Navigating parking lots with a big RV


By Jim Twamley

Maybe you’ve had experiences like mine: My very first time out with our new 5th wheel we decided to stop at a Subway sandwich shop. Believing the parking lot was accessible behind the store, I pulled in. It turned out to be a boxed-in parking arrangement and I was stuck. Mrs. Professor had to get out and guide me as I painfully and slowly backed out of the lot. I had to retrace my route backing onto a busy road in order to extract myself. We went down the road and found another sandwich shop with more suitable parking.

Another time we pulled the 5th wheel up to an overpass on our way to an RV park and discovered we were too tall to pull through without removing the air conditioner. It was a two-lane road with a ditch on either side of the road. I had to back the rig into a 45-degree angle, disconnect the truck, drive around so the truck was pointing in the opposite direction away from the overpass, reconnect and pull away. While I was doing this I managed to back up traffic in both directions, but the other drivers were gracious and simply waited while I entertained them.

Even experienced RVers can sometimes find themselves in this kind of predicament. The best thing you can do is remain calm, take your time and extract your rig safely. Ask for help if necessary, and always keep safety in mind. If you’re driving a motorhome with a toad you may need to unhook. Be careful and don’t allow anxious drivers to prod you into doing something unsafe.

The best strategy is avoiding the sticky situation before you get into it. Slow down and look before you pull into a parking lot. The first thing I look for is entryway road clearance. If there are gouges in the crown of the road and a low drainage combined with a steep driveway, I pass it by. The next thing I look for is if there is plenty of space to allow my rig safe passage.

Here’s a Burger King parking lot that passes with flying colors because not only is there ample space, there are also other RVs present, telling me it’s RV friendly. If you see commercial trucks at the establishment or other RVs, it’s a safe bet you can find a place to park and safely exit. Some new Walmarts have engineered the parking spaces so it’s difficult to maneuver a big rig between the planters, light poles and raised dividers. A quick scan of the parking lot for other large vehicles is your confirmation whether you can safely navigate this type of parking maze. Sometimes I’ve parked on the street in order to visit a store, provided there was enough space on the shoulder to safely do so.

Parking overnight in a Walmart, I usually try to stay as far away from the main building as possible. I also find a nearby shopping cart and place it directly in front of my motorhome so someone won’t park their Mini Cooper there.


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Fletcher Christian

I can’t seem to visualize the situation where the RV owner/driver needed to turn around on a two lane road and didn’t have room to jackknife the fifth wheel completely around, but had room to drive the unhooked truck around his fifth wheel. To me, that would take more room than jackknifing the fifth wheel completely around 180 degrees and take a lot more work.