Hitting the Open Road: Using GPS to Map RV Routes

Before heading out, it pays to spend some time planning your route. Nothing spoils a relaxing road trip faster than getting your rig stuck under a low bridge or wedged into a tight turn. That’s where GPS can be a real lifesaver for RVers. With some handy route planning tips, you can easily use GPS to map out RV-friendly routes and steer clear of potential headaches.

Scoping Out Your Route in Advance is Key

When it comes to route planning, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as my Grandpappy used to say. Taking the time to scope out your route on a map or GPS before heading out can save you a huge amount of grief during your trip.

As my buddy learned the hard way, simply punching an address into your GPS and hitting the road can land you in trouble. On a trip from Texas to Colorado, his GPS routed him down a “shortcut” that turned out to be a winding mountain road with low clearance bridges and impossible switchback turns. After getting wedged halfway into a tunnel and requiring an expensive tow, he learned his lesson. Always review your route thoroughly before departure!

Using GPS Features to Avoid Low Clearances and Tight Turns

Fortunately, most GPS units and mapping apps have settings that let you avoid routes with low clearances and tight turns. Here are some tips for using these features effectively:

  • Enter your RV specs – Most GPS units allow you to enter the height, width, length and weight of your RV. By inputting this info, it can route you around restricted areas. Recheck these settings before each trip in case anything has changed.
  • Enable height and width limit warnings – Activate audible height and width limit alerts on your GPS to warn you of upcoming tunnels, bridges and narrow roads that may be problematic. This gives you a heads up to change course when needed.
  • Select routes for larger vehicles – Use the “vehicle type” menu to select RV, bus or truck. This prioritizes roads suitable for big rigs. Deselect any Avoid options for ferries, toll roads or highways since RVers often need these.
  • Avoid difficult intersections – Choose to bypass tricky intersections and complex merges which can be tough to maneuver a large RV through.
  • Update map data frequently – Out of date map data could leave you high and dry, so be sure to update your maps regularly. Sign up for update alerts from your GPS or mapping software provider.

Plotting Your Route for Maximum Scenic Enjoyment

Sure, avoiding disasters is important, but a big part of the fun of RVing is taking in all the scenic beauty this great country has to offer. With some savvy route planning, you can plot an RV course that takes you through the most stunning vistas and charming small towns.

One of my favorite parts of road tripping is happening upon an overlook with an incredible view or stopping to explore a quirky little roadside attraction. You’ll never forget chancing upon the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas. Taking the time to venture off the main highways leads to wonderful surprises like that.

When mapping your route, consider adding in attractions like national parks, beaches, lakes or mountain areas that appeal to you. For example, traveling along the coastline from San Diego to Seattle or looping through the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Yellowstone can make for an unforgettable trip.

Leave room for flexibility too. Speaking from experience, some of the best places are ones you serendipitously stumble across in your wanderings. If a scenic side road captures your attention or an inviting town appears, follow your curiosity! Part of the fun is discovering the hidden gems not on any map.

Planning Ahead for RV Parks and Amenities

While enjoying all that meandering scenic beauty, you’ll also want to make sure you have places to park your home on wheels each night. Mapping out RV parks, campgrounds and service stations along your route is an important part of trip planning.

Access to fresh water, dump stations, electricity and showers can make or break your stay at an RV park. Remember the “rustic” campground with no showers and electricity from a single gas generator. Let’s just say I emerged from those woods feeling mighty grimy!

Review park amenities and ratings on apps like RV Parky or AllStays to ensure suitable facilities. I aim to have my overnight spots booked at least a few days ahead, though some RVers plan out all stops in advance. Having some wiggle room allows you to extend a stay if a location wins your heart.

Scheduling stops every few hours to stretch your legs, walk the dog and grab a snack helps break up long hauls. Knowing where upcoming rest areas, gas stations or grocery stores are located gives peace of mind. No one wants to end up stranded without the essentials!

Offline Maps and Apps for Backup Navigation

Modern GPS and mapping apps make routing amazingly simple—when they work. But tech can fail at inopportune times, like when you’re out of cell service range and desperately navigating unfamiliar backroads.

Having some offline backups onboard provides insurance for when your GPS goes on the fritz. Before my trip through the Utah canyons, I made sure to download offline maps to my phone and tablet using apps like MapOut and Maps.me. This allowed me to still navigate the endless web of red rock roads once I lost signal.

I also keep a road atlas, state maps and camping directory as my analog backups. They’ve gotten me out of a jam more times than I can count, like when I took a wrong turn in Texas hill country and my GPS lost its mind. Having options to navigate the old fashioned way brings peace of mind.

Optimizing Your Route for Fuel Efficiency

For RVers watching their petrol budget, optimizing fuel efficiency along your route can help stretch those travel dollars. Choosing highways with lower speed limits and taking a more leisurely pace can improve MPG and allow more time to enjoy the drive.

I learned this lesson after racing the clock to make it from Arizona to Yellowstone in two days of marathon 8-hour drives. Not only was I a frazzled wreck upon arrival, but all that high-speed cruising devoured gasoline, shedding any budgetary gains from shorter trip time.

Mapping out locations to fuel up in advance ensures you can fill your tank when needed. Knowing which stations along your route have truck lanes or can accommodate large rigs avoids unwelcome surprises too. Apps like GasBuddy and Fuelly make it easy to compare prices and include user ratings on RV accessibility.

Scoping Out Campsites and Local Attractions

Once you’ve mapped your grand cross-country route, take time to dig into the details at each overnight stop. Knowing what to expect from the local campground and what there is to see and do nearby makes a huge difference in experience.

When selecting RV parks, look beyond just price and amenities. Read reviews and descriptions to get a feel for the vibe, crowd and location. For example, a park nestled next to hiking trails or downtown may be worth paying a few dollars more.

After booking a site, I’ll scour travel blogs and tourism sites for insider tips on area attractions, restaurants, and local secrets. Downloading offline maps of each location from Google lets me navigate once I’m there. A bit of planning takes the guesswork out and helps maximize precious time.

Flexible Planning for a Smooth RV Adventure

Mapping the open road ahead is thrilling, but overplanning every mile can zap the spontaneity and freedom of RV travel. While laying out a solid route and overnight stops is important, leave room for serendipity and amazing unplanned adventures.

On my journey up the Pacific Coast, I gave myself a loose daily target based on campground bookings, but left each day’s explorations wide open. This allowed total flexibility to chase recommendations from fellow travelers, linger an extra day in charming coastal towns, or pull over on a whim to photograph crashing ocean waves.

The beauty of the RV lifestyle is that your home is always with you. Follow your nose and embrace detours to wherever curiosity leads.

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