Last Updated on July 24, 2021 by Chris and Lindsay
So you just bought your new RV and you’re ready to break it in camping. You’ve already purchased all of the RV essentials for your maiden voyage and now it is time to start thinking about how you can have the best RV campsite setup regardless of where you are staying.
We’ve been on the road for over 3 years and have come across so many great campsites that we couldn’t help but share some of the best campsite setup ideas we’ve seen.
From knowing the basics of how to set up camp to having the best camping gear to turn your campsite into a comfortable home away from home, we’ll set you on course to have an incredible camping experience.
Whether it is your first time breaking in your new motorhome, campervan or trailer or you are just looking for fresh ideas on how to improve your current campsite setup this post is for you!
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain links to products we think you’ll like. If you purchase any of the products through the links below we’ll receive a small commission. As full-time RVers, we know our RV products well and only recommend those that we either own or would consider owning ourselves.
How to Have the Best RV Campsite Setup at a Campground
There are some practical things you should consider about setting up your RV campsite. And there are some tips and tricks we can offer to make pulling into the campground a pleasant experience.
Plus many of these ideas apply whether you are boondocking in the wilderness or fully hooked up at an RV resort.
Arriving at the Campground
The most important thing we can say about arriving at the campground is to do so when there is still daylight. We’ve found ourselves stressed out about our campsite setup mostly on the days we arrived at or past dark.
Of course, sometimes you can’t help what happens between where you leave in the morning and when you arrive at the campground. But try and give yourself reasonable driving times and do your best to arrive before dark.
This allows you to see where you will camp, gives you ample time to get set up and, of course, adds the bonus time for you to be able to sit in one of your comfy camping chairs and enjoy the evening!
If you plan to boondock you will definitely want to make sure you get to where you want to camp for the night before dark. Often some of the more popular spots will have trailers and other campers already occupying much of the common area.
You also won’t see some of the obstructions if you arrive after dark. One time when we were camping in Todos Santos in Baja, Mexico we arrived to a beachside field after dark and ended up stuck in the sand because we couldn’t see where the gravel turned to soft sand!
Pro Tip: If you know you will arrive after dark be sure to communicate with the campground. Make sure you know how to get into the campground (if there is a gate or special access required) and where to pick up welcome materials and maps of the campground.
Know what amenities to expect (power, water, sewer, etc.) and whether you’ll have to back in or pull through. Sometimes hosts can give you specific information about the site itself as to whether there may be trees, unleveled ground or other obstructions for which you should be aware.
Selecting a Campsite
If you are camping in a formal campground and have any choice in the matter, know the criteria you want in a campsite in advance.
Nearly all campers want a level site with enough space to spread out at the site. You may prefer pulling through or backing in, so be sure to check on where the hookups are if you plan to hook up for the night.
If you are dry camping and have a solar system for your RV you’ll likely want to set up where you can expect to receive a fair amount of sunlight throughout the day.
Trees are also terrible obstructions if you have to navigate your way into the campsite around them. We actually called our truck camper “Tree Trimmer” because, well, sometimes we didn’t fit into our campsites around the trees so well! You may also want to consider where the amenities are located and whether you want them or not.
We usually prefer to be relatively close to the bathhouse/restroom. But you may prefer to be as far away from this as possible. Maybe there is a pool or a dog run you want to consider.
In Las Vegas, we requested a campsite with a dog run next door so we didn’t have to walk our dog so far across the hot asphalt parking lot every time.
To summarize what you will want to consider:
- Level parking
- Accessible hookup connections
- Proximity to amenities
- Pull-through, pull-up or back-in sites
Parking at the Campsite
“Jill? Jill can you see me?”
“Can you see me Jill?”
“No, wait what? No I can’t see you.”
“Well if you can’t see me, I can’t see you!”
No kidding, we’ve changed the names but the situation is real. We’ve overheard this conversation at campsites more than one time (and had it regularly ourselves!).
The scenario is, you’ve just arrived at your campsite (before dark) and you’re ready to find the perfect place to park. One or the other of you hops out of the RV with the job to help the other one back the vehicle into place.
There are trees, picnic tables and the water, sewer and electric hookups are all in different places. There’s a narrow place to park with very little room for error. Still teamwork has to prevail or else you’ll never be able to set up your campsite.
The first and most important step to creating the best RV campsite setup is to make sure you fit nicely within the site itself. Sometimes that’s easy. Other times it is the greatest test a relationship will ever face.
But now that you’re parked let’s walk through the process of setting up camp. Because there are two of us traveling together we usually split these tasks in half so we can divide and conquer the campsite setup.
Setting Up Camp
First, make sure that you are parked as level as possible. We recommend that you have leveling blocks to help you tweak your level accordingly.
Once you’re level you’ll want to make sure your motorhome, trailer or camper doesn’t roll away. Sometimes the parking brake is enough. But you may want to invest in wheel chocks, particularly if you have a trailer or 5th wheel you’ll be detaching from the truck itself.
If you have automatic levelers or stabilizers make sure you have solid ground for them to connect with. Having a sturdy piece of wood is a great way to do this.
You may also have manual stabilizing jacks that you’ll want to set up in the event you’re staying for a while. We’ve found manual stabilizing jacks aren’t worth the time in setup if we’re not sticking to one spot for 4-5 days or more.
Next, you’ll want to focus on your connections. If you’re dry camping then you get to skip this step – unless you plan to be there for a while and you have a generator you want to set up.
But at a campground, you’ll want to make sure you know where the connections are.
If you’re hooking up to city water so you can have water on demand in your RV then you’ll want to connect your hose with two essential items. First, add the in-line filter to the hose. Then add the water pressure regulator.
You’ll connect the water pressure regulator to the water source and slowly turn the water on. At this point, the water pressure will decrease to reasonable amounts (if necessary) and will be filtered before it comes into your camper.
If you don’t use city water you can still set up your hose the same way and just refill your freshwater holding tank as needed.
You can count on great power connections in most campgrounds in the US and Canada. When camping in Mexico, you’ll want to pay more attention. But generally speaking, you will have an option between 3 sources of power at the power connection: 15 amp, 30 amp and 50 amp.
Depending on the type of RV you have, one will be preferable to another. But we still recommend that you prepare for the unknown by having 2 different adapters that will allow you to step up or down from a non-preferred power source.
We always have our 15 amp to 30 amp adapter that allows us to connect our 30 amp shore power cord to a 15 amp receptacle.
This is great when we’re “moochdocking” at a friend’s driveway or when we had to run an external generator.
A 30 amp to 50 amp adapter is less useful but still worth having on hand. We have never been to a campsite where we have only had 50 amp service. And we’ve never owned an RV that has required a 50 amp power input.
But if you do, then know that many formal campgrounds (and most informal ones) do not have 50 amp power service. So you will need this adapter.
You may also want to invest in a surge protector to plug in to the power source prior to connecting your shore power. It is normal to have small fluctuations in the voltage output at campgrounds. And if you check on a multimeter you may find a range between 108-120+ volts.
But what you don’t want is a surge (or drop) in power that is more common to occur at busy, overpacked campgrounds just as easily as at second-rate campgrounds that may seem questionable.
If you notice the power connection has been burned/melted in the past – defer to your surge protector!
Now for the dirty part. Even though you know your own “business” doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about the business of the people who camped at your campsite the night before.
The first thing you need to do is to locate the sewer connection. These are most often buried in the ground, often covered with nearby rocks. The good sewer connections will have a threaded cap on the receiving end.
This is great because it keeps the bad stuff (smell) in until you open the cap. And it means you can thread your own sewer hose securely to prevent future spills.
But regardless of the condition of the connection, the clear and obvious statement is that you should likely not plan many activities in that corner of the campsite!
We recommend this RV sewer hose as it contains a variety of fittings to ensure you can connect to the campsite sewer hookup. It is also 20 feet, which is usually more than enough length to reach the hookup.
But be prepared to have to park closer to the sewer hookup if you are relying on connecting to it.
If you’re staying for a while we’ve found that having sewer hose supports are great. They guide your sewer hose on a generally downhill slope to where it connects underground.
We’ve used these on numerous occasions when we knew we were sticking around a site for a while. But they’re not necessary all of the time, especially if you plan to just fill your tanks during your stay and dump them once prior to leaving.
RV Campsite Setup – The Fun Part
So now that you got the business part of your camping site setup it’s time to make the RV campsite feel like home. We’ll cover the basic setup first and share some additional ways to spruce up the space.
RV Campsite Setup – The Basics
In this section, we’ll describe the ideal setup where you will have the time, space and weather for your setup to spread out across the campsite.
Obviously, you may need to tweak some of this based on wind and rain and other factors. But here’s the basics you should plan.
Unwrap the Awning
If your RV has an awning (which most do) then one of the first things you can do is to roll out the awning and claim your space.
Our truck camper had two awnings – one on the side large enough to spread out beneath and one in the back to keep rain from coming in through our door. Our Class C motorhome has just one large side awning.
Whatever your awning situation, roll them out and take note of the space beneath them that you’ll likely fill with the rest of your camping setup.
We’ve encountered a fair amount of wind in our travels and recommend that you consider adding weights to your awning to hold it down in mild to moderate conditions.
Clearly, if the wind really starts gusting then it’s time to retract the awning. But you can buy some creative awning weights or find a few nearby rocks to stack up on the awning legs or to tie to some rope to help hold the awning in place.
Roll out the Sandless Mat
Sandless mats are all the rage in the RVing world. Some are quite a bit more effective than others. But the idea is you can cover a large amount of space outside of your door, presumably beneath your awning and make this your outdoor carpet.
Most of us spend most of our time outside when we go camping. So this mat gives you the chance to kick off your shoes and enjoy the great outdoors.
Although the idea is that this mat will keep most of the sand from tracking back into your RV, the reality is that you’re going to bring dirt inside anyway.
For this reason we’d recommend that you invest in either a handheld broom and dustpan or a handheld vacuum that you keep by the RV door.
READ MORE: Shop for the best RV vacuums in our Vacuum Buyer’s Guide.
Prop up the Most Comfortable Camping Chairs
Depending on your budget and the amount of storage space you have, you may have simple camping chairs from your favorite big box retail store.
Or you may consider investing in these chairs as an upgrade to your comfort while hanging out at the RV campsite. We aren’t overly picky in our choice of chairs.
We just know better than to depend on any picnic tables that may or may not be offered at the site.
Spread out the Tables
We recommend that you consider 2 tables as part of your campsite setup. Both tables need to be lightweight, compact and easy to setup and breakdown. But they each serve a different purpose.
First, we think you’ll appreciate having a small foldout table that you can sit next to your camping chairs. This is like a coffee table or end table that you may have at home.
Rest your coffee, book or plate here as you take in the beauty of your outdoor setup. We like to set this table between our chairs.
But the idea is that it is light enough and easy enough to setup and breakdown that you can move it quickly wherever you may like it.
You can’t always count on having a picnic table at your RV campsite. And when you have one, they are not always in great shape.
Plus if you cook with a charcoal grill you definitely need to avoid cooking on picnic tables provided by the campsite.
READ MORE: Check out this post for everything you need to know about buying the best RV grill.
We also set up our outdoor water and wash station on this table. Whether you opt for a water container with an electric water dispenser or go with a simple water container, having it placed near your outdoor kitchen is a great way to make sure you can wash your hands and/or dishes as needed through your time camping.
Sprucing up the RV Campsite
With the basic RV campsite setup in place you can spruce up your outdoor space with some items that make life a little more comfortable and customized.
From decorative lights to cool campfire accessories, throw a few of these ideas into your camping packing and planning and make your stay nice.
Light it up With Camping Lights
Whether you opt for decorative camping lights or stick with simple LED headlamps or flashlights, now is the time to ensure your campsite is well-lit at night. We’ve seen some pretty complex camping light arrays that really speak to the personality of the camper.
We prefer the simple. Having an LED lantern provides the functionality you want in being able to see in the dark without being over the top.
We use the lantern when preparing food for the grill or trying to walk around the campsite at night.
If you have a lantern you can set it up at the center of a circle of chairs in any place you may not be able to have a campfire and it allows everyone to see each other.
Headlamps are just as functional. But they aren’t as social.
String lights are also incredibly popular while camping. While most have converted to power-saving LED style, you’ll more than likely need to have an electric connection at the campsite or to plug into your inverter if you are are boondocking.
If you are dry camping, chances are you won’t invest too much time into decorative camping lights as you will be mindful of your energy consumption.
Keep the Bugs Away
Citronella candles are a near-must have if you are camping any place where mosquitos are regularly expected.
While they do not give off enough light to replace an LED lantern, they usually add an ambient smell that will always remind you of the times you went camping at such-and-such a place.
Keeping the mosquitos away is priceless.
Thermacell also offers a variety of great mosquito repellents that split the middle ground between citronella candles and bug spray. These products create an odorless and invisible zone free of mosquitos.
There are a variety of options that cover different amounts of space. But using these keep you free of harmful chemicals and are reasonably priced.
Screen In Your Awning
Having an awning is enough to allow you to enjoy being outdoor and in the shade. But adding a screen to your awning will give you a more bug-free experience camping in your favorite places.
While some awnings have specific screens for them, you can purchase a number of screens that attach to your existing awning. This is definitely an upgrade to the average RV campsite setup.
Build the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen
We love cooking outdoors. And with the above recommendations, it is likely you’ll develop your own outdoor kitchen setup that works great for you.
In this part of sprucing up the campsite we recommend that you find the things that customize your outdoor kitchen to suit your needs.
We’re huge fans of our Blackstone Griddle, collapsable containers and water dispenser as the core of our outdoor kitchen. Make yours as fancy or as simple as you like.
READ MORE: Check out this post on everything you need for making the perfect outdoor kitchen.
Other Ideas for Your RV Campsite
- Portable heater
- Fire Pit Ring
- Portable Water Heater
Wrapping Up The RV Campsite
Camping is more about spending time outdoor than about hanging out inside the RV. So having the best RV campsite setup is important for ensuring that you enjoy your time camping wherever you may find yourself.
It starts with arriving at the campground or campsite with enough light to set up for the night and day(s) ahead. Follow a simple setup procedure to ensure you have the essential connections you need and then begin to spread out around your site.
Customize your campsite with some string lights and other decor and you’ll find yourself content in your home away from home!
Please let us know your favorite tips, ideas or items you use when setting up your RV campsite!