One of the most intimidating things about heading out on your first RV trip? Parking the rig. RV parking is very different from parking a car, and learning how to park a trailer or a motorhome can definitely give a person anxiety.
Fortunately, parking an RV doesn’t have to be impossible. In fact, if you go in with the right tools and knowledge, we’re betting you can get your RV into a campsite with just a bit of finagling and a good helper.
Wondering what you need to be successful when attempting to park a motorhome or travel trailer? That’s why we’re here today.
Below, we’ve put together an article that is chock-full of everything you need to know when parking a trailer or motorhome. Following these instructions (and using a bit of patience as you get everything just right) will have you parked, leveled, and having fun before you know it!
Parking the Different RV Types
The first thing we must address is the fact that there are different types of RVs. Each of these will feel different to park than the last, and really, even RVs of the same type will park differently from one another based on a variety of factors. Still, there are some basic things to know about parking different RV types that will help you out as you learn your rig.
At its most basic level, backing up and parking a motorhome isn’t actually all that different from backing and parking a car. The major difference? Size. You will definitely need to keep your size in mind when backing a motorhome into a site—not just in terms of length, but also width and height.
You will need to take turns wider, which will change how you angle the rig as you back up. Keeping an eye out for trees on all sides and low-hanging branches is also a challenge you’ll need to take on. It helps to have a “backup buddy” standing outside and directing you as you attempt the maneuver.
Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Trailers are a bit trickier when it comes to backing up. Not only will you need to keep your size in mind, you’ll also have to account for the way the trailer angles relative to the tow vehicle. Small adjustments at a slow pace will get you what you want more quickly than dramatic changes and fast driving will.
One thing to know is that as you back up, the trailer and truck will create a ‘V’ shape. The sharper you turn, the sharper the V will become, and eventually you will jackknife—something you want to avoid.
A good way for newbies to learn which direction to turn to get the response they want involves putting their hand at the bottom of the wheel, rather than the top. From there, the direction you move your hand is the direction the trailer will turn. It takes some getting used to but you will eventually get a feel for it.
Another thing to know? Trailers will take a bit longer than you might expect to respond to you turning your wheel. Additionally, straightening out while backing up is nearly impossible—especially if you don’t have much wiggle room to work with—meaning you will often want to pull forward to straighten up and readjust.
Tools for RV Parking
Now that you have a basic idea of what to expect when parking your rig, let’s talk about the tools you need for a successful parking job. Below is a list of all the things that can be helpful to have on hand as you get your RV settled into a campsite.
A backup camera is helpful for obvious reasons. It allows you to see behind you easily, something most RVs don’t really allow by virtue of their size. That said, it should never be the only thing you are relying on. Therefore, a spotter and big sideview mirrors are 100% necessary, even if you do have a camera.
It should also be noted that while a backup camera is helpful, it’s not really necessary. If you can’t get one set up in your rig, don’t skip a camping trip about it; just go without and let your spotter be your eyes.
Yes, a spotter is a must. Of course, your spotter needs to have a way to communicate with you. Many people resort to shouting. Others use hand signals, and this seems to work fine. However, our favorite option is to use walkie talkies, which allows for clear communication without shouting, even in the dark and even when cell service is unavailable.
Cones aren’t an RV parking need, but they are super helpful for some people. You can set up the cones as easy-to-spot goal posts that you want to back up between, or you can set them near obstacles (picnic tables, tree stumps, etc) to ensure you can see them easily as you back up. Either way, they can be a huge help, especially if you’re new to driving and parking your RV.
Backing an RV into a campsite is one thing; getting the RV level once it’s parked is another challenge entirely. Unless you have an automatic leveling system on your rig, this is where your bubble level will come into play.
Some people have bubble levels built into the front of their trailer, but most people will need to pack a separate level. Either way, this is a super handy tool that you probably won’t want to be without, so be sure to grab one before you hit the road.
A bubble level is great, but it doesn’t do much good if it’s showing that you’re unlevel and you have no way to fix the problem. For this reason, you will absolutely need to invest in RV leveling blocks. There are a few different types of these, but the basic orange stacking bricks work just fine, really.
These are used under the RV tires to boost one or more sides/corners of the RV and make it level when you’re parked on unlevel ground. You’ll likely find yourself using these almost every time you park, so make sure you buy some before you leave home and always keep them handy in a storage bay.
Obviously, you don’t want your RV to roll away once it’s parked. Fortunately, wheel chocks are an option, and they are something every RVer should have.
Once you get your RV situated, put wheel chocks behind (or in front of) the wheels to ensure your tiny home-on-wheels doesn’t go anywhere without your permission. This is super cheap insurance that doesn’t take much effort to put into place, and is well worth doing.
Finally, we must mention stabilizer jacks. Most RVs have these built in, meaning you will only need to keep a tool on hand for using these built-in jacks. That said, there are a handful of RVs out there that do not have any built-in stabilizer jacks.
If your rig is among these and you’re tired of the rocking caused by people walking through the RV, consider investing in some simple jacks. These can be put under the rig to help stabilize it, so you can enjoy less movement while you camp.
Tips for RV Parking
You have your tools gathered and packed, you’ve driven to the campground, and you’ve found your campsite. Now what? Below are our tips for getting your RV into your campsite without any issues.
Before anything else, make sure you eliminate any and all distractions that could pull your attention away from the task at hand. This means turning off the radio and ensuring any kids or pets are entertained and able to keep quiet for a bit while you park.
Keep Kids and Pets In the Vehicle
You might be tempted to let the kids and pets outside in order to ensure they don’t distract you. While this does make a sort of sense, we actually recommend against it. It’s too easy for a dog or toddler to run out behind you and end up hurt. Besides, you won’t be able to keep a good eye on your charges while you’re backing up, and your spotter will be pretty busy as well.
For these reasons, it’s probably best to keep all pets and kids inside the vehicle while you park the RV.
Watch Your Angle
Angles are very important when backing a trailer or large rig into a site. Usually, campsites on any given street will all be angled one direction, meaning there is a “correct” way to drive down each road. Take a look at the angle of your site and make sure you are headed the correct direction to get into that site based on how it is angled.
If you’re going the opposite direction, figure out how to get turned around before you begin.
Get Out and Look Around
Before you even attempt to park, get out and walk around the campsite. Make sure your rig will fit, keeping slideouts in mind. Take note of any obstacles that might be in your way, and remove any branches or items that might have been left in the site.
Use Cones as Landmarks
If all looks good, go ahead and set up any cones you intend to use. Like we said earlier, we recommend using these near any trees, boulders, or other obstacles that you could accidentally hit. Setting a couple of goal posts to aim for can also work well. Do what you think will help you most and give it a try. You can always move the cones if they aren’t helping.
Always Use a Spotter
As mentioned above, you will absolutely want somebody to be out of the RV or truck spotting you and helping guide you into the site. Even if you feel 100% confident in your abilities and the spotter has never had to say something in the past, this is a must, as it could be what saves your rig from terrible damage.
So go ahead and have your spouse or friend step outside, hand them a walkie talkie, and tell them to give you directions and yell if you’re going to hit something. This is more helpful than you imagine.
Give Yourself Space
Before you start to back up, pull forward. You’ll probably need more time to adjust than you’d think, especially if you’re backing a trailer. Starting super far forward is always better than starting out too close to the site, so go ahead and pull up and give yourself some extra adjustment room.
Take It Slow
At this point you are as ready as you’ll ever be, so all that’s left for you to do is actually back up into the site. We said it before and we’ll say it again: Small adjustments and slow driving will get you where you need to go. Take things as slow as you need to. If you need to pull up and start again, do it. Adjust as many times as you need to.
Remember, parking your RV is not a race, and we’ve all been newbies before. Nobody is going to judge you for taking your time so you can get it right. (You might even end up having friendly neighbors come over to help out.)
Level with Blocks, Not Jacks
Even once you get your angle right and make it into the site, you might have to move again. This is because your RV is likely to be at least a little bit unlevel.
After working with your rig to get it into the site, it might be tempting to attempt to level the RV with the stabilizer jacks. Don’t do this. Stabilizer jacks aren’t RV levels, and are likely to break under the stress of leveling your rig.
Pulling up onto blocks is actually pretty easy once you’ve gotten situated in the site, so just take the time to do a tiny bit more driving and level yourself out the right way.
Using Hookups at a Campsite
Once you’re parked and leveled, the next step is to hook your RV up to utilities provided. In some campgrounds, there are no utilities. Others will have just electricity, just water, or some combination of the two. Still other campsites feature a sewer hookup in addition to water and electricity.
Here are some tips for hooking up to these amenities.
Find the Correct Outlet
The first thing you’ll want to do is plug into the electricity. This is easy enough. You’ll just plug your RV power cable into the correct outlet on the power pedestal. To find the correct outlet, simply look at your RV plug and find the outlet that matches. If there isn’t a matching outlet, you will either need a 30-to-50 amp adapter or a 50-to-30 amp adapter, depending on the type of RV you have.
Breaker Off Surge Protector In
Once you locate the correct outlet, check to make sure the breaker to that outlet is in the off position. Leave it off and plug your surge protector in. Once that is plugged in, you can flip the breaker to send power to the surge protector. If your surge protector has them, check the lights that will alert you if something is wrong with the outlet. If all looks well, plug your RV in to send power to your home-on-wheels.
Get a Water Pressure Regulator
Next up is the water hookup. Rather than hooking up to the water directly, we highly recommend using a water pressure regulator between the hose and spigot. This will ensure the water pressure isn’t too much for the water lines and fittings in your RV. Too much pressure can cause lines to crack and fittings to pop off, something you definitely don’t want to deal with.
Consider a Water Filter
You might also want to connect a water filter to your freshwater hose. This will filter the water coming into your RV, making your water taste better and keeping your family safe and healthy.
Hook Up the Water
With a pressure regulator and filter connected to your freshwater hose, you will connect the hose to the water spigot provided. The other end of the hose should twist into the city water inlet. Turn the water on and you should have water going to your sinks, shower, and toilet.
Learn to Dump Your Tanks
Finally, you will need to learn how to connect a sewer hose to the sewer hookup. This will allow you to dump your wastewater tanks. Instructions on how to do this can be found here. Be sure to use gloves!
There you have it, everything you need to know to get your RV into a campsite.
Still don’t feel confident in your abilities? You can always head to an empty parking lot to practice. Another option is to book a pull-through site where available, which will allow you to avoid backing up altogether. Finally, keep in mind that campers are some of the most friendly people out there, so someone is sure to be happy to guide you into your spot if you’re having trouble.
In the end, parking an RV does take practice to perfect, and even the most experienced RV drivers still use backup cameras and spotters, but even as a beginner, we’re betting you are able to park your rig and have a blast camping with your family!
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