One of the best things about living the RV Life is getting to visit National Parks! But if you’re new to exploring these wonderful places, we have a couple of tips to share from our experiences over the last 5 years.
Here are 5 tips for visiting National Parks in your RV.
TIP #1 – Get an Interagency Annual Park Pass.
When you’re stationary and aren’t planning to visit more than one National Park a year, this pass might not make sense. Even after hitting the road, we were skeptical about whether or not this pass was going to pay for itself. We really weren’t sure it was going to be worth forking over $80.
But that first year we kept track of every time we used it, and were surprised by all the places it got us into besides National Parks! While it doesn’t cover or discount your campsite fees, entrance fees into parks can be pretty steep. At $25-30 per car per day at some of the most popular parks, don’t let that stop you from experiencing these beautiful places!
Long story short, our first Interagency Annual Park Pass saved us $45 in the first year alone. Click here to see the full breakdown.
TIP #2 – While nice, you don’t have to camp inside the park.
Many National Park sites have campground in them. Many of the popular parks (like Yellowstone and Yosemite) usually require you to book upward of 6 months in advance to get a spot. If you know you want to camp inside park boundaries, book way ahead of time.
Many National Park Campgrounds have size restrictions for RVs. Check with the campgrounds before you book to make sure you’ll fit! Many campgrounds max out with rigs around 35 feet in length.
Fortunately, National Park Campgrounds aren’t the only campgrounds available for RVers near the parks. Maybe neighboring towns have RV Parks that cater to park visitors.
Additionally, many National Park sites are surrounded by National Forest areas. Many of these have campgrounds that are less busy or have non-reservable sites.
BOONDOCKING & DISPERSED CAMPING
Many National Forest campsites are primitive or dispersed campsites. (What is dispersed camping?)
You often can also find free boondocking sites near some National Parks! Learn more about responsible boondocking and how to find great campsites here. Leave No Trace and Pack In/Pack Out policies apply!
Here are some of our favorite campsites near and inside National Parks:
- Hungry Horse Reservoir, MT – located outside Glacier National Park
- Teklanika Campground – located in Denali National Park
- South Entry Boondocking – located outside of Joshua Tree National Park
More resources for finding camping in National Parks:
- Camping with Your RV in Joshua Tree National Park
- Where to Camp With Your RV in Redwoods National Park
- Camping Guides to National Parks across the country
TIP #3 – Visit during the shoulder season if you can, but don’t let the crowds scare you.
We’ve all heard about the crowds. We’ve also all heard the advice “visit on the shoulder season.”
While that is great advice and a good way to avoid crowds, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit in the summertime. Not everyone has the luxury of coordinating travel plans around everyone else’s travel plans.
So we’re here to tell you: visit the parks anyway!
Yes, you’ll get frustrated waiting for people to get out of your way for that perfect picture.
Yes, you’ll get stuck in traffic.
But, the parks are worth it!
Here are a couple of strategies we used to avoid the crowds at Yellowstone in July:
- Get up at the crack of dawn
- Get to your “activity” before 8AM (activity being your big hike or destination of the day) – parking lots will still be relatively empty and traffic low.
- Find activities that are close to each other
- Take your time at those activities
- After your activity, take a break until around 4-5PM – as you return to your campsite everyone else will be trying to get to where you just were.
- Go do your next activity as everyone else is heading back to start dinner
TIP #4 – Do NOT. Do NOT. Do NOT approach wildlife!
People die and are injured every year by wild animals in the parks – and in most cases it’s because the HUMAN instigated it.
Please don’t become part of the statistics! Do NOT approach wildlife. Even if that means you don’t get the best angle photo.
Do NOT feed wildlife. Even if it comes up to you, or “looks” hungry.
Do NOT touch wildlife. Even if it is a baby animal.
SPEAK UP when you see someone else being stupid. You could save a life!
TIP #5 – Go to the Visitor’s Center First!
We personally LOVE visitor centers! Reading the exhibits and watching the park movies are some of the best ways to develop an understanding of what makes the park special in the first place.
Once you’ve learned about the park, you can ask a Park Ranger to point out on a map the things to see and do in the park that align with your interests. Looking for an easy hike? Looking to summit a mountain? Want to just do a driving tour? They’ve got you covered.
Plus – many Visitor Centers have RV parking. Check the satellite imagery of the parking lot before you go!
If you haven’t heard of it before, National Park have a program called the Junior Ranger Program geared towards kids! Children are provided workbooks and invited to special Ranger-led presentations to learn about the ecology and geology of the park.
Upon completion of the workbook, your kids will be pledged in as a Junior Ranger and receive a badge for that park. How cool is that?? I honestly was a bit jealous they didn’t have a similar program for adults when I found out. 🙂
Want to learn more about educating your kids on the road? Check out the “Ready to Roadschool” course by RV Masterclass and transform parks, museums, zoos, and more into interactive hands-on classrooms as you travel!
TOUR THE NATIONAL PARKS BY RV
We hope these tips help you out and get you excited about exploring the National Parks in your RV! If we had one final piece of advice, it would be to stop at as many National Park sites as you can – there are over 400 of them in the National Park System!
There are so many sites out there that you’ve never even heard of but are incredible in both natural beauty and historical value. Sometimes these turn out to be the most delightful surprises (and typically aren’t too crowded!)
We’ve been to quite a few National Parks. Here are some of our articles on our favorites and recommendations on things to do in each:
- Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks
- The Wild Ponies of Assateague National Seashore
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Denali National Park
TOP 10 TIPS FOR VISITING YELLOWSTONE & GRAND TETON
THE RVERS TV: NATIONAL PARK Q&A WITH MORTONS ON THE MOVE
We did a live Q&A to answer questions about visiting National Parks. Watch the replay below!
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