How to Budget for RV Travel to National Parks

 How to Budget for RV Travel to National Parks

There are over 400 national park sites! Whether you’re embarking on a trip that’s two weeks or two months, here is a guide for how to budget for RV travel.

RV parks give anyone the means to have access to breathtaking nature, from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite to Yellowstone.

Given the sheer volume of parks spread throughout the country across 84 million acres, hitting the open road in your RV is a great way to check them off your list. 

Many people are drawn to the RV lifestyle for the first time due to their dream of visiting most if not all the national parks.

To make that national park tour a reality, here are some tips and what to keep in mind to help stick to your RV budget.

How to Budget for RV Travel – Filling Up The Tanks

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Two of the best things about traveling in an RV are not needing a hotel to sleep, and having a kitchen with you at all times.

So it comes as no surprise that two of the biggest costs for RV trips are filling up your RV’s tank with fuel, and filling up your own “tank,” with food.

Fuel can add up so quickly. You may even determine how far you’re willing to travel depending on your overall budget.

To get a good idea of how much money the fuel will cost you, first use Google Maps to estimate how many total miles you’ll drive between all your destinations. 

Next, divide that number by your RV’s gas mileage and multiply that by the average cost of gas.

So if you’re traveling about 1,000 miles round trip at about 20 miles per gallon at $3.50 per gallon in diesel fuel, expect your fuel total to be in the $175 range.

Of course, there are ways to cut these costs down. You can research the difference in fuel costs by state and plan ahead for when to stop, such as in Nevada before crossing into California.

The Other Kind of Fuel

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As in, food for you and your fellow travelers. You want to calculate a food budget as it greatly influences your overall RV budget.

It’s first worth noting that dining anywhere at a local restaurant that’s not fast food means spending around three times what you would pay cooking for yourself.

So if you like to treat yourself from time to time with the local cuisine, expect around $20 per person for that meal alone. 

For budgeting your own cooked meals, estimate about $10 a day per person. 

Of course, this all depends on whether you have expensive taste. Take your daily cost into account if you’re the kind of person who likes to spend $30 a pound on cheese!

To make your dollar stretch as far as possible, it’s recommended you grocery shop at local markets away from tourist destinations. The markets in close proximity to the state parks are priced accordingly, knowing tourists are mostly picking up the tab.

Speaking of shopping local, research when farmer’s markets will be near your travel route. There is no better opportunity to both get a good deal on food prices and get a fun experience interacting with the locals.

Early Bird Gets The Worm

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Many national parks including Yosemite offer RV campgrounds inside the park with varying degrees of amenities and hook-ups.

As these sites are very limited, you will be rewarded for booking as early as possible, especially if you plan to travel during the high season. 

Using recreation.gov is recommended, where you can search the national parks, see all their RV campsite options, their features, and their availability. 

In addition, entrance fees to national parks range from free to $35.

So if you plan to visit multiple national parks, your RV budget will come down by purchasing an American the Beautiful Annual Pass. It costs $80 for the whole year plus $5 in processing fees from this website.

The pass covers one vehicle plus four total adults (ages 16 and older) entering the parks. There is no entry fee for children 15 years and younger. 

If the campgrounds inside the park are booked, there are RV campsites nearby outside the park, and they usually have better amenities. 

If you plan on staying at a lot of sites outside the park and still want to save on your RV budget, RV clubs can help. The Passport America provides good discounts and other helpful trip planning tips.

If you plan on visiting one national park on your trip, you can reduce your RV budget by checking ahead of when that park has “fee-free days.” Over 100 parks feature days with no fees. 

Keep in mind that reserving a campsite far in advance on one of these free days is a necessity. Aside from national holidays, these days are the most competitive.

Gearing Up

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While enjoying the natural beauty of the national parks is free, there are some activities you may want to do that require gear, like kayaking or biking.

If you don’t own this gear, plan to pay the rental fees for these items or shave down your RV budget by renting from an equipment rental store farther from the park.

And if you’re going to a park that could challenge your comfort, like the cold, you’ll need to work these new purchases into your RV budget too.

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RV Lifestyle Gear

You may also want to factor in some fun gear, too! Check out our RV Lifestyle shop with t-shirts, hoodies, hats and more that highlight the beauty of RV living and travel.

Don’t Forget the Souvenir!

When you visit these parks’ gift shops, you may be tempted to buy something to remember them by, like a t-shirt, magnet, coaster, or piece of art.

If you think you might want to collect items to commemorate your trip, especially if you’re hitting a lot of the national parks, make sure you leave room for this in your RV budget.

But even if you don’t buy anything, be sure to pick up a map for the park when you arrive. They detail all the trailheads and important places to see, and they’re free!

Have you journeyed to the national parks on a travel budget and have advice to share? Please let us know in the comments!

Full Time RV Budget

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Good news for those who want to RV full-time! We also have a guide for people who want to become full-time RVers. We cover everything from monthly expenses, RV payments, internet access, RV insurance, regular maintenance, other insurance costs, and more! Check it out here: Fulltime RV Living: Count the Cost

RV Buying Secrets

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Jennifer and I created a 70+ page digital guide to help you understand the nuances of purchasing the perfect RV. This ebook takes you step-by-step through the RV purchase process, so it goes as smoothly as possible. 

RV Adventure Guide Bundle

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We've written a library of RV Travel books that lay out seven-day guided explorations of scenic areas of the US that we'’ve explored and think would make an excellent RV trip for you.

In each location, we provide a suggested route and itinerary (7 stops in each guide, one for each day of a week trip!) as well as links to multiple campgrounds and boondocking spots, local tips, and interesting things to do at each location.

You can hit everything in seven days, do a whirlwind weekend tour, or you can take your time and explore the area over a 2+ week period.

Planning an RV trip can be very time-consuming so that’s why we’ve done the research for you! Just take our guides and use them, we’re sure you’ll have an RV trip for the ages! Instant download. Bundle for extra savings!

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Subscribe to become an RV LIFESTYLE INSIDER and we’ll send you an instant download of our packing list. Save it to your computer, print it out and use it for every trip.

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How to Budget for RV Travel to National Parks

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

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