June 20, 2024


Due to mine and Alison’s full-time jobs and our boys’ school schedule, over 75 percent of our camping trips have begun after the sun goes down. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get on the road and get to the campground when it’s still light out. But we have learned to adapt over the years and become true, nighttime RV weekend warriors.     

You might not plan to get to your campsite at night, but if you have been RVing long enough, you will eventually have a day where something happens that sets you back. It could be that you got a flat tire, heavy rain slowed you down, you stopped to take a side excursion, or you simply miscalculated the drive time to your destination.


So, what do you do when you arrive at your campsite late at night? These eight tips will help you feel better prepared to handle a late-night campground arrival.


  1. Understand The Campground Rules

    Before heading out on your camping adventure, it's a good idea to make sure you understand the campground's arrival rules and procedures. Many RV parks and state parks will list their after-hours policies on their websites. If you don't see any, try calling ahead and asking.

    If the campground you want to stay at is gated or enclosed, you might arrive at night to find the gate locked. Make sure you know what time any gates are closed and locked, and see if you can get an entry code. In our experience, we’ve found that parks and campgrounds typically close their gates at 10 p.m. and reopen them at 6 a.m. These hours also align with the campground’s quiet hours.

    Pro Tip: Always have the campground or park’s main office phone number, but see if there is a different number for calls that come in after-hours.


  2. Download Or Print A Map Before Arriving

    Cell service can be spotty and unreliable in some places across the country, so it’s important to download or print a map of the campground in advance. Study the map before you leave so you have a good idea of what to expect. A lot of campground roads are dark or have limited lighting, and it can be stressful to maneuver an RV in the dark. This is especially true if you’re visiting a new park or campground and don’t know where the check-in office is or if there is a wide enough spot to turn around. Some roads inside campgrounds are also one-way, so pay special attention to any arrows or directional markers. Knowing your route ahead of time can save you from making a critical driving error.

    Pro Tip: If you need to turn around but don’t know where to go, boat ramps and dump stations usually have wide, flat spaces and can be good places to try turning around.

3. Practice Parking And Setting Up In Daylight

What's the best way to reduce stress when parking an RV in a campsite at night? Practice, practice, practice during the day. Before heading out on your trip, make sure you feel totally comfortable maneuvering your rig. Practicing turning, backing up, hitching, unhitching, and setting up multiple times until you have a complete understanding of how your RV handles. Having this experience will make you feel better prepared for handling different situations at night.

Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble seeing campground signs in the dark, get out and scout the area. Some campgrounds are not well marked, so find a safe place to park and then walk the roads.

4. Get Your Flashlights Ready

You might get lucky and arrive at a campsite that is well-lit, or you might arrive at a very dark spot with little visibility. Either way, have a flashlight ready to go in case you need some light to see the levels, stabilizers, hitch and hook-ups. Keep a few flashlights in your glovebox for easy access—just make sure they have fresh batteries or are fully charged before you head out.

Over the years, Alison and I have transitioned from using handheld flashlights to headlamps. We like having our hands free to crank the RV stabilizers, carry supplies from the truck, hook up the RV utilities, and unhook the ball hitch.

Pro Tip: If you have a headlamp, try using the red light option at night. This light will help preserve your night vision and give you ample light to see, but isn’t blinding for any of your neighbors.

5. Prep The Kids For Bed Before Arrival

Parents, this tip is for you. When it's late at night and you've arrived at your destination, the last thing you want to think about is having to deal with a cranky, sleepy child. So, what can you do to prevent this? If we know we will be showing up to our campsite late at night, we like to get our kids ready for bed in advance. This usually means eating dinner, brushing teeth and putting pajamas on before we even leave. That way, once we arrive, the kids simply get out of the truck, use the restroom and go straight to bed.

Pro Tip: Try to avoid screens, tablets or phones about an hour before your kids’ bedtime. This gives their brains some time to start winding down, and they might even sleep a little before you reach your final destination.

6. Be Courteous To Others Around You

While some people think that checking-in late is rude to other campers, it honestly doesn't have to be. If you arrive after hours, there’s a good chance you will have to make some noise. But there are a few things you can do to minimize disturbances to other campers.

- Once you’ve parked your RV, immediately turn off your headlights to avoid shining bright lights into the neighboring campsites.

- Keep your voices down and avoid slamming any doors.

- Avoid using power tools or any devices that make a lot of noise (use a hand crank for your stabilizers instead of a drill).

- Minimize or turn off your RV’s exterior lights.

- If you have a towable RV, bring only what you need for the night into the RV and leave the rest in your tow vehicle until the morning.

7. Try To Stay In An RV-Only Area

When you plan your trip, think about how your late arrival will impact other campers. If you know you’ll be arriving in the dark, try to make a reservation in an RV-only loop or a section of the campground that is exclusively designated for RVs (tent campers will thank you). Many RVers don’t realize how much noise they actually make when setting up, and tent-campers don’t have much insulation from the outside world. So, on the days you know you’ll be arriving late, try to avoid the mixed tent and RV camping areas.

8. Never Leave Food Or Coolers Outside

As you’re setting up your RV for the night, there is one thing you should never leave outside: Food. With a very late arrival, you probably won't be cooking a meal, but still be aware of proper food storage. Place all food items, coolers and toiletries inside your RV or inside a bear box for the night—don’t leave anything in the truck bed or back of your tow vehicle.

Bonus: What Activities Can You Do At Night When Camping?

If you’re looking for some nighttime campground activities, these are a few fun things we like to do when it’s dark out:

1. Go on a night hike

2. Geocache in the dark

3. Look for bioluminescent animals with a UV flashlight

4. Stargaze and learn about the stars, constellations and planets 

5. Photograph some astrophotography

6. Hang out and talk by a campfire

7. Cook some smores and other melted desserts

8. Play games with glow-in-the-dark sports equipment

9. Tell spooky stories

10. Count fireflies (seasonal)

We hope these campground arrival tips help you feel better prepared, and prove that showing up at night doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Just make sure to plan ahead and practice. In no time, you’ll be a nighttime RV weekend warrior.   


Jason is an avid outdoor enthusiast, always ready to explore the most beautiful places with his amazing wife Alison and their two adventurous boys. He loves traveling with his Jayco Jay Flight, and uses the RV to stay near the best hiking trails across Texas and beyond. As the main videographer and black and white photographer of the family, Jason enjoys sharing the Takacs’ experiences with a bit of a quirky, artistic twist.

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