How to Drive an RV in the Mountains

You finally got your own RV and now you are getting ready for that amazing adventure up the mountain. The luggage is packed, the route is chosen; time to hit the road, right? But driving on a mountain road is harder than what it looks like. If this is your first RV road trip, or you just need more help, it’s always important to look up how to drive an RV in the mountains.

Road Preparation

Vehicle Maintenance

Before you go on any adventure, let alone a mountain trip, it’s important to prepare yourself and your RV. You should always do an inspection of your RV, especially when you have a trickier road ahead. Check the brakes and engine, then fix anything not working as intended. If this is a bit too hard, you can always consult with the local mechanic and get his opinion on how road-ready your RV is.

Driving an RV In The Snowy Mountains

Weight Rating

Next up, you should know your RV weight rating. All RVs should have a sticker which states their weight limits. To verify your weight, you could use a CAT road scale that trucks usually use, as they are all over the US. Likewise, some mechanics should have at least one such scale, so go and ask around town. If you are way above the RV weight limit, you should try and leave something behind. Even a few extra pounds could make your vehicle roll down the mountainside.

rv Weight Rating

Route Scouting

Always research the route you are planning to take. Not all mountain passes are the same and you need to prepare for anything. Check out everything from road steepness to road conditions and length. All of that information will impact how you should drive and how much weight you should bring.

You could also ask around the internet and see how others have fared on the same mountain. Try and find out what kind of RV’s other adventurers used and how it all went down. Look up alternative routes if the one you are interested in seems too dangerous. It’s important to avoid unnecessary risks and to always stay safe, no matter the destination. After you have done your research, follow the tips below and find out how to drive an RV in the mountains.

The Driving

Manual Engine Brakes

Relying on your brake pads for braking can put you in danger as their lifespan will be heavily reduced. However, you can use your engine brakes instead. Before doing so, you should slow down to about 45 Mph when going down the mountain. Then, depending on the grade, use the 3rd or 2nd gear. The former can be used on a 4-5% grade while the latter is recommended for a 6% or higher grade. Letting your engine do the work is key so don’t get worried if your RPM reaches ludicrous values.

Tow/Haul Mode Engine Brake

If you prefer avoiding downshifting manually, you can use the RV’s tow/haul mode. Once you turn the mode on, slow down at the top of the mountain and let the momentum kick in. As a result, you should feel the RV downshifting while staying in gear. Keep braking and downshifting until you reach about 3000 RPM. If everything is working fine, you should be on a slow, relaxing descent from the top of the mountain.

Brake Use and Overheating

Knowing how to drive an RV in the mountains means mastering your brakes. While you want to avoid using your brake pads for slowing down, sometimes you don’t have other options. To avoid breaking them, start by firmly jabbing on them to get the speed you want rather than pushing. That way you avoid overheating, which would eventually break the pads.

rv brake system

In case you see any smoke or smell any weird burning odor, pull over as soon as you can, as those may be the result of overheated brake pads. You need to completely turn off the engine and let them cool. Keep in mind that it may take up to an hour to be able to use your RV again depending on the model and age. If you somehow manage to overheat your brakes it’s best you get them checked at the nearest mechanic or once you get home.


Don’t overwork your RV and slow down when you have to. Most people recommend you use the same gear going down as the one you used when going up. While maintaining the same gear is not always possible, try to keep a consistent speed and never go higher than needed. However, if you need to slow down, use hazard lights to let other drivers know that you are going slower.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, knowing how to drive an RV in the mountains is a skill easy to learn but hard to master. While you may need a bit of preparation and knowledge, choosing to go on a mountain adventure with your RV is something you won’t regret. Be careful how you drive and enjoy the ride!

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