Navigating parking lots with a big RV

24

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. The missus 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 newer 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.

##RVDT1347

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Paul S Goldberg
3 months ago

Early in our travels we needed fuel and spotted gas station from the freeway (yes we were in Calif) After I exited I realized it was on the other side of the road and there was a median to prevent a left turn to enter. I saw a side road with the entrance to a parking lot and started to pull in only to see, too late that the parking lot was chained. I attempted to complete my U turn but chose not to put the RV into the ditch. Got out to disconnect the car so I could back and maneuver. A motorist who was near the front of the waiting line started blowing his horn. I stopped disconnecting the car and walked over to ask if he needed something. He started curse me out at which point I suggested the longer he cursed at me and blew his horn the longer it would take me to get out of his and every one else’s way. Then I walked away and completed disconnecting in less time than his interruption took. I was obviously upset with myself for being in the situation. Over the 20 years of RVing I may have had to disconnect 4 or 5 times. hasn’t happened in a long time. Of course with a DP I use truck side pumps and we carry our kitchen with us so do not ever eat fast food.

Larry Scofield
3 months ago

Descending US19 into Cherokee, NC was truly a white knuckle experience for me pulling my 30 foot TT with my 19 foot F150. Not what I expected on a federal highway. While I was camped in Cherokee, my campground neighbors arrived back from a daytrip in a wrecker. They had actually had their brakes catch fire on the steep hills. When I left, I avoided that steep winding stretch of US19 by taking US441 north to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I wish I had come in that way!

VA hwy 56 was even worse for me, driving east from I81 to the Montebello Camping and Fishing Resort. One switchback was so sharp and steep that part of the trailer dragged on the pavement. When leaving, once again I avoided the steepest parts with the sharpest switchbacks by getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

wayne
3 months ago

At the rest stop entering KY a few years back we asked the attendant if a specific route had diesel available. He said “sure” big rigs travel there all the time. Well, since we prefer rural drives we took that route having already checked for low bridges, etc. About 80 miles down we decide to start looking at finding diesel at about half full on the gauge. Mile after mile we saw diesel BUT pumps were against a wall or otherwise not accessible pulling a 38 ft 5th wheel. Eventually we saw a convenience store with a diesel pump in the right location, so pulled in after assessing the potential to get out. The lot has one or two vehicles at the far end so I knew I could make it out. BUT, by the time I filled up I think every worker in KY pulled in to the station (it had a deli) for lunch. Well, no way now to get out…until…the DW said “back out”. So she went to the road, stopped traffic and I backed into a bank parking lot across the street far enough to make a turn out. Thanks to the DW stopping traffic, just another RV trip story to add to the list.

Phil Atterbery
3 months ago

We had a 27′ TT & an 18′ E350 van, 45′ total many years back when we were a herd of 8. I had overshot a turnoff to a CG. Took the next driveway to turn around which turned out to be a culdesac with no homes. My DW was almost beside herself with dread as I made a 5 point turn to get turned around. My reassurances were for naught as she made me pinky swear never to do that agian. Now we have 38′ DP & a 22′ car hauler. Pinky swear is still in force.

Michael
3 months ago

In addition to Google Maps Satellite, you can consult Google Earth. On a 1000 mile bike trip thru France and Spain last summer I saw many RVs–NO Class As or fivers. We full time in the US in a slideout Class C pulling a Smart Car.

Cecilia
3 months ago

Here’s a very valuable tip – always go to the campground’s website and see if they have directions on how to get there. We have seen many “ignore your GPS” statements.

Ray
3 months ago

We have all made RVing mistakes, if you haven’t I suspect you haven’t been RVing very long. Some are unavoidable and others can be prevented. We towed our 40 ft fiver for 7 years thru 30+ states and we have had some issues, however, our issues were never related to getting lunch or any other meal. We always packed dine food and something to drink in a cooler bag and found a rest area or large enough spot along the road to pull over and eat. Now we have a class “A” motorhome and do the same without any parking lot issues. I suggest not trying the fast food route and prepare you own and eat in the comfort of your truck, inside your towable or inside your motorhome. Sure takes a lot if anxiety out of your day.

Mark Birnbaum
3 months ago

Common sense folks. Consider my comment “tough love”. I know the sharing especially helps the newbies so they don’t get stuck, but jeez. As my pappie used to say, “Look before you leap!”.

I have plenty of compassion for people with food insecurity and lots of other situations beyond their ability to control (including addiction). When well-heeled people run out of gas or get stuck in a parking lot ’cause they wanted that Subway and didn’t get out the vehicle to walk the lot before…not so much. Park on the roadway/shoulder and walk 200′, or just skip it. Don’t stumble blindly into a 1st world problem.

Short primer for newbies (and all of us):
Height, length, width, turning radius, inability to back up, speed (acceleration and deceleration), using your phone or dash toys, wind, visibility, rain, road surface, sleet, snow, ice, steering and mountain braking…all matter. You are no longer driving your family car.

You have to drive safely, cautiously and think far, far ahead. You might thumb your nose at signs, orders, statutes or guidelines (seems especially these days about face masks); however you (and people around you) are unforgivably subject to the laws of physics.

Note1: Google satellite might show how the parking lot looked when a satellite snapped the picture year(s) ago. There may be an impediment there right now. Look before you leap!

Note2: There are times when you have to unhook and drive a mile, or 10 miles, down that (narrow or gravel or shoulder-less or winding or low clearance or hairpin turn) road in the toad or towing vehicle before committing. Look before you leap!

Note3: When the sign says “no vehicles longer than 27 feet, or 96” wide allowed), that means every vehicle. Don’t count on being a “better driver” to help. Likely greater than 90% of the primary RV drivers consider themselves above average drivers (not so the “relief” driver; they are smarter). Chuck, can we have a poll here?

Sharon Boehmer
3 months ago

I, too, had a fight with a parking lot and lost….thank you Wal-Mart in Katy, TX. 1st trip out, dark and location we have never been to, along with pretty, raised row dividers with really big boulders makes for an expensive mess on your 5th wheel. And Google maps is not always right, either. No telling how old the satellite pictures are. Ever look at one where the business you are looking for is not on the satellite view? Or there are new business since the picture was taken and now the drive area is changed?
Moral of the story…..slow down, be aware of surroundings and if you have to cross your fingers that you can make it, maybe look for another way.

Gary Johnson
3 months ago

We’ve pulled our fifth-wheel into a small convenience store, only to find it looked too tight too get thru. We couldn’t back out due to the crown of the road. Fortunately another RVer came out of the store and the three of us were able to maneuver out past the islands. Another time we were told by the visitors’ center at Cortez, Co. that there was plenty of room in their parking lot for our motor home. Wrong! Had to unhook our road and back out. Now we use Google Maps Satellite views to check any areas we need access to.

Linda
3 months ago

Once we stopped at an outlet mall thinking it would be a wide open parking lot with room to maneuver our 45’ coach w/toad. WRONG!!! The lot was broken up by many ‘islands’ of shrubbery. Thankfully there were not a lot of cars and we made our way out safely.

Bill
3 months ago

Just ditch those giant trailers, busses and TOADs and get a class B. We’ve got plenty of room in ours.

wanderer
3 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Wow, lots of hate for this.

I didn’t have a giant rig but my vehicle+trailer was 43 feet. Honestly I just got sick of having to check Google Maps for suitable gas stations and pull-through campsites, stopping way too often for gas, never being able to stop for lunch except places adjoining giant lots, being petrified of getting into dead ends, never being able to stop quickly to take a photo, visit a shop, etc. I downsized to a B+. Travel days are now a joy instead of a hassle, and any campsite no matter how small will work.

For anybody out there who is finding travel days to be a burden, your suggestion is well worth considering.

Rory R
3 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Class B’s don’t work for everyone…..

Donald N Wright
3 months ago

Even towing my Aliner popup, I have found myself in tight spaces, Gasoline pumps were designed for little cars and no place to park. I have learned the joy of dining next to big box stores where parking is available. One other horror is RV parks where too many spaces on too little land, make for tight corners on narrow roads.

David Howard
3 months ago

Even with my small travel trailer (only 23 feet total length) I have gotten myself in trouble at gas stations. Now I try to find stations where I see other RV’s or large trucks, or actual truck stops near or along major highways. Once I pulled into a gas station where I saw what looked like an easy exit path that would go behind the gas station, only to find that it was entrance into the car wash. Backing a small trailer is a real skill that I did not have at all at that time and I ended up scraping the camper against the posts that protect the gas pumps from being damaged. All part of living the dream!

Fred
3 months ago

When we first started fulltime 11 years ago, in a 34ft fifth wheel, with an old gps from around 2002, we headed for the Smoky mountains. The gps tried to bring us into the park from the backside on a narrow, winding, steep climbing, but freshly paved road. After about 10 miles of twisting & climbing, we encountered a narrow bridge we could not access & hadn’t seen a turn out for over a mile. We had to back up through many twists & turns for over 1 1/4 miles before finding the first driveway we could back into to turn around.

Captn John
3 months ago

It’s possible to get caught anywhere. I check state maps and Garmin RV GPS and have been fortunate for a long time.
Now I carry about 100 gallons of fuel so can choose fuel stops and only use truck lanes. Just one of many reasons I’d never have a gasser RV or TV. Much safer and less stressful.

Susan F
3 months ago

We were thwarted by 2 low underpasses off of I25 in Pueblo, Co. Trying to get to the Pueblo KOA on the north end of the city. When we exited the interstate my DH managed to see that the underpass we had to use was only 12′ high (we needed at least 13′), curved arch and only wide enough for one vehicle. Went down to the next exit to find the next underpass was 12′ 5″ but still curved and one lane. By then we decided to continue on to the next KOA in Co Springs only about another 20 miles up the road! BTW – there was nothing on the website for the Pueblo location indicating the underpass heights and our RV GPS didn’t pick it up either. 🙁

Bob p
3 months ago
Reply to  Susan F

Buy a Commercial Drivers road atlas, it will tell you where overpasses are and what height. You have to study it using all the info to learn how it’s used, but it will save you every time, it costs about 3 times as much as a regular atlas but one time usage that saves you aggravation or worse damage and you’d have easily paid 5 times more.

Gene Bjerke
3 months ago
Reply to  Susan F

I had my Allstays app running and was surprised when it came up with a notice that the road I was on had an 8-foot clearance several miles ahead. Yet another reason to love the app.

Richard Hubert
3 months ago

I have learned that there are many gas stations where it is easy to get boxed in due to lot layout and/or orientation of the pumps. Far too many have the pumps laid out perpendicular to the office/store – often making it very hard to drive my Class A through. I try to find stations where the pumps run either diagonally or in parallel to the office.

To do that I locate where I want to fuel up using Allstays – trying to find a Pilot, Flying J or Loves if possible. Once found I go to Google maps, satellite and street views, to get a more realistic idea of access in/out of the lot. Strongly prefer the businesses which have RV dedicated lanes that are off to the side and often include a dump station and/or propane right there.

Learned to use Google Maps in this way originally from Chris & Cherie of Technomadia. In one of their videos they explained they often use various Google Map views to look at campsites to help find the ones with easier access, etc..

Frank
3 months ago

We always use the satellite view on Google Maps to check out the accessibility of fuel stops, etc. to make sure there are safe options for entry and exit.

Fletcher Christian
4 years ago

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.