Do public campground maximum size restrictions scare you off?

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July 2, 2011

By Bob Difley

sign_campgroundI’m sure you’ve seen entries in campground guidebooks and on entry kiosks at the entrances to National Park, Monument, or forest service campgrounds that designate maximum length limitations. “Maximum size 27 feet,” for instance. So, if you were driving a 28-foot Class C, or towing a 28-foot fiver, did you cross it off your list of potential camping locations? If so, you may have missed an opportunity to visit what might be a wonderful national treasure or a nesty, forest campsite beside a tumbling stream.

The maximum length referred to means that all–or most–of the campsites in the campground will accommodate that length. But . . . some will also accommodate longer lengths, sometimes much longer. Those who write the rules do not want to officially include longer lengths when maybe only three or four campsites will fit longer lengths, and if those are taken but smaller ones remain open, they may get in a tangle with RVers with a longer rig urging them to move someone with a shorter rig out of the larger site and into a smaller site. Or, when those with larger rigs show up and find there are only a few that fit the maximum size stated and they are taken.

Whatever the reasons–not that I blame them at wanting to avoid such hassles–knowing this does open up some options. If you can fit into the campsite they won’t tell you to leave. And often, the measurement is made from the wheel barrier at the rear of the campsite to the front, the length of the pad itself . So, when you back in, your overhang extends over the barrier adding quite a few feet to the length that will fit. But watch out for those wood posts that some campgrounds use. Your overhang may not clear them. And there might be several sites that are long enough even without the overhang factor.

When you arrive at a campground that has a stated maximum length, drive around the campground and if you find one you fit into–no extending into the road, into foliage in the rear, or onto other obstructions–take it. It’s unlikely that you will find a host or ranger that will ask your length–unless they know exactly which sites are open and whether you will fit in any of them.

In national parks, it’s a bit more difficult, especially on busy holidays and weekends. If the park is filled everyday those that assign campsites may hold to the size maximum to reduce chaos, so plan to arrive early mid-week, before they start to fill up, when you can scout for larger sites on your own.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands(now available in a Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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  2. Marbeth

    Speaking of length. Does any one have any good suggestions for camping in Yellowstone National Park. I have camped there many times in a tent and backpacked and now have a 30ft. Laredo with one slide. Does Canyon Campground or any of the others accommodate what I have? Any information would be appreciated. In regard to the issue of RV’s in National or State Parks I agree with Tlee that camping is for everyone and we should remember our camping manners.

    Bob thank for you column.

  3. Geoffrey Pruett

    We fit most limitations because our A is 25 ft long and have space left over in most commercial parks. Did not buy small, just bought driveablity as our rig fits length wise in most marked parking spots at stores and malls. Getting the door open is another question. Have yet to find any of our group, many crowding 40 ft that failed to fit although our extra room ofter becomes a parking spot for a toad. Payback is usually a trip to the store during our stay.How is that for making lemonade?

  4. Pete….he wanted your length in centimeters? Whoa!. 2.54 cm/inch, or 25.4mm/inch. It’s a shame we never went on the metric system. It’s far more easy to use since it is based on the decimal system. I had to do some maintenance on my car yesterday and had to wade through our clumsy system of fractionally-shaped wrenches. It was all I could do to erase negative thoughts about those in government who refused to go to metrics when we could have…around 40 years ago.

  5. Ross

    My wife and I enjoy your articles. They are informative, and should be taken as such.
    I hate to see fellow campers start to berate one another.
    One can tell when the economy is bad, and money is short.
    Some indications are how crazily some drivers are in traffic, cutting you off etc.

    As the gas prices have increased so much, this has caused stress on all of the population.

    Everything you consume come by wheels.
    We are all feeling the pinch of not enough money.

    Its time to pull out the lawn chair and look up and watch the clouds form

    Happy 4th of July

    Ross & April

  6. R(O)(O)(O)(O)ger

    Very well put Bob. I too have enjoyed checking out the camping sites in my tow have usually I can get my 40ft in without any problem, sometimes the ranger with suggest sites for me to look at knowing they are larger. have fun , be safe and totally enjoy the great outdoors………seeeeeeee yaaaaaaaa

  7. Ron Butler


    Good article. We have found a number of places that we have been able to fit our 33′ into, when smaller sizes were listed. The only time I shy away from NFS or other such areas when the smaller sizes are listed is if I have to make a long drive in on a dirt or gravel road to reach the campground, unless I know of someone with a bigger rig that has told us about it. May have missed some great spots, but have also been in some!!

  8. catchesthewind

    I call ahead and tell them I have a 38 ft class A towing a jeep. Then if they say no I can call to another campground.

  9. Tlee

    Bob, thank you for clarification on the rules/guidelines question. We have found by reading the information after comfortably and safely fitting our rig into a space in a forest service CG that we were a couple feet over the size max recommended, and have used that space over the years before that campground published a maximum length. The space hadn’t changed, and we still fit in without damage to the surroundings, staying on the given pad and without any overhang onto the road or foliage. Hosts had no problem with it either. We would nearly always rather be in a Forest or Park Service CG rather than be parked in formation along a row of RV’s in a MH Park where people are sitting under your windows in their space, walking within inches of your step, on blacktop or pavement that magnifies every sound.
    People who behave rudely are in both types of campgrounds, if you ask me, and as far as who deserves to be camping where, I have camped in everything from a sleeping bag on top of a picnic table, a pup tent, to a Class A motorhome and several other modes in between, and I consider myself welcome as a careful user of our public grounds.
    Are we getting a little testy here? Sounds like we need a week out in the woods!

  10. Jim

    Camper John, whats wrong with you. How do you conclude that people are parked in the state, national and county parks just to save money. We go there because we don’t like private RV parks.

    Having worked as camp hosts in a state park I can tell you there are lots of the folks in tents and trailers that I guess meet your criteria that do nothing but break the rules. Many treat the parks like their local dump and place to hang out and get drunk.

    Hope our 30′ MH doesn’t exceed your criteria.

  11. To Camper John and Dan Nielsen: You have a misconception of what my post says. It is not illegal or against the rules to camp in a campground if you are over the size limit. The limit is a guideline. But you don’t have to believe me. The next time you are in a National Park or forest service campground, ask a ranger that question. They will tell you, as they have me when questioned them, that if you fit into the campsite without extending into a road, or without damaging park property (barrier posts, fire pit, etc.), or damage foliage by backing into it, they you are permitted to camp there.
    And John, we who camp in forest service campgrounds do not to it just to save money. As anyone who stays regularly at NFS campgrounds, they are some of the most scenic and close to nature campgrounds that you can camp in.
    And Dan, don’t you think you’re going a bit far with a comment like “People like you are destroying America”?

  12. Francis

    Rules shmoolz!! Whatever the traffic will bear, lie if ya gotta, me first, get outta my way, did I mention lying? Hey, if they don’t catch you is it still wrong? As for having the brain of a t*rd – Larry … got a mirror handy??

  13. Dan Nielsen

    You should rename your article “How To Cheat and Get Away With It.” Or, another great title for your article (also evidently reflecting your opinion of yourself) would be “The Rules Don’t Apply To Me!” Another suggestion would be… “If You Can Get Away With It… Do it!”

    People like you are destroying America. If you must cheat, and think the rules do not apply to you, at least keep your mouth shut and your pen (keyboard) out of reach.

  14. Larry, you’re absolutly right and I am sorry. As long as you can avoid the size limitations to save a few dollars go ahead and break the rules. I was wrong to think that some campers don’t care about being honest. Enjoy your 36 footer.

  15. For many years I camped at every campground around. My rig was a 36 ft Pace.
    In the very early years, I put a 30 on the side of my rig, just forward of the drivers window. It always amused me, just when a lot of places were about to ask, they would see the 30′ stick on, and never say another thing. I never had a problem finding a spot my rig would fit in. As for Camper Johns comment, are you serious?
    Hope I never park near a turd brain like you. Camping is for everyone, not just poor folk, or rich folk.

  16. Gary

    I only hope that most people pay attention as not all restrictions are for camping length, but the ability to drive through the area and be able to turn all the corners. Many restrictions have to do with narrow access and you could get caught out and ruin your rig. Unhook and drive through. Then you will know!!

  17. sonny

    Hey just because someone has a bigger rig does mean he can’t stay or should not stay in Nat. or State park he has just as much right as anyone else

  18. If you can afford a more expensive RV, let the small guy take his family to a lesser expensive government park. You big boys should pay your own way and let the families who are starting out enjoy themselves at a cost that’s more affordable..

  19. sonny

    They sure do the only time i get in trouble is Nat. or State Parks We were in Tenn. this spring and i tore off the sewer pipes because there was no one to tell you not to go up the road to the campground this has happened several times so now i just don’t go in if there is no one there

  20. Many years ago we camped in a NFS campground near the Maroon Bells in Colorado. The campground had a manned entry gate where we were to be assigned a site. The young man asked, “How long is your trailer………. in centimeters?” My jaw dropped. I didn’t know what to say, as he didn’t seem to be kidding. — Just a funny story. Let’s see I think I can now figure out how long it is in centimeters but no one ever asks.

  21. Pete Holden

    Many years ago we camped in a NFS campground near the Maroon Bells in Colorado. The campground had a manned entry gate where we were to be assigned a site. The young man asked, “How long is your trailer………. in centimeters?” My jaw dropped. I didn’t know what to say, as he didn’t seem to be kidding. — Just a funny story. Let’s see, I think I can now figure out how long it is in centimeters but no one ever asks 🙂