Tips for Planning Big Rig Camping Trips

There are lots of potential challenges when booking camping reservations for an oversized RV.

Campers are getting larger, heavier, and longer – and tow vehicles are too.

There are many different ways to define a ‘Big Rig RV’.

You may have a large Class A Motorhome – with or without a tow-behind trailer.

Maybe it’s an oversized 5th Wheel RV.

Or maybe you’re like us and run an HDT (Heavy Duty Truck) RV using a semi for your tow vehicle.

Our home on wheels – ’99 Freightliner FLD120 | ’22 Grand Design Momentum 397TH

No matter how you define it, or what you run, we can all agree:

The last thing you want is to find out that your campsite reservation for a long-awaited escape isn’t going to accommodate your set-up.

With a little bit of strategy, some planning, and a computer or phone you can increase your odds of finding (and fitting into!) the perfect camping destination.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan travel in a big rig set-up.

Rafter J Bar Ranch – Hill City, SD

Measure, Measure, Measure

Big rig RVing is a numbers game.

You’ve graduated out of little league (and probably won’t fit into most state parks anymore – especially on the East Coast)

Camping now revolves around the size of your equipment and education about your rig is critical.

The tape measure and scales are your new best friend, especially for the first few trips in a new set-up.

Know your length, width, height, and weight.

This seems pretty obvious – but if you spend enough time on RV forums, you’ll quickly realize that there are a surprising number of RVers that don’t know their basic specs, or more importantly, what these specs mean.

Once you’ve narrowed down your destination, the first step in planning a big rig camping trip is all about the measurements.


Length

This is the spec that is most widely used when talking about RVs.

Most people know their length and made their RV purchase based off of this measurement.

It’s always good to double check accuracy by doing your own tongue to tail measurement – and don’t forget any bicycles or other items you may add to a rear hitch.

If you’re pulling fifth wheel or bumper pull, also know your end-to-end length while hooked up to the tow vehicle.

Motorhome set-ups obviously need to factor in trailers and other tow-behinds.

Finally, for toy haulers, also know the amount of clearance you’ll need behind the RV for loading, unloading, and deck configurations (with their stairs if applicable).

Many campgrounds ask for your RV length when you make a reservation – it’s the bare minimum measurement to get you started.

However, the larger your RV is, the more important other measurements become.

Your specs affect not only your choice of the site itself, but also the route you take to the campground, the path from the campground entrance to the site, and your exit strategy if the campground is full when you leave.


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West Glacier RV Park, MT

Width

Beyond straight-line measurements – know your width and safe turning radius before booking a site.

Remember, you’ve got to safely make it TO the campsite before you think about fitting INTO the campsite.

Don’t make a habit of dragging your RV’s tires trying to make tight turns – and most of all, remember to consider tail swing.

This is why pull-through sites are a big rig’s best friend.

Prior to selecting a campsite, measure your RV with the slides fully extended.

Know your awning configurations.

On travel days, keep in mind an often forgotten width factor — know how much room you’ll need to fully open and use your steps.

Truck stop parking spots can be notoriously tight and may not allow you to open (or worse, close) popular hinged step configurations.

This is one of the reasons why we prefer to have stairs that tuck under the rig on our toy hauler’s garage access door.


Entering Glacier National Park

Height

Bridges and underpasses are the most common obstacles to think about when planning a trip with a tall rig.

Thankfully these are generally well-marked on the roadways.

Know the height of your unit to the highest point to prevent damage.

No one wants to lose an AC unit (or worse!) underneath a low bridge.

When planning your destination and route, do some research to make sure you’ll fit.

We often search for YouTube videos of campgrounds that we’re considering to check out the campground entrance and roads from ground level.

The photo above shows the entrance to West Glacier RV Park.

Our RV is 13’6″ – matching the signage on the underpass.

We confidently booked a trip to that park after watching others with our same model RV film their drive under the bridge with inches to spare.

We’ve all seen plenty of photos and videos of the accidents that can happen when people driving large rigs aren’t paying attention.

Let’s not join their ranks.


Rafter J Bar Ranch, Hill City, SD

Weight

Safety first, folks.

This is the most important spec to know and understand.

Your weight specs probably don’t greatly affect your choice of campground or campsite.

Weight does, however, affect you getting safely to your destination, protecting both your family and others on the road.

Check your spec sticker.

Make sure your tow vehicle can handle your RV.

Load appropriately.

Keep in mind your plans for how you’ll handle fresh and waste water – those tanks can add a lot of weight quickly.

A single gallon of water weighs just over 8 pounds.

There are lots of stories of people losing their underbelly tanks while traveling due to the weight.

Be prepared with fresh water, but also be aware of the impact it has to your numbers.

In regard to choosing a campsite, we’ve only run into an issue once with being too heavy for the site itself.

Heavy rains created a soft spot that we felt the minute we pulled into the site.

We immediately relocated to a more stable spot – and prefer to book sites with pads whenever possible.


Do Research

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Social media and technology are your best friend when you’re heading to a new destination.

Measure Campsites on Google Maps

After you’ve done your measuring homework and have your specs handy, head over to Google Maps and pull up your destination.

Using the satellite view of the campsite, right click and select ‘Measure Distance’ to drop pins at each end of the site.

(If you’re on a mobile device, hold your finger on a spot to drop a pin, then use the ‘Measure Distance’ option to place your second pin.)

The adjustable overlay bar will show you an accurate aerial measurement of the site.

We use the Measure Distance feature each and every time we book a site – it’s a game changer.

Download RV Apps

Research popular RV apps to help plan your next trip.

Apps can help with finding rest stops, fuel, campgrounds, and free overnight parking lots along the route.

Our go-to for planning stops is the RV Parky app.

RV Parky has a ‘big rig’ filter – just keep in mind that the definition of big rig can vary greatly and may not include HDT RVs.

For fuel prices and locations, check out GasBuddy.

If you’re interested in saving money on diesel fuel (who isn’t?) look into joining Open Roads.

Also download iExit for food, fuel, and other pitstop needs on travel days.

Use a Trucker’s Atlas

Once you join the big rig RV club, you’ve got to take on the driving mindset and habits of a professional truck driver.

GPS technology is fantastic – when it works.

However, when planning a big rig trip – and when hitting the road – a physical atlas geared for these large vehicles is indispensable.

Use the atlas to confidently ensure that the roads between the interstates and your final destination will accommodate your rig.

Keep it handy while over-the-road for unexpected detours.

We never leave home without one.

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Book Early

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Time is your friend when planning big rig reservations.

You’re not going to fit in sometimes (literally) and that’s just part of life when you’re living large.

Booking as early as possible gives you the best odds of finding that perfect location.

If you’ve got one of the popular RV resorts in mind (like The Ridge Outdoor Resort (TN), Talona Ridge (GA), Rafter J Bar Ranch (SD) or anywhere in Florida during the winter months) be sure to do some research to find out how far in advance they’ll accept reservations.

Some places book ahead by two years (or more).

Mark your calendar.

Know your site preferences.

And most importantly, take a look at the cancellation policy before you book.

It’s not impossible to find last minute spots, but the odds are in your favor if you plan ahead.


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Book Online

Whenever possible, make reservations online.

Campgrounds that have online booking options usually allow you to pick your site.

Keep in mind your slide configuration, the location of your hook-ups, and your overall height, especially when booking a site in a wooded area.

If you do run into limitations based on your rig length when booking online – don’t give up.

Instead, give the campground a call – they can sometimes override the website’s length restrictions.

In our big rig, we often leverage the option to ‘lock in’ our site choice.

Most KOA campgrounds offer this option (called ‘select my site’)

This typically involves a fee, which we budget for.

The peace of mind knowing we won’t be surprised when we check in is worth the cost to us.



Ask the Experts

There are lots of factors that weigh into planning camping trips for big rigs.

However, you’re not alone – and there are many options out there if you need help.

When in doubt, ask.

Call the Campground Office

Pick up the phone and call the campground.

But be thoughtful about the day and time that you call.

Don’t call on a Friday afternoon during the check-in rush or on a busy summer weekend.

Try to call during the week for the best odds of speaking with an experienced staff member (or maybe even the owner).

Have your measurements handy and double check availability and local road conditions with the people that know the area better than anyone.

Find a Forum

Social media groups are common forums for RVers.

There are dedicated groups for specific RV manufacturers, their models, and even big rig HDT groups.

Joining a group of like-minded campers doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always find true experts.

There will always be keyboard warriors in every group.

However, you’ll be able to connect with others and learn from their experiences (both good and bad!)

If you have a specific campground or destination in mind, ask the group for their suggestions – then repeat the steps listed above.

Devils Tower, WY

Big rig RVing isn’t for everyone.

There are many factors to consider when planning travel and site selection.

Gone are the days of throwing a cooler and tent in the trunk of your car and finding a level spot in the forest.

Know your specs. Do your research. Plan ahead.

Most of all – enjoy the journey!

Devils Tower, WY

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