5 Tips for First-Time RVers
The open road. The smell of new places. The sights and sounds of decades of life in a new community you’ve never experienced. Or the magnificent silence of untamed wilderness.
As the nation begins to try to unravel it’s way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, RV travel is experiencing a renaissance. Americans are ditching the airplanes, hotels, and cruise ships for the comfort of traveling with their own bed, kitchen, and bathroom. We’ve been trying to tell y’all.
Family hiking at Carlsbad Caverns National Park/Photo courtesy of Jason and Abby Epperson
Along with my wife Abby and my three kids, I’ve been traveling full-time in an RV for four years. The first three were in a converted school bus (or “skoolie”), and now we pull a travel trailer behind a pickup truck—every day of the year, to as many national parks as we can find.
Abby and I host the America’s National Parks Podcast, the See America Podcast, and the RV Miles Podcast, all telling stories from the road. And here on Hello Ranger, we’re going to be sharing our expertise on RVing to the national parks.
Whether you plan to rent an RV, buy one to camp in now and then, or hit the road for months at a time, we’ve got some tips and tricks for you. I thought we’d kick things off with five things that we wish we’d known before we began:
- Traveling in a large motorhome without towing a car (or having one follow) is hard. Imagine you arrive at Yellowstone National Park for a week-long camp at the Fishing Bridge RV Park (which is the only campground with RV hookups in Yellowstone) in your motorhome. You set up camp and you have provisions for the week. Now what? Are you going to unhook your giant RV and drive it to every visitor center, trailhead, and scenic overlook? People do, but it isn’t fun. You can always rent a car locally, or bike, but know that some parks are huge, and you could be biking 40 miles a day or more.
- National park campgrounds book very fast. If you know when you want to travel, find out the date and time reservations open and plan to book that second. Alternatively, if you’re flexible, watch for last-minute cancellations. This is how we book most of our national park stays.
- Staying in the park saves you time and money. Consider Zion National Park. The excellent Watchman Campround is right next to the visitor center. You don’t have to worry about the line to get in at the gate or the parking lot filling, which forces many people to park in the town of Springdale for $20. Sometimes it can be an hour drive or more into a park from the nearest campground outside of it.
- That said, not all national parks have great campgrounds for RVs. The National Park Service does a great job operating the campgrounds they have, but many are very small, and many parks don’t even have a campground. Thankfully, many national parks are bordered by other public lands, like national forests and state parks. When in doubt, a popular area will always have private campgrounds.
- Take it slow. No, slower. Our first several months on the road were so fast we barely stopped to breathe. And we talk to so many new RVers that plan week-long trips trying to hit five or more national parks over nearly as many states. You don’t want to spend all your time driving. Most of the major national parks definitely have a week’s worth of things to do, if not way more. Stop and smell the roses. Pick a park or two and go.
Abby and I are very much looking forward to being a part of the Hello Ranger Community. The national park idea and road trips go hand-in-hand. In fact, they practically grew up together. RV life is strange and stressful and wild and free, and we’re excited to share it with you in the coming months.
Wander Bus at Zion National Park campground/Photo courtesy of Jason and Abby Epperson
Header photo: Camping outside Mesa Verde National Park/Photo courtesy of Jason and Abby Epperson
Jason and Abby Epperson are the creators of RV Miles, a network of resources for U.S.-based RVers and outdoor enthusiasts. Together with their three boys, they’ve been traveling the country full-time for almost four years, first in a school bus conversion and now in a travel trailer. They produce three weekly podcasts, run an RV-focused website, and create tons of content across multiple platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.