In previous years, the Winnebago Grand National Rally in Forest City, IA, was only open to WIT Club members. But with registration being open to all Winnebago brand RV owners now, many attendees will be first-timers. If that’s you, we’ve worked with veteran attendees and Winnebago employees to put together some top tips and checklists to make the most of your time at GNR.
(Editor’s Note: This article was updated from the original June 2018 version.)
What to Expect at GNR
At GNR you will have the opportunity to enjoy seminars, activities, and entertainment, while meeting tons of new RVing friends from across North America and gaining valuable knowledge. Plus, there are even chances to win prizes. Expect to leave with lots of helpful information, happy memories, and life-long friends. (Read this blog from James & Stef Adinaro and this one from Peter & Kathy Holcombe for their stories of past GNRs). This year, Winnebago is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Grand National Rally. You won’t want to miss this event!
2019 GNR Dates
The official 2019 GNR will take place Monday, July 22 through Saturday, July 27. However, pre-rally activities and parking will be available beginning July 16. Many people arrive early to get settled in and enjoy Forest City’s Puckerbrush Days, with activities from Thursday, July 18 – Sunday, July 21.
When you register, you have the option to request to be parked with others from your home state/province or a specific special interest group, including some by model type. This way, people in your row will have a common interest! (For example, read some of the happenings specific to towables owners and why the WinnieB van group has so much fun together).
Winnebago offers both 30-and 50-amp electrical hookups, honey wagon service (for a fee), and water. Dry camping is also an option. For water, RVers use the buddy system by hooking hoses together to fill tanks via hydrants at the end of the camping rows. So, bring a long hose! There are shower houses available, but are limited. So plan to shower in your RV, if possible.
Cabin Coffee is available for your caffeine fix; Scoopy Doo’s for lunch, dinner, and of course, ice cream; River Oaks Lounge for dinner (closed Sundays), Flying W Cafe for buffet-style lunch and dinner; and Totem Food Service Tent for walking tacos and very popular ice cream malts. In addition to these previous-attendee-favorites, we’ll offer some new food options at GNR this year as well! Please see your GNR program for all hours of operation and additional food options and vendors.
Other dining options are also available in town. Sally’s is a favorite for breakfast and known for their great pie, Ay Jalisco for Mexican fare, Golden Chopsticks for American-Chinese staples, The Iowan for burgers or tenderloins, the new HyVee store also has a deli, and Paddler’s Tap is a great spot for a beer – just to name a few.
Forest City has some great outdoor recreation options, including the city’s bike trail, which runs through the east side of the rally grounds, allowing bikers and hikers to travel from the rally grounds to Pilot Knob State Park. There is also a nearby disc golf course, as well as the Bear Creek Golf Course, and the Winnebago River for kayaking. The Heritage Park of North Iowa is another interesting activity which shows a glimpse into America’s rural heritage. And if you’ve never been to the Winnebago Visitor Center or taken the Factory Tour before, don’t miss it!
What to Bring to GNR Checklist
We asked GNR veterans, and here’s what they suggest bringing along:
- Comfy walking shoes. There is a lot to do and see and people to meet! You’ll certainly get your steps in.
- Refillable water bottle. Bring it with you everywhere. Iowa is hot and humid this time of year and staying hydrated is very important.
- Long hose and an extension cord. To make sure you can reach the water and electrical source.
- Leveling blocks. If you don’t have automatic levelers, make sure you bring a way to get level, since not all sites are level.
- Insect repellent. Summer in Iowa can get buggy, especially around dusk. (Check out these other tips to keep bugs out of your RV from a GoLife writer).
- Sun protection. Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are key.
- Umbrella. You never know what to expect weather wise! Come prepared.
- Cash. Some of the food and other vendor booths don’t take credit cards, so having some cash on hand can be helpful.
- Your favorite camp chair. You’ll get good use out of it while you sit and chat with other attendees.
- Bike, scooter, or golf cart. This is optional, but can be really helpful when you have had your fill of walking. (Golf car rental available also).
- A smile! The best way to make a new friend.
Top Tips for GNR from Past Attendees
Prep for Arrival
When you get to GNR on the first day, be prepared to wait to be parked. There is an organized system, but it may take a little while to get you to your spot. Make sure you enter in the correct gate (the south gate) and that you have water in your freshwater tanks as well as empty black and gray tanks, to make the process go smoother. (Otherwise, you may have to get out of line to go get water before parking).
If you want to be near a friend, make sure to arrive together. And please, be nice to the parkers – it is a difficult job and all of them are other Winnebago owners who volunteer to help with the event. The busiest day for parking is the very first day RVs are allowed in and the last two days before the rally begins. The team encourages those who can to arrive in time for the weekend activities in Forest City, so you’re settled in and ready to take in all GNR has to offer.
Make it your goal to meet your neighbors soon after arriving. Meeting the head of your club or state/province section can be a great way to get connected with your group right away. The rally is all about making connections, and it is much less overwhelming when you aren’t tackling it on your own. Stef from the FitRV suggests you make some friends right away and let the fun begin! Don’t be afraid to jump in and get involved. One way to make a big jump start is by joining the official 2019 Winnebago Grand National Rally Facebook group – all attendees are encouraged to join the community and learn tips from long-time attendees before you arrive.
Bring Something to Share
This is a great way to make friends quickly. A favorite food, beer, wine or activity to share with your neighbors can be a great talking point and way to invite others into your space. For example, the Holcombes made new friends by taking a large group out kayaking on the Winnebago River one year, and they highly recommend having a way to draw people in.
Make a Plan
Look at the schedule beforehand and plan accordingly. We’ve introduced a brand new simple GNR App that will make the planning even easier. (Registered attendees will receive the link upon confirmation.) You can’t see everything at GNR as there are typically 2-3 things you may want to do in many time slots. But, some of these will repeat, so try to work them into your schedule. Without a plan of when to be where, all the happenings at GNR can be overwhelming and you may miss out on something you were looking forward to.
Check out New RVs
There will be a bunch of Winnebagos on display at GNR. Take the opportunity to check out the new coach or trailer you’ve had your eye on. Or just look at the differences in models to help you decide what rolling home may be a good upgrade for your future plans. And while you are at it, make sure to take part in the ‘Visits On Innovation and Customer Enhancements (V.O.I.C.E.) Project’ during GNR – your chance to give your input into what you want to see in future Winnebago RVs, or simply provide feedback on your current RV.
Schedule Service and Get Parts
GNR is a great time to pick up that part you’ve been needing. While getting a part is usually a quick process, getting service can be a bit busier. So, you’ll want to sign up for service as soon as you get into town, if that is desired. The Customer Service team strives to accommodate everyone who asks, but no appointments are taken – stop by the Customer Service department to sign up to be on the waitlist and find out more.
Look for the People Movers/Shuttle Buses
Need a lift to another area of the grounds or into town? Winnebago will have ‘People Movers’ for transportation on the grounds and shuttle buses to get you anywhere you’d like to go in Forest City! There are also two golf car “taxis” on the rally grounds – they will gladly assist in giving you a lift to take groceries from your car to your RV or a ride to the shuttle bus stop.
Think of your Pets
Planning to bring your favorite furry pal(s)? Amy of GoPetFriendly suggests walking early and late to avoid the crowds. It can also help to get off the beaten path – there are many places to walk pets around the rally grounds, so search out a quiet trail and give your pup some space. For more social dogs, there will also be an off-leash dog park located on the NE side of the grounds in a fenced-in area. Available for all dogs, the park will be open during both pre-rally and rally week. Please make sure all pets are up-to-date on vaccines. As a courtesy to other guests, proper waste disposal is required and facilities will be provided.
You will likely meet tons of new friends at GNR. These are people you will probably want to meet up with during your travels and reconnect with at future Winnebago events. Make sure to get their contact information before the event is over to make staying in touch easier.
List of Can’t-Miss Events
While there are tons of activities and events to enjoy at GNR, these are some of the favorites from past attendees:
- Puckerbrush Parade: If you get to the rally grounds early, don’t miss the Puckerbrush Parade for the entertainment, but especially the ever-popular free 3M scrubbing sponges that are thrown to the crowd. Previous attendees, like the Holcombes, love getting to stock up on sponges for the year.
- Product Display: The Winnebago brand RV display will be open on the grounds for a grand opening prior to the Winnebago Welcome during the Kickoff Party.
- Kick-Off Party: This event will kick off the celebration as you are invited to view new products! Craft beer, wine, and snacks will be sampled.
- Daily workouts: James and Stef Adinaro of The Fit RV host fun, daily workout sessions that are always a big hit, as well as group bicycle rides.
- Games: Love some fun competition? The Winnebago Blindfold Challenge (partner game where the co-pilot gives the instructions) is a blast! Plus, there are lots of other games like Bingo, Bocce Ball, and Beanbag Baseball along with yard games to pick up with your friends whenever the mood strikes.
- Row decorating contest: Each year, the WIT Club staff challenges each state, province, and special interest group to decorate their head of row to fit the year’s theme. This is another way to get to know those in your row by helping with the decorating for this annual competitive fun!
- Factory tour: General factory tours are offered throughout GNR, as well as special building tours. (Read more about why taking the tour is a must).
- Finally – don’t miss the First Timers’ Happy Hour on Sunday, July 21 at 4 p.m. in the Special Events Tent. This is a great time to ask questions of our team and other veteran attendees in a casual setting to get the grandest rally of them all off to a great start!
We hope these tips help you have a great experience at your first GNR! Just remember, these are your people – don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and dive into all the action. Still have questions? Check here for an overview, schedule, news, and resources.