Everything You Need To Know About RV Parks And Campgrounds
Driving into an RV park or campground for the first time can be nerve racking. You don’t want to accidentally break any rules and you also want to get everything hooked up and plugged in as quickly as possible so you can get to the fun part of camping and RVing.
Because we mostly dry camp/boondock our first RV park visit had its problems. We didn’t know that a lot of RV parks really squeeze the trailers in. We were supposed to back into a campsite that was right next to an RV with lots of slide outs and we forgot to leave room for our slide. There are lots of other things we wish we had known as well.
In this article, I’m going to take you through everything you should be doing and checking when setting and hooking up an RV. Hopefully, your first campground or RV park experience will be a fun one and you will start to get an idea about how fun RV camping is.
There are also a few RV safety gadgets you should have and red flags you should look for when plugging your RV into any kind of outlet. I’ll go through those red flags and products, as well as list some of the RV gear you must have to successfully set up your RV, travel trailer, truck camper, or 5th-wheel at an RV park or campground with full hookups.
How To Set Up Your RV At An RV Park Or Campground
Step 1 – Park Your RV Right
The first thing you are going to have to do after checking in and getting your site number is to figure out how to get to your site and whether it’s a back-in site or a pull-through. Pull-through campsites are the ones that you can drive through. They will either look like a round parking area or be a straight line like an RV parking spot.
Whether it’s a back-in or a pull-through there are some things you need to think about before you get the RV into the spot.
Space is the first issue. Lots of RV parks sardine people in to get as many spots in an area as possible. It’s just a part of RV park life and something you will have to get used to if you prefer to camp in RV parks. The main issue is going to be slide outs. Most campers and trailers have slides and it’s a good idea to measure how far each one sticks out so you know how wide your RV will be once fully set up and popped out.
For instance, we have one large slide on our travel trailer that sticks out 2 feet on the driver’s side. The first RV park we stayed at had a back-in site, and the RVs were so packed in that we actually had to use a tape measure to make sure we left enough space for our slide to come out. Even after getting as far over to one side as possible, there were still only 6 inches between our slide and the RV next to us. This was an extreme case in a tiny RV park in the center of a city, but it’s more common than you think and something you should look out for.
You also need to know where the sewer, electrical outlets, and water connections are. Sometimes you have to park 10-15 feet from the sewer and will need to have the proper RV sewer hoses and supports to reach it. Make sure your RV is in a place where everything is within the reach of your RV electrical cable, sewer hose, and freshwater hose.
Step 2 – Level & Chock Your RV
I know it seems like you shouldn’t have to level your RV in an RV park or campground you spent lots of money to stay in, but it’s rare to find an RV park with perfectly level sites. Especially ones that are on hills. We stayed at a KOA one year that had a 4 inch difference from the passenger to the driver side of our trailer because the sites were on a hill. Never assume your RV will be level no matter how nice the RV park or campground is. Letting your trailer sit unlevel can damage your slide-out and cause your RV refrigerator to clog and stop cooling over time.
To make sure you are level you can also use a good old fashioned level (click to view on Amazon) or a fancy wireless RV leveling systems like the LogicBlue LevelMatePro (click to view on Amazon). It’s super easy to install in your RV, and it uses an app to tell you how to level your trailer is on your phone so you know how much and which side of your RV needs to be raised.
To level your trailer or RV you can use RV leveling blocks, planks of wood, or easy to use rounded ones like ours. To see some of the best RV leveling gear check out this post here. For our travel trailer, we have the Andersen Camper Levelers Duffel Bag (click to view on Amazon) which includes the rounded leveling blocks that are very easy to use and perfect if you need to level your trailer often. We use them 90% of the time since level campsites on BLM land are hard to find. The duffel back also includes a block you can use to raise dual axel trailers to change tires and other great RV gear that’s good to have.
We also use them when dumping our travel trailer at RV dump stations. If you make sure you have the side opposite the sewer outlet is up high your RV holding tanks will drain much faster and better.
To stop our trailer from rolling away we use 4 MaxxHaul Solid Rubber Heavy Duty Wheel Chocks (click to view on Amazon). You want to make sure you put the chocks on your RV before unhitching it because it might start to roll backward when you start to lift it using the tongue jack.
Step 3 – Unhook Your Trailer
If you have an RV then this step doesn’t apply to you but if you have a travel trailer or 5th-wheel now is a good time to unhook it. Make sure you don’t forget to put your rubber chocks behind your wheels, it can damage your jacks if you have your trailer rolling away while lifting it off your tow vehicle.
After unhitching our travel trailer and leveling it from front to back we use X-Chock Wheel Stabilizers (click to view on Amazon). X-chocks add and an extra level of stabilization to your RV or trailer and keeping from bouncing front to back. This will protect your trailer’s tongue jack and help your stabilizer jacks when you are walking around in your trailer. They are also really great at keeping your trailer from moving when wind it hitting the front or back of your RV.
X-Chocks are also more secure if your travel trailer or 5th-wheel is up on leveling blocks. When raised it’s harder for regular chocks to do the job right and X-Chocks make it so you know your RV isn’t going anywhere. Some people put their X-chocks on before lifting and unhitching their trailer but we like to do it after. It puts less pressure on the tires and it just seems like the better way to go in general.
Step 4 – Hook Up Your RV’s Electrical
Plug in your RV or travel trailer before you’ve taken our the slide-outs or put down the stabilizers because being hooked up to electrical will make things go much faster and you won’t put any unnecessary strain on the RV batteries.
Anytime you plug your RV into a power source you should be using a surge protector or even an RV autoformer (click to read more about RV autoformers here). Power surges or unsafe electrical conditions are very common in any RV park, campground, or even your home. Using a surge protector or autoformer with a built-in surge guard will keep the sensitive and expensive appliances in your RV safe. There are many stories of people getting the wiring in there RV or trailer fried by faulty electrical hookups and power surges. Using a surge protector will keep you and your RV safe and end up saving you money in the long run.
You also need to know what amperage your RV or travel trailer is. Normally large RVs and 5th-wheels will have 50 amp power, travel trailers, and small campers will have 30 amp power, and very small single axel trailers will have 20 amp power.
Most of the time if the RV park advertises that their sites have 50 amp hookups they will also have 30 amp and 20 amp on the same power pedestal as well. If for some reason the pedestal only has a 50 amp outlet (this is very uncommon), you can use an adaptor to plug a 30 amp and even 20 amp trailer into the 50 amp outlet.
On that same note if you have a 50 amp RV and you could only find a campsite with a 30 amp outlet (this can be a common occurrence) you can plug your 50 amp plug into a 30 amp outlet using an adaptor. This will change how the electrical in your RV will work. For instance, you probably won’t be able to use your AC and your microwave at the same time and if you have two RV AC units you will not be able to run them both at the same time.
You are getting less than half of the power you are used to so make sure you don’t run too many appliances at the same time and flip the breaker.
Power pedestals are where the outlets for your RV will be located. They will always have breakers located above the outlets. Make sure all the breakers are off before you plug in your surge guard or your RV. Once you’ve plugged everything in you can flip on the breaker. It’s also recommended to turn off the breaker before unplugging your RV as well. This will protect you from any electrical shocks. If you have a surge guard it will normally take a few seconds before flipping on so don’t worry if your RV doesn’t get power right away.
Step 5 – Stabilize
If you want to hook up the water and sewer before putting the stabilizers down and the slides out you can, but normally if you are camping with your family you want to get the RV ready for them to get into first. We normally get the stabilizers down and the slides out as fast as possible so our pets don’t have to sit in the truck while we get everything set up.
Your trailer should be level because that’s one of the first things you do, and you hopefully have measured to make sure there will be room for your slide-outs. You can now put down your stabilizer jacks.
Note: never put out the slides before putting down your stabilizer jacks.
If you are camping on a paved campsite make sure you use leveling blocks like these (click to view on Amazon) under the feet of your stabilizers. Stabilizer feet can push into the asphalt and damage it especially if it’s hot out. Putting a block under them to protect the pavement is a courtesy and the polite thing to do, you should also do this if you are camping in a parking lot for the night. Businesses might not be so friendly to campers if they start putting holes in their parking lots and you don’t want to ruin it for the next guy who comes along and wants to camp.
Step 6 – Bring Out The Slides
Now that your power is all hooked up you can bring out the slides. I always hook up power before because it takes some of the stress off of the batteries and the slide pops out much faster when hooked up to power.
When bringing out the slides always double-check if you are close to any obstacle like a tree, a pole, or even another RV. The last thing you want is to be crashing your slide into something and damaging it.
As a little RV tip, a good thing to do especially if you have multiple slides is to send them out halfway and then check the sides of each slide to make sure nothing has fallen in the way during your journey. I’ve seen molding torn off of slides because a cabinet door fell open and got stuck between the slide and the wall. It also tore the cabinet door off and was a bad day for that RVer.
Step 7 – Hook Up Your Water
Having running water is one of my favorite things about staying in RV parks. I can finally take a shower for longer than 2 minutes and it makes doing the dishes much easier. Much like your electrical you need products to protect your RV plumbing from high water pressure that is very common in RV parks and campgrounds. RV water pressure regulators are easy to find and you can get a simple regulator like the Camco Inline Water Pressure Regulator (click to view on Amazon) or an advanced Renator Water Pressure Regulator Valve with Pressure Gauge (click to view on Amazon).
No matter what kind of regulator you get you should always have one handy just in case. Also, make sure you put the water regulator on right at the water source before your filter and water hose because it will take a lot of pressure off of those two things and make them last longer. If the place you’re staying at already has low water pressure you do not need to use a regulator.
Water filters are also highly recommended for RVers because it will not only keep you healthy but it will help your plumbing and water pump stay healthy. It’s especially important if you drink the water. Check out this post here to see the water filter we use as well as other great options for RVers.
Hooking up water to your RV is different than filling up your freshwater tank. On every RV or trailer, there is the opening where you fill the fresh water tank and one where you connect the hose directly into your RV plumbing system. It’s normally labeled as “city water connection” and will have a screw-on connector for a hose and not an open hole like the freshwater tank fill up point. On our travel trailer, the city water connection is located at the rear of the trailer but on other RVs, it can be found near the outdoor shower or the area where your black tank flush is.
Make sure you know where your RV city water connection is located so you know how long your freshwater hose needs to be to hook it up to water. For freshwater hoses, I recommend having either two 25 foot ones or a long 50 foot one paired with a short 10 foot one. Never use your freshwater hoses for rinsing out the RV black tank.
Step 8 – Hook Up Your Sewer
I recommend that every RVer have two 10 foot sewer hoses (click to go to review), sewer hose support (click to go to review), and a 4-in-1 sewer connection elbow (click to view on Amazon). These products are all things you will need to successfully connect your RV black and grey holding tanks to the sewer and also comply with RV park and most campground rules.
The sewer hose support may seem unnecessary but many places have the sewer hole raised on a cement block so you need the support to keep your sewer hose above the hole so it will drain right. Many parks require all sewer hoses to be off the ground so it’s a good idea to have an RV sewer hose support just in case.
Unlike RV dumps the sewer connections in RV parks and campgrounds aren’t just large holes in the ground. Most of the time you have to have the 4-in-1 elbow because an open RV sewer hose won’t fit. The elbow can screw onto different sizes of sewer openings for a very secure fit that will stop odors which lets you leave your sewer hose out and hooked up without stinking up the place.
The reason hooking up the sewer is one of the last things you should do is it tends to be a messy process and you don’t want to be handling your freshwater hoses and filters with hands that were just handling sewer stuff.
As a little RV tip: When you dump your RV holding tanks always dump the black tank first and then the grey tank. They cleaner grey water will rinse the black waste water out of the sewer hose and make things a little cleaner and help keep your sewer hose from smelling.
Step 9 – Lock It Up
While RV and camping folks are generally friendly people it’s still common for things to go missing in RV parks, campgrounds, and even secluded BLM sites. RV gear like surge protectors are spendy products and it’s recommended to always keep them locked up no matter where you are staying. Normally we make sure to lock our surge guard to either the pedestal or the RV just in case. We also keep our bikes locked.
A lot of the time spots in RV parks designated for people who are only staying for a few nights will be located near the entrance and main roads, and you never know who is coming and going. It may seem like overkill and locking your valuables is totally your decision, but most RVers recommended it.
Frequently Asked Questions About Setting Up RVs & Hookups
How long does it take to set up an RV?
It really depends on your experience with setting up an RV and the number of people helping who know what they are doing. My husband and I can set up at an RV park with full hookups and a pull-through site in 20 minutes, and that includes leveling. If it’s a campsite that requires backing into a tight spot it may take a little longer.
For your first time setting up at an RV park expect things to take much longer than you think. Give yourself at least an hour so you don’t feel like you are running against a clock. Being calm is key to not making any mistakes and causing damage to your RV.
Do RV parks allow older RVs?
It 100% depends on the RV park but normally a fancy RV park will have a rule that says no RVs or trailers that are older than 10 years allowed. That being said I’ve never had anyone at an RV park like this ask me how old my trailer is. It’s 7 years old so it would still be ok but I would guess that if your trailer looks like it’s in good shape and isn’t the “eyesore” or safety hazard these campgrounds and RV parks are trying to avoid then I doubt they will give you any trouble.
Most RV parks don’t have the 10 year rule and it’s normally just the higher-end RV resorts that have those restrictions.
That being said the main problem people have with getting into RV parks is the 55+ ones. There are more out there than you think and we’ve been surprised to find that certain RV parks we had planned to stay at were actually 55+. These RV parks care about the rules and probably won’t let you stay even for a night if at least one of you isn’t at least 55 years old.
How do I hook up water to my RV?
The city water hookup isn’t in the same place as the freshwater fill up. It has a connection that will twist onto the end of a hose so it fits securely. To read more in detail about how to connect your RV to freshwater scroll up and read Step 7 of this article.
How long does it take to fill up an RV fresh water tank?
RV fresh water tanks can range anywhere from 25 gallons to 100 gallons depending on the size of RV, trailer, or truck camper. Standard size is normally around 35-45 gallons. Our travel trailer has a 45 gallon fresh water tank and it takes around 15 minutes with the water turned at a steady stream. You don’t want to fill up your RV fresh water tank with high pressured water because it fills the tank up with air faster than the vents have time to work. When this happens the tank will start to spit out water and it may look like it’s full when it’s not.
Why does my RV have low water pressure?
If you are having trouble with low water pressure to your RV when connected to city water at a campground or RV park the first thing you should check is the water pressure coming out at the tap or your water pressure regulator. Some RV parks already have fairly low water pressure and if you are using a water regulator on low-pressure water it could be making the stream of water too weak to move through your RV correctly.
Another culprit could be your water filter. Over time they become more and more clogged and need to be changed. Make sure you read on your filters instructions for average filter life and how often it should be changed.
It could also mean that you have a leak somewhere. If your RV or trailer allows check the plumbing inside starting with where the city water connection is. Follow it as much as you can checking for any water dripping or spraying.
Also, when you are connected to city water you don’t need to have your RV water pump on. This could be the reason for lower than normal water pressure.
If the water pressure in an RV park is too low for whatever reason you can always fill up your RV fresh water tank and just use that.
How much does it cost to stay in an RV park?
RV park price can range anywhere from $15 a night to $100 a night depending on the amenities, location, and demand. We normally stay in more moderate RV parks that never cost more than $25-$50 a night. We also use our Passport America Membership which gives us up to 50% off in participating RV parks. Click here to read more about Passport America and how to become a member.
If you are planning on staying for a week or a month you can normally get a better price the longer you stay.
Can I leave my grey or black tank open when staying at an RV park?
You should never leave your black tank open even when you are hooked up to a sewer. The reason for this is the airflow could cause the organic waste in your black tank to dry and harden which will inevitably cause nasty clogs. RV black tanks also weren’t made to be used that way. They need to have lots of water in them to break down the toilet paper and solid waste before being dumped into a sewer.
For more information on black tank clogs, how to prevent them, and what to do if you get one. Click here.
As for the grey tank, it’s not quite as important that you keep that one closed when you are hooked up to a sewer at an RV park or campground. The main reason everyone will keep their grey tank closed when hooked up is to keep the smells from the sewer from drifting up the open grey tank and into the RV through the drains. We made this mistake on our first RV Park visit and it’s not one we will make again. Coming back to the entire RV Parks sewer smells in your RV is not a great experience.
If you are experiencing problems with a smelly black or grey tank check out this article here for information on how to prevent RV holding tank odor.
Why are RV parks so expensive?
Some RV parks and resorts are very expensive and it all has to do with things like location, demand, and what kinds of amenities the park or resort is offering. Some RV resorts will have swimming pools, restaurants, showers, game rooms, laundry, wifi, and much more.
The cheapest RV parks will only have the basic hookups and you may not get your own sewer connection which means you will have to dump your trailer at the dump station on your way out. You can also stay for fairly cheap in campsites that offer no hookups and are basically just dry camping in an RV park.
What do full hookups mean at an RV park or campground?
If you’ve been looking up campgrounds or RV parks you’ve probably seen the term “full hookups” a few times. Full hookups mean you will have electricity, a sewer hookup, water, and a lot of times cable tv hookups.
What do partial hookups mean at an RV park or campground?
Many campgrounds and some RV parks will also have what’s called “partial hookups.” This means you will have electricity and water but no sewer. Usually, there will be an RV dump station you can use on your way out after your stay.
When staying in a campground with partial hookups for a long time it’s a good idea to get a portable black/grey tank (click to see best options) so you don’t have to move your RV or trailer to dump it.
What do I need to connect my RV to cable TV at an RV park?
Many RV and travel trailers come prewired for a cable TV connection. Lots of RV parks will have cable tv available all you need is the correct coaxial cable (click to view on Amazon) to connect it to your trailer.
Have any more questions about setting up and hooking up an RV at an RV Park or campground? Leave a comment below.