First-Timer's Guide to GNR
In previous years, the Winnebago Grand National Rally in Forest City, IA, was only open to WIT Club members. But for the 2018 GNR, they have opened registration to all Winnebago brand RV owners! This means that many attendees will be first timers. If that's you, we've put together some top tips to make the most of GNR from veteran attendees and Winnebago employees.
What to Expect
At GNR you will have the opportunity to enjoy seminars, activities, and entertainment, while meeting tons of new RVing friends from across North America and gaining valuable knowledge. Plus, there are even chances to win prizes. Expect to leave with lots of helpful information, happy memories, and life-long friends. (Read this blog from James & Stef Adinaro and this one from Peter & Kathy Holcombe for their stories of past GNRs). This year, Winnebago is also celebrating its 60th Anniversary, so there will be even more fun in store for attendees!
Dates: The official GNR will take place Monday, July 23 through Saturday, July 28. However, pre-rally activities and parking will be available beginning July 17. Many people arrive early to get settled in and enjoy Forest City's Puckerbrush Days, with activities from Thursday, July 19 - Sunday, July 22.
Parking: When you register, you have the option to request to be parked with others from your home state/province or a specific special interest group, including some by model type. This way, people in your row will have a common interest! Winnebago offers both 30-and 50-amp electrical hookups, honey wagon service (for a fee), and water. Dry camping is also an option. For water, RVers use the buddy system by hooking hoses together to fill tanks via hydrants at the end of the camping rows. So, bring a long hose! There are shower houses available, but are limited, so plan to shower in your RV if possible.
Volunteers assist to get guests checked in and safely parked as quickly as possible.
Dining options: Cabin Coffee for your caffeine fix; Iowa Supreme Meats Tent for breakfast and lunch; Scoopy Doo's for lunch, dinner, and of course, ice cream; River Oaks Lounge for dinner (closed Sundays), Flying W Cafe for buffet-style lunch and dinner; and Totem Food Service Tent for walking tacos and very popular ice cream malts. Other options are also available in town. Sally's is a favorite for breakfast and known for their great pie, Ay Jalisco for Mexican fare, Bill's Family Foods grocery store also has a deli, and Paddler's Tap is a great spot for a beer -- just to name a few.
Connectivity: While Verizon recently installed some additional small cell towers on the grounds, AT&T usually doesn't work well as it's not widely used in north Iowa. Winnebago has partnered with weBoost this year to install a cell booster at River Oaks for attendees who use AT&T. As long as your cellphone has one bar, the booster should assist in providing 2-3 bars of usable service. Complimentary WiFi is available as well with 19 different antennas placed throughout the rally grounds. When not using the WiFi, guests are encouraged to log off to allow for better connectivity for others.
Nearby activities: Forest City has some great outdoor recreation options, including the city's bike trail, which runs through the east side of the rally grounds, allowing bikers and hikers to travel from the rally grounds to Pilot Knob State Park. There is also a nearby disc golf course, as well as the Bear Creek Golf Course, and the Winnebago River for kayaking. The Heritage Park of North Iowa is another interesting activity which shows a glimpse into America's rural heritage (offering free admission to attendees on July 22 -- just wear your badge). And if you've never been to the Winnebago Visitor Center or taken the Factory Tour before, don't miss it!
The museum inside the Winnebago Visitor Center. The Factory Tours also begin here and there is a gift shop with Winnebago swag as well.
Top 10 Tips from Past Attendees
1. Prep for arrival: When you get to GNR on the first day, be prepared to wait to be parked. There is an organized system, but it may take a little while to get you to your spot. Make sure you enter in the correct gate (the south gate) and that you have water in your fresh water tanks as well as empty black and gray tanks, to make the process go smoother. (Otherwise you may have to get out of line to go get water before parking). If you want to be near a friend, make sure to arrive together. And please be nice to the parkers-- it is a difficult job and all of them are other Winnebago owners who volunteer to help with the event. The busiest day for parking is the very first day RVs are allowed in (July 17) and the last two days before the rally begins. The team encourages those who can to arrive in time for the weekend activities in Forest City, so you're settled in and ready to take in all GNR has to offer.
2. Get social: Make it your goal to meet your neighbors soon after arriving. Meeting the head of your club or state/province section can be a great way to get connected with your group right away. The rally is all about making connections, and it is much less overwhelming when you aren't tackling it on your own. Stef from the FitRV suggests you make some friends and let the fun begin! Don't be afraid to jump in and get involved.
3. Bring something to share: This is a great way to make friends quickly. A favorite food, beer, wine or activity to share with your neighbors can be a great talking point and way to invite others into your space. For example, the Holcombes made new friends by taking a large group out kayaking on the Winnebago River one year, and they highly recommend having a way to draw people in.
Photo by James & Stef Adinaro of a margarita bar.
4. Make a plan: Look at the schedule beforehand and plan accordingly. You can't see everything as there are typically 2-3 things you may want to do in many time slots. But, some of these will repeat, so try to work them into your schedule. Without a plan of when to be where, all the happenings at GNR can be overwhelming and you may miss out on something you were looking forward to.
5. Check out new RVs: There will be a bunch of Winnebagos on display at GNR. Take the opportunity to check out the new coach or trailer you've had your eye on. Or just look at the differences in models to help you decide what rolling home may be a good upgrade for your future plans. And while you are at it, make sure to take part in the 'Visits On Improvements and Customer Enhancements (V.O.I.C.E.) Project' during GNR-- your chance to give your input into what you want to see in future Winnebago RVs, or simply provide feedback on your current RV.
6. Schedule service and get parts: GNR is a great time to pick up that part you've been needing. While getting a part is usually a quick process, getting service can be a bit busier. So, you'll want to sign up for service as soon as you get into town, if that is desired. The Customer Service team strives to accommodate everyone who asks, but no appointments are taken -- stop by the Customer Service department to sign up to be on the wait list and find out more.
7. Look for the people movers/shuttle buses: Need a lift to another area of the grounds or in town? Winnebago will have 'People Movers' for transportation on the grounds and shuttle buses to get you anywhere you'd like to go in Forest City! There are also two golf car taxis on the rally grounds -- they will gladly assist in giving you a lift to take groceries from your car to your RV or a ride to the shuttle bus stop.
The Winnebago GNR is an exciting and busy place!
8. Think of your pets: Planning to bring your favorite furry pal(s)? Amy of GoPetFriendly, suggests walking early and late to avoid the crowds. It can also help to get off the beaten path-- there are many places to walk pets around the rally grounds, so search out a quiet trail and give your pup some space. And always carry treats. If you're going to ask your dog not to bark and pull on the leash around other dogs, expect to pay up! It's work to be well behaved, and dogs deserve to get paid for their efforts. If your dog would rather not be around other dogs, skip the obvious instigators that will only cause him stress. For example, Amy loves the Wag Walk, but her dogs Ty and Buster prefer quiet time on the sofa instead.
9. Sign up your kiddos: A youth program is available for kids ages 6-16. Youth program registration will be Tuesday, July 24, and activities are planned for much of Tuesday -- Friday of rally week. Activities include crafts, outings and fun!
10. Stay connected: You will likely meet tons of new friends at GNR. These are people you will probably want to meet up with during your travels and reconnect with at future Winnebago events. Make sure to get their contact information before the event is over to make staying in touch easier.
Photo by James & Stef Adinaro, making friends during one of their daily bike rides.
What to Bring
We asked GNR veterans, and here's what they suggest bringing along:
- Comfy walking shoes. There is a lot to do and see and people to meet! You'll certainly get your steps in during the rally.
- Refillable water bottle. Bring it with you everywhere. Iowa is hot and humid this time of year and staying hydrated is very important.
- Long hose and an extension cord. To make sure you can reach the water and electrical source.
- Leveling blocks. If you don't have automatic levelers, make sure you bring a way to get level, since not all sites are level.
- Insect repellent. Summer in Iowa can get buggy, especially around dusk.
- Sun protection. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are key.
- Umbrella. You never know what to expect weather wise! Come prepared.
- Cash. Some of the food and other vendor booths don't take credit cards, so having some cash on hand can be helpful.
- Your favorite camp chair. You'll get good use out of it while you sit and chat with other attendees.
- Bike, scooter or golf cart. This is optional, but can be really helpful when you have had your fill of walking. (Golf car rental available).
- A smile! The best way to make a new friend.
Puckerbrush Parade: If you get to the rally grounds early, don't miss the Puckerbrush Parade on Saturday, July 21, for the entertainment, but especially the ever-popular free 3M scrubbing sponges that are thrown to the crowd. Previous attendees, like the Holcombes, love getting to stock up on sponges for the year.
Photo by Tom Calabrese from Forest City's Puckerbrush Days Parade.
First-Timers Seminar: Is it going to be your first time attending GNR? Be sure to attend the First-Timers Seminar on Monday, July 23, at 4 p.m. in the Special Events Tent. Don't forget your GNR program! Can't make it? Pick up a handout of the content which will be covered during the seminar in the WIT Club Info Booth, located in Friendship Hall, on Tuesday, July 24.
Product Display: The Winnebago brand RV display will be open on the grounds for a grand opening immediately following the Winnebago Welcome during the Kickoff Party Monday, July 23.
Kick-Off Party: Set for Monday, July 23, from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. in the Product Display Area (east end of Section B), this event will kick off the celebration as you are invited to view new products! Craft beer, wine and snacks will be sampled.
Daily workouts: James and Stef Adinaro of The Fit RV will be hosting 'A Fit Start' at 7:45 a.m. and there will also be daily biking from 9:30 -- 10:30 a.m., Wednesday-Friday during the rally.
Games: Love some fun competition? The WIT Rodeo (motorhome driving challenge), Blindfold Challenge (partner game where the co-pilot gives the instructions), and Navigator's Nightmare (a hilarious obstacle-course challenge), are all a blast! Plus, there are lots of other games like Bingo, Bocce Ball, and Beanbag Baseball.
During the WIT Rodeo -- an obstacle course where guests can show off their driving skills.
Row decorating contest: The WIT Club staff is challenging each state, province, and special interest group to decorate their head of row to fit this year's theme, Red, White and W -- 60 Years of an American Icon. Judging will be on Thursday, July 26, so you have time to prepare your rows just in time for Row Parties that evening. Another way to get to know those in your row is helping with the decorating for this annual competitive fun!
Factory tour: General factory tours are offered throughout GNR, as well as special building tours. (Read more about why taking the tour is a must).
Wag/Walk: Sponsored by our friends at GoPetFriendly, this is a fun way to get out with your pooch and greet those who gather for the parade. This activity takes place at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 27. Amy will even be signing her book afterwards, which is about their travels with pets across the U.S.
Winnebago's 60th Birthday Bash: Several events will take place to celebrate Winnebago's big anniversary this year, but the two most notable of course involve birthday treats. On Wednesday, just before an evening of country music entertainment with Stephanie Quayle and Lee Greenwood, Winnebago will serve birthday cake to all guests, including residents of Forest City who are invited onto the grounds of Grand National Rally for this night only. Winnebago will also close the week of GNR with ice cream treats at 3 p.m., Friday, July 27, to celebrate 60 years with guests one more time before you depart.
Of course, there are also tons of other events -- including craft and hobby classes, seminars, entertainment, and lots of fun in between. We even have some of our GoLife contributors presenting: Kenny & Sabrina Phillips at 9 a.m. on July 24, Amy Burkert at 9 a.m. on July 26, and Kathy Holcombe at 10 a.m. on July 26 as well as the 27th. Make sure to swing by and hear what they have to share, if you can!
We hope these tips help you have a great experience at your first GNR! Just remember, these are your people -- don't be afraid to introduce yourself and dive into all the action. Still have questions? Check here for an overview, schedule, news and resources.