My First Time RV Tailgating

A shot of a golf cart driving down a road lined with dozens of RVs at a tailgating RV park.

It’s a strange experience to visit a new world right in your own home town. I’ve lived in Athens, Georgia for more than twenty years, and I love rooting for our local university football team. But somehow, as much as I love college football and RV travel, I’d never fully experienced the glory of RV tailgating on game day. 

So when I walked through the gates of Bulldog Park, a giant RV park created exclusively for college football tailgaters who descend upon Athens, Georgia for a handful of weekends each fall, I knew it was a world that I wanted to be a part of. 

I had an invitation to visit from an old friend of mine who has owned a lot at the park since it opened–Donnie McBride, a home team zealot with a friendly southern accent. If the Bulldog Park community were a college fraternity, Donnie would be the social chair. No way I could’ve found a better tour guide to show me around and introduce me to a bunch of RV tailgating veterans who could offer up a few expert tips. 

When I first arrived at his campsite, Donnie’s wife told me that he wasn’t there. He had stepped out with a few friends, riding around on a bicycle-powered 12-person party cart his neighbor had built. The group was joined by a camera crew from a local CBS affiliate.  

So I wandered over to another lot, where I got my first great tip from an old-timer named Mr. Roy Dunning. 

An older gentleman sitting inside of an elaborate tailgating tent, smiling.

Roy Dunning

During the football season, Roy practically lives at Bulldog Park—and he's got his tailgating setup down pat.

TIP # 1:  When it comes to your setup, aim for impressive with ease. 

For the most part, Bulldog Park is where the serious RV folks camp out. Since many campers own their lots, a handful have built elaborate permanent structures: camper covers, outdoor kitchens and even party houses. But for an RV tailgating newbie like me, Mr. Dunning’s setup seemed a far more achievable goal.

He has all the amenities you’d need and more, including a full outdoor kitchen, with a grill, oven, fridge and deep fryer; two 75-inch TV screens; a swamp cooler, etc. He has two 20-foot tents, which he claims he can have set up in less than an hour. 

Roy’s impressive Fifth Wheel sits next to his outdoor kitchen and he says that, like most of the camp’s residents, he leaves the camper parked here throughout football season - except for occasionally hauling it to an away game. The park becomes a second home for he and his friends for about half the year.

While their outdoor kitchen setups range from fairly elaborate to lifestyles of the RV-rich-and-famous, most tailgaters like Roy serve up typical tailgate food like burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings and nachos––meals and snacks that most any RVer can prepare inside his or her own camper.

An older man and a woman smiling for the camera.

Donnie McBride

If the Bulldog Park community were a college fraternity, Donnie would be the social chair.

TIP #2: Bring some toys. 

When Donnie finished his party cart ride, he offered to take me around to meet several of his friends. With almost 300 RVs in Bulldog Park, it’s a big place. The park takes the campground social game to the next level, it felt like a neighborhood street party as campers strolled around visiting old friends and making new ones. 

Donnie recommends bringing some kind of in-park transportation, like a golf cart, bicycle, four wheeler or an electric mini-cart like his. It’ll come in handy to get around, both in and outside the park, so you don’t have to move your RV every time you need to take a quick trip. 

Donnie also warns against being so caught up in grown up toys that you forget the kid toys. Even more than their beloved football team, he and Edna love when their grandkids come to stay with them in the RV for the weekend. There’s plenty of room for two or three grandkids in their toy-hauler RV and Edna always keeps scooters, footballs and board games handy to keep the grandkids entertained. 

A woman holding an alcoholic beverage in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, on display for the camera.

Jo Duncan

As a veteran tailgater, Jo knows if you tailgate hard, you gotta hydrate hard.

TIP # 3: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

The first friends Donnie took me to meet were the Duncans. With an elaborate permanent structure, they were clearly experts at tailgating. Their outdoor kitchen and living space was larger than my first house and far nicer–nevermind the giant structure that houses their RV. What advice did they have to offer a guy whose budget is limited to gas money and tailgate snacks? 

Jo Duncan says that professional tailgaters are often found wandering around with an adult beverage in hand. Since the party is constant and can last several days, you must remember to stay hydrated in order to stay in the party. With an RV bathroom at your disposal, there’s really no excuse for slacking on the water. Drink up!

A mother and daughter posed for a portrait.

The Conley Family

Die-hard tailgaters who decided to bring the kids along and make a new family tradition rather than skip a game day.

TIP # 4: Bring the whole family. 

No tailgate is complete without a good game of cornhole, so I had to stop and meet Jeff, Rene, Emma and Jacob Conley when I saw them out tossing bags. Emma is a college student at a university 90 minutes away, but she still loves coming home to tailgate in style with her family. 

The Conley parents told me that years ago, they would drive in just to tailgate for the day, but it was hard to find babysitters to watch the kids at home. So they bought a lot in the park about ten years ago, right across from the playground, and the kids came too. A decade of memories later, RV tailgating is a tradition they all love.

Despite the fact that the kids are grown, the RVs bunk beds are spacious enough for the grown Conley children to still sleep comfortably so tailgating weekends in the family RV can continue to be a family tradition that they all love for years to come. 

A senior man and woman laughing together as they are posed for a portrait.

Dwayne and Linda Gilbert

Dwayne has been tailgating since 1948; needless to say, his advice is the one I wanted to hear most.

TIP # 5: Come on with it! 

I think my favorite new RV tailgating friends are a couple named Dwayne and Linda Gilbert. A WWII veteran and former metro Atlanta county sheriff, Dwayne is probably the  most experienced RV tailgater in a community of experienced RV tailgaters. Since his first game in 1948, Dwayne has attended a total of 638 games, both home and away; 508 of them consecutively. 

And while his current rig is amazing, Dwayne told me not to let the upscale nature of Bulldog Park prevent me and my family from joining the party. “Don’t matter if you’re towing a beat-up old bumper pull or a million dollar bus,” he says. “Just come on with it!”  

He told me a story of an RV caravan he organized about twenty years ago in which he and his friends began a month-long trip to attend three away games and a home game. The caravan started with twelve RVs and ended with just four, but the group became like family along the way. And he’s right, it doesn’t matter what kind of rig you drive–the spirit of RVing is all about connecting to something bigger than yourself. So do like Donnie says and just come on with it.

The biggest takeaway from my RV tailgating quest was just what an amazing community this is. The energy of the event, the fan camaraderie  and everyone’s shared love of the RV lifestyle combines to create an atmosphere of enthusiasm and community that sticks with you long after the game is over. (But you never have to wait long for the next game.) Go team RV!

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