You've finally made it to the campground. But before you can run off to the lake or go for a hike, the first order of the day is to park and level your RV so that your refrigerator will operate properly and you don't find yourself in bed at night with your feet higher than your head.
Never assume your site will be flat or level. That would make parking an RV too easy. Due to the nature of camping, chances are higher that your site will be rutted, gouged and somewhat uneven.
But don't fret. You can still get your RV into your spot, and leveled so it operates properly, with a few easy steps. Here's how:
How to Park an RV
With many campsites designed to accommodate smaller vehicles, easing your 30-foot long fifth-wheeler or even longer motorhome into some spots can be a challenge.
That's why it's important to:
- Verify that your RV can get to your campsite. While the roads in most campgrounds are easy to navigate, there are still some that could be difficult to access due to hairpin turns and tight squeezes among boulders and trees. Some camping websites post caution notices to warn owners of longer rigs that they might want to consider another campground. If such warnings don't appear on the website and you have concerns, contact the campground directly and ask.
- Make sure your rig will fit the campsite. Most campground reservation websites provide details for each site, including its length. Check that the spot you've selected will accommodate both your tow vehicle and your trailer, or your motorhome, without sticking out into the road. Some reservation sites will also indicate low hanging tree branches or other obstructions.
- Check the campsite before you pull in. If you can do so without blocking traffic, get out and look the spot over. Scope out any objects or terrain that might pose hazards, such as drainage ditches, roadside markers, low hanging branches, posts, and power and water hookups. These same obstacles can prevent you from extending slide outs, so make sure you have clearance. Also, check to see if there are any especially low spots in the site that you'll want to avoid.
- Have an assistant guide you in. No matter how skilled you think you are at backing into campsites, things will go a lot smoother with extra eyes watching. There's nothing worse than the embarrassing crunch of an RV bumper kissing a large rock or a picnic table. Your helper can also make sure you've got the rig in straight and that you're completely out of the road. For easier communication, get yourself a pair of two-way radios so you and your assistant won't have to yell.
How to Level an RV
There are several reasons to make sure your RV is level, including proper refrigerator operation and safe slide out extension (if you have them). You'll also want to stabilize your rig so that it doesn't sway when you move about inside or in windy conditions.
Many luxury motorhomes and trailers come equipped with exotic self-leveling systems, with hydraulic or electric rams that extend at the touch of a button and level the coach automatically. For rigs without this nicety, leveling blocks or ramps and a small bubble level are required.
Leveling blocks or ramps don't have to be expensive. They can be as simple as a stack of 2x10-inch boards. Or, you can step up to interlocking RV leveling blocks. Made of high-strength plastic, these blocks are touted as being able to bear the weight of even the largest motorhomes and trailers.
1) With your RV positioned in the site where you want it, place the bubble level on the floor to determine if the unit is level both front-to back and side-to-side. If you have slide outs, extend them now to see which way your trailer or motorhome leans. Then retract them for safety.
2) Next, mark some lines in the dirt in front or back of the tires on the side that needs to be leveled.
3) Now pull your rig forward (or back it up) so that the tires are clear of the lines. Place your boards or blocks in position. If you determine that you'll need several layers of boards or blocks to get your rig level, build them in a ramp configuration.
Don't try to force your RV to climb up more than 2 inches at a time.
4) Move your motorhome or trailer up onto the levelers, making sure to keep the tire footprint completely on the boards or blocks. Don't let your tires overhang any edge as this can cause damage.
5) Now check the bubble level again and adjust the height of the boards or blocks as needed so that your rig is level side-to-side. When all looks good, place wheel chocks in front or behind the tires (depending which way the site slopes) to keep the trailer from moving. You can then disconnect your trailer from your tow vehicle and use the trailer's hitch jack (or a fifth-wheel's "landing gear") to fine-tune the front-to-rear level.
For motorhomes, put the transmission in "park" and set the parking brake.
How to Stabilize Your RV
Now that your RV is level, you'll want to stabilize it so it doesn't rock back and forth when you walk around inside. You should use stabilizing jacks to accomplish this.
Note: These should never be used to level a rig, as they weren't designed for that purpose.
Stabilizing jacks come in several configurations. The most common is the scissor jack, which is usually bolted or welded to the trailer's frame at the front and rear.
Pop-up tent trailers are frequently equipped with a drop-down style jack, which, as the name implies, drops down from the frame.
To use the stabilizing jacks after you've leveled the RV:
1. Lower the jacks following the manufacturer's instructions. To save time and give the foot of each jack a larger base, slide a couple of short 2x4- or 2x6-inch boards beneath each foot. This is especially helpful if the ground is loose or sandy.
2. Once the jack foot is in contact with the ground, give the crank a few extra turns to provide the trailer a secure footing. Check the bubble level to make sure your RV remains level. Do this for all four corners.
And that's how to park and level an RV! Your RV is now safely in the campsite and ready to enjoy. When you get ready to leave just reverse these steps, remembering to raise the jacks to their travel position, and collect and store your leveling boards or blocks.
Reserve a campsite.
Jeff Adams is a California-based freelance writer, contributor to ReserveAmerica.com and an avid camping enthusiast. He's been dragging his trailer and willing family around the western U.S. for over a decade.