Newbie Checklist for Setting Up an RV Campsite

Seasoned RVer tips for mastering your first time at an RV site.

Kenny & Sabrina Phillips Kenny & Sabrina Phillips  |  02.22.2019

When Sabrina and I were starting to do our research on RVs, we came across a video on how to set up a campsite and felt totally overwhelmed with how many steps there were. I guess it is a common feeling about anything new, because now we feel like we can set up a campsite in our sleep.

For anyone just starting out, I want to share some tips of what we do to make setting up camp easier. Hopefully, you will be able to use this as a guide for when you are ready to set up your site for the first time.

These tips include everything we do at a campground with full hookups, (meaning fresh water, sewer, and electric). But you can easily skip the steps that do not apply to your site.

Before Arrival

1. Pick the right spot

When making a reservation, it is important to make sure to pick a site you can fit in. You will also usually have the option of pulling through or backing in. For newbies, a pull-through site may be easiest for your first few times. But, with practice, backing in is a breeze – so don’t avoid those sites forever!

You may also want to consider how close you would like to be to popular places like the dump station, playground, or clubhouse. If you have a dog, being close to an area you will walk your pup may also be a good idea.

trick for RVer dog

2. Fuel up

Before arriving at the campground, be sure to have some fuel in your tank. We recommend at least over half a tank, just in case the power goes out at the campground and you need to run your generator. This has happened to us twice and both times it took more than 24 hours for the power to return. We also make sure we have plenty of propane in our tank before arrival as well.

Arriving at Your Site

3. Pull in and make sure you have room

Once we’ve checked in at the campground, we do a quick visual check of our spot to make sure there isn’t any debris we may run over or branches we may hit. Then, once pulled in, we make sure our connections are going to reach the electric post and sewer before we get started setting up.

We also visually inspect that all of our slides have room to extend before we start the leveling process. You can also use a stick that is cut to the depth of your slides as a ruler to be sure you are all clear. One of the most frustrating things you can do is level your RV in a spot then find out your power cord, water hose or sewer hose will not reach or that your slide is going to hit some obstruction.

winnebago vista

4. Get level

Once we know all connections will reach, we try to find the most level spot in that area of the site. There are a few ways to do this. If your RV is equipped with an auto-level system, it will tell you in degrees how far out you are front to back and left to right. There is also a great tool called the Level Mate Pro that you can use that will give you real-time results on your phone of your current level position or you can use a bubble level. (Read more tips for leveling your RV here).

After you are level, you may want to extend your slides to be sure they are free and clear. If they are, that’s great! But depending on where your compartment doors are, you may want to bring them back in for now, to allow for easy access to your RV wet bay and sewer connections.

Getting Hooked Up

5. Connect to fresh water

Now you are level and ready to start connecting all of your hookups. I like to start with the fresh water, this way I am sure not to contaminate it with dirty sewer hands or gloves. I also always turn the water on before connecting my hose to check the clarity of the water. You would be surprised how often the water starts out brown before clearing up after a few seconds. Even though we use a filter, I’d rather not have that in any of our lines.

After the water turns clear, I shut off the water and spray the nozzle with Lysol or some other type of disinfectant spray (a tip we picked up from the RV Geeks). You never know what the person before you may have used this connection for, such as cleaning out their black tank!

rv camping checklist

Next, I connect the water hose. Your water hose should be one that is approved for drinking water – a water hose that is not approved is normally clearly labeled ‘not to be used for drinking.’ We also use a pressure regulator to be sure we are not going to damage any of our RV plumbing lines as well as an RV water filter.

We attach our water filter at our RV connection point. I like it to be the last thing the water goes through before entering our RV tank. Speaking of tank, I want you to fill up your fresh water tank before going any further. This is in case of a water main break, or any other reason the campground would lose water. This has also happened to us due to freezing temps and it took days before the water came back on.

rv camping checklist

Once the tank is full, you are ready to switch over to use the campground/city water. Just go inside and make sure the water runs without the pump, then you are all set!

6. Plug into power

When getting ready to plug in your 30- or 50-amp coach, be sure to turn the breakers off at the post. This will prevent any arcing from your plug to the receptacle that could damage the plug or possibly your RV appliances. Speaking of which, I would also recommend a surge protector. There are versions that allow you to check for high/low voltage before plugging in as well – which you would do before attaching your RV cord.

Once precautions are taken, attach your RV electric cord to the surge protector and then you can securely plug this into the campsite post. It is then safe to turn the post breakers into the on position and begin using electricity.

rv camping checklist power

7. Connect the sewer line

This is probably the step that most of us wish we could skip. Connecting the sewer hose – if not done correctly – can be a messy job.

First, you are going to want to grab some gloves, I use disposable latex gloves. But we have friends that use a heavy style reusable glove that they disinfect after each use. The sewer line connection is fairly straight forward.

rv camping checklist sewer

The most important thing to be sure of is that the connection is tight – not only on the quick-lock turn system, but also on the hose-to-bayonet fitting. I use a sewer hose that has a pre-secured bayonet to hose fitting. We also use a clear elbow at the campground sewer end. It is not the most glamorous thing to watch, but this does allow you to see that everything is flowing well and when the tank has completely emptied out.

With our connections securely on, I add our sewer hose support, this allows for a gradual descent from the RV to campground sewer connection – especially when the ground is off level or if the campground sewer hose is elevated above the ground a bit.

rv camping checklist sewer hose support

I then empty our tanks (if needed) by opening the black tank first, allowing it to empty, then closing it. Then I open the grey tank and allow it to also empty. I then close the grey tank valve as well and I only open them to empty as needed. Many people prefer to leave these open in order to not have to watch their grey tank levels while camping and to avoid dumping regularly while hooked up – probably best for anyone who takes extra-long showers at campgrounds.

However, we choose to keep it closed because with your grey tank valve open you have a direct and open airway to the campground sewer. So, when you turn on an exhaust fan you can pull those odors right up into your RV. We are also paranoid that something from down in the sewers can crawl up through the sewer line and into our tank, I am not sure if this has ever happened, but we do not want to be the first.

But, feel free to test out both options and see what works best for you. This really does come down to preference.


8. Make the final touches & chill out

With all of your connections made you are almost ready to relax, all that is left is possibly extending your slides if you brought them back in. After mastering this process, it takes us about 30 minutes in our Class A motorhome to get all set up.

Once you are finished setting up the RV, just lay out a mat, bring out some chairs for a nap, or set up a grill for a cookout. It is now time to enjoy the great outdoors and possibly meet some of the nicest people you will ever meet at the campground. I hope you find this article helpful and we wish you safe travels!

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  1. Nan Posted on 07.13.2019

    This was great information. It has given me items to put on my list of questions when I go through the intro session with my Winnie dealer in 2 weeks. I am a total greenhorn! I have to say that this makes me a both nervous and excited.

  2. Chuck Borcher Posted on 03.13.2019

    We fill our fresh water tank at home when possible as we trust that water. After we have tried the campground water, we may add it to our fresh water tank if necessary. You should never leave your black water tank valve open. You always want to have some water in the black water tank otherwise the solids will dry out and are very hard or impossible to clear out. Monitor your black tank level and when the “full” LED lights, empty it. After several flushes, I then add water to the tank for about 5 minutes. Once we have connected to the sewer at the campsite, we leave the grey water valve open. Too many times we have let our grey tank fill. It will backup into the lowest drain which is generally the shower. The way we have been alerted to this, is the rank smell inside the RV.

  3. Richard Hubert Posted on 03.10.2019

    Since this article is for Newbies I would add more details on making the electrical connection. You are correct in pointing out that the breakers on the power pedestal should be switched off before plugging in, but even before connecting your RV plug, the outlet to be used should be checked for correct voltage and polarities of the individual prongs.
    You are also correct in recommending a surge protector – but even better is an intelligent surge protector which automatically performs a number of tests and will not allow power to enter the RV if anything is wrong. I installed a Progressive EMS into my 2005 Adventurer which has twice prevented me from being connected to an open ground power source. I believe that these are essential safety items for all RVs and am surprised that they are not mandatory equipment.
    Finally – Tanks. Appreciated your good advice on maintaining a fair amount of water in the fresh water tank. But since it is important to travel with as little weight as possible it is very important to stress that when leaving a site that the black & grey tanks be emptied. Easiest to do before leaving if connected to a sewer site, but if not be sure to use the campground sewer dump. But even after emptying the black tank I always make sure there are a couple of gallons of water in it (from a bucket poured into the toilet or from the black tank rinse connection – if equipped). Not only should the black tank never be allowed to dry out, but with several gallons in it the sloshing motion of the water while driving helps to scour the inside of debris stuck on the sides. I have even heard of people pouring a bag or two or cubed ice into the black tank before driving off to add to the scouring effect of the sloshing water in the tank.

  4. Jon Reither Posted on 03.09.2019

    Good article. The only thing I would add is when I was a newbie an old veteran told me never to leave the valves on my holding tanks open in the campground. His reasoning was sludge especially in the black water tank could fill in the valve track, making it difficult or impossible to get a complete seal when you try to close it. This was something I never wanted to happen so I only open the valves when the tanks are nearly full. I also feel like a nearly full tank gives you a better drain.

  5. Andrew Posted on 03.09.2019

    I’m not sure I want a disinfectant like Lysol coming into contact with my water supply. We use a 10% bleach solution that we pre mix before heading on the road and use that as our disinfectant.

  6. Henry C Suydam Posted on 03.09.2019

    Very nice article. Just a note about leaving your gray water valve open. When leaving the valve open I will put a bend in the hose to create a U so the water laying in the hose blocks any sewer gas from traveling back up through the drains. Seems to work well.

  7. lisa hy Posted on 03.09.2019

    Good tip about filling the water tank when hooking up. We usually fill just prior to departing, but will now reconsider this step.

  8. Steven Posted on 03.09.2019

    Great tips – especially for someone like me who is picking up our RV in 2 weeks! Thanks for the article!!

  9. Dick Posted on 03.09.2019

    Good suggestions. To assist in backing into a campsite I keep two small orange cones in the rear and set them up to where I want the rear of the RV to end up before backing in. You can check them with your side rear-view mirrors while you are backing.

  10. Nicholas Posted on 02.22.2019

    Nice article. I check the electrical connections before I back into the spot. If there is a problem with the pedestal, I notify campground management so I don’t waste time backing into a spot I can’s use.