Maneuvering your RV into a campsite for the first time can be a little intimidating. Even though it might make it easier to realize that everyone had to do it a first time, it can still feel like a scary task. So we’ve compiled some tips for setting up your RV, including what to do before you leave and once you arrive, to make setting up your RV go as smoothly as possible.
Before You Leave Home
Most campsites will have information you can access ahead of time to make your arrival easier. If they have a website, check it out to see what the campsites look like as well as the paths through the park. You'll be able to see if there are any tight corners you may have to maneuver around to get to your campsite. If you've picked your campsite or have been assigned one beforehand, you will know right where it is and how easy or hard it may be to get in and out of. Also find out if your site is a pull through or if you will need to back your rig in.
If you’ve never backed your RV into a spot, you definitely want to practice doing so before you leave. You can get some simple orange cones at any automotive or sporting goods store, or use some milk jugs that you have on hand instead. Practice parking in between the cones or jugs until you are comfortable maneuvering your RV into tight spaces. Even if you are planning on having a pull-through site, it’s good to practice this skill anyway. You never know when you might venture down a skinny gravel road only to find out that there's no turn around at the end. This happened to us in Yellowstone when we followed signs to a remote picnic area and found ourselves having to back up our RV almost the entire length of the road because there wasn't room to turn around.
Prep your RV as much as possible before you leave. Having the slides measured ahead of time will save you a headache. The best way to do it is to extend the slides, have one person hold a rope against the RV and another run it to where the RV slide ends. Cut the rope and store it inside that slide. This way when you park you can simply pull the rope pieces out to see if you have room. You will want to do the same with the awning if you have one.
Ensure you have everything in the camper you will need to hook it up! You will want to have the following:
- Fresh water hose
- Fresh water pressure regulator
- Optional water accessories
- Water softener
- Amperage adapter for electrical hookups
- Extension cord
- Latex gloves
- Sewer hose & seal
- Bubble level (if your rig doesn’t have an auto-leveling system)
If you are going to be RVing full time, or planning to camp in colder weather, it’s a good idea to look into getting skirting for your rig. This will cover the open areas on the bottom and help keep your RV warmer. The warmer it is, the less you have to pay to heat it!
Parking the RV
Park your RV off to the side when you first get to the campgrounds so you can check in without blocking any pathways or roads. When you check in, ask if the campgrounds have a campsite escort service. Many will offer to assist you in getting to your site, parking, and leveling your RV.
Once you get to your site, look for branches and any other obstacles that my present an issue. Clear out anything that can be moved and plan for adjustments for those that cannot. When backing in, it’s always good to have a spotter. Have your spotter stand where they can see you in the mirror as well as all the obstacles at the site. This way they can signal you which way to go.
Before you get too comfy in your spot, get out your rope for your awning and slide-out measurements. Make sure you are going to have room to fully extend everything. If you don't, reposition your rig.
Leveling the RV
Some rigs come with an auto-leveling system, which is great! If yours doesn't have this, then it’s going to take a little bit of work to level your RV. This is where the bubble level is going to come in handy! Follow these steps for leveling your RV so it won't sway with your movement or the wind:
- Place your bubble level on the floor inside the RV.
- Extend your slides temporarily so the weight will be the same as when you're using them.
- Make lines in the dirt either in front of or behind the back wheels.
- Check your bubble level to see which side needs to be raised up.
- Close the slides before moving the rig so you don't cause damage to them.
- Pull the rig forward (or backwards if that’s where you have room to move it).
- Place your leveling blocks or wood pieces where the tire that needs to be lifted will rest.
- Slowly pull your RV back onto the blocks.
- Extend your slides again.
- Recheck the bubble level to ensure that you have raised it to the proper height.
- Once you’re level, set the parking brake (if it’s a motorhome) and chock the wheels.
Now it’s time to stabilize it so that it stays put! Go ahead and disconnect from your vehicle first if you’re towing your RV.
Stabilizing Your RV
Once you have your rig level, you want to stabilize it so that it doesn’t move out of place and need to be re-leveled. Always be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions on how to use your stabilizing jacks as this can vary from RV to RV. Once you know how to lower them, the following steps will help you get it set up:
- If you’re parked in the dirt or grass, place a piece of wood where your jacks are going to meet the ground. This will help to ensure they’re not digging into the ground and shifting.
- Lower your jack until it meets the wood (or cement if that’s where you are parked).
- Lower it a little more (just a couple extra cranks) to make sure it’s secure.
- Once you have deployed all your jacks, double check your bubble level to ensure you haven’t thrown it off balance with the jacks.
Now it’s time to hook it up!
Prepping the RV
In order to get your RV ready for use, you need to set up all your hookups. This will include the power, fresh water, and sewage.
Before plugging in your electrical, make sure to check the amperage coming from the campground. Ensure you are using the proper connections and adapters so that you are running the correct amount for your RV. Once that is complete, turn off the breaker at the campground for safety. You don’t want a jolt from the power source running through your body. Plug in your power cord and turn the breaker back on! If you have a motorhome, now is a good time to disconnect the chassis battery. This will help prevent the engine from starting unexpectedly and keep from draining your battery.
When setting up the fresh water intake, we cannot stress enough how important it is to have a water pressure regulator. Since you never know how much pressure the campsite will have, you will want to protect your pipes. If the pressure is too much, you may end up with blown pipes and no one wants that. The following steps will guide you through the process of connecting your fresh water intake:
- Connect your intake hose to the fresh water spout at your campsite.
- Connect any filters and then water softeners in that order if you are planning to use them.
- Open the access panel to your connections.
- Run the hose up under the rig so that you can close your access door when you’re done.
- Connect the hose to the “city water hookup” area.
- Make sure your bypass valve is set to “bypass” and not “fill tank.”
- Turn off your water pump. This is only for pumping water from your tank and since you will have fresh water coming in from the hookups, you won’t need it.
- Turn on the water and check for leaks.
Now it’s time to connect the sewer hose. Wear gloves, as this can be a dirty job and you want to protect yourself from bacteria and germs. To hook up your sewer hose:
- Remove the sewer cap from the outlet on the RV and connect your hose (remember to run it up through the bottom so you can close the door).
- Take the plug out of the campground connection.
- Place your seal on the connection. This part is important! You don’t want that stuff leaking all over!
- Lock your hose on top of the seal and make sure all the tabs are locked and in place.
- Open the valve on your grey water tank to drain your shower and sink water into the sewer as well. This will not only keep your grey tank empty, but help flush the sewer hose as you use it so there is less build up.
Go ahead and extend your awning and put on the skirting if you plan to use it. Now that everything is set up on the outside, you want to get the interior in working order and ready to use! Here are some useful things you will want to do so that everything is ready for you when you need it:
- Open the hot water faucet valve until water comes out. This will fill your water heater so that it can begin to heat the water.
- Light the pilot on the water heater and oven (and furnace if you plan to use it).
- Turn your refrigerator from LP to AC so that it’s drawing power from your electrical hookups and not draining your LP tank.
- Pull your windshield cover for your motorhome for added privacy.