Why We Stay Outside of National Parks

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Irvin, our RV, at a free camping site a mile outside of the Grand Canyon

Whether camping in a tent, motorhome, or RV, when you head to National Parks and State Parks too, you can often decide whether you want to stay in a campground, or sometimes a hotel or two, within the National Park. We love the National Park campgrounds and hotels that we have seen so far, and would love to stay at those too! However, there are a few reasons why at this point, it is usually best for us to stay close by, outside of the park.

  1. Cost – It is usually much less expensive to stay right outside of the park. For camping, parks in the west especially, are often surrounded by National Forests, where you can usually find a place to dry camp for free instead of paying $25-$30 to dry camp in the park. Sometimes you can find full hook-up sites in National Parks, but a lot of time you are paying for a dry camping spot anyway.
  2. Better Internet Access – Since most of the work and schooling that we do is online, it is crucial that we have daily internet access, so this is a big one for us. There is rarely any signal within the National Parks, but you can often get signal right outside of the park gates!
  3. Ease of stay – Another big factor for us is that it is much easier to stay randomly in a dry camping spot for us than to book our site 6 months or more in advance that it takes to get a site in many of the big National Park spots. There are also many first come first serve parks, but they don’t often have a lot of big sites for large RVs, so we feel more comfortable going where we know we will get a spot, and can easily fit.
  4. Quiet – There are usually less people in the areas where we stay, and they are commonly serene forests, or places with a nice view of the mountains.
  5. Towns nearby – There are often cute small towns right outside of the National Parks with everything we need to feel at home. Exploring new towns and local business is one of our favorite things to do as we travel!
  6. Short drive – The drive into the park from dry camping sites is usually pretty short and we then don’t have to take our big RV into the sometimes winding and dangerous road of some National Parks (or the over 1 mile tunnel that you need to pay for an escort through with a large vehicle or RV in Zion National Park). We are more comfortable with navigating the roads first with our small car, that is also much better on gas, before we would ever think about bringing in our motorhome.
  7. We can switch sides of the park to explore – National Parks are often very large, so if we are comfortable bringing our RV into the park, and are heading across the way, we can camp on one side to explore that area for a few days, and then drive through, or around the park, to another free spot along the way if we want to.
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    Irvin at a free site a mile outside of Joshua Tree National Park

    To know where to camp outside of parks, we use the Campendium app most often. It gives us good reviews of an area and helps us find the place that we think would be best to camp and gives us a little insight before we go in. If there is a park where we can’t boondock, and we can’t get a site nearby with electric, we hope to get into a first come first serve in the park which is a really amazing experience to get to camp right in the National Parks too. The short drive around in our car when staying in a large National Park is definitely a big benefit of getting a spot in the park. If it was more accessible to stay in the park, and not so busy, we would definitely do that more often! Either way you stay, a visit to the National and State Parks is always a great adventure!

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    Irvin driving through the Grand Canyon

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