Editor's Note - We welcome our latest contributor, Bryan Appleby, who has a wealth of knowledge about parks, road safety and all the things that go with living full-time in an RV.

It was not that long ago that we were tumbling down the stairs as we pushed our way through our brothers and sisters to get the prime seats in our family Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. We were soon heading down the highway to our nation’s National Parks! Having our Highway Bingo cards in our laps as we crossed off the license plates of the cars we saw on our way to Yellowstone, we passed many miles with our family.

This was among many other pastimes that many families did to occupy the minds as well as the hands of children of decades ago. While that part of history might be long gone, our Nation’s National Parks still are thriving in today’s family plans. While National Parks are often very much the same, the mode of transportation and means to spend those nights in the requisite park’s campgrounds have changed.  What was once a Canvas Umbrella Tent or maybe a fold down tent trailer has now morphed into large motorhomes, with multiple slides or the classic van transformed with the amenities that are often found in the home that was just left. Thus, the first dilemma that one must determine before heading to the National Park campgrounds is what RV is best suited for today’s National Park campgrounds. 

Type of RV Makes a Difference

Just like choosing what RV is best for the family and personal use, there is often a need to choose a park from the standpoint of how you will use your RV. Are your plans to include the sand beaches of the Gulf Shore National Seashore or the desert of Canyonlands National Park campgrounds? One soon learns that length and size are not always compatible to campgrounds that were designed for the early campers of the 1950s and 60s!

Many campsites in our nation’s National Parks are simply drive in/back in sites that are conducive to RVs less than 32 feet, excluding tow vehicle. While there are drive-through sites, there are often few to be found. RVs larger than 32 feet and with multiple slides are often relegated to the nearby RV Parks outside the national parks.

Electrical or None at All is the Norm in Most National Parks

In addition to the cramped and shorter sites found in the campgrounds, sewer, water and electrical hookups are even harder to find. The norm is electrical or none at all. Dump stations and water are often found nearby as well as shaded sites that are often not desired for the contemporary RVer of today as they seek out sites that are satellite TV and Solar compatible. In some National Parks, there are RV Parks that are operated by National Park Partners where it is often possible to make reservations up to a year in advance. 

Wildlife in the Parks - Precautions May Be Needed

In National Park Campgrounds, wildlife beyond the norm such as bears, bison and the occasional wiley coyote are often found. Certain precautions are needed in some campgrounds to ensure the safety of the visitor and wildlife. Strict adherence will be required to the campground rules, often available upon check-in and online. Food storage in vehicles or provided Bear Boxes will often be required in many of the mountain parks as well as prescribed distances from wildlife.

The National Park Service has an online website where a quick search (search icon found in the upper right corner of the NPS web site) by either state, region or park name will take you to the specific park of your inquiry. By clicking on the tab noted as "Plan Your Visit" on any park location, you will find campground information which includes locations, number of sites and the amenities found at each campground. An example of this can be found at this link.

Peak visitation season in National Parks are often from Mid-June through Mid-August, requiring finding a campsite as early as 9 AM or earlier in some of the heavily visited parks. If one finds themselves arriving late in the day at one of the larger, heavily visited parks, it is highly advisable to secure a campsite outside of a National Park for the night and then enter the park early.

An America the Beautiful Pass is Needed

All fee areas in the United States offer the America the Beautiful Pass for all National Parks and Federal Recreational Land Pass Series. These passes may be used for access to National Parks and over 2,000 Federal Recreation areas for a nominal fee, as well as senior and disability opportunities. Inquire at each site or online for additional information including discounts on services where available.

For those that find a National Park and wish to stay a bit longer, there are often Volunteer in the Park opportunities. These positions provide RV Sites at no cost to the volunteer and a generous amount of time off each week - all for living in a National Park and for a few hours of volunteering in a beautiful and exciting location! Stop in at any visitor center and inquire about a "Volunteer in the Park" position or simply check online at Volunteer.gov.

Happy Camping!

Bryan Appleby
Author: Bryan ApplebyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the very beginning, at the age of 13, when Bryan planned and left on a solo bicycle trip around the western half of his native state of Kansas, he has been traveling somewhere, often in remote locations. He is known for his extreme boondocking, often for periods up to 8 weeks away from civilization and any resupplies. Bryan has more than 4,000+ consecutive nights (12 years with only 64 of those nights in campgrounds) while full timing. The outdoors has been an emphasis on this father & grandfather, taking him to occupations as a State Trooper and a National Park Ranger. Now, as a retired State Trooper and again working as a seasonal National Park Ranger, Bryan has been exploring America with his RV, kayaks and motorcycles, recording all of these adventures with pen and his camera.

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