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Old 12-27-2009, 09:14 AM   #1
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National Parks - What has been your experience?

I had an interest in staying in National Parks when I bought my trailer five years ago. The idea of being in the Real Wilderness is apealing, but I have yet to do it for several reasons.

My trailer is a 31' which I understand Airstream built specifically with National Parks in mind as most have a 32' limit. Trouble is that it seems they only have a few sites at each park that will handle a 31 footer and those are reserved way in advance.

Another thing I have noticed when just driving thru National Park campgrounds is that the sites were really close together and we like a little elbow room.

Therefore we have always stayed at State Parks or private parks where we have some space, no problem getting reservations, and of course have at least an electric hookup.

The National Parks I've tried to get into are Smoky Mountain (Cades Cove) and Mammoth Cave. My real questions are if everyone has had a tough time getting into a National Park and when they stayed there how they liked it.

Christopher
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Old 12-27-2009, 09:51 AM   #2
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There are National Parks and there are National Parks. Some are wide open and you don't have to worry about reservations more than state parks. Others you have to make reservations way ahead. For example Yosemite reservations open up 5 months ahead on the 15th of the month and are totally booked in minutes. There are however first come first serve campgrounds at most National Parks. There are also a lot of National Parks that have private campgrounds just outside of the park boundaries that cater to big rigs.
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Old 12-27-2009, 09:53 AM   #3
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We have camped quite a bit in the national parks. There are two problems, many are overvisited which makes early arrival or reservations a good idea. The other is most parks are old and the park service, especially in the west, never heard the word level.
Leveling is a problem and frequently you must unhook to fit on a site.

That being said it is still worth the hassle in most cases. We will sometimes camp outside the parks in Forest service, COE, or BLM campgrounds and usually find them preferable.
We are boondockers and never use private campgrounds if there are any other choices.

We usually do not make reservations.
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:00 AM   #4
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We've had very good results staying at Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. Bigger spaces, easier access, and less issues with them being booked up years in advance.
Here's a link to a COE campground 9 miles from Mammoth Cave:
http://www.recreation.gov/camping/Do...ex=CampingSpot

And here's one near Cades Cove:
Error - Recreation.gov
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:07 AM   #5
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Remember that many of the National Park Campgrounds were built in the '30's with Civilian Conservation Corps labor, and were designed to meet the needs of campers of that era.

Some of the nicest campgrounds we've stayed at were a tight fit for our 19' Bambi.
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:09 AM   #6
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A couple of years ago, we camped with Lucy at the Fishing Bridge Campground in Yellowstone National Park. It was awful. The sites are so tight, you can hardly get your awning out. Cooking outside has to be attended every second because of bears. Grills must be brought inside when you are done. The sites are less scenic than a Wal-Mart parking lot. After two nights there, we went to a commercial campground in West Yellowstone. It was much nicer in all ways.

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Old 12-27-2009, 10:16 AM   #7
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Ohhh... There are many options. The most common space comment I've seen regards some California state parks built before campers got so big -- this also applies to a few older parks in Minnesota. Nice thing about state parks is that ReserveAmerica and many state park reservation systems will tell you combined length for the pad.

I think National Parks are quite variable and they've gone a long way to accommodate big motorhomes and fifth wheels. We were all over Glacier NP just after Labor Day. Not all campgrounds would fit my 25' for instance. From Glacier National Park Campground Status -- Apgar (nice, 5 large loops) & St Mary (ugly campground...) have many, many possible sites. There are a fair number of possible sites for a 31' at Two Medicine, Many Glacier & (I believe) Rising Sun. Forget about the other campgrounds at Glacier. Most would have trouble with a Bambi -- not enough vertical clearance usually and short radius pull-throughs with lots of trees -- many are even tight for a popup.

Here are a couple of pics at Apgar. The truck was pulling one of the largest 5th wheels I've ever seen. Watching him try to park was amusing for the first half hour -- there was a lot of diesel growling for 2 hours before he found this site. Looks like his front bumper earned some experience points before he even got to Apgar.
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Many Glacier is one of the nicest smaller destinations. Maybe a quarter of the spots would fit an Airstream, moho or 5th wheel. We had to back out ours -- would have never made it out going straight forward. Here's our site at Many Glacier.
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There's pretty much a first come, first serve system at Glacier with a fair mix of private campgrounds for overflow outside Apgar or St Mary's. There are no plug-ins anywhere. We always travel with our Honda eu2000i anyway and do without the air conditioner in northern forested areas. It might be useful to have more comments from those traveling during full summer vacation time.
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:21 AM   #8
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It's worth taking a little time to research State and County parks; we've stayed in some great ones that were quiet with some elbow room. As has been posted, a 31' footer is a little tricky to land in the older parks. Try to get there on a Monday or Tuesday.
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:22 AM   #9
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Great question! The previous posts make good points. Cades Cove is about as bad as it gets (I haven’t been to Yosemite yet, so I can’t compare those) in terms of being packed in and overcrowded. Yes you would find more campsites with a shorter rig, but for the most part you should be able to find spots. I have found most National Parks to have pretty good campsites, and enjoy staying in them. There are some warning signs to look out for. For example, national park campgrounds run by a vendor are usually tightly packed, louder, and more expensive. Case in point: Yellowstone had a bunch of campgrounds about half a dozen are vendor run- stay away from them if possible. On the other hand, the Park Service run campgrounds (like Indian Creek) are quite delightful.
Rick makes a good point about checking out National Forest, BLM, and other public lands campgrounds. These are really the nice places to camp. These campgrounds are usually located with camping as the first priority whereas in the National Parks, campgrounds are located to be near the sights. He also speaks wisely regarding unlevel sites. If you carry enough levelers to boost one side of your camper about 4 inches, you should be fine there. I also would suggest that you consider giving boondocking a shot a night or two on your next trip west. It is very relaxing, and as you would guess, crowding is not a problem.
If you have questions about specific parks, I am certain that you can ask them here and you will get plenty of detail (maybe event to the point of favorite campsite numbers). Another good approach is to tell the forums what area you are thinking about visiting and ask for input-that really works. You will find out about great spots to camp and things to do that you would never find on your own. Happy camping!
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:23 AM   #10
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I worked this past summer as a volunteer in both Yellowstone and Devils Tower (technically a National Monument).

At Yellowstone all of the campgrounds, including the five run by the concessionaire and the seven run by the park, will accomodate your rig. As noted, the Fishing Bridge campground in Yellowstone (the only one with hook-ups) is essentially a parking lot and is alleged to be in overhaul with no electricity available for the 2010 season. The rest range from pretty but plain to drop-dead gorgeous. Bridge Bay and Canyon are my two favorites. Both are run by the concession so reservations are available and recommended.

At Devils Tower, the Belle Fouche Campground is showing its age but is well maintained. No hook-ups and no dump station, though.

Closer to home, Everglades National Park's two campgrounds will certainly accomodate your rig although neither is recommended (or survivable for that matter) during the Spring, Summer or early Fall due to hordes of biting insects.

We have also stayed at Zion (which you have to approach from the Southwest due to tunnel restrictions), Bryce and Arches all of which easily handled our 31' Sovereign.

I do fudge a bit -- when I make reservations my rig always shrinks a foot to 30' as that seems to be a magic number for many state and federal campgrounds. It has never been an issue as they seem to always grossly underestimate the capacity of the campsites.

Get out to the Parks! You won't be sorry.

Mike
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:34 AM   #11
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Yellowstone/Teton Tip

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Leary View Post
..... Try to get there on a Monday or Tuesday.
Yellowstone is a magnet for families flying into Salt Lake City and renting an rv. Look at the number of rent-a-rvs the next time you are there. My observations have left me with the sense that they fly into Salt Lake on Thurs/Fri and hit the parks Sun/Mon. To get their rigs back to the dealer and to fly back home on time they seem to leave the parks around Thursday. So, oddly enough, Thursday to Monday are the easiest days (at least in my experience) to get campsites in these two parks. Just a quirk of geography and schedules that makes getting a campsite on the weekend easier than during the week.
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Old 12-27-2009, 10:50 AM   #12
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We stay at National and State Parks whenever possible. Most recently, we were at Assateague Island and Greenbelt Park (National) in Maryland. I can't see trailer size being a problem at Assateague Island. Their oceanside sites were huge. While Greenbelt has some sites that will accommodate larger trailers, there were some that were even a challenge for our Bambi.
By the way, both were really nice campgrounds.
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Old 12-27-2009, 11:33 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by n2916s View Post

At Devils Tower, the Belle Fouche Campground is showing its age but is well maintained. No hook-ups and no dump station, though.

We have also stayed at Zion (which you have to approach from the Southwest due to tunnel restrictions)

Mike
I stayed at the KOA at Devils Tower. They have an outdoor movie at night, every night, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.

I was able to tow through the tunnel, although they closed the tunnel down to one way, just for me, for an extra $15. Kind of fun. I have talked to other streamers who they let go as regular traffic.
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Old 12-27-2009, 01:25 PM   #14
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Since CG's vary considerably, generalizations are just that. Best to check websites and call the park. I find calling the park can get information that either isn't at all on the website or unclear. As a generalization, federal CG's are built for smaller RV's, roads are narrow and backing in can be quite a chore, but it is a generalization.

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