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Know Before You Go: Camping Reservation Policies Explained

| Updated Apr 26, 2023

Understand the different camping reservation policies and how to navigate them for a hassle-free camping experience…

Before you book a campsite, you should know the various camping reservation policies you’ll encounter. If you don’t know these policies, you may end up losing money or paying additional fees. 

So, we’re going to explain the most common camping reservation policies. Plus, cover the different reservation fees and definitions you should know.

If you buy something through our links, we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps keep our lights on so we can continue to provide helpful resources for RVers. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.

5 Most Common Camping Reservation Policies

camping reservation policies

Policies vary by campgrounds and reservation systems. So, be sure to always check the specific policies of the places you want to book. A quick review can save you money!

If you’re new to making camping reservations, you may wish to read A Beginner’s Guide to Camping Reservations at Campgrounds.

Cancellation Policy

One of the most critical reservation policies to be aware of is the cancellation policy. This policy outlines the rules and fees associated with canceling a reservation. 

Depending on the campground, the policy may allow cancellations up to a specific date before the reservation or even before check-in on the day of. Others still may charge a percentage of the reservation fee for cancellations within a specific timeframe.

It's essential to understand the cancellation policy before making a reservation, as unexpected events can occur, and you may need to cancel your trip.

Some campgrounds may offer trip insurance, which could provide protection if you need to cancel for unforeseen circumstances.

Modifying or Changing Reservation Before Cut-off Date Policy

This type of camping reservation policy outlines the rules and fees associated with changing the reservation details, such as the date, location, or type of site.

Campgrounds may allow modifications up to a certain date before the reservation with no fees or charges. However, changes made within a specific timeframe or after the cutoff date may incur a fee, as happened with one of our Facebook Group members recently. And that ended up costing him a lot of money. 

No-Show Policy

A no-show policy outlines what happens if you fail to show up for your reservation. Depending on the campground, a no-show may result in the forfeiture of the reservation fee, the full cost of the reservation, or a percentage thereof.

If you're unable to make it to your reservation, cancel or modify the reservation as soon as possible to avoid any fees or charges. Most campgrounds require reservations to be canceled by a specific date to avoid being marked as a no-show.

If you are running late and can’t check-in on the first day of your reservation, call the campground! Let them know you still want your reservation but have been delayed. Otherwise, they may cancel your entire reservation and rent the space to someone else!

9 BEST National Parks for RVing in Solitude

Early Departure Policies

Campgrounds may also have policies surrounding early departures, which means leaving a reservation before the scheduled departure date. Some campgrounds may refund or partially refund any unused days, while other policies state that unused days and all fees will be forfeited.

It’s best to notify the campground if you’re checking out early. Even if they don’t offer early departure refunds, you at least free up those days for someone else to reserve. 

In some cases, the campground may refund your fee (or partially refund) if your campsite gets rebooked on your unused days.

Non-Refundable Scan & Pay Systems

Some campgrounds (especially on un-staffed public lands) have non-refundable scan and pay systems in place. This is where you drive up, scan a QR code, and digitally pay for your stay. Or, you use a pay machine on-site to reserve and pay.

These are modern versions of “pay tubes” that were common in campgrounds back in the day. Campers would drop money into these tubes, and could not receive any change or refund.

So, if you decide to cut your stay short, you forfeit your money paid in advance.


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7 Camping Reservation Fees and Definitions You Need to Know

There are several fees and reservation terms you should be familiar with. You’ll encounter these often while camping, and it helps to understand them and know what to look for when booking. 

Recreation Use Fee

In addition to the campsite reservation fees, campgrounds may have various fees associated with camping. These are fees a visitor pays to camp, experience a day-use activity, reserve group facilities, join a guided tour, or purchase a permit. 

Recreation Use fee prices vary by location and activity.

Reservation Service Fee

recreation dot come free camping

The reservation service fee is a fee charged by the reservation provider, such as ReserveAmerica or Recreation.gov. This fee is for the service of booking the reservation and can vary depending on the provider. 

This fee is often non-refundable, meaning it will be withheld even if any other fees are refunded to you.

Change Fee

A change fee is a fee charged by a campground or reservation provider for modifying or changing a reservation. The fee can vary depending on the campground or provider and may apply to changes made after a certain date or within a specific timeframe before the reservation.

Cancellation Fee

A cancellation fee is a fee charged by a campground or reservation provider for canceling a reservation. The fee can vary depending on the campground or provider and may apply to cancellations made after a certain date or within a specific timeframe before the reservation.

Cut-Off Window

The cut-off window is the date or timeframe by which changes or cancellations must be made to avoid fees or charges. The cut-off window can vary depending on the campground or reservation provider and may be several days or weeks before the reservation date.

Late Cancellation Fees

Late cancellation fees are fees charged by a campground or reservation provider for cancellations made after the cut-off window. Late cancellation fees can be significant and may be a percentage of the reservation fee or the full cost of the reservation.

No-Show

A no-show is when a camper fails to show up for a reservation and does not cancel or modify the reservation beforehand. Campgrounds may charge a no-show fee, which can be a percentage of the reservation fee or the full cost of the reservation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you do not show up on the first day, your entire reservation might automatically be canceled. If you plan to arrive late, be sure to notify the campground or modify your reservation so you don’t lose your entire reservation!

6 Types of Camping Reservations: Which Is Right for You?

6 Types of Camping Reservations: Which Is Right for You?

In addition to reservation policies, people need to be aware of several types of camping reservations. Some are for tents only, RVs, or in the backcountry. Some allow you to plan months in advance, while others are first-come first-served.

In another article, we teach you what to look for when searching for campsites and understand the terms and abbreviations you’ll encounter.

Keep reading about the different types of camping reservations…

11 Best Sites for Camping Reservations for Your Next Adventure

11 Best Sites for Camping Reservations for Your Next Adventure

Looking for the best camping reservations? Look no further! We’ve put together a list of the top 11 sites for camping reservations to make your search easier. 

From boondocking spots to state parks and private land rentals, these platforms offer a wide range of options for RVers. 

Whether you’re looking for last-minute reservations or want to book in advance, these sites have got you covered. 

Keep reading to learn about all 11 reservation sites…

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-04-25

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

One Response to “Know Before You Go: Camping Reservation Policies Explained”

October 23, 2023at4:21 pm, Alice Carroll said:

Thanks for also talking about the other kinds of fees that I might have to expect when staying in an RV park. I plan to look for a good one soon because I plan on camping with my friends next month. I think that chilly weather would be perfect for that because there wouldn’t be a lot of bugs to worry about outdoors.

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