RV Trip Budget Breakdown: Visiting A National Park

Andy and Kristen Murphy's RV parked in front of a mountain range at Estes Park

This was the very first trip in our new 2019 Keystone Fuzion. We had recently picked up our RV in Denver and decided to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. Rocky Mountain was within a half-day drive from our location and offered some incredible camping. Our family also happens to be huge national park fans, so we figured it would be a great way to learn about our new rig and explore some beautiful mountain views.

Trip from Rocky Mountain National Park to Estes Park

Our Trip Budget Breakdown

Below is a breakdown of the various expenses from our family's eight-day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. We've provided a comparison of what we estimate the same vacation would have cost without our RV (including hotels, food and entertainment).

Our RV Trip

Without Our RV

  • Fuel




    It cost us about $45 to drive from Denver to Estes Park, which is about 69 miles. We also drove all throughout the park while we there, which we estimate to be another 15 miles or $10. For the entire trip, we spent close to $120 on gas.

  • Campground



    The sign of the campground that Andy and Kristen Murphy stayed at while visiting Estes Park

    We stayed at a private RV park just outside the gates to Rocky Mountain National Park. We are Good Sam Club members, so we got a discounted rate—$69 per night for seven nights.

  • Food (Eating in and out)


    Food (eating out)


    We spent about $200 on groceries and another $200 at restaurants. We bought most of our groceries in Denver to avoid paying higher prices closer to the park. We cooked most of our meals and snacks at the RV, and then went out to a restaurant for the occasional dinner.

  • Entertainment



    Kristen Murphy looking out at her campsite through the garage in her toy hauler RV

    We already had the Annual National Park pass, so we didn't have to pay anything to enter the park. We also already had our own hiking gear and equipment, so we didn't have to buy anything new. Once we were inside the park, we enjoyed free ranger-lead activities and tours.

  • Total RV Costs


    Total Cost Without RV


    We took this trip in 2019, and the budget would have been much different in 2022 due to fuel prices and campsite rate increases. We have adjusted the numbers above based on what the trip would have cost us in 2022.

Total Savings: $1,424.30 (58.63%)

By owning an RV, we have been able to cut down on traditional vacation costs—allowing us to travel more, stay longer and create more memories together.
Andy and Kristen Murphy's photo of mountains at Estes Park

Tips and Tricks for Budgeting for Your Own RV Trip

  1. Key Factors and Considerations for Trip Preparation and Budgeting

    For this specific trip, we had just moved into our new RV and wanted to go on a fun trip into the mountains. Since we are full-time RVers and had previously owned an RV before our Keystone Fuzion, we already had everything from our old RV with us—grills, games, hiking gear, food, and clothes—so prepping was pretty minimal.

    From a budget standpoint, there were a few considerations. Since we RV full-time and need to budget our campground stays every month, the trip to Rocky Mountain did put us over our monthly average. However, we were able to make up for it by staying at an affordable campground right after the trip. Some other things we had to consider were groceries, any fun activities for the kids, and RV essentials like water and propane.

  2. How RVing Helped us Save Money

    While camping in Estes Park can be expensive, hotels are significantly more! We were able to spend much less per night in an RV, and we had our entire home with us, we could sleep in our own beds and cook most of our own meals. With our RV, all we needed to do was get gas, hit the grocery store, figure out which meals we wanted to eat out, and plan any stops or activities along the way. We opted to get groceries in Denver because we knew they would be cheaper down the mountain. We did the same for our propane and fuel as well to help keep costs down.

  3. Elevating the Experience

    Traveling with our RV means we are home no matter where we go. We sleep in our own beds, bring our own food, have our own bathroom, and we don't have to board any of our pets. When we move to new places, we get to explore and learn. Sometimes we get messy, tired, hot, or cold, but at the end of every day, we get to go back to our home.

  4. What to Avoid When Planning Your RV Trip

    Outside of the fluctuation in fuel prices, our biggest expenses are campsite costs and food. There are lots of ways to RV in a national park—from camping in the backcountry to designated national park campgrounds to camping at private parks nearby. But you have to be mindful about what each place offers. We travel with three kids, a dog and a cat, and while backcountry camping is fantastic, it can be hard on a large family with small children. National park campgrounds can be unique, but they often have RV length limits and many don't offer hook ups, which is challenging if you want to camp for long periods of time. Camping at private parks near a national park can offer many great amenities but you do have to drive in and out of the park each day.

    No matter how you plan to camp at a national park, you need to plan and have a reservation. Post-pandemic national parks are bustling, and visitor traffic is hitting capacity most of the summer. Many parks require a reservation to get in, and the campgrounds can also require a reservation (whether inside the park or at a private park nearby). We recommend planning and booking at least four months in advance.

    We have found that food in the remote areas and towns around national parks can also be costly and sparse. You will likely be able to find some basics, but they rarely have all the variety and options that you can find in more significant, suburban grocery stores. If the national park you intend to visit is located in a small town, try to stock up before you leave or in any big towns that you pass along the way.

  5. Our Top Tips for RVing on a Budget

    RVing can be a great way to travel to awesome places without spending a significant amount of money. Here are some of our top tips to keep costs down when visiting a national park.

    1. If you're staying at a private RV park, try to stay a full week. There is usually a discounted nightly rate when you stay seven nights. This also allows you to explore more of the park and not feel rushed.

    2. If you don't need cell service, stay inside the park. The campsites usually are much cheaper and the views are amazing.

    3. Don’t wait to get your food or groceries until you are at the park. Plan out your meals and buy food at home or on the way.

    4. Some of our best memories at national parks are on hikes or just walking around. Most of the best activities don't cost any money.

    5. If you plan on spending more than five days a year in a national park, it might be worth getting the Annual Park Pass.

    6. Staying in or near the national park keeps you close to all the great activities, so you end up spending less on travel and fuel to drive around.

    Andy and Kristen Murphy's RV parked in front of a mountain range at Estes Park

the Crew family hanging out in chairs in front of their RV at a boondocking campsite

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