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Setting Up Camp In The Dark? Our Tips Help Shed Some Light

Setting Up Camp In The Dark? Our Tips Help Shed Some Light

It’s a Friday afternoon at the start of a long weekend or vacation for you and your family. You’re leaving after work so you’re hitting the road a little late. Because of that late start and traffic along the way, you arrive at your destination so late that you’re setting up camp in the dark.

In this post, we offer tips for navigating a late campground arrival so you and your family can get set up in the dark… safely and comfortably… and without being a nuisance to your neighbors.

Tips for Setting Up Camp In the Dark

Ideally, we all prefer to arrive at the campground while it’s still light out and before the park office closes. But that’s not always possible. Here are some tips to make an after-dark RV park or campground arrival as seamless as possible:

Be Aware of Potential Hazards

A nighttime campground arrival means limited visibility. Hazards such as overhanging tree branches, rocks, tight turns, or other obstacles are more difficult to see when navigating park roads and approaching your site in the dark.

Backing into a campsite in broad daylight can be tricky enough. But backing in at night poses additional challenges. You may not be able to see things very clearly in your mirrors or your backup camera, and your spotter is likely harder to see as well.

A campsite surrounded by trees with other obstacles

When you pull into (or back into) a campsite during the day there can be numerous obstacles to avoid that you might not see in the dark. These include trees, tree branches, rocks, stumps, signs, site number posts, picnic tables, fire pits, etc.

Call Ahead

Always call ahead to let the campground office know you’ll be late. They may be able to provide guidance in terms of navigating to your campsite. They may also need to give you a gate code, bathroom code, site number, and instructions on where and when to pick up your registration materials. They may want to leave information in a designated location or instruct you to pick it up or come into the office to pay the next day.

Request a Pull-Through Site

Ask if a pull-through site is available. If so, this can make it easier for you to drive in and set up instead of having to back into a site in the dark. Even the best RV backup cameras may not show a clear enough picture in the dark to keep you from damaging your RV or an object at the campsite.

Learn and Observe Quiet Hours

Find out what the campground’s quiet hours are so you’ll know when to observe them and not disturb your neighbors. After all, no one wants to be a bad RV neighbor. For more information on how to be a good RV neighbor, see our post on RV park etiquette.

Delay Your Arrival

Depending on your travel plans, you may even want to delay your arrival at the campground or RV park until you can arrive and set up camp in daylight. This may simply mean that you spend a night in a nearby Walmart, rest stop, or other free overnight RV parking spot, then head to your campground the following morning.

A view from our motorhome parked in a Walmart parking lot overnight

Sometimes spending a night in a nearby parking lot that allows RV overnight parking may be your best bet for a safe and easy campground arrival and set-up the next morning.

Be Prepared With Flashlights or Headlamps

Be sure to have a flashlight or headlamp charged up, or have fresh batteries on hand. Lighting is essential for making sure you’ll be able to find your way around a dark campsite and get set up. Better yet, consider not getting fully hooked up until the following morning, when you’ll have plenty of light and won’t risk bothering neighbors.

Either way, it should go without saying that you should park and shut your engine down as quickly as reasonably possible. For the sake of peace and quiet, we implore every RVer to avoid unnecessary and/or extended engine idling. It’s simply not necessary, especially at the end of the driving day.

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Use Walkie-Talkies or Cell Phones for Parking Communication

Use walkie-talkies or cell phones to communicate as you’re attempting to navigate your rig into your campsite. Remember that the driver may not be able to see you well at all behind the RV in the dark, so your usual hand signals may be useless. Plan to use your walkie-talkies or cell phones so you can communicate clearly by voice and get parked without incident. Of course, this can also be useful during the day.

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Do Only What’s Necessary

We touched on this above, but it bears repeating in more detail.

Once you’ve parked your rig, do only what you absolutely need to do to be comfortable for the night. For example, if you’re fine without leveling, consider waiting until the next morning. That can save you from fumbling around in the dark under the rig to place jack/leveling pads. If you’re okay in a Wal-Mart lot without leveling for one night, maybe you can do the same in a campsite?

If you’ve got automatic jacks and SnapPads (permanent RV jack pads) on your rig like we do, it could simply be a matter of pressing a button. If your routine is that easy (and your jack system isn’t too loud) that may make it quick and easy to level without bothering neighbors.

But surely most of us can make do without full hook-ups for one night? Even if you need power right away, leaving the water and sewer hookups for the following morning shouldn’t be too big a burden. And certainly, you don’t need all your chairs, bikes, grill, and other gear until tomorrow.

In general, when you’re setting up camp in the dark, it’s best to do as little as reasonably possible until the next morning. Not only does that tend to help avoid mistakes, but daylight also makes the process easier overall.

Of course, some of your decisions about things like this will depend on how late it is. The two main issues are 1) Darkness and 2) Disturbing neighboring campers. There’s a big difference between having a little extra challenge hooking up a sewer hose in the dark at 8 PM and making noise that may wake your neighbors when you roll into the park at 11 PM.

Like so many other things, using good judgment and common courtesy go a long way toward making life better… and making us good RVing neighbors.

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PLEASE NOTE: We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

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