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RV camping

The basics of bunking it on the open road.

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RV on the road with mountain background

RV camping can be an affordable way to vacation across the nation, especially for families. Still, you’ll want to budget the expenses beforehand to minimize financial surprises after setting out.

RV campgrounds

Recreational vehicle campgrounds vary widely in amenities and number of RVs allowed at any given time. You can find intimate RV campgrounds with just a handful of spots, or large RV resorts that host hundreds at once.

Before planning your RV trip, make a list of which amenities are essential to your travel style. If you want access to Wi-Fi, pools and playgrounds at your RV site, then plan accordingly. For minimalist RV campers, some campgrounds simply offer running water and electricity.

Staying at an RV campground isn’t for vacationers looking for a worry-free, effortless getaway — RVs come with a lot to consider. But travelers looking to unplug and unwind in the great outdoors could find that RV camping is the way to go.

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Camp in your RV from $30/night on unique private land

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National Parks RV campgrounds

There are private RV campgrounds, managed as businesses, and then there are public RV campgrounds hosted by National and State Parks — a good choice if you’re into hiking and touring our nation’s protected natural beauty. Here are six national parks that are popular for recreational vehicle camping:

The National Park Service has a handy tool you can use to find a National Park Campground near you.

Campgrounds vs. parks vs. resorts

To decide which style of recreational vehicle camping is best for you, compare the amenities and features typically included at campgrounds, resorts and parks:

CampgroundParksResorts
CostCheapestMid-rangePriciest
What to expectPrimitive camping experience with scenic views or immersed in natureA balance between modern amenities and rustic retreatAn uber modern atmosphere that feels like a small town neighborhood rather than a campsite.
Best forOutdoorsy, active campers who want an off-the-grid retreatFamilies who want extra amenities without the price of a resortThose who want to socialize with other RVers, relax poolside and pay extra for a hotel-style experience
Duration of stayShorter — a few daysShort to medium — a few days to a monthMedium to long-term — a couple weeks to a few months or longer
Amenities
  • Running water
  • Electricity
  • Running water
  • Electricity

Sometimes:

  • Sewer
  • Pool
  • Clubhouse
  • Playground
  • Running water
  • Electricity
  • Full hookups
  • Paved and level sites
  • Clubhouse
  • Pool
  • Playground

RV camping costs

When budgeting for your RV camping trip, keep a few factors in mind:

  • Overnight fees. From free to $50 nightly or more.
  • Gas and maintenance. MPG ranges from 8 to 20, depending on the RV.
  • Permits for entering national parks. Usually around $35 for seven days.
  • RV insurance. $17 to $28 daily for renters or from $1,000 annually for owners.

RV camping during COVID-19

RV camping is generally a good option for travel during the COVID-19 pandemic because you have your own space to eat, sleep and live. Most RV rental companies are following CDC-approved cleaning guidelines between rentals — you can find this information on each provider’s website to confirm.

However, not all RV sites are open, so if you’re planning on parking it in a campground overnight, check for restrictions before planning your trip. Also be sure to bring along essentials like masks, reusable water bottles and hand sanitizer.

Free RV camping

If you’re traveling on a dime, you’ll want to plot a route that includes stops at free overnight RV camping locations. Just keep in mind that you’ll truly be roughing it with free RV camping, with no running water or electricity at your disposal.

  • Walmart, Cabela’s and Cracker Barrel. You can usually park overnight in parking lots belonging to these brands, though you’ll want to confirm with each location before tucking in for the night.
  • National Forest Land. Free RV camping, also known as dispersed camping, is allowed in all National Forests — on the side of the road, or on forest access roads.
  • Bureau Management Land (BLM). You can camp for free on most BLM sites for up to 14 days.

Can I park my RV overnight at a rest stop?

It depends on the state. For example, in Idaho you can park at a rest stop for up to 10 consecutive hours, while Florida limits it to four. While law enforcement generally won’t disturb a vehicle parked overnight, as long as you’re not overtly camping, it’s a good idea to check each state’s policy beforehand to understand the exact rules.

RV rentals

Craving an RV escape, but not ready to invest upwards of $30,000 in your own vehicle? The good news is that you can rent one — starting at less than $100 a night.

How do RV rentals work?

You can either rent an RV through a traditional company that has its own selection of vehicles to borrow, or directly from an owner on a site like RVshare or Outdoorsy, which are like Airbnb — but for RVs. You’ll find interesting, unique RVs on crowd-sourced sites, but may have a more straightforward experience if you opt for a corporate company.

In addition to national RV companies like El Monte RV, keep an eye out for local RV rental companies that might cut you a deal and offer more personalized customer service. For example, PleasureLand RV has locations throughout Minnesota and South Dakota.

RV rental companies

Popular RV rental companies include:

  • Camper Travel Bookings. This aggregator site will pull results from 15 rental sites across the web, to help you find the right RV for your vacay.
  • Cruise America. It has 130 locations around the US, and is especially popular in tourist destinations.
  • El Monte RV. A pet-friendly RV rental company that allows for one-way rentals.
  • Outdoorsy. Rent RVs straight from the owner.
  • RVshare. Another site where you can rent RVs straight from the owner.
Outdoorsy Outdoorsy

RV and camping trailer rentals starting at just $81/night

Everything from motorhomes to campervans, travel trailers and fifth wheels available all across the US.

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RVshare RVshare

Wide range of RV rentals available

Including pet friendly, deliverable, and one-way RV rentals. Worry-Free Rental Guarantee. T&Cs apply.

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What size RV do I need?

For renters, it depends on the number of people you expect to bring along and the experience you’re looking for. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Class A motorhomeFifth wheelClass B motorhomeClass C motorhomeCampervan
Size29 to 45 feet22 to 40 feet17 to 19 feet21 to 35 feet18 to 22 feet
SleepsUp to 12Up to 12Up to 4Up to 62 to 3
Good to knowThe largest option gives you room to eat, sleep and breathe with room to spareIncludes all the perks of a Class A motorhome, but you tow it with a truck.Gets better mileage than Class ADrives like a truck — great for first timersYou could bring more people along, but they’d need to sleep in a tent outside

Most campgrounds have size restrictions for RVs to ensure the vehicle fits in the site you choose. If you’re planning on staying at a campground, confirm the requirements in advance so you can make sure to rent the right size.

What amenities can I expect?

Amenities vary, depending on the rental you choose. However, most RV rentals include the following amenities:

  • Pillows
  • Sheets
  • Towels
  • Dishware

Confirm the amenities before signing up for the rental to understand exactly what you’re in for.

Can I tow a car?

It depends. If you rented an RV, towing a car may be prohibited as part of the agreement, like all rentals from RVshare. Outdoorsy, on the other hand, allows for vehicle towing as long as you indicate this at checkout.

Here are two options for towing a car behind your RV:

  1. Four wheels down — attach a tow bar to your vehicle and roll the vehicle along behind the RV, wheels to the road.
  2. Two or four wheels up — buy a tow dolly or trailer to transport your car, attached to the back of the RV.

Four wheels down is typically the best method, since some states require special licenses for trailers and tow dollies, and can be a challenge to store once you’ve arrived at the campground.

How much does it cost to rent an RV?

It depends on the make and model of the RV — as well as the rental company. Most motorhomes and large trailers cost between $100 to $250 to rent nightly, according to Outdoorsy. Small trailers and campervans typically go for $75 to $150 per night.

That said, the best way to get a sense of the cost is to do your own preliminary research. For example, you could rent an RV that sleeps four starting at $79 nightly for a seven-day round trip from Houston in August 2020 via RVshare.

Keep in mind that you can usually get cheaper rates when you rent for a longer period of time. Outdoorsy also notes that monthly and weekly rentals can average out to as low as $60 per day.

Do you need a special license to drive an RV?

The short answer? No, as long as the RV is under 26,000 pounds. You can drive any vehicle under 26,000 pounds with a regular driver’s license in all 50 states, according to DMV laws.

The average Class B and Class C RVs weigh no more than 12,000 pounds. Class A RVs, which are the largest, weigh anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 pounds on average — though it shouldn’t be difficult to find a Class A rental that weighs less than 26,000 pounds.

If the RV is over 26,000 pounds, then the license you need depends on the state. For example, you don’t need a special license to drive an RV over 26,000 pounds in Florida, Illinois or Colorado, while California and Wisconsin require a Class B license. If your RV is over 26,000 pounds, research your state’s requirements in advance to ensure you’re following the rules.

Cost of RV camping for a family of four

Here’s how much it might cost a family of four to go RV camping in Yellowstone National Park, starting in their hometown of Denver and enjoying the vacation for seven days. For this example, we used a 22-foot, 2013 Jayco Jay Feather rental available from Outdoorsy.

RV rentalInsuranceFoodGasOvernightMisc.Total
Weekly$975$150$140 to $175$225$288
  • $35 to enter the park
  • $100 for two family meals at a restaurant
  • $50 for gas driving around within the park
$1,980

Bottom line

An RV vacation can be the perfect way to hit multiple stops on your bucket list without going broke from airline tickets and pricey hotel rooms. After renting your RV, browse more guides to make the most of travel adventures within the US. If an RV isn’t for you, consider taking your trusty auto car camping instead.

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