Renew Edition—a floorplan designed to help you stay off the grid without being tethered to power or sewer hookups. Available on Flair and Pace Arrow units, the Renew Edition delivers features like a cell booster, lithium batteries, WiFi ranger, bike rack, and much more.
Take the road less traveled
You should take in the more famous spots in any national park, as those are crowded because, well, they’re awesome. But you should also do a little research and find out-of-the-way hikes that offer peaceful, beautiful views. You may even have them to yourself. A general rule is crowds thin out considerably after just a mile beyond the trailhead. One of the advantages of owning an RV is you can stay a bit longer, so you don’t have to cram everything in one weekend.
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