What You Need to Know About RVing in US National Parks

Updated on December 24, 2017
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to enjoy their own vacations.

If you are planning on taking an RV trip to any of the US national parks you need to arm yourself with several pieces of information before you go.

Since it is unlikely that you will visit all of them, taking the time to do some basic research about those you plan to see will help you to have a much better travel experience.

You can use the information in this article as a starting point, but don’t hesitate to

check out the NPS.gov site. If you want to save time, you can search here instead.

Learn what you need to know before taking an RV trip to a US National Park
Learn what you need to know before taking an RV trip to a US National Park | Source

General Information

A Few national parks are more popular than others due to their size, location, amenities and beauty. These are the ones people dream of seeing, but you need to make sure that the ones you choose will offer the type of experience you want to have.

  • Some parks are smaller and offer fewer amenities. Others are vast and have facilities such as laundries, showers and stores.
  • Some, such as the Smokey Mountain National Park are close to large cities that have many services. Others, such as Glacier National Park, are located close to small towns which only have limited facilities.

Generally speaking,

  • all of the parks have stay limits,
  • crowding can make finding campsites difficult,
  • visiting is becoming increasingly expensive,
  • camping can be uncomfortable due to lack of facilities,
  • dangers abound and
  • driving an RV to and through many of the parks can be quite challenging.

If you have visited any of our national parks in the past, you’re also going to find that things have changed due to new negative government and park policies.

Also, some visitors run into problems due to the fact that most campsites have never been upgraded to accommodate large rigs, and there is little ranger supervision within campgrounds.

Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi is one National Park you can still camp at inexpensively and comfortably.
Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi is one National Park you can still camp at inexpensively and comfortably. | Source

Stay Limits

While most RVers only stay at one of the big parks for a few days, some would prefer to visit for longer periods of time.

Doing this may not be possible because every park requires limits on the amount of time visitors can camp in their facilities. It’s usually 14 days, but some are less.

Crowding

A big problem is that increasing numbers of people RV to these parks every year.

Because of this as well as the remote locations of some of them, it is very tricky to find campsites, and only a few of the government run parks accept reservations. However this may be changing soon for some of them.

Thus, if you don’t plan carefully, you could arrive only to find that the campgrounds are full!

My husband and I were advised years ago to arrive at the park gate no later than 10::00 AM if we wanted to get a campsite.

One year we forgot to do that, arrived at the gate to the Rocky Mountain National Park at 2:00 PM and were turned away because all of the sites had been taken by people who arrived earlier in the day.

Limited Facilities

Unless you like primitive camping, most of the park campgrounds won't be for you because

  • there are no hookups,
  • you cannot run generators,
  • big rigs will not fit into many of the sites,
  • crowding can make stays uncomfortable and
  • wild animals, stinging insects and poisonous plants are always close by.

To avoid having some of these problems, you do have the option of staying at a privately owned full hookup campground within or outside of the park if space is available, but doing so will be very expensive.

Costs

People often assume that visiting US parks is free, but nothing is further from the truth. If you don’t plan ahead, you can end up paying far more than you anticipated.

Furthermore, many parks have decided to increase fees significantly.

For example:

  • Yellowstone National Park used to charge a 7 day entry fee of $25. It now will cost $70. A daily camping fee used to cost from $12 to $19.50, but now will go from $15 to $30. If you want to stay at the one full hookup campground located with the park's boundaries, you’ll now pay $47.75!
  • Fees for fishing licenses have gone from $19 per day per person for one day to $18 per day for a 3 days, $25 for a week and $40 per year. (You can now use this same license to fish in Wyoming waters as long as you remain in the park to do so. Otherwise, you’ll have to purchase a separate fishing license for that state.)
  • Thus, if a family of four wants to fish within park borders for a week it’s going to cost them $100 for their licenses. So while prices are not horrible, they're still not cheap.
  • Taking a shower costs around $3 per person unless you need amenities such as towels and soap!

Furthermore, costs for annual passes have also increased. For example,senior passes that used to cost $10 will now cost $80.

You may think you can save money by camping outside of a park, but doing so is even more costly.

The small towns that surround most national parks learned long ago that they can charge as much as the market will bear for camping, groceries and services.

However people pay these higher costs because staying in town offers more comforts and conveniences than staying in the parks.

Costs may are so high that many RVers  can no longer afford to visit US national parks.
Costs may are so high that many RVers can no longer afford to visit US national parks. | Source

Major Changes

In addition to dealing with higher costs to visit many parks, you also need to know that the federal government and some of the parks have instituted changes that likely will make visiting some parks less pleasant.

The Basics

The National Park Service has already decided to require reservations for people who want to visit Yosemite, and there currently is discussion about doing the same with Yellowstone.

Park managers are also considering

  • using trams to carry visitors to and from the park,
  • limiting the amount of vehicle traffic and
  • controlling the number of people who can visit at any one time.

This being the case, it is highly likely that some of the other more popular parks will do the same.

This may turn out to be a big problem for RVers because making camping reservations when you are driving long distances is tricky at best because so many things can happen along the way to change your timing.

Also, some people don't know ahead of time that they'll be in the vicinity of a big park, don't have WIFI or phone access, and may not have the ability to make reservations when they get closer to a given park.

LooserPark Protections

A very serious problem right now that could have a negative affect on our national parks is that President Trump has issued an executive order requiring a number of federal agencies to either review or rescind policies that protect our national parks from the negative affects of drilling for gas and oil.

He also wants to open national park lands for the purposes of logging, mining and other job creating activities.

You can read more details in this article that was published by The Observer and by doing a Google search about this issue.

His executive order, if supported, could ruin many of our parks and thus make visiting them a non-starter.

  • Who is going to go and see the Sequoias if half of them have been cut down?
  • Who wants to drive through Yellowstone and pass through slash and burn mining operations?

If the President has his way, the truth is that in some instances, there won’t be much to visit or, in another scenario, what you see when you go won’t be pleasant!

What a shame it would be to cut down the Sequoias!
What a shame it would be to cut down the Sequoias! | Source

Changing Procedures

Requiring reservations and the use of visitor trams are issues that seem fairly reasonable on the surface, but the impact they will have on visitors will be huge.

For example, the concept of using trams to transport people to and from the parks will create major problems, especially for RVers.

If you can’t stay in the park and drive your own vehicle to do so, you lose a good deal of the freedom you normally would need to enjoy your experience.

Other questions include

  • where RVers will stay when outside of the park,
  • how camping will be affected and
  • what will people do who travel with pets?

Dangers

Although rangers patrol parks regularly, you have to bear in mind that when you visit, you’re pretty much on your own. This is especially true if you go into back country areas.

Dangers are everywhere, so if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing, you can really hurt yourself.

  • People have been killed by falling into the Grand Canyon and geyser ponds.
  • Bears in Yellowstone have literally dragged people out of their tents and killed them.
  • Buffalo and Moose have gored visitors who made the mistake of assuming they were zoo animals instead of wildlife living in their own habitat.

A friend who just returned from a visit to Yellowstone reported that a man who had photographed Grizzly bears there for years was in the process of doing so again when the bear attacked and killed him and his girlfriend. He had learned to trust these animals, which obviously was a bad mistake!

For these reasons you need to remember that in many places, you have no cell phone or internet service and medical care is scarce. Also, a ranger might not be immediately available to help you.

While “being careful” may seem to take the fun out of your adventures, it’s much better to be a little less carefree than it is to endanger yourself or your loved ones.

The attached video shows you what can happen and what you can do to stay safe.

Driving Issues

Many of the U.S. national parks are located in areas where the terrain is rugged.

Roads can be steep and windy, and in some areas. there are huge drops and no guard rails.

Therefore, you have to take great care when driving an RV in these places. You also should have equipment that can handle steep grades, such as motor homes with engine brakes.

One good example is Going to the Sun Road in GlacierNational Park which is a beautiful, but harrowing drive.

If your RV or vehicle combination is longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet, they won't even allow you to make the drive.

Another problem is weather. Many parks are so far north that snow can block roads at any time of the year.

For these reasons, you should always contact the local highway patrol

Driving on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park can be scary!
Driving on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park can be scary! | Source

Learn What You Need to Know Before You Go

Obviously there are many issues to consider before making the decision to RV to any of the US national parks.

I have been to most of them in my recreational vehicle and can honestly say that they all are well worth seeing.

Visiting our national parks a dream that many people have, but those who follow through need to make sure they understand the issues that are involved in taking such an RV trip.

Has this article made you consider more carefully a decision about visiting some of the big national parks?

See results

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle

Comments

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  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image
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    Sondra Rochelle 7 months ago from USA

    Dianemae: Thank you. I think it would take a lifetime to visit all of them! People should shoot for seeing the better known parks...they are indeed gorgeous.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image
    Author

    Sondra Rochelle 7 months ago from USA

    Fullerman5000: Rocky Mountain National Park is the one we were turned away from because the campgrounds were full when we arrived! Go early in the day if you plan to stay there.

  • Fullerman5000 profile image

    Ryan Fuller 7 months ago from Louisiana, USA

    Several of these parks are on my bucket list to visit. Especially the ones close to the Rocky Mountains. Thanks for sharing these wonderful and informative tips. I will definitely have to revisit this hub if I get the chance to visit some of these parks. Thanks again for sharing. Keep up the good hubs.

  • Dianemae profile image

    Dianemae 7 months ago

    Great article lots of information. The parks are beautiful and well maintained. People should take advantage and visit as many as they can.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image
    Author

    Sondra Rochelle 7 months ago from USA

    Blond Logic: Yes, the prices can be shocking. However the park passes can bring significant relief because they can be used at any national park service facility during the year. I though it would be important for people to know these things before they decided to go.

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 7 months ago from Brazil

    I gasped when I saw the price of a day's fishing license in Yellowstone. I can't believe how expensive it is. I'd want to fish for a full 24 hours to get my money's worth!

    I knew the parks weren't free but gosh, it has put the parks out of many people's reach.

    I like that you have mentioned money saving ways to still visit whilst economising. The idea of a discount book is also a good idea.