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Important Things to Know About RVing in National Parks

Updated on October 11, 2017
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to enjoy their own vacations.

If you are planning on taking an RV trip to any of the US national parks there is a great deal of information you should arm yourself with before you go.

Since it is unlikely that you will visit all of them, taking the time to do some basic research about those you plan to see will help you to have a much better travel experience.

You can use the information in this article as a starting point, but don’t hesitate to

check out the NPS.gov site. If you want to save time, you can search here instead.

Learn what you need to know before taking an RV trip to a US National Park
Learn what you need to know before taking an RV trip to a US National Park | Source

General Information

A Few national parks are more popular than others due to their size, location, amenities and beauty. These are the ones people dream of seeing, but you need to make sure that the ones you choose will offer the type of experience you want to have.

  • Some parks are smaller and offer fewer amenities. Others are vast and have facilities such as laundries, showers and stores that make visiting more pleasant.
  • Some also offer ranger lectures that enhance visitor understanding about a particular park, while others do ot.
  • Some, such as the Smokey Mountain National Park are close to large cities, while others, such as Glacier National Park, while majestic in its beauty, are located close to small towns which have limited facilities.

Generally speaking,

  • all of the parks have stay limitations,
  • crowding can make finding campsites difficult,
  • visiting is expensive,
  • camping can be uncomfortable,
  • dangers abound and
  • driving an RV to and through many of the parks can be difficult.

If you have visited any of our national parks in the past, you’re also going to find that things have changed because these days

  • it is likely that you will have problems finding a campsite,
  • costs for everything will have increased significantly,
  • traffic will be horrible and
  • it will be unlikely that you’ll find much in the way of peace and quiet while trying to enjoy nature.

The reasons for these issues is that there are more people than ever visiting , most campsites are small and have not been upgraded to handle larger rigs and there is little ranger supervision within campgrounds.

The days of enjoying restful camping in the big US national parks are coming to an end.
The days of enjoying restful camping in the big US national parks are coming to an end. | Source

Stay Limits

While most RVers only stay at one of the big parks for a few days, some would prefer to visit for longer periods of time.

Longer visits may not be possible because every park requires limits on the amount of time visitors can stay. It’s usually 14 days, but some are less.

If you don’t plan carefully, you could arrive only to find that the campgrounds are full!

My husband and I were advised years ago to arrive at the park gate no later than 10::00 AM if we wanted to get a campsite.

One year we forgot to do that, arrived at the gate to the Rocky Mountain National Park at 2:00 PM and were turned away because all of the sites had been taken by people who arrived earlier in the day.

Costs may are so high that many RVers  can no longer afford to visit US national parks.
Costs may are so high that many RVers can no longer afford to visit US national parks. | Source

Costs

People often assume that visiting US parks is free, but nothing is further from the truth. If you don’t plan ahead, you can end up paying far more than you anticipated.

For example:

  • Yellowstone National Park offers only the barest of amenities but staying there is not cheap.
  • They charge a 7 day entry fee ($25), a daily camping fee (from $12 to $19.50) and fees for fishing licenses ($19 per day per person if you buy one for Montana and one for Wyoming).

You may think you can save money by camping outside of a park, but doing so is even more costly.

The small towns that surround most national parks learned long ago that they can charge as much as the market will bear for camping, groceries and services.

However people pay these higher costs because staying in town offers more comforts and conveniences than staying in the parks.

Limited Facilities

Unless you like primitive camping, most of these parks won't be for you because

  • there are no hookups,
  • you cannot run generators,
  • big rigs will not fit into many of the sites,
  • crowding can make stays uncomfortable and
  • wild animals, stinging insects and poisonous plants are always close by.

To avoid having some of these problems, you do have the option of staying at a privately owned full hookup campground within or outside of the park if space is available, but doing so will be very expensive.

Dangers

Although rangers patrol parks regularly, you have to bear in mind that when you visit, you’re pretty much on your own. This is especially true if you go into back country areas.

Dangers are everywhere, so if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing, you can really hurt yourself.

  • People have been killed by falling into the Grand Canyon and geyser ponds.
  • Bears in Yellowstone have literally dragged people out of their tents and killed them.
  • Buffalo and Moose have gored visitors who made the mistake of assuming they were zoo animals instead of wildlife living in their own habitat.

For these reasons you need to remember that in many places, you have no cell phone or internet service and medical care is scarce. Also, a ranger might not be immediately available to help you.

While “being careful” may seem to take the fun out of your adventures, it’s much better to be a little less carefree than it is to endanger yourself or your loved ones.

The attached video shows you what can happen and what you can do to stay safe.

Driving Issues

Many of the U.S. national parks are located in areas where the terrain is rugged.

Roads can be steep and windy, and in some areas. there are huge drops and no guard rails.

Therefore, you have to take great care when driving an RV in these places. You also should have equipment that can handle steep grades, such as motor homes with engine brakes.

One good example is Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park which is a beautiful, but harrowing drive.

If your RV or vehicle combination is longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet, they won't even allow you to make the drive.

Another problem is weather. Many parks are so far north that snow can block roads at any time of the year.

For these reasons, you should always contact the local highway patrol or the parks to find out about driving conditions and limitations.

Driving on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park can be scary!
Driving on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park can be scary! | Source

Learn What You Need to Know Before You Go

Obviously there are many issues to consider before making the decision to RV to any of the US national parks.

They all are worth seeing, but they are not without their caveats.

Visiting these places is a dream that many people have, but those who follow through need to make sure they understand the issues that are involved in taking such an RV trip.

It pays to remember that while the natural beauty will always be there, the problems that go along with RVing to a US national park will continue to be there, as well.

Has this article made you consider more carefully a decision about visiting some of the big national parks?

See results

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle

Comments

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  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image
    Author

    Sondra Rochelle 4 months ago from USA

    Dianemae: Thank you. I think it would take a lifetime to visit all of them! People should shoot for seeing the better known parks...they are indeed gorgeous.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image
    Author

    Sondra Rochelle 4 months ago from USA

    Fullerman5000: Rocky Mountain National Park is the one we were turned away from because the campgrounds were full when we arrived! Go early in the day if you plan to stay there.

  • Fullerman5000 profile image

    Ryan Fuller 4 months ago from Louisiana, USA

    Several of these parks are on my bucket list to visit. Especially the ones close to the Rocky Mountains. Thanks for sharing these wonderful and informative tips. I will definitely have to revisit this hub if I get the chance to visit some of these parks. Thanks again for sharing. Keep up the good hubs.

  • Dianemae profile image

    Dianemae 4 months ago

    Great article lots of information. The parks are beautiful and well maintained. People should take advantage and visit as many as they can.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image
    Author

    Sondra Rochelle 4 months ago from USA

    Blond Logic: Yes, the prices can be shocking. However the park passes can bring significant relief because they can be used at any national park service facility during the year. I though it would be important for people to know these things before they decided to go.

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

    I gasped when I saw the price of a day's fishing license in Yellowstone. I can't believe how expensive it is. I'd want to fish for a full 24 hours to get my money's worth!

    I knew the parks weren't free but gosh, it has put the parks out of many people's reach.

    I like that you have mentioned money saving ways to still visit whilst economising. The idea of a discount book is also a good idea.