WHERE TO RV BEFORE YOU R.I.P.
The open road awaits, but the time you have to travel it isn't open-ended. Traveling the country in a recreational vehicle frees you from constraints, but it's a bit of a bummer if you haven't figured out where you want to go while you're still healthy enough to get there. We took a spin around the navigable portions of North America and found several spots worth adding to an RV bucket list. The destinations are worth the trip, but so are the paths you'll take to get to them.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Ever want to look out onto Glacier Point, scale El Capitan, conquer Half Dome or just soak in Yosemite Falls? Yosemite is nearly as large as Rhode Island and boasts 800 miles of trails that accommodate the rugged hiker as well as the leisurely walker. With more than 100 lakes, multiple waterfalls, mountains, and a few beaches, there is something for everyone. The good news is that Yosemite has 10 campgrounds that accommodate RVs. The bad news? You'll need a reservation between April and September and there are no electrical, water or sewer hookups (though there are dump stations).
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK BONUS
The drive in is gorgeous, but can seem a bit spare in spots. If you get a chance, theWhoa Nellie Deli in nearby Lee Vining, California, has great views of Mono Lake and the Dana Plateau. Sure, it serves as a dump station and water stop for people heading to the park, but it also hosts live music and serves a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu blending Mexican, Polynesian, and Asian fare. The sashimi isn't to be missed.
The original Route 66— the Mother Road — ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, and was featured in John Steinbeck's 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath” and the 1960s television show “Route 66.” It was taken out of the U.S. highway system in 1985 but is now divided into various National Scenic Byways. There's even a stretch of it designated for bicycles.
ROUTE 66 BONUS
There are a lot of great sites to see along old Route 66. The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and Santa Monica Pier at the end of the line are all worthy of your time. But instead of pulling your RV into a place such as the Wigwam Hotel in Holbrook, Arizona, or any of its kitschy counterparts, look for RV-friendly stops such as the St. Louis West/Route 66 KOA, which starts at $30 a night, depending on the size of RV.
There are six campgrounds in Denali National Park itself, but you're going to need to be well-located to catch the buses around the park and deal with the tricky and sometimes severe weather. Teklanika River campground is the most central, but has no electric or water hookups. Still, it's as deep as you can get into the park by private vehicle, and the views of the mountains, rivers, and wildlife are well worth it.
THE GRAND CANYON
Nearly 280 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, the Grand Canyon and its national park are a wonderland of rim hiking, donkey riding, and whitewater rafting. Though the North Rim of the canyon is closed until mid-May, the South Rim is open all year and features Trailer Village, where RV sites start around $55.
THE GRAND CANYON BONUS
It's only about four hours from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon site in Arizona, so it isn't a shabby excuse to visit Sin City, either. Temperatures are in the 60s and 70s most days during the winter, but make sure you have a good heater when staying at one of the more than two dozen RV parks: Low temperatures can still get below freezing. If you want the authentic family road trip experience, park at the the Canyon Motel & RV Park in Williams just below the South Rim. It's near Grand Canyon Railway, Kaibab National Forest, and the drive-through wildlife park Bearizona, and has a garden patio, pool, general store, and hotel rooms in old rail cars.
THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
We really didn't want to make you choose between Canada's Glacier National National Park, Lake Louise, Jasper National Park, and Banff National Park. Instead, if you only have a brief time to take this trip, take your RV from Banff to Jasper via theIcefields Parkway. Though named for the icefields themselves, its views of the Rockies, the valleys, the wildlife, waterfalls, glacial-silt lakes, and skywalks are well worth the trip.
THE CANADIAN ROCKIES BONUS
RV parks such as the Hinton/Jasper KOA are an option for your stay, but the national parks themselves offer RV sites with full electrical, water, and sewer hookups forless than $30 per night in U.S. dollars. They start taking reservations Jan. 19 for the peak summer season, so it helps to plan well in advance.
THE OREGON COAST
For about 362 miles from the Columbia River to the California border, the Oregon Coast is a mobile vacationer's paradise. Watch the puffins on the haystack rocks in Cannon Beach and Pacific City. Make your way through the 11 lighthouses that dot the coastline. Visit the abandoned military facilities at Fort Stevens or tow along a dune buggy and go bounding over the sand in Florence. Short on hokey seaside amusement and long on natural beauty, the Oregon Coast is a great place to pull off Route 101 and take a summer sunset photo on the cliffs or hunker down in a lodge and watch the storms roll in.
THE OREGON COAST BONUS
There are plenty of RV-friendly Oregon State Parks along the coast alone. It's just a matter of where you want to be. Nehalem Bay State Park is about an hour from Portland and puts campers right next to the cute coastal towns of Wheeler and Nehalem, within a short drive of the creamery in Tillamook and the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. RV spots with electric and water hookups start around $31, but if you want to play a round at Bandon Dunes or tour the Rogue Ales brewery in Newport, reserve your spot early. Even by February, the summer pickings get slim.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
There’s a lot more to do here than look at filming locations for “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” Nob Hill, the ABQ BioPark, and the 2.7-mile Sandia Peak Tramway just scratches the surface of this place's natural beauty, and the Petroglyph National Monument and Cibola National Forest are easier to explore when the average high temperature stays well above freezing. With nearly two dozen RV parks to choose from, it's also an ideal destination for your home on wheels.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO BONUS
What's the best reason to come to Albuquerque in an RV? The Balloon Fiesta that puts hundreds of hot air balloons over the city. Not only can you park your RV right near the Fiesta site, but you can stay overnight for $40 to $250 and watch the balloons from right outside your front door. Take in the sites, smell the roasting chiles, and enjoy the festivities from your own accommodations. Just be prepared to stay the minimum three-night reservation.
SAN DIEGO BONUS
RVing in San Diego also puts you less than an hour from Tijuana and Baja. There are numerousRV parks along the Baja Peninsula, and plenty of access to surfing, fishing, shopping, and various other tourist activities.
THE MARITIMES, CANADA
THE MARITIMES, CANADA, BONUS
Fortunately, there are dozens of RV Parks in Nova Scotia alone. The Cat ferry from Maine carries an RV as you take in views of the Atlantic, and RV sites at Baddeck Cabot Trail Campgroundcome with Wi-Fi, showers, and laundry. While that campground will put you within striking distance of North River Kayak Tours, Amoeba Sailing Tours, Uisage Ban Falls, the Kidston Island Lighthouse, and the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, the Broad Cove Campsite at Cape Breton National Park puts you right in the park at a frugal price.
CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST
CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST BONUS
At some point, you have to get off of 101 or the 1 and bunk down for the night. Fortunately, the RV resorts along the way offer plenty of spots. The Pismo Sands has 133 for $65 a night and includes electricity, Wi-Fi, cable, and laundry. Pismo Coast Village has 400 sites starting at $52 a night and offers electric, water, and sewer hookups, laundry, and amusements for the kids (pool, arcade, mini golf, etc.). For more of a laid-back, funky shore town, Bella Vista by the Sea near Cayucos offers full hookups and Wi-Fi starting at $42 a night, while those who want to be in the middle of everything will be well served byWine Country RV in Paso Robles, which is near the Ravine Waterpark and 200 wineries.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
You could simply drive Route 9 through this national park in Utah and get a tremendous view of the natural beauty around you. But if you want to trek the Zion and Kolob canyons, visit the Zion Human History Museum, hike Kolob Arch, or take in the mountains, stay a while. Granted, you could bounce around to Bryce Canyon National Park to the north or the Grand Canyon to the south, but there's a lot to absorb here. Also, your RV would need a permit to get through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
ZION NATIONAL PARK BONUS
The South and Watchman campgrounds in the park itself have RV access, but only Watchman has electric hookups. Neither have sewer, water, or Wi-Fi, so if those things are important, you may want to consider a place such as theZion River Resort along the Virgin River in Virgin. It offers water, sewer, electric, and cable for rates starting at $37 a day. You also get access to a spa, a fully air-conditioned social hall, and a concierge.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK BONUS
Just about every approach to the park is gorgeous, and the park itself has nearly a dozen RV-friendly campgrounds to choose from. Fishing Bridge RV Park — the only campground welcoming only hard-sided RVs — is closed for 2019, so if you're looking to come during the off season, Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is the only one that's open year-round and charges $20 a night.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY BONUS
There are dozens of RV-friendly campgrounds along the Parkway, including those at the national parks on each end. Few match the charm of Mama Gertie's in Swannanoa, North Carolina. Near Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, Mama Gertie's offers mountain-top RV sites with not only dramatic views, but full electric, water, and sewer hookups. Spots start at $37 a night, but those premium views will cost $59 a night, or $70 for a deck to view them from.
If you've always wanted to explore the nation's capital, but didn't want to pay premium hotel prices or airfare, D.C. is a great place to travel to via RV. Be warned, however, that it isn't a great place to travel in with an RV. Even seasoned RV drivers say that height restrictions, parking issues, and tight streets make it tough to navigate. By all means, see the monuments, go to the Smithsonian museums, visit the government buildings, and pop into Arlington National Cemetery. Just take public transportation to them.
WASHINGTON, D.C., BONUS
So where should you stash your RV while touring? Cherry Hill Park in College Park, Maryland, is the closest site to the city, is open year-round, and has a bus that takes you right to a Metro station into the city. It also hosts a night tour ($50) and day tour ($90) that includes transportation to and from the park. RV sites go from $73 to $93 per night, so more frugal travelers may want to consider the $45 to $50 spots at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Virginia. It has a bus to the Metro station in Reston.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
This isn't just Blue Ridge Parkway, Part II. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 816 square miles unto itself, and you won't see much of it from where the Blue Ridge Parkway drops you in Cherokee, North Carolina. Actually, for this trip, we'd recommend coming into the park from the other entrance in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and taking in all the touristy goodness of the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area, the Ripley's Aquarium, and, in nearby Pigeon Forge, Dolly Parton's own amusement park, Dollywood. The latter has has roller coasters and other thrill rides, but the Southern cooking, country music, musical revues, barbecue and bluegrass festivals and more that make it more than just some fair-food-and-cheap-thrills theme park.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS BONUS
What if you actually want to go into the park, hike the trails, see the historic homes in Cades Cove or just enjoy the views from U.S. 441? The park itself offers RV options ranging from $18 to $27 a night, which is less than the cost of many facilities beyond the park's borders. Some of the costlier places may have better amenities, but they'll be farther from Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS
Parked in the Salish Sea and surrounded by British Columbia to the north and west, the San Juan Islands are part of Washington State but feel like a world all their own. Your RV will have to hop a ferry to get here, but once you arrive you'll find quaint harbor towns, former British and Colonial forts, old-growth forests, old lime kilns,views from above the clouds, orcas, and maybe the occasional celebrity.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS BONUS
There are RV-friendly campgrounds in the San Juan Islands, but most have limits on the size of RV. The fairgrounds on San Juan Island are just a mile from the ferry in Friday Harbor, have electric and water hookups, and rent spots for $45 a night. Moran State Park on Orcas Island and the Lopez Islander Resort on Lopez Island are also fine options.
CAPE COD BONUS
Sure, the Cape is more a bungalow or bed-and-breakfast kind of place, but it doesn't hate RVs by any means. With nearly two dozen RV parks along the Cape, you'll be well served by places such as Atlantic Oaks in Eastham (from $53 a night) or Old Chatham RV Resort in Dennis ($76 a night) with full hookups, Wi-Fi, laundry, and bathrooms with showers.
Let the kids go to the theme parks and let hardier folks than yourself deal with mosquitoes in the Everglades. You have some bonito to catch, some coral reef to explore, and a famous author's cats to visit. Whether you're the laid-back sort who'd like nothing more than to catch a fish in the morning and eat it at night or a more free spirit whose day only starts when the sun sets, the Florida Keys are among the most unique places to pass the time in the U.S. — even though they're only tangentially connected to the States.
FLORIDA KEYS BONUS
Grassy Key RV Resort in Marathon puts you in the middle of the keys for prices ranging from $61 a day for the most basic spot to $193 a night for a deluxe spot on the waterfront. But if you simply have to party right in Key West, Geiger Key Marina goes the full Jimmy Buffett with spots from $105 to $155 a night, waterfront views, and lots of booze and seafood. To get closer to downtown and go a bit cheaper, Leo's packs in RVs for $67 to $90 a night.
KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL
If you love yourself some traditional Kentucky bourbon aged in charred oak barrels, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is about as close to heaven as you're going to get. Established in 1999, the trail links distilleries including Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Maker's Mark, Wofford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, and Angel's Envy into one comprehensive trip that even gives visitors transportation options for getting from distillery to distillery.
KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL BONUS
A lot of people take this trail by RV. Our favorite parks: Elkhorn Campgroundalong the Elkhorn Creek in Frankfort right near the Buffalo Trace Distillery, or the My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, near Heaven Hill and Maker's Mark. Each has full hookups for than $30 a night, reserving some funds for all that bourbon tasting.
NAPA AND SONOMA
It seems as if every state now has its own “wine country,” but the Napa and Sonoma valleys are still the nation's wine country. California produces more than 80 percent of U.S. wine, and does so in a place where you can drive through the redwoods and hike the coast all in the same weekend. If you love wine and this isn't on your bucket list, get a new bucket.
NAPA AND SONOMA BONUS
RVs are a familiar sight on Wine Country roads, with Sonoma and Napa encouraging visitors to stay outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty. Meanwhile, many of the local RV parks know what they're about: Calistoga RV is not only within walking distance from a golf course and arts center, but more than a dozen wineries. The Cloverdale KOA puts visitors right in the middle of the Alexander Valley wine region, while the Sonoma County Events Centerhas an RV Park amid Russian River wineries on the site of the Harvest Fair, the largest regional wine competition in the U.S.