RV CAMPING IN NATIONAL PARKS,
MONUMENTS & FORESTS

Plan on doing some rv camping in National Parks and make sure you have your camera handy when you do. Just click on US National Parks, then search for information by park name, state, or area of the country. If you are looking for unsurpassed beauty and a good deal, these cannot be beat! There are 59 national parks in the United States (all but four on the mainland) and at least 14 of them are so spectacular they have been designated World Heritage Sites.

If you are a U.S. citizen, over 62 years of age, or handicapped, our Federal Government has a wonderful gift. You can purchase a Golden Age Passport, good for your lifetime, for just $10. If you are handicapped, it is called a Golden Access Passport and it is free. Either of these “Passports” will give you free entrance to any U.S. National Park, National Monument or National Forest.

Old Faithful GeyserOld Faithful

Many of the parks have camping facilities for motor homes, trailers, and tent campers. If they do, with your passport, you generally pay only one half the rate – and the going rate is quite reasonable to begin with. RV camping at national parks is a wonderful experience.

For instance, at Devils Tower in June, 2010, the overnight rate was $12 – we paid $6. There are no hookups at Devils Tower, which is the case with many of the parks. However, the parks that do have some sites with electric hookups will charge you $4 (the last time I checked) additional.

Public restrooms are available – some with showers and flush toilets, others with just vault toilets. There is generally fresh water available for you to fill your tank, and there will be a dump station either somewhere in the park or not too far away. Garbage bins are in the park for your trash as well. There may be a “length of stay” restriction – usually 7 or 14 days - for rv camping at national park campgrounds, also many state parks.

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Mesa Verde NP in ColoradoMesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Options to RV Camping in National Parks

There is also camping in national forests or on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land – so called “dispersed camping.” This is dry camping, or “boondocking” – no amenities whatsoever, but a wonderful chance to get close to nature and enjoy the solitude. We weren’t aware of this until recently, but will watch for it when planning future rv camping in national parks or forests.

Ask about dispersed camping at the Visitor Centers – the rangers will tell you if it’s available. Or, you can go to the National Forest Service home page, and do a search for the particular National Forest you are going to camp in and then search "dispersed camping" on that forest’s home page. For dry camping opportunities with the BLM, go to their site and, again, search for “dispersed camping.”

While you're searching for wonderful places, don't forget that there are national lakeshores, seashores, historic sites, recreation areas, memorials and scenic trails, military sites, parkways, and I've likely forgotten some - not all of these places have camping available, but they are certainly worth visiting.

Glacier NP in MontanaMontana's Glacier National Park

If you plan on rv camping in national parks or forests, you should always check on possible road closures with the local ranger station or online at the site for the area you are considering. Winter 2010/2011 saw very heavy snowfall in many mountain areas and all that melting snow can cause havoc with back country roads. Many states have been dealing with flooding rivers. It is no fun at all to get your RV stuck in mud or discover, too late, that the road is blocked by a landslide. Summers sometimes bring devastating forest fires to these areas as well - something else to be prepared for.

On NFS or BLM land, as long as dispersed camping is permitted in that particular area you only need abide by their local regulations regarding camping in undeveloped sites.

There are a few important considerations if you are boondocking in a somewhat remote area. So, if you’d like to try it, check out The Frugal RVer for some good advice.

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Most campgrounds in national parks are now run by an outside concessionaire. Some sites are reservation only; others are “first come, first served.” We learned the hard way that it is really important to make reservations ahead of time if you’re planning on rv camping in national parks or forests over a big holiday weekend. We arrived at a campground in the Bighorn National Forest on July 1, to find that we could only stay one night, as all sites that looked empty were booked as of the second of July.

Moose at Bighorn Mountains NFMoose In the Bighorn Mountains NF

We pulled into an unoccupied site, and then spent the rest of the day driving around in the car to see if we could find a place where we could stay for several days. Nothing – unless we went way off the beaten path to a really remote location. However, we lucked out, as one camper near us, in a “non-reserved” site, decided to leave early – the camp host alerted us, and as soon as he pulled out, we moved our rig over, paid for four more nights, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Since I started full-time RVing in late 2007, I have been rv camping in national parks across the country - visiting so many stunning, gorgeous, magnificent parks - I wish now I had bought one of those National Park Passport books. Every park has a stamp with the park name and the date so you can stamp the appropriate place in your book. Many parks also have stickers to put in the books, showing one of the beautiful views.

This is what I am.

I love it!

SBI!

If you are rv camping in national parks with children, by all means  get them involved in the Junior Ranger program at the parks you visit. The kids enjoy it and are so proud to earn a badge - it also teaches them appreciation for what our country has accomplished in setting aside these beautiful lands.

I spent three months as a volunteer in a piece of snowbird heaven one winter, and fell in love with the desert. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has a beautiful rv camping area.

Although there are no campgrounds at Petrified Forest National Park, where I spent three months volunteering, there are several RV campgrounds nearby and it's a great park. 

If you're looking to make some extra $$, don't waste your time & money with other programs like I did. Try Solo Build It - you'll be glad you did.

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Bijou on July 4th, 2010

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