Winter RV camping - trying to understand the basics

Hello! We’re taking an RV trip for the first time for our kids’ spring break (family of 5 - parents and 3 kids ranging from 15 to 8), starting in Denver and headed towards Zion National Park. I have been trying to do my homework to understand what we’ll need for the cold (especially if we’re able to visit Estes Park where there will be snow) and I’ve seen a lot of info about winterizing RVs but I need to understand the basics: does the RV get hooked up somewhere at night to have heat inside? Or do we prepare for frigid weather as if we were tent camping? I understand the RV has a generator, but does that provide heat? Is boondocking out in the winter? We are renting from a company that says the RVs are “winterized,” which means we can’t use the sink, shower, or toilet. So we’ll have to make rest stops and find campgrounds with open shower facilities, is that right?

I appreciate any advice from this knowledgable community!

Weather that time of year is extremely unpredictable and you’ll be traveling at some pretty high altitudes even if you stay on 70 over the Rockies. We did the same trip (started in Denver but ended in Southern California) in late September/early October last year. Our overnight low in Frisco was 21 in late September.

Can this trip be done? Yes. With over 25 years of RVing experience in a bunch of different RVs would I do it? No. I’ve been caught in a freak snowstorm in the middle of nowhere and seriously contemplated whether I had the resources and expertise to get my wife, kids and dog safely through it. And this was June in California.

RVing is awesome but you lose a major part of it’s convenience without water. You will have heat (propane furnace with a fan that runs on the RVs battery - the battery will charge while you are driving or the generator can charge it during the day) and it beats the heck out of a tent (especially at the temps you’ll encounter). At a minimum, I’d get a porta potty for nighttime bathroom needs. Running to the campground restrooms in sub zero weather is not enjoyable.

Zion will most likely be pretty nice that time of year but the Rockies are unpredictable and there are long stretches with nothing but an occasional outhouse along 70. Not an especially forgiving area.

Welcome, and that sounds like a fun adventure!

Snow is never a surprise at altitude any time of year; as I write this the Front Range is getting FEET of snow.

I would ensure the RV is equipped for winter driving conditions. That could include 4x4 capability, but at least good tires and a set of tire chains. ​Some extra blankets or sleeping bags aren’t a bad idea either; in case the weather becomes too bad to travel and you get stuck somewhere.

Make sure to double check campground opening dates, especially in Colorado. In some places there are campgrounds that don’t open until late June; in others they may be open but they don’t have water. I dry camp anyway so that is not a concern for me; but if you’re depending on that it’ll be less stressful to know ahead of time what facilities are available.

Hi Emily! Welcome! I would say my biggest concern would be driving on I70. The weather in March can change day to day. Honestly, would I camp with a family of 5 on a winterized RV? No…too much hazle not having any water to use. If you de-winterize and use water, you risk getting pipes cracked. Are you doing to a place with electrical hook up? If not, running the furnace all night could drain your batteries, unless you have good batteries (lithium) and a good solar setup. You can use a generator during the day to recharge batteries if you don’t. Zion’s weather may be fine but Estes Park and I 70 could be in full blown winter still. Consider hotels…

Thank you to all for your extremely helpful guidance. In view of your comments and our newbie status, we’ve decided to change our itinerary to avoid having to cross the Rockies this time of year. We’ll start in Salt Lake City, head south to visit Zion and Arches in Southern Utah, and then drive all the way home (to Chicago) via a southerly route via Albuquerque, then parts of TX and OK…hopefully the weather there will be mild enough for us to enjoy camping and the conveniences of a non-winterized vehicle. Many thanks again!

Sounds like an awesome trip!

Emily…
At RV Parks, the plug ins are for power and water… they normally have a seperate dump station for waste water…
A generator is for generating power… it has nothing to do with heat, that is what a heater (furnace) is for… most RV furnaces are either propane or diesel, few are electrical (the power needed for elec heat (and AC) would quickly drain a typical house battery bank in a RV…
Water freezes, think what frozen water would do to the water lines in your RV if they were to freeze, winterizing a RV means the water has been flushed and an anti freeze is in the system for the Winter (which needs to be flushed and cleaned before Summer use)
Condensation will be a big issue, shake as much snow/water off your yourselves as you can before going inside, be sure to open a vent/window to help…
If you’re staying in RV Parks then you should be just fine, most have bath/shower facilities, I’m guessing they turn off the water to each site but you still have power…
Make sure you have antifreeze in your RV engine (and ck the oil level and wiper fluid), jumper cables and a tow strap come in very handy too, check the tires, their condition and air pressure (the spare too) make sure you have a ground power cable and it’s the right type for your RV (30 amp is typical, length is your choice). Learn about your heater before you hit the road, try it a few times with the Dealer so you understand how it works…
You can easily boondock, you have a generator for power and should have a furnace, just make sure your furnace is fully filled if it’s a propane type… don’t use any water, sink, toilet, etc if you are in freezing temps…

Just FYI… LiFePO4s are not below freezing temps friendly and the short days and low sun angles aren’t great for solar in the Wintertime where power usage is higher…
A battery to battery type charger is a great piece of equipment… it will charge your house bank via the alternator while driving… perfect for snowy/rainy days while driving and solar is minimal and you can’t charge via generator (if you have one) while driving…
Use every power source, the trifecta of power…