High-Elevation RVing: How to Beat the Heat and Camp in Perfect Weather

As another camping season approaches I want to share how you can beat the heat and camp in perfect weather all year. The solution is high-elevation RVing.

Let’s face it, summer camping is great but it also brings 90-degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity.

Even in northern climates, it gets very hot during the dog days of summer. 

But by moving about in your RV and using high altitude camping to regulate the heat you experience, your summer locations can be much more agreeable—and scenic.

Let me show you some examples of how to do this when the temperature rises and some peculiarities of high-altitude RV operation.

The goal is to camp in perfect weather, to experience daytime temperatures in the low to mid-70s which we have found to generally be the most comfortable camping climate there is.

High elevation camping at Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

The formula to camp in perfect weather: Keep it around 70 degrees

New Mexico is a great state to begin a summer’s travels and by April you can pretty much always find those sweet seventies.

That will last close to Memorial Day if you move around a bit. A good place to be in late May is around Farmington, New Mexico waiting for the snow to melt and the mountains to open up.

Eventually, when you see the snow line climbing higher on those peaks, you’re starting to sweat at lower altitudes and experience those 80 degree days.

Head up the Million Dollar Highway (US 550) into the Colorado high country when the weather is so warm you need the A/C on.

Try Haviland Lake in Colorado at 8,100 feet assuming the snow has melted. Daytime highs in early June will probably be upper 60s to low 70s. Once the holiday crowds dispersed, you should have lots of places to boondock. It’s a National Forest campground with electricity and water and online reservations for maybe half the spots.

High elevation camping at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take it slow when high-altitude RVing

I recommend spending about a week and a half getting acclimated to the altitude. Watch the snowline on the mountains. The elevations will undergo a remarkable transformation. Feet of snow will quickly start melting away and in rapid order those low 70s at Haviland Lake will start to hit the 80s and you’ll know it’s time to start climbing again.

You can follow the hummingbirds also looking for perfect weather. A good place to stay in the 70s in mid-June is around Silverton, Colorado.

Mineral Creek has great high-altitude RVing spots to camp in perfect weather.

There are numerous boondocking locations here. Mineral Creek dispersed camping in the San Juan National Forest is a favorite for many of those chasing perfect weather.

High elevation camping at Dillon, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Up there, you’ll now be at 9,600 feet and the weather for what will not be full-on summer should be ideal. High temperatures that high will seldom get above 70. At night you may need the heater as it will regularly dip into the 40s.

Since the Forest Service will allow you stay a maximum of 14 days, it’s a simple matter of moving over to the other side of Silverton which is BLM land (Bureau of Land Management, another Federal agency) to Maggie Gulch at 9,800 feet.

It’s time to reset the 14-day clock in another spectacularly beautiful place with near-perfect camping weather.

There are some quirks to being up where the air pressure is 70 percent of normal—if you make biscuits they’ll be things of beauty. 

But your potato chip bags may have popped those air seals as you climbed up to this altitude. Fortunately, the low humidity will keep them from going stale. The downside is that water boils 20 degrees cooler so potatoes will take forever to cook. 

Forget about cooking rice. Plus you’ll need to add more coffee and boil it longer if you prefer it strong.

High elevation camping at Fish Lake, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your camper appliances may be affected when you are high-altitude RVing

RV appliance operation can also be affected by altitude. If you have a generator you may find it has a hard time warming up and running smoothly.

The key is to get out the manual and make an attitude adjustment on it. Pull the generator access cover and look for a black plastic set screw cap with a line on it pointing to a 0-10,000 foot scale.  Rotating the set screw clockwise until the line in the black plastic cap corresponds to your altitude will make your generator a lot happier.

A propane hot water heater could develop the mechanical equivalent of emphysema at 9,800 feet with the flame popping and going out requiting much relighting and lean-burn smells.

Alas, this is something that you probably need to leave alone and turn off. You can heat water on the propane stovetop just fine in a pot. 

When it really gets hot down below, head to the Beartooth Pass

There’s one more climb you may want to take if the weather gets really hot in late July and August; head north toward Montana and the Beartooth Plateau at 10,164 feet. Up that high, 70 is about the highest temperature you can expect even when it’s 90 a few thousand feet lower.

High elevation camping at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Again, get acclimated to the higher elevations

All that altitude does require acclimation.

Ascend gradually and stop for a week or so on your way up through successively higher altitudes. If you climb slowly you won’t suffer any adverse altitude sickness consequences other than shortness of breath with sustained exertion. Everyone notices that.

You aren’t the only species looking for perfect weather

One other possible downside of high-altitude camping is that you aren’t the only species up there.

Bears will almost always be found at altitude in the summer. Practice keeping a clean camp and secure your vehicle, especially at night. 

To be extra cautious, I suggest you never take any food outside the vehicle when you’re in bear country and be sure to read Hiking and Camping in Bear Country: What You Need to Know.

Whether you’re fulltiming or just hot, head for the mountains and enjoy a break from the oppressive summer weather. 

Worth Pondering…

We shall not cease from exploration 

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started

And know that place for the first time.

— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

The Expanding Camping Community

1 in 5 Americans went camping in 2021

As the world navigated through the pandemic, the popularity of camping continued to grow and people turned to the outdoors to find solace and reprieve. Over 66 million people went camping in the U.S. last year and over 8.3 million tried camping for the first time. Amid this growth, a camper visited The Dyrt every second. With overbooked campgrounds, new expectations from campers, and continually emerging technologies, the camping industry is shifting.

A survey by The Dyrt, an app designed to help campers find camping information and book campsites has found the number of campers is expanding and an increased interest in winter camping.

Camping at Goose Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First-time campers on the rise

The camping community is nothing if not resilient. While the pandemic uprooted so many aspects of everyday life, it also served as an inspiration for new campers to pack up their gear and greet the great outdoors.

What inspires 8.3 million first-time campers?

  • Family & friends (21 percent)
  • Time outdoors (19 percent)
  • The pandemic (16 percent)
  • Travel the U.S. (11 percent)
  • Relaxation (8 percent)
Camping at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Comforts of home in the woods

Campers were drawn to the West for top outdoor destinations and opted for comfort and predictability as they tried new forms of camping.

Campers who tried a new form of camping in 2021:

  • Camper van (35 percent)
  • Dispersed (23 percent)
  • RVs (22 percent)
  • Cabin (7 percent)
  • Tent (7 percent)
Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 25 searched camping destinations on The Dyrt

  • 1. Denver, Colorado
  • 2. Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • 3. Seattle, Washington
  • 4. Moab, Utah
  • 5. San Diego, California
  • 6. Portland, Oregon
  • 7. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • 8. Zion National Park, Utah
  • 9. Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 10. Los Angeles, California
  • 11. West Yellowstone, Montana
  • 12. Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 13. Sedona, Arizona
  • 14. Phoenix, Arizona
  • 15. San Francisco, California
  • 16. Austin, Texas
  • 17. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • 18. Glacier National Park, Montana
  • 19. Key West, Florida
  • 20. South Lake Tahoe, California
  • 21. Bend, Oregon
  • 22. Jackson, Wyoming
  • 23. Nashville, Tennessee
  • 24. Tucson, Arizona
  • 25. Asheville, North Carolina
Camping with pets © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What campers want

When it came to searching for the perfect campgrounds, campers had a few specifics in mind.

Campers’ must-have features:

  • Campfires allowed (57 percent)
  • Drinking water (44 percent)
  • Toilets (43 percent)
  • Pets allowed (38 percent)
  • Showers (33 percent)
Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping must-haves

There really is no wrong way to spend a camping trip, but these were some of The Dyrt users’ favorite activities.

Campers’ must-have activities:

  • Hiking (87 percent)
  • Relaxing (86 percent)
  • Cooking (60 percent)
  • Swimming (48 percent)
  • Drinking (43 percent)
  • Fishing (43 percent)
Camping at Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reserving a campsite

Planning makes perfect. In 2021, the majority of campers booked their campsites in advance:

  • 53 percent of campers booked at least a few weeks in advance
  • Over 50 percent of RVers and trailer campers booked at least a few months ahead
  • Over 70 percent of car and tent campers booked less than a month ahead
Dispersed camping at Quartzsite,

The battle for campground bookings

It’s no secret: Camping’s popularity skyrocketed in 2021. Whether you chalk it up to more people having free time or a desire to escape everyday life, this increase meant a shortage of reservable campsites. Campers reported that it was nearly three times more difficult to find bookable campgrounds in 2021 than in years prior. Nearly half of all campers reported difficulty finding available campsites in 2021 with western regions being the most difficult.

Dispersed camping along Utah Highway 24 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rise of dispersed camping

Campers met the campground shortage head-on expanding into dispersed camping. Members of The Dyrt community went dispersed camping twice as often in 2021 as they did in 2020. The four most saved campgrounds in 2021 were all dispersed campgrounds where campers are free to camp anywhere within certain boundaries.

  • Blue Lakes Camping, Colorado
  • Edge of the World, Arizona
  • Shadow Mountain, Wyoming
  • Alabama Hills, California
Winter camping at Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping season is extending

There is no off-season. Campers have taken more trips year over year since 2019 and there’s no sign of stopping in 2022. Camping is on the rise in every season but winter is the fastest-growing season with far more campers braving the cold this winter than they did pre-pandemic.

Fall camping at Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping growth by season

Increase in camping by season from 2019 to planned trips in 2022:

  • Winter (40.7 percent)
  • Spring (27 percent)
  • Fall (15.1 percent)
  • Summer (2.3 percent)

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra