Top National Park Campgrounds to Travel with Your RV

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There are 59 National Parks that you can visit. Although we haven’t been to even half of those, we wanted to share our experience with the ones we have been to. And we’ll update this list as we make it to more. Do you have a favorite one? Share with us in the comments below.

Grand Canyon Mather Campground

[envira-gallery id=”3348″]We camped at the Grand Canyon South Rim in April for 5 days and it was the first time we had ever camped in a national park.  

There are three choices to camp at the South Rim.  Mather has no hook-ups and is located in the Grand Canyon Village. Trailer village is a full hook-up campground run by a concessionaire and is also located in the Grand Canyon Village.  The third option is Desert View located 25 miles east of the Grand Canyon Village in a more remote location. 

We chose Mather since the weather was beautiful where the days were nice and nights were chilly so we didn’t have to run our generator.  Also, Mather is in a more natural setting with lots of foliage all around the large sites.

Luckily our Class C rig is only 27 feet because Mather can only handle RVs less than 30 ft in length.  Mather’s sites have a semi circle drive through where you park your rig.  Mather has strict rules on when you can use a generator so plan accordingly if you visit in the hot summer months.  

We had elk walk through our campsite each morning and our english bulldog didn’t know what to think about the large animals.  Since we were RVing without a separate car, we were able to access all the points of interest on the south rim via the national park shuttle bus that ran every 30 minutes and is free.  

The shuttle bus drops off at every point along the south rim and runs from March to November.  Since parking can be very difficult from all the day visitors, I highly recommend using the shuttle bus to get around in the South Rim even if you do have a car.  

One of the great aspects of the National Park System is the Park Ranger programs.  We heard about the history of the park and about the people that inhabited the area thousands of years ago.

 We also learned about how the California Condor went from only 22 birds left in existence in 1982 to over 400 birds today with several reintroduced back into the Grand Canyon. We also learned that all National Parks are using downward facing lamps to obtain dark skies for stargazing.  Each of the ranger talks were very entertaining and informative and I highly recommend you try to attend a ranger talk at any of the national parks.

Related: If you’re in Montana, check out these campgrounds

Zion South Campground

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When we left the Grand Canyon, we knew we wanted to go to Zion but didn’t have a set timetable. We got lucky and was able to secure a campsite on a first come first serve basis at the South campground.  The other choice to camp at Zion canyon is the Watchman campground, which has electric hook-ups availability.   

We stayed for 5 nights and it ended up being one of the best camping experiences ever.  To this day, we talk about how much we enjoyed Zion National Park and hope to go back very soon.  

We visited in the springtime so the highs were in the low 80s and the lows in the 50s-60s which was perfect camping weather.  The campground has a dump station with potable water since there are no hookups at each site.  

The South campground is centrally located along the Virgin River and a ¼ mile from the visitors center as well as adjacent to the Watchman Trail.  The park shuttle buses ran from the campground to all points of interest to access the various hiking trails.  

The  quaint city of Springdale is a short walk from the campground if you need any supplies or want to enjoy a night out at one of their great restaurants.  We attended a flute concert on one night and grabbed some groceries on our way back to the campground.  

If you plan to access Zion through SR9 from Mt. Carmal Junction you’ll travel through the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel.  If your rig is over 13ft tall, you won’t be able to go through the tunnel but have to access the park from the south through Springdale .  

Any vehicle over 11’4” and 7’10” in width will have to pay $15 for a tunnel pass.  This allows you to go through the tunnel by yourself without having to share the two-way road.  Apparently before they implemented these changes, there were several accidents as the larger vehicles had to cross the middle line around some of the tight curves and collide with oncoming traffic.  After driving through the tunnel myself, I honestly don’t know how two cars can fit through some parts of the tunnel since the walls are sloped so heavily.

Related: This is a great list of routes and campgrounds across the USA

Big Bend

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Big Bend National Park is on the border of Texas and Mexico and is in the middle of nowhere.  When we decided to live full-time in the RV we knew that we would start our trip after visiting our family in Austin after the Christmas holidays.  

When we started looking at the map to plot our next destination heading west we knew we wanted to visit any National Park along the route.  

We also traveled mostly on back roads rather than the interstate since we didn’t have a set time to be anywhere.  We decided to travel along 90 west to Big Bend from San Antonio.  We traveled through many small towns and had some of the best Tex-Mex along the way.

 We also went through several border check points as well so be prepared if you take any roads along the border.  We ended up stopping at Marathon and staying for a couple of nights before heading down to Big Bend.  I highly recommend stopping at Marathon to explore all the different shops.  

We stayed at the Marathon Hotel and RV park which was right in town along the main road.  Marathon is the last city before getting into the national park from hwy 90 if you need any last minute supplies.  

When I say Big Bend is in the middle of nowhere, I’m not exaggerating. It is 40 miles from Marathon to the north and 50 miles to Terlingua on the west.  Big Bend is over 800,000 acres with point of interests spread out over that entire area.  

If you come from Marathon you’ll go through the Persimmon Gap visitor center which is a good way to get oriented to the park and get a map to show all the trails and other visitor centers.  On the way to the campground, you pass the Panther Junction visitor center which is in the middle of the park and the main visitor center with a theatre as well as a gas station and groceries.  

The third visitor center is in the Rio Grande village along with both campgrounds. We stayed in the campground with hookups, but realized that the campground without hookups was in a better location and more secluded.  

We were able to explore several trails near our location which bordered along the Rio Grande overlooking the beautiful Sierra Del Carmen mountains but if we wanted to visit other points of interests, we had to take the RV, which meant unhooking everything.  

Also, this was towards the start of our adventures on the road we weren’t savvy in the form of boondocking camping.  We literally thought we need to have hookups every time we camped, even if for one night.  

After two nights at the campground, we decided to leave early since we also couldn’t access the Chisos Basin mountainous region due to the length of our RV.  Only RVs less than 20 feet are recommended to drive up the mountain.  

As we were leaving, we went to the dump and decided to gas up before we left.  Well, the RV wouldn’t start after gassing up.  We went inside to let the attendant know of the situation and he came and tried to jump us off but no luck.  Again we were newbies traveling via RV so we even though our quick internet research told us that it was probably our starter, we couldn’t find the starter on our RV.  Luckily we had roadside assistance with Progressive Insurance and we called to tell them we needed help.  

Unfortunately since Big Bend was in the middle of nowhere the nearest tow truck that could tow our RV had to come from Fort Stockton 99 miles away.  It took several hours for the tow truck to get to us and then another hour to unhook the drive shaft.  Let me tell you, it’s a weird feeling to see your RV hooked up to a tow truck knowing everything you own is in inside that rig.  

By the time we got on the road headed towards Terlingua Auto it was dark and I called to verify it was ok to leave the RV in front of their shop for the night.  After the tow truck unhooked us in front of the shop with no one in sight anywhere around the small town it was an uneasy feeling to be left all alone in a strange place.  We walked our dogs to help with our uneasiness and I happened to look up and saw something I’d never seen before.  My partner had to tell me that I was looking at the milky way.  

Related: Read more about the RV camping lifestyle

In all my years, I had never been able to see the milky way and it was truly magnificent.  After gazing at the beautiful dark sky we both relaxed and realized that this would just be another part of our adventure and everything would be ok.  

The next morning the owner looked at our RV and sure enough it was a bad starter.  It was a Friday and they wouldn’t be able to get a new starter until the following Monday.  The owner was very gracious and told us we could stay in the RV in front of the store for the weekend until they could fix it on Monday.  He also gave us some points of interest to visit while we were in town.  

Visiting Terlingua ended up being some of our most favorite memories on our trip.  We biked to the center of town to have breakfast and visit the local artist shops and had some of the best and cheapest margaritas at La-Kiva a bar in a cave.  

We also realized we didn’t want to leave the area without seeing the rest of Big Bend and there happened to be a local jeep tour guide across the street from the auto shop.  The Sunday private tour took us walking along the Rio Grande River and to the fourth visitor center Castolon located in the historic La Harmonia store building,  We drove up the Chisos Basin to the fifth visitor center that also has the Chisos Mountain Lodge.  

All five visitor centers had great exhibits and stories of the history of the people who once lived in the region.  I wished that we would have had a car of our own to truly experience all the hiking trails and beautiful scenery.  After the tour ended on Sunday the starter got delivered on Monday and we were back on the road by Monday afternoon.  As we were leaving we were already missing our Big Bend adventure.

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