Campground etiquette is not just about following the rules. It’s about creating a thoughtful, friendly and polite environment where everyone enjoys their stay
Camping is supposed to be relaxing and fun, right? For us, and for most RV enthusiasts, it usually is. Over the years, our family has stayed at hundreds of campgrounds, met countless new friends and made amazing memories.
We tell everyone we know that RVers are a friendly and polite group of people and, for the most part, it’s true. But there are always exceptions to the rule. Every once in a while, a camper doesn’t follow the traditional guidelines for campground etiquette, and a peaceful retreat turns into a stressful experience we’d rather forget.
The golden rule works well for a lot of situations in life, but not necessarily in the case of campground etiquette. RVers are a diverse group of people with different camping styles and preferences, so it’s important to understand the basic guidelines that apply at all campgrounds, whether public or private, rustic or resort.
Before diving into the ins and outs of etiquette, it’s worth remembering that, if we want campgrounds to be well-mannered communities, we should start by making sure we are well-mannered campers.
Expect good things. We pull into every new campground wearing rose-colored glasses. Attitude goes a long way toward creating happy campers. If you search out the negative, you will probably find it.
Let the little things go. Don’t allow small annoyances to ruin your entire stay. If your temporary next-door neighbor wakes you before quiet hours are over, try not to stew about it. Pop in some earplugs and go back to sleep.
Take it to the top. If someone or something is negatively affecting the quality of your camping experience, ask the right people to help solve the problem. Expressing your concerns to the campground management will often yield better results than individual confrontations or social-media rants.
Now onto the nitty-gritty. If you’re a newbie RVer, consider this your primer on campground etiquette. If you’re a seasoned camper, think of it as a refresher course.
Campgrounds take a lot of strangers and put them into a relatively small amount of space, so it’s important for everyone to be on their best behavior. Here are some tips for enjoying the communal areas of the campground.
Follow the rules. When you make a reservation at a particular campground, you are agreeing to abide by its rules during your stay. Some places have specific policies about golf carts, curfews, campfires and the use of local firewood versus bringing your own. If you don’t like the rules, stay somewhere else.
Obey traffic signs. Nothing gets campers on edge more than folks who treat campground roads like speedways. People are walking dogs, riding bikes and tossing Frisbees, and there are children playing in most campgrounds. In addition to driving slowly and observing posted speed limits, always obey the one-way signs, whether they make sense to you or not. No one wants to end up in a game of chicken with a fifth-wheel trailer on a single-lane road.
Respect shared spaces. Playgrounds and pools can be hot spots for controversy at the campground. Don’t reserve tables or chairs for the entire day if you are not physically present at the pool. If you’re camping with a group, make sure your cannonball contest doesn’t keep others from enjoying a nice swim.
Monitor children. No matter how safe a campground is, don’t allow your kids to roam unattended. When there are issues at the playground or the jumping pillow and no parent can be found, other adults get frustrated.
Discard trash properly. Every RV park has different garbage and recycling policies, so make sure you are properly informed upon check-in. Some campgrounds offer garbage pickup at the campsite. However, leaving food scraps out overnight can lead to undesirable wildlife encounters. We keep bags of garbage closed up tight in the back of our truck until we are able to dispose of them properly.
Even though you may be staying for only a short time, it’s important to be a good neighbor at the campground. Respect the fact that people are camping nearby and other folks will be using the campsite once you’re gone.
Observe campsite boundaries. One of the most common complaints on RV forums and social media is people cutting through campsites. Never use a campsite as a shortcut, and stay on clearly marked paths and roads whenever walking around the campground. Make sure you pass this wisdom on to your children as well.
Be conscious of noise. Heavy metal might be your jam at the campground, but not everybody shares your taste in music. With the abundance of outdoor speakers and televisions on RVs, it’s important to remember that noise shouldn’t travel far beyond your own slice of real estate. Test the volume by taking a walk to a neighboring site. If you can still hear Def Leppard or ESPN, it’s time to turn it down a few notches. In addition, quiet hours are observed religiously at many campgrounds. Know the policy where you are camping and keep it down during that time.
Be a responsible dog owner. We love traveling with our dog, but irresponsible pet owners are another one of the most common campground-etiquette complaints. Always keep dogs on a 6-foot or shorter leash when walking, and make sure they are properly restrained at the campsite via a tether or expandable pen. Carry bags to dispose of pet waste properly or use ones provided by the campground. Perhaps most importantly, no one — not even the most ardent dog lover — appreciates incessant barking. If your pups yap nonstop at the campground, you might consider leaving them with a sitter during campground stays.
Empty the tanks discreetly. It’s not anyone’s favorite task, but dumping the black and gray holding tanks is a fact of life for every RV owner and should be done courteously. If the sewer hookup is close to another camper’s site, be considerate and empty the tanks when they are not relaxing nearby, and particularly not when they are enjoying a meal at the picnic table. Even if you do everything right, dumping the tanks can emit unpleasant odors. Consider tackling that chore early in the day or late in the evening when many campers are inside their rigs.
If you use the campground’s dump station, move quickly when other RVers are waiting in line with their RVs and take care of the black-tank flush at your next stop.
Safely enjoy your campfire. When it comes to the campfire, take a cue from the Boy Scouts and put safety first. Build fires only in approved rings or pits, and never leave a campfire unattended. Put it out completely with water before retiring for the night. Other no-no’s? Never burn trash or place glass in a campground fire pit. That just leaves a big mess for the next campsite resident.
Turn off outside lights. As much as you love those cool LED awning lights, your neighbor in the pop-up camper might not appreciate them so much. A good rule of thumb is to treat quiet hours as dark hours. Double check to make sure your exterior lights are turned off before turning in for the night.
Leave the campsite as you found it. Remember that the campsite is on loan to you, and it’s important not to make any permanent changes. Don’t move boundary stones or fire rings, and if you move the picnic table, return it before you leave. Never cut down branches, and don’t put nails in trees for clotheslines or hammocks. Before departing, make a quick sweep of the site to check for personal items or debris.
Make friends. Most of us spend a lot of time in front of screens these days, interacting in texts and on social media more than in person. Dust off your communication skills at the campground and look for opportunities to be friendly, just like the good ol’ days.
Lend a hand. We’ll never forget the time when three seasoned campers helped us get our LP-gas furnace lit on a cold autumn night. They saved us from a disaster, and we have heard many similar stories over the years. Passing on expertise is a truly wonderful tradition in RV culture. On the other hand, let fellow campers focus when parking, hitching and unhitching their RVs. Talking to campers when they are trying to back in a trailer or hitch up to leave is not only distracting, it can be downright dangerous. Give people their space, even if you think you could help them get into that difficult campsite in
a flash. And try not to stare — we were all rookies once.
Pay it forward. Our day has been brightened many times by the thoughtfulness of other folks at the campground, and we appreciate the opportunity to pay it forward when we travel. Leaving behind unused firewood for the next camper or walking it over to the neighbor at the next site before leaving is a nice gesture. We have also lent folks an extra hose to reach their hookups and given neighbors a fuse when they had one blow. It’s often these little things that make the campground experience such a special thing.
Enjoy your stay. Time at the RV park is precious. We go to relax, have fun and enjoy the company of our family and friends. Let’s make sure we don’t ruin that for anyone else!
In addition to contributing to Trailer Life, Jeremy and Stephanie Puglisi are writers for RVFTA.com and hosts of the RV Family Travel Atlas podcast. They are also the authors of Idiot’s Guides: RV Vacations. The couple spends as much time as possible exploring the country in a toy-hauler travel trailer with their three very energetic sons and Maggie the Camping Dog.