Backing Up and Pulling Through: How to Park Your RV

Jun 8, 2020 | Rigs

Backing Up and Pulling Through: How to Park Your RV

From understanding common parking terms to scoping out your campsite, we walk you through the basics of properly parking and stabilizing your RV.

By Amanda Bungartz

Photo: Matt Chastain

Learning how to properly drive an RV is an extremely important milestone in RV ownership. It’s also equally important to know how to stop driving an RV and park it. Unlike a car, there are a few extra things you need to do in order to secure your rig. And while some parking elements will vary depending on whether you have a motorized or towable RV, there are a few universal things all drivers should keep in mind, regardless of your rig. 

Class A motorhome pulls into gravel campsite parking spot with hookups
Photo: Matt Chastain

RV Parking Vocab

Before you head out, familiarize yourself with these common RV parking terms. This way, if someone offers to be your spotter, you’ll know exactly what they mean. 

  1. Pull In / Pull Through – A campsite that has both an entrance and an exit, so you can more easily pull into the space to park and then drive straight through it to leave.
  2. Back In – This campsite has only one entrance/exit, and it’s situated in a way that you must either back in to park or back out to leave.
  3. Blind Spot / Blind Side – When a portion of your RV is obstructed and can’t be seen from the rear or side view mirrors. This typically occurs on the passenger side—as the driver turns left, the passenger side (right side) disappears from view.
  4. Spotter – Someone who gets out of the tow vehicle or RV and stands behind the rig to help direct the driver as they park. (If you’re the spotter, be sure to know the five basic hand signals for proper RV parking.) 
  5. Jack / Stabilizer Jack – A device that’s designed to extend from the RV’s frame to the ground in order to support the rig and hold it steady. 
  6. Boondocking – Often called wild camping or dry camping, this refers to RVing without being connected to water, electricity, or a sewer system. Some common boondocking locations include parking lots at Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Cabelas, and Costco, as well as most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Read our article about how to boondock.
  7. Moochdocking – RV camping on a friend or family’s property for free, including parking in their driveway, on the street, or somewhere on their land.

Always Check Your Site

Once you’ve reached your campsite or final destination, always get out and survey the area before you pull into your parking spot. If you booked a specific site at a campground or RV park, the website or manager usually tells you how large the site is and what size RV it can accommodate, but it doesn’t hurt to check for yourself before trying to pull in. Sometimes a low-hanging branch, large rock, or fallen log can shorten the space or reduce the size of the site. If you’re towing a trailer or fifth wheel, you’ll want to make sure your tow vehicle also fits in the site and isn’t sticking out into the road. Take note of any uneven surfaces, including potholes, ruts, slopes, or mounds. You should avoid these when trying to park and instead look for even, smooth ground.

Close up of the side of a Class A motorhome plugged into hookup pole, next to trees
Photo: Matt Chastain

If you’re staying at a campground with hookups, note the location of the pole, as this may dictate where and how you park. Unless you have extra long power cords, you may need to back in or pull forward to get as close to the hookup pole as possible. And lastly, make sure you have enough space on either side of your RV to allow for any slide outs or a fully-extended awning.

How to Properly Park

After surveying your site and figuring out the best place to park, slowly ease into your spot. Regularly check all of your mirrors, especially if you are backing in. If you’re using a spotter to help direct and guide you, keep the windows rolled down and the radio off so you can hear and communicate better. You might even want to use walkie talkies or connect your cell phone to your tow vehicle’s bluetooth and communicate with the spotter that way. As an extra precaution, have your spotter place brightly colored cones on the ground to help with visibility.

One of the most common RV parking mistakes is turning the steering wheel too much. Go slowly and allow yourself to make small corrections as needed. And if you need to start over and try again, that’s okay. One simple technique to help with parking both towables and motorized RVs is to keep your hands on the lower part of the steering wheel (as opposed to the 10 and 2 positions typically used when driving). This way, when your spotter tells you to go left—sometimes referred to as the driver side—you simply have to turn the wheel to the left.

Graphic diagram showing the direction a travel trailer will move related to how the tow vehicle steering wheel moves

If you have a fifth wheel or a travel trailer, be mindful of the direction of the towable when you back into a space. As you back up, your trailer and your tow vehicle will form a V-shape. The more dramatic the turn of your wheel, the sharper the V-shape will become. Again, keep your turns small and adjust as needed.

Leveling and Stabilizing

Once your RV is in place, the parking process isn’t over—you need to make sure your rig is level and stable. No one likes to sleep off-kilter or sit at a sloping table. Some RVs (usually class A motorhomes) come equipped with an auto-leveling system. If that’s the case, all you need to do is push a button and hydraulics will automatically adjust your RV to get it level.

If your RV does not have an auto-leveling system, then you’ll need to make sure to bring a few extra items. For motorized units, you’ll need a bubble level to check that everything is actually straight, and blocks to place under the wheels for balance. For towables, in addition to the bubble level and blocks, you also need to bring wheel chocks. The chocks are critical since towables don’t have their own transmissions or parking brakes.

Close up of RV tired moving onto bright yellow leveling block
Photo: Matt Ross

After leveling your RV, you need to stabilize it (yes, there is a difference between leveling and stabilizing). Stabilizers (or stabilizer jacks) either automatically drop down from inside the frame of the RV, or are manually added and adjusted to fit in between the RV frame and the ground. Even if your RV comes with jacks, you may want to add a few extra for a more solid, sturdy feel. Be careful no to put too much weight on each jack—once it has touched the ground, stop lowering it and let it hold. Forcing the jack into the ground may cause it to break or the RV to be unleveled.

While we hope this gives a basic overview for how to park your RV, it’s important to note that each rig is different, so double check your owner’s manual or any rental instructions.

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Amanda Bungartz

Amanda is the partner editor at Togo RV and Roadtrippers. She loves ice cream, perfectly symmetrical buildings, and classic hip-hop. She currently lives in Southern California, where you can find her petting every dog she passes on the street.