RV camping offers campers a way to enjoy the comforts of modern indoor life while staying deep in the heart of the most stunning nature in the great outdoors but you may be wondering just how much it actually costs. When planning your next trip across the country in your RV, or when you're researching to decide if RV life is right for you, it's essential to see what setting up your RV in these beautiful panoramas will set you back. We researched this for you so you will know how to budget your next RV trip!
Most RV campsites will vary in price between $23 to $100 per night depending on the location, the available hookups, the type of management, and the size of the site. You can expect to pay at least $45 per night for sites with full hookups in many of the most popular destinations.
We have put together some essential information on RV campsites, details on some of the best locations and their costs, as well as advice for free camping and parking to help you get ready to hit the road.
What to Consider When Reserving an RV site
There are a lot of factors that come into play in differentiating some sites from others. Some of them are essential to making sure your RV will work on the site; others may reflect your style of camping or affect your comfort. These factors can also have an impact on the cost of your reservation. Here is a list of just some of the things you should consider:
- Will your RV fit? Most campgrounds will let you know about their size limits, and some may offer different sites for larger RVs
- Do you want a site with full-hookups?
- Are the electrical hookups the correct amperage for your RV?
- Is it a pull-through or back-in site?
- Are there fees for having more guests?
- Are there fees for having more vehicles?
- Are there minimum stays?
- Does the campground offer sunny and shady sites?
- Are animals allowed? Are there extra fees for bringing a pet?
- Are tents allowed?
- And, of course, where do you want to travel?
Let's take a look at some of these questions in more detail.
RV Hookups - What to Expect
The sites you find at campgrounds will be described as primitive, partial-hookup, or full-hookup sites.
What is a Primitive Campsite?
Primitive campsites have no hookups for RVs or camper trailers. Campgrounds with only primitive sites are also more likely to lack showers and flushing toilets on the grounds.
What is a Partial-Hookup RV Site?
Partial-hookup sites will usually have hookups for electricity and water, but not for sewer. Most campgrounds will have a dump station you can use to empty your gray or black water tanks, typically for free, though some may charge a fee.
What is a Full Hookup RV Site?
Full-hookup sites include hookups for electricity, water, and sewer.
Because of the convenience (and the benefit of not having to deal with their sewage), many campers prefer full-hookup sites. While more locations are currently offering full hookup sites, they are still not as widely available as partial-hookup sites. They also tend to be a little more expensive than partial-hookup sites, so campers looking to save some money on their site fees may prefer to stay in partial-hookup sites despite the loss in convenience.
While water and sewer hookups are consistent across RVs, electrical hookups are differentiated by amperage. Some campsites will have electrical hookups for all amperages, but some will only offer one.
RVs come in either 30 or 50 amps. The difference in amperage affects how many watts of power your RV can receive, 3,600 for 30 amp, and 12,000 for 50 amp. The plugs differ in their design, with 30 amp plugs having three prongs and 50 amp plugs having four. Because of this, you can't use the other kind of hookup without an adapter. You can use the adapters safely, but if you adapt down your limit will too, a 50 amp RV using an adapter to plug into 30 amp hookups will be limited to 3,600 watts. This may affect your ability to run the appliances in your RV, especially when running more than one at a time.
Pull-Through and Back-In Sites
While researching RV camping sites, you'll notice that some campgrounds specify whether their sites are pull-through or back-in sites. If you are new to RV camping, you might not be familiar with the difference between these sites.
What is an RV Pull Through Site?
The primary difference is that pull-through sites are designed so that you pull into the entrance of the site and can continue forward through the exit, no backing up required.
Most campers prefer Pull-through sites because they are easier to get into; you won't have to pull any back-up acrobatics with your passengers jumping out of your RV to tell you how much space you have or which way you need to turn. Another advantage is that they are generally (though not always) larger than back-in sites. The combination of these factors makes them especially appealing to campers with larger RVs.
The main disadvantage of pull-through sites is that they are sometimes more expensive than their back-in counterparts, although as they have become more common, the price difference has shrunk as well.
What's the Difference Between An RV and a Trailer Site?
Some reservation booking systems, such as ReserveAmerica.com, will have sites designated as either RV or trailer sites and filters to find both. The individual campgrounds decide on these designations, and there is no systematic distinction between trailer and RV sites.
Most campgrounds will have their sites designated as both RV and trailer sites. If they don't, it's worth looking at the individual site to see if there is a reason. For example, Threemile Campground at Shoshone National Forest only has designated RV sites, but they do allow hard-sided trailers, tents and pop-up trailers are not allowed.
Do RV Parks Allow Tent Camping?
As we saw in the example of Threemile Campground, some RV parks do not allow tent camping. There may be various reasons for this. Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone bans tents because local grizzly bears sometimes visit the campgrounds. If you are hoping to pitch a tent in an RV campground, you should check the website for the campground and call ahead when possible.
If the RV park allows tents, as most do, there are still some factors to keep in mind. Most RV sites are narrow and designed to fit little more than the RV, a picnic table, and a fire pit. You may want to opt for a larger site if you or those you're traveling with want to stay in a tent.
Another thing to bear in mind is that RV sites typically have less grassy areas than their primitive counterparts. Most campers would prefer not to set up their tents on pavement or gravel.
Destinations around the US
There are countless spectacular spots to enjoy nature from the comfort of your RV in the US, and it would be impossible to enumerate all of them and the campgrounds around them here. As such, this list is by no means comprehensive but will give you a taste of some popular spots and a sense of the prices you'll be looking at should you head there.
From Cape Cod to the Florida Keys, the Atlantic Coast of the US offers some beautiful and luxurious destinations for RV campers. As with all luxuries, these can add a pretty penny to your camping costs.
- Cape Cod, Camper's Warf, MA
- $70 to $100 per night for full-hookup sites, with a three-night minimum (prices are subject to change)
- This campground also has its private beach in the Nantucket Sound
- Pamlico Sound, Camp Hatteras, NC
- $46 to $55 per night for full-hookup sites in the offseason up
- $86 to $138 per night during peak season
- Florida Keys, Bluewater Key, FL
- The most expensive on our list, with summer rates ranging from $113 to $200 for a three-night minimum, and winter rates from $160 to $237 with a seven-night minimum
Compared to the East Coast, there is a lot more publicly owned land on the West Coast, as well as some of the most pristine nature in the US. This means that there are a lot of great spots for camping that won't cost you luxury rates
- Giant Redwoods RV Camp, CA
- $70 per night for full-hookup sites
- $63 to $65 per night for pull-through sites (no sewer)
- $60 per night for back-in sites (no sewer)
- Tillicum Beach Campground, OR
- $33 per night for electrical hookup sites
- Grayland Beach Campground, WA
- $35 to $50 per night for full-hookup sites
- $30 to $45 per night for partial-hookup sites
The National Park Service (NPS) is home to many of the most popular natural destinations for campers, from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, and boasts over 130 campsites around the US. Because the government runs it, many of these sites come at lower costs than privately run campgrounds. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these campgrounds have only primitive campsites, which lack hookups for RVs and camper trailers. Thirteen campgrounds include at least partial hookups, and seven include full hookups for electricity, water, and sewage. Some of these campgrounds are run directly by the NPS, and authorized concessioners run others on contracts.
- 20 sites available for reservation
- 5 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis
- Some sites are unavailable for RVs 40' or longer
- Furnace Creek: 18 full-hookup sites at $36 per night ($25 with lifetime pass), run by the National Park Service
- Panamint Springs: 6 full-hookup sites at $40 per night, concession-run
- Stovepipe Wells: 14 full-hookup sites at $40 per night, concession-run
- $62 per night paved sites for RVs up to 29.'
- $49 per night for gravel sites for RVs up to 29.'
- $91 per night for pull-through sites for RVs up to 45.'
- $86 per night for back-in sites for RVs up to 30.'
- $79 per night for full-hookup sites
- Limited sites for RVs or trailers with a combined length of 40' or longer
- 20 sites with electric hookups for $38 per night
- Bandy Creek: 96 sites with electric and water hookups (no sewage) for $25 per night for 30-amp and $32 per night for 50-amp hookups
- Blue Heron: 45 sites with electric and water hookups (no sewage) for $20 per night
- 23 sites with electric hookups for $22 per night
- 41 sites with electric hookups for around $42 per night, though prices vary
- Fort Pickens Campground: 43 sites with electric hookups for $40 per night
- Davis Bayou Campground: 52 sites with electric hookups for $22 per night
While these are the only campgrounds with RV hookups run by the National Park Service and their authorized concessioner, there are many private RV parks close to the national parks too. For example, you can read all about RV camping around Redwood National Park in California here.
Other Great Destinations around the US
- Red Canyon Village, UT
- $39 per night with full-hookups
- Located near both Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon
- Devil's Lake State Park, WI
- $40 for weekdays, $42 for weekends for electric hookups (residents save $5 per night)
- Great location for hiking, rock-climbing, and biking
- Paradise on the River, CO
- $71 to $75 per night for full-hookup riverside sites
- $61 to $65 per night for full-hookup sites off the river
- Less than a mile from Rocky Mountain National Park
Alaska offers many of the most fabulous and unique experiences for RV campers, but many unique challenges as well. You can read more about RV camping in Alaska here.
Where Can I Park My RV For Free Overnight?
RV parking, as opposed to camping, refers to when you are only staying for a single night in a location. There are plenty of reasons you might need to park overnight somewhere, most often because you have a multi-day haul between destinations. This will generally be a stay somewhere that you can't hook up your RV, so it makes sense to save money by staying somewhere for free.
There are a lot of options for parking overnight. Generally, the smaller your RV is, the less likely it is that anyone will be upset with you staying overnight. Still, in general, it's considered best practice to ask for permission ahead of time when possible.
Here are some places you can generally park overnight for free:
- Truck stops - asking permission will generally not be required.
- Highway rest areas - these will allow at least a few hours of parking, although policies vary, and some may be noisy.
- Big-box retailer parking lots - Walmarts, in particular, tend to have a friendly policy to overnight RV parking, though city and county ordinances come into play; best to check ahead
- Churches - often amenable to RVs staying overnight when they are not holding services or other activities; calling beforehand is still recommended.
Where Can You RV Camp For Free?
If you're feeling especially adventurous or frugal, you may be interested in finding locations where you can do multiple-night stays for free. This often means foregoing a lot of the niceties of RV camping, staying places without hookups, or even the more spartan amenities often found at campsites. There are still plenty of options available to those who wish to camp for free.
The Bureau of Land Management
While the Bureau of Land Management runs developed campgrounds around public lands that generally cost less than privately run campgrounds, they also leave much public land open to what they refer to as "dispersed camping." The bureau's rules for dispersed camping are that the camper stays no more than 14 out of 28 days within a 25-mile radius of where they first set up camp. Some states have additional restrictions on dispersed camping, so it's best to check regulations in the region where you'll be staying ahead of time too.
United States Army Corps of Engineers
Much like the Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) oversees a lot of public land in the US, some with developed campgrounds at low costs and other areas that are available for dispersed camping. Information can be difficult to find for their lands and camping rules, but RV Parking in Corps of Engineers Parks is a useful book to help navigate COE lands.
You can never truly put a price on the experiences you find when exploring the vast glory of nature in your RV. Still, hopefully, now you know more about what costs you will encounter when going on your adventures as well as a bit about the basics of RV campsites. Whether you're willing to spend a bit more for luxury or looking to rough it off-grid on the cheap, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the RV life. Happy camping!