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What size of RVs are allowed in national parks?

Posted on Mar 27, 2019

There’s absolutely nothing quite like hitting the road in your RV. You have the entire nation ahead of you, ripe for exploration and enjoyment. For many RV owners, America’s national parks beckon. From the Smoky Mountains in the east to Yosemite in the west and tons more in the middle, you’ll find everything from mountains to beaches to desert on offer within the 58 national parks in the US.

However, if you’re going RVing, you do need to know a few things, particularly when it comes to camping in a national park with your RV. One thing that might surprise you is that some parks have very strict length limits. What’s the maximum? What else should you know?

Who Needs to Worry about Length Requirements?

Generally speaking, owners of RVs and travel trailers, including fifth wheels, need to be concerned about this requirement. If you have a smaller ultralight, a pop-up, or a compact camper, then you should be fine. For everyone else, there are length limits you need to know.

Is There a Maximum Length for RVs?

The simple, but slightly confusing answer here is that, no, there is no maximum length limit that applies to all national parks. It varies from park to park. One park might allow RVs up to 40 feet in length, while another might cut off at 25 feet.

What Is the Average?

While park limits vary, there is an average that applies. It’s 27 feet. That doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not, particularly when you understand some of the rules that apply to length, which we’ll discuss shortly. However, while 27 feet might be the average, it does not apply in all instances. We’ll need to look beyond that median and determine length limits in another way.

For large RV owners, those over 41 feet in length, you can expect to be excluded from 93% of national parks in the US. If your RV is 40 feet in length, you will be able to access 53% of the country’s national parks. If your RV is 37 feet long, you’ll fit within 60% of the parks, and if it is 35 feet, you’ll fit in 73% of US national parks. For RVs 32 feet long, expect to have access to 81% of the park system, and for 29 footers, that rises to 84%. If your RV is shorter – 25 feet, for instance – you’ll be able to access 93% of the park system, and if your RV is 19 feet, then you’ll be welcome in 98% of US national parks.

Size of RV % of parks you can access
over 41 feet 7%
40 feet 53%
37 feet 60%
35 feet 73%
32 feet 81%
29 feet 84%
25 feet 93%
19 feet 98%

What Does Length Actually Mean?

Ok, here’s where things start to get a little confusing. Many parks list the maximum length of RVs they will accept as a number that includes the towing vehicle and anything being towed behind the camper/trailer.

So, a motor home of 29 feet would be counted as one vehicle, but so would a 2.5-ton pickup truck towing a trailer with an attached toad (towed car). What that means is you need to know exactly how long everything you’re trying to fit into the camping spot will be. If you have a motorhome, you’re pretty golden (but not perfect). If you’re towing a trailer, get to measuring.

For motorhome owners, you also need to break out the tape measure. The reason for this is that the manufacturer probably didn’t list the length all that accurately. They tend to round down on those numbers. Chances are good that if you get out there with a tape measure, you’ll find that it’s longer than what you had anticipated.

What Should You Do?

The length requirements can throw a wrench in your travel plans, certainly. However, it doesn’t need to derail your excursion. There are a couple of things that you can do.

First, if you’re just now shopping for an RV or a trailer and you’re sure that visiting the country’s national parks is how you intend to spend the majority of your time, buy one that’s 35 feet long or less. That will help ensure that you can get into the majority of our national parks.

If you already own an RV or a trailer, your best bet is to check the website for any national park that you’re thinking about visiting. Most parks have their RV and trailer length limits posted. In the case that they’re not, you can call ahead to verify.

Finally, if you have a setup that’s just too large, your best option is going to be to camp outside the park and drive in on a day trip. You’ll find that a lot of national parks have RV parks nearby for just this situation.

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