Tips for RVing at a National Park Campground

GIANCARLO DAMIANI AND ERIK LEAZURE's Keystone outback parked on top of a valley

Ever since we transitioned to full-time RVing nearly two years ago, we’ve visited 30 of the 63 U.S. national parks. Being able to stay in national parks has certainly elevated our camping experience across some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes. Over the course of our travels, we’ve learned some things about visiting national parks in an RV, including how to plan a visit, when to make reservations and what to bring with you.

Being able to stay in national parks has certainly elevated our camping experience across some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes.

How to Choose a National Park Campground

When it comes to choosing a campground at a national park, the first thing to consider is availability. Due to the recent rise in popularity, finding a place to camp at a national park can be tricky. Most national park campsites start taking reservations up to six months in advance, which means you’ll have to reserve your summer spot at the very beginning of the year. Some national parks do have first-come, first-serve campsites, but these are often completely full before noon so plan accordingly and try to arrive right when the park opens.

Many national park campgrounds have RV length limits. Almost all national parks can accommodate smaller RVs (anywhere from 19 to 25 feet) but many have size restrictions, so be sure and check with the individual park’s website.

Campgrounds that are within the park grounds or right outside the park entrance will fill up much faster than those that are farther away. And while you might not be as close to the park, staying in neighboring cities and towns can give you more options and is a great way to explore the surrounding area. For example, we weren’t able to find any available campgrounds in Glacier National Park but had much better luck in the nearby towns of Kalispell and St. Mary—both of which are about an hour away from Glacier’s entrance.

How to Manage Your National Park Budget

Another thing to keep in mind when finding a national park campsite is the cost. Most parks not only charge an entrance fee but the campgrounds also have nightly fees. National park campground costs can range anywhere from $25 to $60 per night, depending on the amenities and popularity of the park. Staying at a campground outside the park will help with costs, as well as investing in an annual national park pass. This pass costs $80 per year and allows you unlimited entrance into all U.S. national parks. Additionally, the National Park Service is offering free entrance to all parks on five select days in 2022:

  • ​​Monday, January 17:  Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • Saturday, April 16: First day of  National Park Week
  • Thursday, August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • Saturday, September 24:  National Public Lands Day
  • Friday, November 11: Veterans Day

Another cost-saving tip is to get both your groceries and your gas before you reach the park. Gas prices are often much higher the closer you get to the park, and buying any food or supplies inside the park will come at a premium.

Additional National Park Considerations

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when planning your national park RV trip:

Road Closures: A few days before you head out, be sure and check the status of any roads leading to and inside the park. Things like storms, fires, mudslides, or accidents can suddenly cause road closures and result in significant delays. It’s especially important to check the road conditions at the tail end of camping season—early winter storms can result in not only road closures but also complete park closures.

Wildlife: Due to the abundance of wildlife in national parks, it’s vital that you keep your campsite clean and pack your food accordingly. Many campgrounds will provide bear bins or wildlife-proof storage containers that you can lock your food in. However, it’s always a good idea to keep your food and toiletries inside your RV, as some animals have been known to break into cars. If you do cook outside, make a point to collect all of your leftover food and trash, and clean out your firepit. If you have pets with you, keep them leashed and in designated, pet-approved areas. Some parks allow pets on hiking trails but other parks only allow them on certain paved surfaces (parking lots, campgrounds, look-out points, etc.). Check the individual park’s website to get a better understanding of the wildlife and any rules or restrictions for pets.

Activities: In addition to camping, hiking and sightseeing, many national parks offer an abundance of outdoor activities. Things like guided tours, fireside presentations and the Junior Ranger program are all great options to better understand the park you’re visiting. Knowing what types of activities you want to do, for how long and the time of year will dictate what gear and equipment you should bring with you. Things like maps, flashlights, a first-aid kit, and extra water are always good to have, regardless of the activity. For some activity ideas and inspiration, the National Park Service has a calendar of scheduled activities so you can plan accordingly.

Regardless if you’re a seasoned RVer or just bought your very first RV, camping in a national park is a must. If you give yourself plenty of time to plan and do some research on the different campsite options, we guarantee you’ll find the perfect national park camping destination.

Travel Trailer

Travel trailers are the most popular type of non-motorized RV. No doubt you’ve seen one pulled down the highway hitched to a car or pickup. Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive house-on-wheels with picture windows and a sliding glass patio door.

Find Your Perfect RV

Whether you're new to the world of RVing or you're ready to narrow your search, we're here to help you sort through it all and find the RV that's right for you. Explore RVs based off of your lifestyle and the features important to you.

Find Your RV
An travel trailer RV parked in a green field.