Tuesday, November 28, 2023


How long is “too long” for a 5th wheel to stay in national and state parks?


Dear Chuck
My wife and I are planning on RVing full time when I retire. We are inclined on purchasing a 5’er but have not yet decided on the length. We don’t want to feel cramped but neither do we want to be largely excluded from national and state parks due to our length.

Individuals write about RV lengths and I never seem to know if they are referring to hitch to bumper length or to model or floorspace length. One person has indicated that a 30-foot floorspace RV showing a 30-model sticker near the RV door, actually being slightly less than 35 feet hitch to bumper, will be readily admitted to most parks. Others seem to indicate that the RV needs to be 30 feet hitch to bumper or more like a 26-model unit.

We, very definitely, don’t want to disqualify ourselves at national and state parks by being too long. Any guidance you may be able to provide would be greatly appreciated. —Gerry Christman

Always know your length. It could matter. File photo.

Dear Gerry,
The longer your rig, the fewer places you can squeeze into, whether it be a public campground, like those in national and state parks, or in more primitive forest service campgrounds.

It almost never comes down to whether a few inches or even a couple of feet become a deal breaker. I’ve never seen a ranger pull out a tape measure to determine if a particular rig would fit. A 30-foot fifth wheel is not all that big anymore, so you should fit in most places. That said, sometimes an RV park or campground may be able to easily accept a 30-foot rig and its tow vehicle, but perhaps only in a few of its many campsites. So you’re out of luck if those are full and you want to stay. If your rig is actually 35 feet, then that would probably over time cost you a few camping opportunities than if you had a 30-footer.

Get out your tape measure before buying the rig or later to be sure you know exactly how long it is. It could make a difference. And always be certain when requesting a reservation that the park has a site that will accommodate you.  —Chuck

Chuck Woodbury
Chuck Woodburyhttps://rvtravel.com
I'm the founder and publisher of RVtravel.com. I've been a writer and publisher for most of my adult life, and spent a total of at least a half-dozen years of that time traveling the USA and Canada in a motorhome.



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Kamwick (@guest_128030)
2 years ago

We are living in a 37’ fifth wheel, mostly because we have three spoiled cats and the timing fir selling a house in SoCal is prime. We basically use this as a “moveable tiny house”, staying for longer periods (months) at a time. Eventually we’d like to park it somewhere permanently as a second home base.

We’ve seen most of the national parks, but if we go there again with this unit, we’d concentrate on finding private campsites or spacious boondocking outside the parks. In the past we’ve traveled with a variety of rigs, from 23’ trailers to a thirty foot fifth wheel, and found that if doing a lot of traveling, smaller is definitely better. Easier to drive, fit into traditional campgrounds and their meandering roads, and easier to set up and break down.

If it was just me and my sweet baby today, I’d insist on maybe a Class C (something 26’ or less), and we’d do more traveling.

Fred (@guest_127973)
2 years ago

We’ve been fulltime for over 11 years & visited many national parks with our 34ft 5th wheel. many of the older parks have only a certain number of sites that will fit a 34ft rv. But we’ve never had a serious problem not getting into a park & we don’t usually make reservations very far in advance. I can only remember a couple of times when we couldn’t get any spot in a national park on the dates we wanted.

Jan C Prins (@guest_127968)
2 years ago

As in Canada where the length is 30 feet in all provincial and federal parks.
This gives you loads of room for family and friends. Anything more gets too ostentacious.

Ellen (@guest_127964)
2 years ago

This won’t answer your question, but my suggestion is to find the smallest RV you’ll be comfortable in, conduct some of the virtual test runs suggested by other commenters to see how that will work for you, and think hard about the largest RV you’ll feel comfortable driving, turning, backing, and getting out of very tight spots. We started with a larger rig and downsized; we’re very happy with less living space but easier driving and more choices in where we stay. Most popular spots have camping options inside or nearby. These days you’ll likely need a reservation no matter where you’re going, so the smaller you can go the more flexible you’ll be for fitting into the most available sites.

Sheryl (@guest_90681)
3 years ago

Just a note. Those model numbers mean nothing as far as rig length goes. They used to correlate–we had a 285 model that was 28 foot long. Now we have a 31R model, but it’s about 35 feet long. When making reservations, I nearly always put in 36 foot for the 5th wheel’s length, just to be on the safe side.

S Wainwright (@guest_89346)
3 years ago

One other thing I forgot to mention is that most campsites are measured for the end of the gravel, concrete, or asphalt pad. Whereas a 5th wheel has the tires a good ten ft. or
more from the back so you can usually back much further into a campsite.
Now a more common problem is how wide is the road in the campground because it takes a lot of road width to back a 35 foot 5’ver at a 75 to 90-degree angle into a campsite.

S Wainwright (@guest_89336)
3 years ago

I pulled a 37 foot 5’ver for 12 years now and yes that is long. 35 foot will get you in to pretty much anywhere out west as far as st. parks go and most National parks as well. But we usually don’t stay in National parks as they’re too crowed all of the time. There are usually plenty of places to camp outside of them.
As far as measuring these 5’vers go. The manufactures tend to show interior lengths instead of exterior lengths. My advice is to go on the manufacturer’s website and look at their specs on each model. Also if you’re wondering if you will fit in a campsite you can go on google earth and find the campground and zoom into different campsites then use the ruler tool up in the toolbar to measure them. I’ve found that to be very accurate.
And by the way, you’ll need a diesel truck to pull a 5’ver out west, as there are a lot of
6% and 10% grades that run for miles.

Skip (@guest_127985)
2 years ago
Reply to  S Wainwright

Not so true at all. My 2500 Ram 5.9 Hemi, 8 speed auto gas pulls the 28′ 5er just fine at those grades. Power vs weight. Diesels I will give you, you can bang on and those 5ers that say 35′ and up might handle slightly better. I have done well through Idaho, Montana and around through Azizona Phoenix to Flagstaff and New Mexico out of Silver City. Other thing to note on ratio rear end and change all to synthetic (oil, transmission fluid) keeps everything cooler.

Steve (@guest_89285)
3 years ago

The length measurement discussion is always open for discussion. My experience with parks many times is the ability to drive down the campground roads and make the turns to back into the site. I will admit that I have backed thru one site to get into the one next to it and the roads were very tight. Now admittedly, we have a 35 foot 5th wheel that measures 38 feet hitch to bumper. I do find that most CG’s ask about size when you reserve a site. It’s a trade off – larger for more room but when is big enough big enough.

B Murphy (@guest_89079)
3 years ago

Wow, nobody has answered this gentleman’s question! Are the parks measuring from the front bumper of the truck to the rear bumper of the 5th wheel or are they measuring solely the length of the 5th wheel??

CYoung (@guest_89205)
3 years ago
Reply to  B Murphy

We have an Arctic Fox 5th wheel that externally measures 29.5′ with an added kayak/ bike rack that extends another 3 feet. When researching sites, you need to look at how the length requirements are stated. If it lists maximum trailer length as 30 feet, we are good to go. If it says maximum total or RV length of 35 feet, we need to do a little more research because our total length is 47 feet with combination of 5th wheel and truck. Most national parks and recreation sites list trailer length. In our experience, we have been able to go into most state and national sites. We specifically looked for 5th wheels at 30 feet and under due to so many having a 30 foot maximum trailer length.

Pursuits712 (@guest_99183)
3 years ago
Reply to  B Murphy

When we volunteered at USFS, the folks who were technically “over” the campgrounds didn’t know diddly about RVs, site lengths, hookups, etc. Some were hikers/tenters by coincidence. The agency’s mission has very little to do with campgrounds, bur rather with the environment in which they exist.

CJS (@guest_89051)
3 years ago

Make sure you know the height, also, not just the length. One of the loops where we camp host has height restrictions that are listed on Reserve America site when you make reservations. The rangers will NOT cut tree limbs for you.

wanderer (@guest_88996)
3 years ago

If you really want to focus on state and national parks, most fivers may be too big. Many states have tiny campsites in all or most of their state parks, particularly in the northeast.

I’d suggest planning a fantasy loop where you plan some park visits. Go online and see what lengths are available. Often on reserve america etc. they will state that the site is 40′ or whatever. This normally means grille to back bumper, so go measure your dream 5er plus the length of the truck and see what the total is. You may be astonished what your grill to bumper length really is. That same length needs to be negotiated thru gas stations, etc. To me, shorter is better! Don’t get seduced by giant floor plans full of wasted space you don’t really need. Ok, end of sermon, good luck on your quest!

Skip (@guest_127986)
2 years ago
Reply to  wanderer

Wanderer, the best advice I have heard because the floor giant will seduce you and then the butt kicking God will say I told you so.

Deborah Mason (@guest_88985)
3 years ago

Be aware that some length limits are flexible (if there’s a space long enough they’ll let you in) and others are firm (over is over, no entry). We worked at Rocky Mountain NP and our current RV would not have been allowed in our nearest park campground – although the model is “29” the actual length is 31’11”, so call it 32 feet. I asked how firm they were and was told only the host sites would be allowed anything over the 30′ limit. If they have several long sites they may post a low limit so folks don’t arrive with rigs too long to fit. Other times “rules is rules”.

Tom (@guest_88981)
3 years ago

Most older Florida State campgrounds have very definite limits, over 30′ and you are out of luck. We stayed in a Corps campground where our 29′ total length was a minor challenge.
If you plan to use a towable rig, plan on using part of the tow vehicle for storage, this may help “shorten” the towed rig.

Ernie Pyles (@guest_88967)
3 years ago

There are several National Parks that don’t accept anything over 25′. The wife and I go to every National Park we can and have noticed the signs on several of our visits. We recently bought a new 5th wheel RV that’s 30′ and we have decided for those parks we would just stay at “outside” rv parks and make our stays accordingly budget wise.

james Fellows (@guest_88959)
3 years ago

We stayed in around 12 state or national campgrounds on our 4 month journey out west 4 years ago. We never made reservations we just got there early in the morning and waited in line to get whatever was available. I heard many turned away that had rigs over 30ft. We had a 24ft. and I was never turned away. Once I was told I had to wait until the next day. I saw many larger rigs in these campgrounds but I’m sure they made reservations weeks or months in advance. Most national campgrounds are old and they were made for smaller campers back in the day.

Mike Sherman (@guest_88913)
3 years ago

Going full time is a game changer. 30′ might be too cramped for full timing. Going much bigger than that and yes, Chuck is correct, you start to see less and less spaces that will fit you, especially in public campgrounds. Most don’t have hook-ups, so you will be forced to move on in a week or two. We are full time, so went big….42′, with all the bells and whistles. The trade off has been worth it. Very comfortable. While we are forced into private campgrounds, we enjoy the amenities, especially the laundry rooms, etc. You might find yourself in an area where you want to stay a month or two. Full hook-ups coupled with all the creature comforts is a plus for us. We can still do day trips to State & Federal parks.

PATRICK L DONALDSON (@guest_88869)
3 years ago

You could also take your proposed 5’er length and plug it into some of the reservation sites for a future time when there is lots of availability and see how many sites would be available for your size rig. That will give you an idea about possible limitations you might face.

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