This is Part 5 of a 7 part series on traveling with an RV or travel trailer. It's all about what has worked well for Fay and me over the last several years of traveling through the U.S. and Canada.
The 7 articles in the series are (click to view):
- Planning Your Route
- Finding Places to Stay
- Preparing For a Trip
- On the Road
- At the Campground
- Leaving the Campground
- After You Get Back Home
(Click here to read the complete disclaimer)
You've arrived...now what???
This is it! One of the most exciting parts of a trip is arriving at the campground. It's what you've been thinking about and planning for who knows how long and it's finally here. Don't be like Fay in the photo above, wondering what to do next!
If you are new at this, you will have a lot of things on your mind. Setting up is not difficult, but be sure to take your time until you get used to what's involved. As I've suggested in previous articles, this is another place where a good checklist will help.
Choosing a campsite
Before you ever get to the campground, you can usually find a site map online or have one sent to you. Some of them are really helpful, others will leave you in disbelief when you arrive and see the place in person. However, they are often the only thing you have to go by if you are making reservations. They will at least show you the overall layout of the campground and where the sites are located. If you can't see the place in person though, it's a good idea to ask a lot of questions.
Typical campground map - this one is pretty good
Sometimes you don't have much choice when getting a campsite. The campground may be pretty full, or all the sites may be similar to one another. But if you do have a choice, there are a lot of things to consider. What's important to us may be different than what you care about. Here are just a few things to think about:
- Environment/Atmosphere Does the site appeal to you? Is it in direct sunlight, or does it have a lot of shade?
- Hookups Do you have particular hookup requirements? (30/50 amp electric, water, sewer)
- Location Is it close to anything that matters to you (bathrooms/showers, playground, etc.)?
- Privacy Is the space (and possibly visual separators like trees) between you and your neighbors okay?
- Size and layout Will you have enough room? Can you easily park your rig?
Layout of campsites
If your rig is like ours, this is one of the times when you'll really appreciate having a small travel trailer rather than a large RV or fifth wheel. You will often see both small and big rigs struggling to get parked, but you will find it's pretty easy once you get a little experience. In the beginning, it's a big help to have someone on the outside of your vehicle to guide you a bit. (Be patient though, this can easily lead to a pretty ugly word exchange if it doesn't go well!)
There are two basic layouts for campsites...
These sites have an entrance and an exit allowing you to simply pull your rig into the site when you arrive, and pull straight out when you leave. You never have to back up. Some of these sites are roadside, but most often you pull in from one road going through the campground and pull out onto another one.
Pull-through campsite - roadside
Pull-through campsite - between roads
Back-in sites are common in most state and county park campgrounds. You have to pull forward in the road and then back into the campsite. Sometimes it's easy, but sometimes you need to carefully back in between trees. I had to go to a big parking lot and practice backing up with a small travel trailer in the beginning. Eventually I got the hang of it and now it's pretty easy when we are on the road and setting up.
Back-in campsite (be careful not to backup too far!)
Picking the spot to park your rig
Before you pick the exact place to park within your site, get out and look things over. Pay particular attention to the following:
Slope of the groundYou want to park somewhere that is as level as possible. Look at the ground for bumps, holes, and slope. Picking the best place you can will reduce your need to level the trailer once it's parked. Location of water, electric and sewer hookupsMake sure you park close enough to the water, electric and sewer hookups. If you are using sewer, parking close enough to keep your hose short will usually help it drain better. All of the hookup connections on your trailer are on the driver's side. Most of the campgrounds you stay at will have the hookups on that side too. Once in a while, however, you'll stay somewhere that has hookups on the wrong side. This usually occurs if they are trying to share the hookups between two sites. Location of fire ring and picnic tableIf you are going to have a fire, keep your distance from the fire ring so that you minimize any smoke getting into the trailer or RV. Position your rig so that it will be convenient to the picnic table if possible. Space to park your tow vehicleIf you have a tow vehicle and are going to disconnect from the trailer, be sure you leave enough space so that your tow vehicle is not sticking out into the road.
Backing up your trailer (You motorhome folks can skip this part!!!)
Unless you are already a pro at backing up with your trailer attached, be sure to checkout this great video by Sean Michael. The "Scoop" was the answer I needed to learn how to simplify backup up.
The number one tip you will often hear is to place your hands at the bottom of the steering wheel instead of the top when you are backing up with a trailer. The reason is that your trailer will head in the opposite direction of the top of your steering wheel. Holding on to the bottom will seem a little more natural because your hands and trailer will go in the same direction.
Fay always stands behind the trailer to the driver's side to guide me. I make sure I can hear her and see her in my mirror. The first time we went camping with our current small travel trailer, I was backing straight into a large tree. Thankfully, people at the campsite across from us saw me and yelled just in time!
By the way, Sean has a lot more great camping & RV related videos you can check out.
Getting everything set up outside
IMPORTANT: If you don't know about the electrical risks at campgrounds, please be sure to read my article Avoiding Dangerous Campground Electrical Problems.
The basic steps
Now's the time to get out your checklist! You should have a checklist that you've tailored to your needs, and you should refine it until the process becomes routine. (As I mentioned above, you can download a free copy of my Beginner's Guide to Small Travel Trailers that includes our own checklists to use as a starting point in creating your own.)
If you are towing a trailer like we do, here are some basic steps to get your started. Be sure to refine your own steps based upon your rig.
- Level trailer side-to-side
- Chock wheels
- Disconnect trailer from tow vehicle
- Move tow vehicle out of the way
- Level trailer front to rear
- Put down stabilizer jacks
- Hookup water, sewer, electric and gas
- Spray around everything that touches the ground for bugs
NOTE: If we're just setting up for an overnight stop, we usually cheat a bit and will usually keep it simple and skip most of these steps.
- Check the electric power before you connect. We've found several campsites where it wasn't wired correctly and could possibly damage our trailer. When we've found a problem, the people in the campground office were always happy to move us to another site. We use a combined Surge Suppressor/Circuit Analyzer.
- Water pressure varies substantially from campground to campground. If it's too high, it can cause plumbing leaks in your trailer. Be sure to use a Water Pressure Regulator on your fresh water hose.
From experience, I can also tell you that it's a good idea to check the inside sink spouts before you turn on the water. Our kitchen spout had vibrated loose one time from traveling on some bumpy roads. When we turned the faucet on, water sprayed all over the place.
Only two more articles to go
Writing a series of 7 weekly articles seemed like a great idea in beginning. But even though I've taken the majority of the information from my Beginner's Guide to Small Travel Trailers, it's still been a lot more work than I anticipated. I hope you're enjoying what I've written and picking up a few new ideas that you can use in your own travels.
Let me stress once again the importance of understanding the risks associated with electrical problems at campgrounds. If this is new to you, please be sure to read my article that I referenced above, and take the steps to be prepared. I've heard so many sad stories that could have been prevented.
Other than that, thanks for taking the time to read what I've written. And as always, drop me a note if you have any questions.
Are you a newbie?
If you are new to the world of Small Travel Trailers, here are the three most popular things for most newbies, here on my website. Please check them out and see if they aren't helpful to you:
- RV Surge Suppressors – What you need to know.
It's really important that you understand the risks and know how to protect yourself against bad electrical problems. Not only can these they cause a lot of damage to your trailer and electronic components, they can also be dangerous.
- A list of products we use and like.
All the camping and RV accessories can be overwhelming when you're first getting started. After trying lots of things, these are the items that have really worked well for us. The list may save you a few bucks on buying something you don't like or stuff you'll never use (I don't publish my long list of things we've purchased and wish we hadn't!).
- My free Beginner's Guide to Small Travel Trailers
Over 100 pages, this guide is all about what we've learned since we got started owning and traveling with a small travel trailer.
Denny JohnsonAfter having spent most of our adult life in Orlando, my wife Fay and I moved to Knoxville, TN in 2020. We are loving the change of seasons and being near the mountains. Plus, this part of the country is loaded with great places to camp.
We camped years ago with a pop-up camper, but got serious about it when we purchased our Casita in 2014. There was a lot to learn as we started traveling with it, and a lot of conflicting opinions on line. That's when I decided that creating a website would be a good retirement project. I started tinyTowable.com to share things we've learned along the way that have worked well for us in hopes that the information would be of help to others.
Thanks Sherri. Glad you enjoyed it.
On steps when unhooking our first step is check electric. Great article!
That’s a great suggestion Arlene. We have had to change sites a couple of times because of the electricity. Certainly good to know as soon as possible.
Thanks so much for these step by step articles on camping trips. Very helpful for newbies and even for people who have camped for years!
Thanks Jan. So glad you’re enjoying them and finding helpful info!
Black tank cleaning, a small bag of ice in the toilet will clean as you go down the road, when you get where you are going as you uh set up drain the black tank the ice will have scrubbed the tank enroute.
Useful, informative site! Thank you~
And another useful site is https://www.campsitephotos.com/ with info & actual campsite photos of many campgrounds nationwide.
“Discover your next campsite.
Search & view photos of each campsite in over 2,300 State Parks, National Parks, U.S. Forest Service, BLM and other campgrounds throughout the USA.”
They also may have a list of sites marked as “favorites”.
And this summary youtube video of the camp sites at Russian Gulch State Park in northern California includes fun accordion music!
Thanks for your tutorials & checklists!
(from Camano Island, WA. 2021 Casita Independence Deluxe – having lots of fun!)
The photo site looks good Bruce. Thanks for sharing!