The RVer’s Guide to Driving the Backroads 3420

2021 Thor Four Winds on Open Road

The more we RV – and we’ve been doing this for ten years now – the more we dislike driving the Interstates and instead opt for backroads. Granted, there are times when you have to be somewhere fast and the Interstates are the only viable options. But fast is the problem. With speed limits of 70 miles per hour in most states (more in a handful of mostly western states), it’s very rare these days to find traffic moving at the speed limit. It is much closer to 80, we’ve found.

It is not unusual now to find people going 90, especially with traffic apps like Waze that use crowdsourcing to share real-time information on where the police are set up with radar. When you are in an RV – be it a towable or motorhome – speed is not your friend. The faster you go, the harder it is to stop and control.

Add to that the fact that the tires on most RVs are not engineered to be able to go as fast as the tires on your tow vehicle. Suddenly there’s a compelling case for traveling the backroads. But aside even from safety, backroads travel is just a lot more enjoyable.

Why Drive the RV on Backroads?

RV Driving on Back Road Along Water
Image: Camping World

On backroads, top speeds are usually limited to either 55 or 65 miles per hour. We’ve found through experience– and top RV technicians have told us the same – that the sweet spot for safe speed and better gas mileage with an RV is around 60 miles per hour.

Lower speeds can also result in much-improved mileage compared to interstate driving. Budget stretching and safety are probably the two top reasons you should consider driving the backroads. But there are two more reasons:

  • The backroads get you closer to the country and the people. Good scenery, Mom and Pop stores, and restaurants provide a real feel of the area you are traveling to.
  • The backroads are calming. The stress of interstate driving takes a physical and emotional toll. The backroads make for better road trips that can give you a much better appreciation for the country.

10 Tips for Driving the Backroads in an RV

RV Driving Along Backroad Landscape
Image: Camping World

As a dedicated backroads traveler, let me offer up ten suggestions for driving the backroads in your RV:

Look for two-lane state routes

Like so-called Blue Highways, popularized in the best-selling 1982 book of the same name by William Least Heat-Moon. Here is where you will find small town America. Don’t be afraid to pull off the highway at a park, along a riverbank or lakefront, or with a great view of the mountains and just hang out for a while in a beautiful location. Maybe for an hour, maybe all day.

Beware of dirt or gravel roads

They can be tempting. But they have a way of going bad and becoming rutted and potholed. As a general rule, I avoid them. A Class B van or a small Class C motorhome will do better than a towable or a Class A. Dirt and gravel roads coat everything in the RV with dust in dry weather, mud in wet. And stones kicked up by your tires can chip your paint job. Learn What Makes an RV Built for Off-Road.

Consider county routes with care

Some paved county roads peter out after a few miles to gravel. Others are quite narrow and offer few places for an RV to turn around. Invest in a good roadside assistance plan like Good Sam, so that if you find yourself in a bind you can make a quick call for a rescue.

Don’t rely entirely on GPS

The more remote the country, the less reliable GPS can be. State highway maps are a must if you plan to drive the backroads. If you can buy a collection of country maps for the state you are in (usually sold in local stores), you’ll have an invaluable and reliable reference to plan your trips.

Driving the backroads takes more planning

There are lots of RV trip planning apps available to help but you’ll want to consider places to refuel, buy groceries, find restaurants or picnic spots (county parks are often true gems), and RV parks, campgrounds, or places where you can boondock.

2021 Thor Four Winds on Backroad
Image: Camping World

Ask for places to stay

In small towns, we’ve camped free in school parking lots, parks, churches, out back behind businesses, and even on the street. We have never done so without asking first. If you can’t find someone to give permission, stop by the sheriff’s office or police department. We’ve done this several times and have always been greeted warmly and told of places where we could overnight. Naturally, your RV needs to be self-contained to do this.

Eat local

While it is economical and efficient to eat in the RV or at a picnic table, try to have a meal in a local “Mom and Pop” restaurant or market to experience local and regional foods that aren’t pre-packaged, frozen, or microwaved. Ask the staff or other diners what you should see in the area. You’ll always get some great suggestions.

Watch out for low bridges

Those RV trip planning apps will help here, as will RV-specific GPS modules. On the interstate, overpasses are usually 15 or 16 feet. Along some rural roads, 13-foot or lower bridges can pose a big problem to an RV.

There is no hurry

We’ve found the journey is as enjoyable as the destination. We’ve learned the best RV travel is flexible. To enjoy it the most, you need to be able to stop when you want, where you want. Setting an agenda, over-planning, and plotting out stop-by-stop overnights is way too organized for us and causes us to miss the things you can’t find in a book or through online research — the things that just happen, like taking a road far off the interstate just because it looks interesting.

Follow the 330 Rule

The 330 rule is you stop when you have driven 330 miles or it’s 3:30 in the afternoon. The idea is to get somewhere while it is still early enough to explore, chill, and enjoy the place when you’re not exhausted from driving mega miles. Is there anything worse than pulling into a campsite after dark? Less mileage and stopping early should be your travel style of choice.

There you go. Our 10 Tips for driving the backroads in an RV. Adventure awaits. Happy Trails!

Where are your favorite places to explore off the backroads while traveling? Tell us in the comments below.

Mike started RVLifestyle.com with his wife in 2012 after deciding to spend their retirement traveling throughout the U.S. Mike also runs the popular podcast called “The RV Podcast.”
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6 Comments

  1. Right on target. I over planned our trip to Alaska (10 weeks – 3 weeks on our on, 4 weeks with a caravan , then 3 weeks on our own.). Had every night planned going up (from SW GA). That combined with truck & FW appliance problems caused a lot of stress. Got thru the caravan then cancelled all of our remaining reservations for the 3 wks coming home. We also applied the 330 rule, though we did not know it at the time. Much more enjoyable experience. That was during our 3rd yea of RVing. Now at 9 years all of your tips are our preferred mode of travel. God article.

  2. We just got our new 22’ class c motor. 1st trip out and the lower built in drawers were sliding in and out so a rolled up rug had to be used to keep them from tearing themselves up. Any innovative means of holding them closed? I don’t want to use the kid lock systems, looking for something more “grown up”…

  3. Mike Wendland: you are right on! We would like to mention an in-between for interstates and state highways—US highways are often 4 lane, well-maintained roads with much less traffic volume (urban areas can be quite busy, though). The speed limits are usually in the range of 55-65 without the incessant interstate pressure. There will be stoplights—- but often at intersections where one might like to stop anyway. We often build our road trips to follow one of the classics: US 40, US 27, US 41, US 30 Lincoln Highway, Route 66….etc. RVing lets us take our time and enjoy.

  4. Driving on interstates is not as pleasant as driving on the “Blue Highways”, for sure. However, RV travelers do not have to go the speeds of other traffic even on interstates. We were advised never to go over 65 MPH, even on the interstates, we travel them often (we live in the west, use ’em or stay home!), and stay in the right lane with other slow traffic. Yes, merging traffic is a pain, but kick back and go with the flow! Sometimes you just have to use interstates!

  5. Good tips for sure. Just finished a 4000 mile “walk about” and never drove on the Interstate. The journey truly is better than the destination

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