July is the month for our big summer road trips. We are once again headed on the road for thousands of miles, covering ten states, and six National Parks.
We will be visiting Hot Springs National Park, Smoky Mountain National Park, Congaree National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Cuyahoga National Park, and Mammoth Cave National Park. We begin planning these trips up to a year in advance. I had all of our RV sites booked six months in advance or more. We packed up our fifth wheel and hit the road this weekend.
How Do I Plan our Trips?
I use the Roadtrippers App for all of our big trips. I sometimes use it for small trips too, because it is so amazing! It provides mapping, mileage between destinations, and allows me to put all of our details into the “notes” of each trip document. It then has a feature where you can convert all the plan details and notes into a PDF for easy printing. I printed our 23 page document last night to include any last minute additions. I plan our days at the National Parks and record all our booking info in the app too. It makes it easy to retrieve all of the trip info in one spot. If for some reason my phone is not working I always have my PDF printout for reference and use.
I can’t recommend this free app enough! It is amazing and pretty easy to use. Like any app you have to get into it and use it a few times to figure out how all the features work. Just start with the basics and you will get the hang of using it, as it is a user friend app with great reviews.
How do I Book our Excursions?
I book our excursions most often through Trip Advisor. This website is the best for providing accurate reviews about things to do and anywhere you want to go. For example, I typed in Hot Springs, AR under the “things to do” category on TripAdvisor.com. Up pops a list of the top things to see, do, or visit in the Hot Spring area. The order of the list is based on reviews from other travelers. This is why I love this site! I get to hear from real people, about their actual travel experiences!
Often on the lists it will have tourist activities and your can book right through their website. We booked a white water river rafting experience in Pigeon Forge through the site based on reviews. I also looked to this site for the best ways to see Washington DC in a day. A golf cart tour featuring the city highlights came up with five stars from everyone who had done this tour. Getting recommendations from other people who have “been there, done that” is the best way to go! Trip Advisor makes it easy see recommendations and to book right there.
Because I booked almost all of our excursions through Trip Advisor it makes it easy to retrieve tickets, information about each excursion booked, and I can cancel or change easily. I go under my account and can view all currently booked excursions. Super easy and organized!
Where do we Stay?
We have a 42 foot fifth wheel camper. We have to stay at parks, campgrounds, or RV Parks that can accomadate this length and have hook ups. What kind of hookups? We need power and water. We do not “boon-dock”. This is camping without hooking up to power or water. You can fill the camper water tank in advance and run a generator for power. We haven’t invested in a generator for this purpose yet, because we haven’t had a need for one. Therefore, we only stay where we have full hookups.
I typically book us at quality state parks wherever we go. I look online at each state’s state park website and find the closest park to whatever National Park we are looking to visit. Sometimes there aren’t good options, so that’s when I look into a private RV Park. The reason I like state parks is because they are meant to be nature parks. You are surrounded by wildlife, not typically stacked in rows with other campers. They arrange state parks so that campers have their own little plot of nature with trees, natural habit and some privacy away from fellow campers. Private RV parks will have pools, laundry facilities, and often some better amenities then the state parks, but we go to the state parks for nature, lakes, and beautiful views. Most of the private RV parks have the campers parked close together to maximize the spaces. We prefer state parks, aslong as they have the hook ups we need, then our camper provides all the amenities we require.
Some state parks are so well visited that you need to book months in advance to get a spot. Places like Possum Kingdom and Palo Duro have state parks that stay booked solid during the summer months. We made reservations well in advance to ensure we had a place at each state park we wanted. We booked Gulf Shores State Park on the coast a full year in advance for a trip next summer. Some states only allow you to make reservations up to six months in advance. Just mark your calendar for six months out if it a park with this restriction and it is highly desirable.
I also utilize Trip Advisor for reviews on each state park. There will always be complainers, so I read and determine if their complaint has any basis or will affect our camping experience. Not all state parks are equal. This is why it is helpful to use Trip Advisor to find the best places to stay and things to do in that area.