Tuesday, December 5, 2023


Applications of Google Earth – Part 1: Campgrounds and RV Parks

By Dave Helgeson
This is the first installment of a series on the many useful applications of Google Earth. I have used Google Earth for years to locate prime boondocking locations on public land along with places to explore such as unique geological features, forgotten mining camps, little-known waterfalls and much more. Recently I have been using Google Earth to review campgrounds, stops along the way and fuel and grocery store access. It’s also handy to locate dump stations and determine low clearance heights along the way. In addition, there are other applications of Google Earth traditional RVers might find useful.

In this installment we will review the useful applications of Google Earth when deciding what RV park or campground best suits your needs and preferences. We’ll also discuss advance navigation clues / difficulties.

Evidence of shared patio and noise from freeway

Now, before I proceed further, let me point out why I prefer Google Earth over Google Maps. Yes, Google Maps offers the same satellite and street views that you find on Google Earth. But many applications of Google Earth also offer you the ability to: determine elevation, gradient, view photos posted by other users, tilt the view, obtain coordinates, view “historical” imagery and more. I will share each of the useful applications of Google Earth as we move through the series.

Finding and booking the right campground for your new RV can be a daunting task. There are several things to be mindful of when camping in an RV that may not be clear right away,” says Ben Hersh blogging for Campers Inn RV.

To help you find the right campground, following are more than a dozen useful applications of Google Earth:

Note: Instructions given are for laptop or desktop users.

Use satellite view to determine:

  • How level is the campsite? This can be done by dragging your cursor over the length of the campsite. While doing that, note the change in elevation shown at the bottom right of the screen.
  • Will you have a private patio or face your neighbor’s RV and share a patio with them?
  • Are there railroad tracks or other undesirable noise sources nearby?
  • How spacious are the sites? You can use the scale at the bottom left hand corner of the screen to estimate the length and width of the site. Or you can use the ruler function for more accuracy. Google Maps can also prove useful when measuring campsite lengths.
  • Are the sites as grassy and shaded as the campground directory promises?
  • You can determine the condition of the access road and roads within the campground. This would include how much is paved and how much is graveled, and if there are any tight corners.

More applications of the satellite view on Google Earth:

  • You can see where shadows will fall from tall trees during the day. Will the campsite be in the sun or shaded?
  • Which sites are pull-throughs and how many are there?
  • Which is the best direction of travel to approach the entrance to the park from? Is there a turn lane or curb that might present a problem? You might want to capture the coordinates and navigate to them as they may be more accurate than the street address or driving instructions. You will find the coordinates at the bottom of the screen just to the right of center.
  • Look for blue circles which indicate photos posted by other users. By clicking on the circles you can view the photos which may offer additional useful information about the campground such as amenities, stunning views you can expect, road conditions, activities you can enjoy, etc.

Additional tip

  • Another application of Google Earth is to click on “Historical imagery” at the bottom left of the satellite view to see what the campsites looked like in the past at different times of the day / year. The leaves may be off the trees or shadows may be different allowing you a better look at the campsite. This will also give you an idea on what time of the year is most popular by the number of RVs seen in the photos. Click here to learn more about using “Historical imagery,” especially if you are a boondocker.

Note about image dates shown at the bottom of the Google Earth screen: In addition to the “Historical” images with varying dates from the past shown on satellite view, you should also be aware that the date of the street view will vary from the date the satellite image was taken. This explains why the satellite view doesn’t always agree with the street view. The additional information you can gain is another example of the useful applications of Google Earth.

applications of Google Earth
Click in the blue circles to view user submitted photos

More applications of Google Earth – Use Street View to:

  • View the entrance to the park. Will there be access problems due to a swale or other impediments? What does the signage and landscaping look like? Is it a bit more run down than the website shows? Does the signage indicate services you weren’t aware of like propane, club discounts, etc.?
  • Look for signage near the entrance of the campground that you can mentally reference when you actually drive to the site. This will also verify the correct turn off from the main road, allowing you to capture the coordinates rather than rely on questionable directions like “about 4 miles out of town” and risk the possibility of driving by the turn at 55 mph or missing it in the dark.

    applications of Google Earth
    Would you see this sign for a campground in time to slow down and enter the left turn lane?
  • Many times Street View will allow you to “drive” right through the campground in advance to review the spaces, layouts and amenities. Often you can see the designation for each campsite, helping you know which one to reserve.

    applications of Google Earth
    Take a drive through the campground while sitting on your couch at home using street view

Here is an RVTravel.com video where I explain the useful applications of Google Earth for locating boondocking campsites utilizing many of the functions listed above.

Hopefully, you have discovered one or two useful applications of Google Earth you hadn’t thought of or realized existed. If you know of a useful application I failed to list, please share it with others by using the comment box below.

Quick way to verify a campsite length


Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson has been around travel trailers his entire life. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership long before the term “RV” had been coined. He has served in every position of an RV dealership with the exception of bookkeeping. Dave served as President of a local chapter of the RVDA (Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association), was on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college and was a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. He and his wife Cheri operated their own RV dealership for many years and for the past 29 years have managed RV shows. Dave presents seminars at RV shows across the country and was referred to as "The foremost expert on boondocking" by the late Gary Bunzer, "The RV Doctor". Dave and his wife are currently on their fifth travel trailer with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications on his own unit.



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sdw (@guest_119444)
2 years ago

I’ve been using Google Earth for many years to plan our trips. The nice thing about G. earth (if you got it.) is that it’s on your computer and you don’t need an internet or data connection to use it. (unlike Google Maps) Although the street view option is on their servers and is not available without the internet. Second, where ever you move your cursor the coordinates change. So I put a map tack right at the entrance to the campground. Now I can copy the cord. to my tablet GPS, I use and drive right to the campground. Plus whenever you put a map tack on earth you get a notepad that lets you put info about that campground on it.
I have so many map tacks in different colors and icons that I had to create folders for each state in the “my places” section on the left and move all the map tacks for each state into them. Third If you click on the ruler you can change it from Line to Path and follow the road on your trip. I’ve ran out of room on this comment to tell you more.

RV Staff
2 years ago
Reply to  sdw

Thanks for all of the great info, sdw! If you have more to add, just “reply” to your comment and it will be posted underneath it. Have a great day. 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Dave L. (@guest_116269)
2 years ago

Excellent article. Honestly, I’ve been depending too much on Google Maps. I need to use Google Earth more and take advantage of the features you pointed out. One additional use is to determine which direction a pull-thru is oriented. I recently booked a campground that was row upon row of pull throughs. I needed to know if the end spot had my patio facing the neighbor or the street.

JFK MLK (@guest_116143)
2 years ago

When camping at a campground in New Jersey near the Statue of Liberty, we used Google Earth to take us through and under two bridges on the way to the campground to see if our 13′ 6″ 5th wheel would fit under the bridges. It worked well for us; however, one evening in the RV park, a 5th wheel pulled in, it had 1 AC unit missing and the other, mostly missing. Obviously, they didn’t use Google Earth, or they wouldn’t have gone under a subway bridge.

DPHooper (@guest_116013)
2 years ago

Thank you, looking forward to more.
You may enjoy an app called Radio Garden. Green dots indicate radio stations you can clearly listen to anywhere around the globe. 

Uncle Swags (@guest_115974)
2 years ago

I’ve used both Earth and Maps religiously over the past few years and have discovered many hidden gems in my own area as well as gaining a higher level of comfort when traveling to new places. I especially like the customizable layering function in Earth and ability to save places. One functionality of Maps that is superior though is the Terrain view function which makes lakes, rivers and parks stand out and has led to even more hidden gem discoveries.

Corrina Lee (@guest_115822)
2 years ago

This was extremely useful information, especially since we’ve really only used Google Maps. Thank you so much and we’re looking forward to the rest of your series.

Bob H (@guest_115809)
2 years ago

Google Earth is excellent for picking sites at an RV park that have a clear view to the southern sky for satellite antenna reception.

Lisa D (@guest_115808)
2 years ago

Please post an updated video. The sites/apps don’t look like that anymore.

Kate (@guest_115749)
2 years ago

 I can’t seem to find Google Earth that works on my Mac. Does anyone out there have Google Earth for Mac? Any suggestions?

Lynwood (@guest_115892)
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate

There is a Google Earth app for Mac OSX 10.6 and later: https://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html?hl=en-GB

Firefly (@guest_115722)
2 years ago

Excellent article Dave! Looking forward to future installments. I’ve used Maps for similar purposes but this is so much more detailed.

Diane Mc (@guest_115739)
2 years ago
Reply to  Firefly

What he said☝️

John Wilkins (@guest_115700)
2 years ago

Google Earth and the satellite views of the navigation apps can be very useful in planning trips, picking sites, and deciding where and where not to go. One of the limitations however, is that the satellite images are often a year or more behind. In the recent planning of a trip, I found that the satellite view showed a nice looking two lane Highway next to a campground, in reality there was major re-construction going on building a major four lane dual divided highway. Oh the noise!

Larry (@guest_116044)
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkins

To this point, is there a website that uses real time imaging? We see satellite views using real time on news networks shortly after notable events….can we access these same views? Maybe someone has some insight on this.

pursuits712 (@guest_116104)
2 years ago
Reply to  Larry

Perhaps checking the state transportation sites to view construction work in progress would help to some extent. Most also have real time accidents and traffic disruptions.

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