Most campsites are equipped for both tent camping and RV camping, and you will be able to spot both camping styles as you drive around the campground loop. These different styles of camping are both welcome, but you might wonder if they cross over.
Can you tent camp in an RV spot?
At most campgrounds, you can tent camp on RV sites, and at most of these sites, there is a pad specifically for Rv’s and an area available for tents. Just remember, every campground will have its own rules and distinctions. There are also specific sites open only to RVs, so you should avoid those.
It can be tough when you are traveling, or just want to camp for the weekend, but your usual spot is not open. While technically, the world is your campground, there are still rules that can help make the camping experience better for everyone.
The thing is, campgrounds try to be very open about their rules. There will be signs detailing campground and campsite amenities, and one of the big signs to look for is either “tent only” or “RV only.”
A lot of the time, campgrounds will have specific loops where RVs camp, so the generator noise does not bother tent campers. The other loops will be for tent camping.
In some campgrounds, the RV spots can be taken with tents so long as the spot is not previously reserved by an RV, of course. You will just have to decide if you can withstand the generator noise or not! Even though these are general rules, each campground is going to be different. You will want to do your research before you make your trip, and try not to bank on there being an open RV campsite for your tent.
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What the National Parks Service Has to Say
In the National Parks Service FAQ, they say that tent camping in a designated RV spot is something that happens, but the since the spot is not designed for tent camping, the space can get a little uncomfortable.
The site might not have enough room, or may not be level enough for tent camping. Since with an RV, you just drive into the site and sleep inside the vehicle, the levelness of the ground does not bother you as much as it will in a tent.
The campground will let you know if the site you want is appropriate for your equipment. Often, the campground will not be able to move you to a different campsite if you are unsatisfied. So, even though you can tent camp in an RV spot, you might not actually like it.
Obviously, not every campground is located in a National Park, and the rules for each individual campground vary. But in general, this is what you can expect from camping in RV preferred sites.
Why RV Sites Might Not Be the Best for Tent Camping
Regardless of whether you bring an RV or not, the campsite will cost more money. RVs are high maintenance, and so the campground has to spend extra to provide for them. This means they usually will not change the price per night simply because you do not have an RV but still want to use their site.
RV sites can be a little longer and narrower, but in most campgrounds, the sites should look pretty similar to tent only campsites. You might see some RV hookups–usually water and electric, but sometimes sewer. These hookups are greatly needed by RV campers, so it is not great camping etiquette to take that necessity from them.
Depending on the campground and even campsites within the campground, RV spots might be gravel, not grass. In that case, it would be quite uncomfortable to camp with a tent.
In some fancier campgrounds, RV sites might even have patio space, which functions just fine for RVs, but not so much for tents. Even if you have a mattress pad, you do not want to sleep on ground that is as hard as literal rock.
Usually, RV campsites are among other RV campsites, which means things can get loud. In order to power electricity, RVers often bring generators. While most RVers understand the need and therefore do not complain, tent campers might not be so patient with the noise.
You might see some campsites labeled “RV Nonelectric.” This means that the campsite is designed for RVs, but you are not required to have one. If you see this sign, however, some people take it to mean “RV Only” when it technically does not mean that.
The best practice is to contact the camp manager and make sure any spot is open to tent camping, because as with signs, people can have some hidden preferences as well.
So, What Is a Better Option?
Some campgrounds offer campsites that have spaces for either an RV or a tent! When reserving your campsite, you can ask if this option is available if all the tent-only campsites are taken.
You can always call ahead and find out from people at the campground if the RV sites are usually full or not during the week or weekend you plan to camp. If there is a good chance you will not be stepping on anyone’s toes, you should be able to feel confident taking an RV spot if nothing else is available.
The best option of all, of course, is reserving a tent-only campsite. They are cheaper, better suited for your equipment, and they are not messing with the unspoken rules of camping.
Another Possible Option For Tent Camping
At some campgrounds, people are not allowed to tent camp in an RV designated spot unless there is an RV present. As long as everything fits in the campsite and does not overflow to the neighboring site, both tent and RV are permitted.
So, I could see this scenario going a couple of different ways. First of all, if you own both an RV and a tent, this scenario is perfect. You will not get in trouble for having a tent out, and there will be plenty of room for all of your belongings.
Second, depending on the campground and RV owners, you could potentially ask if you can split the cost and camp near an RV if no other spots are available.
I know that sounds a little crazy, but if worse comes to worse, it could be a safe option. In my experience, people who camp are the nicest people, and unless there is a very specific reason, setting up a tent a few feet away should not be a huge issue if everyone is on board.
That way, like I mentioned earlier, you can split the cost, both use the campsite amenities, and maybe even make new friends. If you are not comfortable with this option though, which is totally understandable, you could always try backcountry camping or hope another tent camping spot opens up!
Every Campground Is Different
All in all, every campground is going to have its own rules and stipulations. After talking to a couple of different campgrounds, I have found that the general consensus is that it is fine to use an RV spot for tent camping, as long as you pay the RV price.
RV campsites are usually anywhere from $10-$40 more expensive than tent-only campsites, because they will have the hookups in place for RVs. So, it depends on how much money you want to spend.
If you do not want to pay too much more for your campsite, you could always look at other nearby campgrounds and see what they have to offer. If you are in a bind and have to camp that night, the price might be just something you will have to deal with.
The hookups might have different power than you need if you are planning on bringing a camping stove that uses electricity, so be sure to check if your equipment can even work in the spot you choose. Remember that the opposite usually does not work: you can’t put an RV in a tent spot. Tent spots will not have hookups, and they are often shaped differently without enough driveway space to hold a huge vehicle.
Also, if you just find yourself in a bind, and you are not completely comfortable camping in an RV spot, consider backcountry camping! There is likely a trailhead nearby, and as long as you have a permit, you can camp in a spot that feels even more wild than your usual campground.
As long as you are prepared for a backcountry trip, it is a great alternative to a packed campground. It will be quieter, you will get to be in fully in nature, and you do not have to worry about potentially stepping on anyone’s toes.
Sometimes, tent camping and RV camping can feel like two different worlds, but that does not mean they actually are. The two camping methods can cross over and help each other out when need be. As long as everyone is happy, you are good to go!