How to Set Up Your RV Campsite

Aug 25, 2021 | Gear & Tech

How to Set Up Your RV Campsite

Setting up your RV at the campground for the first time can feel overwhelming. Here’s everything you need to know about setting up camp.

By Kerri Cox

You’ve arrived at the RV park ready for your first camping adventure—now what? You’ll develop your own process the more you camp, but setting up your campsite can be intimidating the first time. With practice and a helpful checklist, you’ll be camping like a pro in no time. 

Survey Your Campsite

When you arrive at the campground, start by surveying your campsite before you begin setting up camp. These should be your first steps:

  • Locate the electrical, water, and sewer hookups before you park your RV. This will help you decide exactly where to park based on the length of your water hose, electrical cord, and sewer hose. 
  • Look for potential obstructions, including low-hanging tree limbs and anything that can interfere with your slide-outs. 
  • Assess the slope of your site.

Prioritize your sewage hookup since it’s usually your shortest connection.

Trailer parked on level campsite with leveling blocks set up

Parking Your RV

Once you’ve picked the ideal spot to park within your campsite, it’s time to park your RV. The exact steps will depend on whether you have a back-in or pull-through site and whether you have a towable or motorized RV. 

As you park your RV, follow these steps:

  • Level your RV left to right. Don’t attempt to level it from front to back just yet. You may need stackable or rolling leveling blocks to properly level your trailer. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step, as your fridge, slide-outs, plumbing, and other components may not operate well on a tilt.
  • Chock the tires on both sides of the rig. This is an important safety step, as it prevents your RV from moving. Never unhitch a towable trailer without properly chocking the tires first. If you’re using behind-the-tire chocks, place them on the front and back of the tires.

X-shaped chocks put pressure between the tires and allow you to lock down tires that are up on leveling blocks, when a normal behind-the-tire chock wouldn’t work.

Unhitching Your Trailer

Once your rig is secured, it’s time to unhitch your trailer. If you drive a motorized rig, you can move on to the next step.

Sway bar and tow bar connecting a trailer and tow vehicle

Unhitching is the process of separating your trailer from your tow vehicle. Before starting, make sure you understand the different parts of your towing gear. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Lower your tongue jack. You may use a big block of wood or a trailer jack block
  • Unhook your chains and breakaway cable. If you have an electric tongue jack, leave the electrical wire hooked up for now.
  • Remove the sway bar and weight distribution bars. Set these somewhere out of the way. 
  • Flip the locking lever and raise the tongue jack off of the vehicle’s hitch receiver. If you have trouble getting the hitch to release, try to carefully rock the tow vehicle or step on the bumper to apply more leverage.

Be extra cautious if you rock the trailer or tow vehicle. Ensure they are properly secured before doing so.

  • Pull the tow vehicle up a few inches. Don’t go too far, or else you’ll break the electrical connection.
  • Adjust the tongue jack to properly level the RV from front to back. Once you have finished this step, you can move your tow vehicle.

If you can’t get perfectly level, make sure the heads of the beds in your rig aren’t lower than the feet.

Stabilize Your RV

Exactly how you stabilize your RV will depend on your RV type and stabilizing gear. The main goal is to reduce rocking and bouncing in the trailer. Here’s how to do that:

  • Lower the stabilizing jacks. If you have manual scissor jacks, consider purchasing a special adapter that allows you to use your power drill to turn the mechanism. You can also use jack pads to prevent sinking on gravel or dirt campsites.

Once the jacks are down, don’t raise or lower your tongue jack, as this can break your stabilizers or tongue hitch.

Handle Your Hookups

Now, it is time to hook up your power, water, and sewer connections (depending on what amenities your campsite offers).

Electric hookup at a campsite
Closed electric hookup at campsite with convertor plugged in
  • Connect your electrical cord to the power box. This sounds easy at first, but there are a few tips to note:
    • Check the amperage available at your site. You may need an adapter (for example, if your rig has a 50-amp connection and your site only has a 30-amp outlet, you’ll need a plug adapter). 
    • Plug in your surge protector. While you may raise your eyebrow at the price of a surge protector, this important piece of gear can save you a lot of money in the long run. Bad electrical connections can damage your system and appliances.

Plug in all cables before turning on the electrical breaker.

  • Connect your water hose to the spigot and the hose to your RV’s city water inlet. Like with your electrical connection, there’s more to consider here than just hooking up:
Sewer hose connected to a sewer output at a campsite
  • Use your sewer hose(s) to connect your tank drain(s) to the campsite’s sewage receptacle.
    • If your site is on a slope, you may need a sewer hose support to properly angle your hose toward the drain.
    • Invest in an elbow fitting and a donut ring to properly seal your connection. A clear elbow fitting allows you to keep an eye on things. 
    • If you’ll be at your campsite for a few days, you may want to open up your gray tank water valve to allow sink and shower water to freely flow. However, be sure to close this before dumping your black tank, as the gray water is useful for rinsing out the sewer hose. 
    • In order to avoid bad smells, never leave the black tank valve open. 
    • Use black tank treatment on any toilets. 
    • Release the black tank valve when your black tank sensor shows full or you’re leaving the campsite. After that flows out, release the gray water valve. You may finish by running clear water through the sinks for extra flushing of your lines and hoses. Close both valves when the lines are empty.

Your RV bumper may be a good spot to store your sewer hose. Otherwise, use a sealable storage bin to keep the dirty sewer hose separate from everything else.

Related Everything You Need to Know About RV Toilets and Black Tanks

Finalize Your Setup

Here are the final steps to setting up your campsite:

  • Open up your slide-out(s) using the power control. Make sure to watch for obstructions both inside and outside of your trailer.
  • If you plan to use the awning, put it out using the power control or manual crank. Pay attention to the weather for winds and precipitation before leaving the awning out. 

Don’t leave your campsite with the awning out. Many RVers have lost awnings and sustained damage due to unexpected winds and storms.

  • Set up your campsite with your favorite gear, like camp chairs, an outdoor rug, a camp kitchen, decorative lighting, campfire supplies, and more. This is your campsite, so use as much or as little as you need to enjoy your stay.

Related 22 Fun RV Accessories You Didn’t Know You Needed

Outdoor kitchen setup on the side of a travel trailer

Practice Makes Perfect

The steps for setting up your campsite may seem like a lot the first time you do them; however, the more you do it, the quicker the process will get. Even though you’ll eventually get your routine down, it’s always good to keep a checklist, whether as a note on your phone or via an app like Togo RV, so you don’t forget any steps. 

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Kerri Cox

Kerri is a teacher and freelance writer. The decision to buy a travel trailer (christened Birdy) in 2015 changed her life for the better. You can follow her journeys at Travels with Birdy. She lives in Missouri with her husband and teenage sons.

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