If you’re considering striking out on a winter RV camping adventure, good for you! It’s an incredible opportunity to get some truly unique camping experiences under your belt.
However, winter camping in an RV isn’t all fun and games – there’s plenty of prep to do beforehand. Here’s our complete guide to RV camping in the winter!
“Winterizing” Your RV
What is Winterizing?
To put it simply, winterizing your RV is the process of ensuring that your pipes won’t burst due to the temperature dropping below freezing.
Just like pipes can freeze and burst in your house, they can also freeze and burst in your RV. In fact, it’s more likely that they’ll burst in your RV than in your home.
Should You Winterize Your RV Before Winter RV Camping?
If your winter RV camping trip is going to take you somewhere with below-freezing temperatures, it’s best to winterize before you go.
Even if the temperatures are technically above freezing, remember that wind chill can play a factor, and weather apps aren’t always accurate. It’s better safe than sorry.
Winterizing your RV will mean that you can’t use the water–not even for showering. If you’re deeply attached to having your water running on your winter camping trip, you can purchase a heated hose and pipe heaters.
What You Need to Winterize Your RV
To winterize your RV, all you’ll need is a toolkit (including wrenches, pliers or screwdrivers, and a flashlight) and antifreeze.
You also may need a water heater bypass kit, but only if your RV doesn’t already have a bypass installed! Make sure you check before you begin winterizing.
While learning how to winterize your RV can be tricky the first time, it’s worth it to avoid mopping up floodwater from your RV and having to deal with broken pipes.
Finding the Right Winter Campground
What to Look For
If you’re winterizing your RV, you’ll want to make sure you choose a campground with a bathhouse, unless it’s a very short trip. Body odor and RVs do not mesh well.
You’ll also want to choose a campground with potable water available, or make sure you bring plenty along. With antifreeze in your pipes, you’re not going to be able to access any otherwise.
Try to track down campgrounds that offer opportunities for winter activities, such as cross-country skiing, sledding, ice skating, and more.
If you can, pick a campground where firewood is available for purchase, either within the campground itself or close by. Odds are you’ll want a fire going more often than you might in the summer.
What to Avoid
Try not to pick campgrounds that are pretty remote for winter RV camping.
Winter weather can be unpredictable and dangerous, and in case of emergencies, it will be safer to stay closer to civilization…and cell service!
If anything goes wrong with the RV or you end up stranded for any reason, you’ll want to be able to contact help.
Unless you’re a practiced winter RV camper, it might not be wise to boondock on your first winter camping trip. Staying in isolated areas in the winter is a considerable risk, especially because you won’t be able to use the heating function on your RV.
Best Time to Go RV Camping in the Winter
Try to avoid camping in January; out of all the winter months, January is the coldest in 90% of the United States!
If you don’t have holiday plans with extended family, December is the best month for winter camping if you want to avoid the most crowds. Most people don’t spend the holiday season in their RV, so it can make for a peaceful and unique way to bond with your close family over the holidays!
If you have your heart set on your holiday traditions–or simply have a busy December–November or February can both be good for winter camping, as well. Just keep in mind they may lean warmer than other months. Since November is right on the cusp between fall and winter, the campgrounds may still be a bit crowded, too.
Staying Warm on Your Winter RV Camping Trip
When to Buy a Heater
Not all RVs require a separate heater, particularly if you choose to insulate the undercarriage of your RV. However, it’s not unwise to keep one on hand.
Because the RV is a smaller space, you don’t need to invest in anything too fancy; a heater that can cover the space of one room should do it. You can purchase one that runs on electricity, or a gas-powered one if you do choose to boondock or stay in a campground without electric hookups.
Options for Insulation
Insulating your RV (or “skirting” your RV) is an easy way to help keep your pipes safer and the RV itself much warmer!
You can use skirting kits, get a custom-made vinyl tarp for your RV’s dimensions, or save money by DIYing the skirting/
Vinyl is the favored choice of material for insulation, but you can also use foam, canvas, polyethylene, or even plywood!
What You Need for Winter RV Camping
Snow and Ice Scrapers
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be easy to forget, especially if you have a motorhome instead of a travel trailer!
We don’t always think about needing a snow and ice scraper for our RVs; after all, we usually drive them in the summer.
But just like our other vehicles, RVs can get crusted in snow and ice, which can make it difficult or even impossible to move them. Always bring a scraper along!
Snow Tires and/or Snow Chains
Snow tires for RVs can be difficult to track down, but they are out there if you want to invest in them. If you’re not going to be winter camping often, you probably don’t need to worry about swapping out your tires.
You can use snow chains on RV tires; however, it is highly recommended that you only use them in an emergency, and that you take them off as soon as you can. They can damage your RV’s tires quite a bit if used for too long.
It’s just nice to have them on hand in case you end up stuck.
Car Emergency Kit
Repurposing a car emergency kit as your RV emergency kit is another good way to prep for potential issues. You want to be prepared for a winter weather emergency no matter what you happen to be driving!
Two parts of a car emergency kit you absolutely should have on hand for winter RV camping are cat litter and rock salt. These will be your new best friends if you have to get your RV unstuck in slippery, snowy conditions.
Food and Water
Bring plenty of food and water on your trip–including emergency rations and non-perishable items. If you lose power or end up stuck in the campground for longer than expected, you’ll be happy you overprepared.
As mentioned, drinkable water is also important, considering your pipes will be filled with antifreeze. Stock up more than you think you need, and stock up even more than that if the campground doesn’t have potable water.
Warm Outdoor Gear
Make sure you bring all the necessary winter outdoor gear–not just a coat! You want to make sure you have sturdy, warm boots, gloves, a hat, and maybe even snowpants or a snowsuit.
You’ll also want to bring hand and foot warmers. Remember you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, even if it’s just around the fire! Numb fingers and toes are no fun for anyone, and frostbite can happen even when you’re a few feet away from your warm RV.
Frostbite can happen quickly, and it can happen without you being aware of it! It’s always better safe than sorry when it comes to wearing your winter gear.
If the campground doesn’t have firewood for sale–and really, even if it does–make sure you bring plenty of extra firewood along with you, as long as it’s allowed.
If you lose power while RV camping in the winter, the fire may become your new cooking medium, as well as a heat source. You want to make sure you won’t run out of fuel for it!
Extra Fuel for the Heater–and Your Vehicle!
Speaking of fuel and heat sources, if you have an additional heater that requires a fuel other than electricity (such as propane), make sure you bring extra propane along.
Try to bring extra gasoline as well.
This “necessity” is actually focused on your own enjoyment more than actual need!
While RV camping in the winter, you might find that certain things are different than they are in the summer. For instance, the floors might get extremely cold.
Bringing along warm socks or slippers is a great way to beat the new chill beneath your feet!
You can also bring along other items to stay cozy, such as fluffy robes, heated blankets, warm PJs, and special snacks.
We also recommend bringing the ingredients to make your favorite hot chocolate, coffee, or tea, as well as some favorite mugs.
In Case of Emergency
What To Do If You Get “Snowed In”
If you get “snowed in” and can’t leave the campground, there are a few things you should do.
First, make sure you sweep all the snow off the top of your RV every so often. If snow piles up too much, its weight can cause damage to the roof. It can even result in drafts and leaks!
Secondly, contact your emergency contacts and let them know where you are and what’s happening. Set a time to contact them again. If something goes wrong, it’s important that someone is aware of where you are.
Thirdly, keep salting your steps down to keep ice from gathering. A fall is never good, but it’s especially not ideal in the midst of a storm.
If you have advance notice that a storm is on its way, try to prepare ahead of time. Start conserving resources like water, food, and fuel, and prepare to hunker down for a while.
What To Do If Your Pipes Burst
If you do choose not to winterize your RV before your winter RV camping trip, you may end up with a burst pipe. If you try to turn your water on and notice leakage or flooding, here’s what you do.
First, shut off the water pump.
Next, try your best to track down the burst pipe. This could take a while; the burst pipe could be hiding inside a panel or cabinet or in the underbelly of the RV itself.
Once you locate the burst pipe, use leak repair tape to seal it off. This is only a temporary fix, but it will buy you time to get somewhere where it can be repaired!
Mop up the standing water before you take your RV to the repair shop. Otherwise, you might end up with water damage.
What To Do If The Roads Are Slick
If you’re driving your motorhome or dragging your travel trailer behind you, and you notice the road conditions have become icy and dangerous, do not try to push through.
Instead, turn on your hazards, pull over slowly and carefully, and prepare to wait out the storm.
Motorhomes are far harder to stop than your usual car, and travel trailers can throw off your vehicle’s balance. Slippery roads are always a hazard, but they’re even worse if you’re driving with an RV in tow.
If you absolutely have to keep going, go as slow as is safe alongside other traffic. Be especially cautious when taking curves or turns, and do not slam on the brake or accelerate rapidly. Always use your signals, and keep in mind that other drivers may not be able to see you as well.
Why Go RV Camping in the Winter?
Winter Sports Opportunities
As mentioned earlier, winter sports are one of the huge perks of RV camping in the winter! You can head out to some incredible destinations for skiing or sledding and know that you have a nice warm RV to come back to.
Hiking in the snow is an experience that can lead to some truly incredible views. Many camping trails offer lookout spots, but few people get to experience those views with snow glittering over every surface.
You’ll likely spot a different variety of wildlife in the winter than in the summer. In fact, with a backdrop of white and not as much foliage to hide themselves in, you may even spot more wildlife than usual!
Last but not least, no matter what month you choose for your winter RV camping excursion, the campgrounds will be considerably less crowded than in the busy season.
This also means the trails will be less congested!
Winter RV Camping Isn’t For The Faint of Heart, But…
Though winter RV camping will require more effort, preparation, and potentially some quick thinking, it’s also one of the greatest adventures you can have during the snowy season.
For more winter camping advice, visit our winter camping section now!
- About the Author
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Cassidy Eubanks is a proud Michigander, an avid reader, and a writer for Apple Pie Media. Her bachelor’s in Creative Writing has fueled her love of storytelling in all its forms…including campfire stories!
With many years of both tent camping and RV camping under her belt, the ability to roll her ankle multiple times without actually spraining it while hiking, and a foolproof method for making the perfect s’more, Cassidy loves sharing different tips, tricks, and tools on Beyond the Tent to make your camping trip as simple and stress-free as possible.