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A Beginner’s Guide to Camping Reservations at Campgrounds: How to Secure Your Ideal Spot Today!

Learn everything you need to know about camping reservations at campgrounds. From booking to arrival, we've got you covered…

If you're new to RV camping, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to make reservations at campgrounds. Where do you start? When do you start? How do you do it?

This beginner's guide will walk you through the most commonly asked questions and steps you need to take to find and book campgrounds. 

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Why Make Camping Reservations?

camping reservations campgrounds

A decade ago, you could usually find an open campsite close to your travel date or even on the same day you arrive in a new place. However, times have certainly changed, especially in the past few years. 

You should make a camping reservation as far in advance as possible to avoid frustration and disappointment. This is especially true for popular destinations during peak seasons.

For instance, if you want to winter in Florida or take a summer trip to Yellowstone, you’ll likely need to book months in advance. If not a year!

You can still make last-minute reservations and fill campground cancellations, but it’s harder than it’s ever been. So, it’s better to book ahead whenever possible.

Types of Camping Reservations

camping reservations camping

There are a few key terms you need to know when it comes to camping reservations. These terms determine when and how you reserve a campsite, and can affect how you plan for a trip.

First-Come, First-Served

First-come, first-served reservations are ONLY given on a first-come, first-served basis. These campsites cannot be booked in advance, so it’s best to arrive early in the day. 

You’ll most often encounter first-come, first-served campgrounds on public lands, like BLM, national or state park campgrounds.

Walk-Up Reservations

Walk-up reservations are a type of first come, first served reservation made in person at the campground. This type of reservation is typically best for those who are not sure when they will arrive at the campground, as it allows for more flexibility.

“Walk-up reservations” is often used interchangeably with “first-come, first served.”

Advance Reservations

Advance reservations are made online or by phone ahead of time. You can reserve almost all privately-owned campgrounds and many public campgrounds in advance by contacting them directly or booking through a 3rd party platform.

Types of Campgrounds and Camping Styles

Boondocking vs. Dispersed Camping vs. Dry Camping

Not all campgrounds are the same nor do all RVers camp the same way. We, for instance, prefer to boondock, while others prefer to stay wherever there are full hook-ups.

If you're not sure what all that means, we recommend reading the following:

A Beginner's Guide to Camping Reservations at Campgrounds: How to Secure Your Ideal Spot Today! 1
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Popular Websites & Apps to Find & Book Campsites

There are many websites and apps to help you find and book campsites across the country. Here is a quick list of some of the most popular with brief descriptions.

You’ll likely utilize one or more of the following as you travel more and more:

**Learn about these popular booking sites, GET DISCOUNTS, and more: 10 Best Camping Reservation Sites for Your Next Adventure.**

Don’t Have an RV? You Can Rent That Too!

Outdoorsy is a platform where people can rent RVs from private parties. You can also list your own RV for rent whenever you're not using it.

You can search by location, date, type of RV, and more.

How to Make Camping Reservations

on computer camping reservations

Now that you know the different types of camping reservations and how to find them,let’s review how to book them. Here are the steps involved in making camping reservations:

Choose a Campground

To make camping reservations, you first need to choose a campground that suits your needs. You can search any of the above campground booking sites based on your preferences.

Check Availability

Once you have selected a campground, check the availability of sites on your desired dates. This can typically be done through the same online tools used to find the campground.

Select a Site

Once you have determined availability, select a campsite that meets your needs. Consider factors such as the size of your RV, the amenities you need, and the location of the site within the campground.

Make a Reservation

Finally, you can make a reservation online, by phone, or in person. Be sure to provide all necessary information, including your contact information, the size of your RV, and the dates you will be camping.

Tips for Making Camping Reservations

A Beginner's Guide to Camping Reservations at Campgrounds: How to Secure Your Ideal Spot Today! 2

Here are some tips to keep in mind when making camping reservations:

Know the Difference between Full-Hookup vs. Partial-Hookup Sites

When making camping reservations, it's important to understand the difference between full-hookup sites and partial-hookup sites.

Full-hookup sites provide access to electricity, water, and sewer. These sites are typically more expensive but provide more convenience and comfort.

Partial-hookup sites provide access to some, but not all, of the amenities. For example, a site may offer electricity and water hookups but not a sewer hookup. Partial-hookup sites are typically less expensive but may require more effort and planning to ensure you have access to the amenities you need.

Plan Ahead

To ensure you get the site and dates you want, it's important to plan ahead and make reservations as early as possible.

Be Flexible

If your desired campground or site is already booked, be flexible and consider other options that may still meet your needs.

Check Cancellation Policies

Before making a reservation, be sure to check the cancellation policy in case you need to cancel or reschedule your trip.

Avoid Peak Seasons

To increase your chances of getting the site and dates you want, avoid booking during peak seasons when campgrounds are busiest. You’ll avoid the crowds that way, too.

What To Do When You Arrive at a Campground

camping reservations campgrounds office

In many cases, you need to check in at the gate or the campground office when you arrive. However, that's not always necessary. If you've booked a campsite in advance, you may be able to go directly to your campsite.

Simply follow the instructions the campground gives you when you book. You'll likely receive an email confirmation that includes the check-in and check-out process as well as the campground policies.

Tips for When You Arrive at the Campground

Here are several tips and resources that'll help you know what to do (and not to do) when you arrive at a campground.

Get a Map of the Campground in Advance

It's a good idea to screenshot or print a map of the campground so you can easily find your campsite. You'll be happy you did if the office is closed or you don't have cell service.

Try to Arrive & Set-Up During the Day

Arriving during the day is ideal since you can ask any questions during camp office hours and set up more easily by daylight.

Here are some resources to help you:

Don't Set Up Late At Night

It's considered bad camping etiquette to set up your RV site late at night. You don't want to disturb campers who have settled in for the night.

If you arrive late at night, it's best to park and wait to setup as much as possible until the next day. Granted, you'll want to connect to your hookups, but it's best to wait to set up your chairs, bbq, etc. until morning.

Speaking of camping etiquette…

RV Campground Etiquette

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When staying at an RV campground, it's important to be a good neighbor and follow campground rules and regulations. Here are some tips for practicing good RV campground etiquette:

Respect Quiet Hours

Most campgrounds have designated quiet hours, typically from 10 pm to 6 am. It's important to respect these hours and keep noise levels down to avoid disturbing your neighbors.

Dispose of Waste and Garbage Properly

Properly disposing of waste and garbage is essential to maintaining a clean and healthy environment at the campground. Be sure to use designated dumping stations for sewage and dispose of trash in the appropriate receptacles.

Follow Campground Rules and Regulations

Each campground has its own set of rules and regulations, such as speed limits, pet policies, and fire restrictions. It's important to read and follow these rules to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Be a Good Neighbor

Being a good neighbor means being courteous, respectful, and considerate of others. Avoid making excessive noise, keep your site clean and tidy, and avoid encroaching on your neighbor's space.

On the flip side, it helps to know what to do if you have bad camping neighbors

Watch the above video for more great tips!

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-04-04

Mike Wendland is an Emmy award-winning journalist, traveler, and producer of RV Podcast, the RV Lifestyle travel blog, and the RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube. Mike, traveling with his wife Jennifer and their Norwegian Elkhound, Bo, has vast experience and a great passion for exploring North America, previously working as a long-time NBC-TV News Channel Technology Correspondent and now sharing his love for the RV lifestyle with millions. Mike is not only an adept RV life enthusiast but also a skillful storyteller, bringing to his channels stories from the road that perfectly capture the magic and hardships of this lifestyle.

One Response to “A Beginner’s Guide to Camping Reservations at Campgrounds: How to Secure Your Ideal Spot Today!”

June 28, 2023at5:55 pm, Alice Carroll said:

Thanks for the reminder that I should also be mindful of quiet hours when planning to go to an RV site. I’m interested in going camping soon because I’m thinking about buying my own RV soon. Being able to take my family camping would be a nice idea.

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