RV Camping Versus Hotel Accommodation

It’s a popular misconception that a recreational vehicle (RV, such as a motorhome) rental is cheaper than spending money on B&Bs, motels, or hotels. In fact, most people report that the per-night price of an RV rental plus campground fees is pretty comparable to the price of staying at fixed roof accommodation. Remember that a motorhome will get much poorer mileage than a car.

The two experiences, however, can be quite different. With an RV, your accommodation is also your means of transport. A motorhome is longer and wider than the vehicles most people are used to driving, and that means that it can be a little harder to park and to drive. It also means that any roadside viewpoint or pullout you use can be a spot for a snack, a meal, a break, or a nap. Gas station bathrooms can be completely avoided. You will still, however, have normal "household" chores to do whilst in a rental RV - making up the beds, washing dishes, etc.

At the end of the day, you don’t need to carry suitcases into a hotel room. However, you will have to find a level campsite. Then, if using a full service camp-site, you'll need to hook up electricity, water and sewage (and unhook and dump your tanks before you leave the next morning).  These tasks usually takes about 20 minutes each time.

Oh, don't forget, after being on the road, the RVer will now have to light the propane hot water heater - although in most modern motorhomes this means simply flipping a switch! - and do a few other minor housekeeping chores before settling in for the evening. Spending time in hotels or motels has its advantages but many like-minded RVers will be happy to come by and visit you once you are set up. RVers are also great at helping and sharing information so if you are puzzled about how to hook up the sewer, for example, it's almost certain that another RVer will be happy to assist you.

Many RV campsites provide both a fire box with a grill and griddle, plus the firewood to burn in the box. A picnic table is almost always provided on the pitch. So you may find a plastic table cloth useful as the local critters also enjoy site facilities. Take note though, that finding a plastic tablecloth fastened to the table with spring clips is a clear tip-off the site is already taken. If you've checked into (registered at) your campground, and want to go touring with your motorhome and return later, make sure to have your own plastic tablecloth clipped to the picnic table, set out a couple of folding chairs (if you have them), and clip your registration slip to the post next to your campsite (if it's a campground that uses that system).

If you are camping in a privately owned RV park, when you check in at the office your assigned site will be "yours alone" and you do not have to place chairs in it to "guard" it. Other RVers will be assigned other campsites. This campsite reservation system works the same as it does if you were staying in a hotel - your room is yours alone.

Once you're settled into your site, it will not be long before you will be trading information with your neighbours. Having a six pack of beer or a pot of coffee handy can keep the conversation flowing.  It likely won't be long until you find yourself getting lots of tips on the area and on RVing.

One thing RVers should be aware of is that overnight temperatures in the mountains can get fairly cool, even in the height of summer. Ensure you have enough propane for the RV's built-in furnace.  Also, please be aware that RV furnace fans can be quite loud, especially  compared to other night-time noises. It's not unusual for RVers - and their tenting neighbours - to wake up at night to an unfamiliar loud whoosh. Knowing it's your furnace may help you to get back to sleep more quickly.

(Another "whoosh" type noise that RVs make is when the propane hot water heater clicks on. It then makes a steady hum whilst it is heating the water.)

Size Limitations

Extremely tight turns mean that the Mt Edith Cavell road, in Jasper National Park, can't be used by vehicles over 22 feet (7 meters) in length. Trailers may be dropped in the parking lot near the start of the road.

There are also two tight hairpin turns on the road to Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National park. Trailers must be dropped at a parking lot near the start. Tour buses drive to the falls by reversing around the hairpin bends. This isn't recommended for those renting a motorhome.

If you have a long RV, or simply want to avoid backing into a campsite, request a "pull-through" site. In the height of summer, some campground operators will hold pull-through sites for the very large units only (50 feet or more); however, in the spring and fall, you should be able to get a pull-through if the campground has one available. Not every campground has pull-through sites, but the large ones usually do.

You can request a pull-through when you reserve your site; often they won't promise you one, but will do their best.

Rental Tips

Ensure you know what your motorhome rental does and does not include. Since many renters are Western Canada residents, it is possible for them to supply their own bedding, towels, dishes, and cookware. As a result, many rental companies have chosen to supply those items solely as an option, for an additional charge. 

If you are planning to also travel to the United States with your rental RV, be aware that there are some rental companies that will not permit their RV's out of the province or out of the country. Ensure that the rental company notes on the rental agreement that they authorize you to take the RV into the U.S. You may be asked by Customs when entering the U.S., or when re-entering Canada, for this documentation.

When you accept your rental, make sure you do a thorough inspection before you start loading it up with your luggage, groceries, and other personal items. Complete your inspection before you pay the balance of your rental fee, preferably with a company representative in tow. Now is the time to discover any visible problems, such as dirty bathrooms, smelly bedding, flat tires, or empty propane tanks (necessary for heating, hot water and cooking on your stove without electricity).  It's far better to discover any problems before you accept the RV and you have it loaded with your things, and are several hours away from the rental offices with a planned vacation ahead of you. Also, if something is damaged, you will want to discover it now and have it repaired or noted on your rental contract so that you can not be penalized for it when the RV is returned. 

For an extra level of protection, turn the date stamp function of your camera on, and photograph the inside and outside of the RV carefully before you accept it. If you find any damage (e.g. dents, dirty interior), get a rental company employee to stand in the photo that you take of the damage, to prove that it was there at the start of the rental. You will still want to note the damage on the rental contract, of course.

You are paying to receive full propane tanks, and propane is not cheap; it makes sense to be sure that you're getting what you're paying for. To check the propane tanks, remove them from the RV and feel the weight; they should weigh over 20-30 lbs (9-14 kg) when full (depending on the tank size) and considerably less when empty. However, many propane tanks are permanently attached to the motorhome so this may not be possible! You will want to familiarize yourself with how to remove and replace the tanks in any case; under Alberta law, removable propane tanks may not be refuelled while they are attached to the vehicle or inside a vehicle .

If you are visiting from overseas, you would be well advised to find a bonded tour operator who is an agent for the RV supplier.  You should protect your holiday cost and not just with a credit card. A bonded tour operator will construct you a rental including expected kilometre use, convenience packs or living equipment kits, vehicle preparation fee to cover the initial supply of propane, chemicals for the loo and possibly transfers to/from the RV depot. Vehicle insurance is available in various formats. Vacation Interruption Protection and Loss Damage Waiver are two insurances likely to include vehicle insurance, and are generally sufficient to cover most eventualites.  But, virtually all insurance policies purchased carry an excess and do not cover for negligent damage. Full details may be requested. Remember sales taxes apply to all charges and will vary from one location to another .

Check to see how many kilometers are included with the rental. One noted good average is 160 km per day, i.e. 100 miles. Some TripAdvisor members have noted that they have found that the included kilometers to be surprisingly small. You don't want to be hit unexpectedly with additional mileage charges at the end of your trip.  If you need to negotiate more kilometres per day, then do so. Some companies offer unlimited mileage, but only within Canada or only within certain provinces. The rental company will use the onboard GPS to track where you went. Since the extra per mile charges can add up quickly, be sure to ask in advance.

Many RV rental suppliers offer early booking specials that will greatly reduce the cost of the hire. The earlier you book, the better the deal. These are usually available from the late summer onwards for the following year. Discounts on rental days, free convenience kits or one way drop fees are the type of thing to look for. Also, if you book for the fall, i.e. late September through mid-November, you may find a company that offers a repositioning special if you select a one-way trip in the direction of their choice.

There are a number of booking portals on the Internet. Some may appear to offer substantial discounts, but on the basis of things being too good to be true, always check that these service providers have some sort of trade accreditation or call your nearest Canadian Tourist Commission (CTC) office.

Renting from an Alberta location can save you money in taxes - Alberta has the federal 5% Goods & Services Tax (GST), like all provinces, but unlike BC, there is no provincial sales tax.

For more tips on RV rentals, including useful details on how to operate the various RV systems, e.g. water, electrical, sewage, etc., check out this Virtual Tourist page on renting an RV by TA member Camping_Girl: Renting an RV

RV Repairs

Getting any vehicle serviced in the Rockies can be an interesting experience. Mechanics often go above & beyond for tourists; but RV mechanics are more scarce than auto mechanics, and parts can be somewhat harder to obtain as well; with a breakdown in either case, you may have to wait overnight for the right part to be couriered to your mechanic, unless it's a very common & straightforward repair

RV Repairs, Parts & Supplies are located in Banff in the industrial compound - Hawk Ave.  Best to call ahead as their hours change (403) 762 2468 or (403) 762 3507.

Rental Companies 

This is a short list of the larger motorhome rental companies in Alberta and British Columbia.  For a more comprehensive listing, check Go RVing Canada.  All of them rent motorhomes, unless noted otherwise. Additional RV types rented, if any, are noted.

Affordable RV: Does NOT rent motorhomes. Rents travel trailers and tent trailers. Offices in Calgary. 

Canadian Leisure RV: Offices in Calgary.  Also rents tent trailers.

Canadream : Offices in  Vancouver (Delta), Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary, and Whitehorse. Also rents truck campers, camper vans.

Feedback on Canadream RV rentals can be found in the following forum threads: Canadream RV - Take a LOT of photos before you leave the lot (Oct 2012)  Experience with Canadream 2012! some could be better (Aug 2012) Canadream? you better wake up! (Sept 2011) Thank you for helping us plan a wonderful trip (July 2011), Exerience with: Canadream (May 2010), Canadream RV Rentals, UK & Europe Travel, US & Canada Travel (Nov 2010), RV Trip - July 2008 (July 2007)

Cruise Canada : Offices in Vancouver (Delta), Calgary.  Offers one-way and long-term rentals.

Feedback on Cruise Canada RV rentals can be found in the following forum threads: 

RV rental from cruise Canada 1 collected from Vancouver (August 2013)

Fraserway RV : Offices in Vancouver (Delta), Calgary (Airdrie), Whitehorse, Toronto, Halifax.  Also rents truck campers, camper vans, handicap accessible motorhomes.

Feedback on Fraserway RV rentals can be found in the following forum threads:  (none)

Getaway RV Rentals: Offices in Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, and Grande Prairie. Also rents camper vans.

Feedback on Getaway RV rentals can be found in the following forum threads:  (none)

Go West RV Centre: Offices in Vancouver (Coquitlam), Calgary. Also rents camper vans.

Feedback on Go West RV rentals can be found in the following forum threads:

(none)

High Country RV : Operating in Vancouver (airport dropoff/pickup), Calgary, Edmonton. Also rents tent trailers. One-way rentals available.

Feedback on High Country RV rentals can be found in the following forum threads: (none)

Traveland RV Rentals : Offices in Vancouver (Langley). Also rents camper vans, Class A motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheel trailers with trucks,  

Feedback on Traveland RV Rentals can be found in the following forum threads:   Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from end Feb to mid Mar (Feb 2011) 

Westcoast Mountain Campers : Offices in Vancouver (Richmond), Calgary. Also rents truck campers, camper vans. Offers one-way rentals to Vancouver.

Feedback on Westcoast Mountain Campers rentals can be found in the following forum threads: (none) 

Wicked Campers : Offices in Vancouver. Small, converted mini-vans. Cheaper, but also (in the words of a customer) "everything is a bit homemade, but it works." Minimalist for people who are comfortable roughing it - they are one step up from tent camping and the vans do not have toilets or showers. Complaints have been registered about the Australian parent company, but nothing against the Canadian subsidiary.

Feedback on Wicked Campers rentals can be found in the following forum threads:

(none)


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