From the high country to the desert, the Fox Mountain 235RLS fifth-wheel is at home in primitive campgrounds and RV resorts
When Trailer Life’s test dates for the Northwood Fox Mountain 235RLS fifth-wheel were nailed down in the beginning of June, I called to make campground reservations in the Big Bear area of Southern California for the Fourth of July weekend, without much luck. “Was that for the Fourth of July weekend this year or next?” was one woman’s smart-aleck reply. “We’ve been booked for months!”
When a site for a single night became available, I grabbed it — and my husband, Bill, and I headed out in hopes of cancellations. By happy chance, we got sites for several more nights, moving to a new location each day. We had no trouble maneuvering the 27-foot 10-inch 235RLS into a tight-angled corner site at a full-service RV park one day and a dry campsite sandwiched between large pine trees the next.
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Five Girls in a Fifth-Wheel
After we were done playing in the mountains, I headed to the desert the following weekend with my sister, niece, a friend and her daughter — five girls in a fifth-wheel — to Pala RV Resort in San Diego County. So I had the good fortune to experience the Fox Mountain in the company of one, then four, in both dry campsites and luxury RV resorts, to evaluate the livability of this fifth-wheel.
Okay, so the trailer: For 2018, the satellite-ready 235RLS gets a 12-volt DC battery disconnect and is prewired for solar with a standard 20-watt roof panel. A 60-watt portable unit that plugs into the side of the RV is a $750 option. Interior colors include Stone in brown tones, and Bronze in black, tan and silver colors.
Most fifth-wheels (with the exception of toy haulers) aren’t designed for off-pavement use, but the 235RLS comes standard with some pretty robust equipment for more rugged travels. Goodyear Marathon tires are paired with heavier-rated axles and bigger brakes.
Ground clearance is impressive, too — the lowest point under the trailer offered a generous 11½ inches of ground clearance. Not so generous was the clearance between the trailer’s 12-foot, 7-inch roof and the ceiling of some gas-station bays in the small town of Big Bear — in fact, some stations couldn’t accommodate us at all, although they were older facilities.
As we arrived at an RV park on the shores of Big Bear Lake in early afternoon, a chili cookoff was already in full swing, with chili stops set up at various RV sites and people spilling out into the road. Folks in golf carts adorned with patriotic streamers, garlands and American flags, and kids of all ages on bicycles were enjoying a perfect July day.
Settling in, we opened the single slideout that houses the booth dinette, expanding the galley’s width by 3 feet, and admired the Fox Mountain logo, paw prints and mountains carved overhead into the wood framing of the slide. The Stone decor with warm brown tones creates a pleasant ambience, and a big 70×38-inch rear window provides sweeping views of the outdoors. Above it, a roomy cabinet with four glass-fronted doors is set in a solid-wood frame.
The galley, with a cathedral arched ceiling that stretches more than 8 feet, is home to a three-speed fan and light fixture that we found difficult to reach. All appliances, including the two-way, 9.5-cubic-foot refrigerator, oven and microwave are stainless steel and stationed close together for convenience. The cabinets stairstep down, leaving space on top (up high) for more storage, if needed. Some cabinets are hard to reach without a chair or stepladder.
The trailer’s control panels are grouped on the end cabinet near the entry door. A 120-volt AC outlet is located next to the entry, so that portion of the counter became a charging station for cell phones. Across the way, the small counter between the door and rear jackknife sofa (two lounge chairs are optional) was a handy drop-off and pickup point for keys, wallets, sunglasses and hats.
Across from the streetside dinette, a solid-surface peninsula countertop is the centerpiece for the kitchen and, as I found out later, was useful when three of us were putting together dinner at the same time. My sister chopped up the makings for a salad on one side of the counter, while my niece mashed potatoes across the way, and I cooked at the three-burner range. Sink covers add even more space to the large countertop, so even as the other two guests popped in to help, the area didn’t feel crowded.
Cut into the counter near the entry door is a trash drop that we three used without having to sidestep each other. Housed at the end of the counter is a well-hidden swing-out cabinet for spices and such. Our only complaint was a floor vent parked close to the two-basin sink and counter; our salad ended up short a couple of zucchini slices after they cartwheeled off the counter onto the floor and disappeared into the vent. Moving the vent register closer to the base of the cabinet would be a welcome change in future models.
In total, the living area offers seating for seven, and we found the overall layout ideal for hanging out and enjoying the company of others. Northwood claims that the 235RLS can sleep six, which it could if four are of small stature, and kid-size if sharing the sofa. When the dinette was laid flat to make a 74×40-inch bed, it became a favorite lounging place for 6-foot 4-inch Mr. Up-and-Functioning-at-the-Crack-of-Dawn (I don’t get it) Bill, who propped pillows against the wall and tucked his feet under him to read the paper and enjoy the view of birds hopping among pines in search of breakfast.
Pleated day/night shades are used throughout the RV, and although they are a good compromise, we had trouble with a few of them sticking. Another thing worth noting is that the slide will meet the kitchen counter in travel mode, blocking access to the refrigerator and bathroom. It will need to be opened, at least partially, if you require access to these areas while on the road.
For a really good night’s sleep, we headed up the three carpeted steps to the walk-around (albeit tight) queen bed. A thoughtful touch is that the cabinets to the left of the stairs are rounded so there are no sharp edges to bump into. Lying in the comfortable bed, the soft headboard was swell to lean our heads against, though we couldn’t sit all the way up
because of limited headroom.
Reading in bed one morning, I noted the good airflow when Bill opened the entry door and the scent of the outdoors floated back to the bedroom. Overhead is a Fan-Tastic Vent fan with three settings, which can be controlled by a remote without getting out of bed. The remote has a wall cradle so you can keep track of it.
Each side of the bed has its own overhead cabinet, nightstand with drawer, USB port, 120-volt AC outlet and very bright reading lights that got a bit hot to the touch. There are plenty of places to stow things in the wardrobe, sliding drawers and under the bed. Plus, with the attached bathroom, there’s the benefit of the vanity and medicine cabinet. A sliding curtain separates the bed from the bath area but doesn’t cut the sound of someone washing up at the sink or taking a shower.
The bathroom — with a spot of linoleum flooring by the sink and in the toilet room mingling with carpet — is roomy and set up like a workout circuit. The porcelain toilet is behind a door on the curb side of the room (there’s also an overhead cabinet and a ceiling fan), and the sink and large glass-enclosed shower with a seat are out in the open on the opposite side, so you can move from one to the next with plenty of dressing space. A heavier accordion-style door separates the entire bedroom area from the galley below.
After reveling in Big Bear’s perfect temperatures, the Fox Mountain’s single Airxcel 13,500-Btu ducted air conditioner (a 15,000-Btu unit is optional) got a workout when we set up camp at Pala with 100-plus-degree days. In the morning, as temps started to rise, we could almost feel the trailer stretching with various ticks and expanding creaks as it warmed up.
I sure had a knack for showing up in a party environment with the Fox Mountain, which seemed apropos, since Northwood is celebrating its 25th anniversary through July of next year. At Pala, which hosts a themed weekend each month, we joined a Survivor party that started out with designing team flags. In between the outdoor games, we headed back to cool down in the RV.
With the A/C unit and fan in full swing, and thanks in part to four-season insulation, the interior stayed wonderfully cool, as long as there weren’t a lot of comings and goings (a challenge with two teenagers). From the inside, opening the screen door was a breeze, courtesy of a round plastic push-down knob so the screen can be opened without sliding the plastic first.
Outside, the aerodynamic front cap and eye-catching graphics drew attention to the Fox Mountain’s curb appeal. A weatherproof King RV Media Bluetooth music-streaming speaker and light over the entry door grabbed the attention of several people almost immediately. We paired a cell phone to the fixture to enjoy a music and light show outdoors. The electric Carefree Travel’r awning with adjustable pitch and up-high-and-out-of-the-way arms covered our favorite spot to park ourselves. And we were the envy of our neighbors after the husband bopped his wife on the head with their RV’s manual awning while setting up camp.
Cavernous exterior pass-through storage measures 41×19 inches at the smallest opening, so five camp chairs, several folding tables, wheel chocks and cases of Diet Coke didn’t come close to filling the space. The compartment is lighted at both sides, and magnetic catches hold the doors up out of the way. There is additional storage in the slideout’s exterior, provided by a 6-foot-high cabinet with hardware for shelving. The cabinet, at 17 inches deep and wide, was a good place to stow stuff like a long-handled broom and mop out of the way. A slide topper is a $415 option.
The Fox Mountain has standard-type landing jacks up front and manual stabilizers in back. Due to the trailer’s relatively short proportions, we found that the entry steps need to be folded out of the way when cranking the jacks up and down by hand; otherwise, my hand banged into the step. As for the trifold grated entry steps, they were ideal for dislodging dirt and rocks from shoes so it wasn’t tracked inside, but boy, they sure were uncomfortable on bare feet, which is how we spent much of our time at Pala.
The Fox Mountain incorporates a number of thoughtful exterior details that include lights over the kingpin box and dump valves for setting up or breaking camp in the dark, as well as a spare tire and ladder out back. And I’ve never been so thankful for an outside sprayer as I was when we were in Big Bear. Even though my German shepherd slept under the stars and not in the RV, there was still the matter of getting her home in our truck after a leisurely lakeside stroll turned into a game of rolling in rotting fish carcasses. Ugh. Thanks to the exterior spray wand and a lot of shampoo, she was good as new.
The Cummins Onan RV QG 3600 LP generator, housed in a three-sided insulated box under the front cap, was pretty quiet when pressed into service. There’s storage on either side of the generator, but its exhaust pipe looks goofy sticking out 6 inches from the side of the RV, making it the widest point on the Fox Mountain. Two 7-gallon LP-gas cylinders are housed inside a cabinet on the driver’s side, and about halfway into our trip that door would not stay closed while under way. Finally, we wrapped duct tape around the latch to keep it from turning, and that worked as a temporary fix.
Winding up an evening outdoors at Pala, we moved inside to watch a movie. Popcorn bowls in hand, two were seated at the dinette and three piled comfortably onto the jackknife sofa facing the 32-inch LED HDTV. Below it is a Jensen AM/FM/DVD/CD/USB Bluetooth stereo with app control. The surround sound was excellent, and the TV swivels out to position as needed.
Reflecting on our time with the Fox Mountain 235RLS, we agreed that the galley and kitchen were a delight, not only because of the warm tones and welcoming feel but also because of the practicality and roominess. Team that with thoughtful features, looking-for-adventure graphics, an aerodynamic front cap and more than 2,000 pounds of cargo carrying capacity, and Northwood’s got a winner.
Northwood | 800-766-6274 | www.northwoodmfg.com
Trailer Life Managing Editor Donya Carlson grew up camping with her family in Southern California and loves spending time hiking, mountain biking, motorcycling, snowboarding and just about anything else outdoors. Before joining the Trailer Life and MotorHome team, she served as managing editor of Rider, a magazine for motorcycle enthusiasts.