Frustrated about how to get a camping reservation this summer? We can help with some insider tips on using campground reservation technology.
We know. There are a lot of people trying to book camping reservations this summer. Demand has never been higher.
It seems like the entire country – frustrated after a long year of COVID-19 travel restrictions – is anxious to hit the road in their RV and find the perfect camping spot.
But campgrounds across America are reporting record demand. In the most popular destinations – around national parks, for instance – finding an open spot will not be as easy as it was pre-COVID.
Mark Koep, the CEO of CampgroundViews.com, is our special guest on Episode #339 of the RV Podcast. He offers up lots of insider tips for us on how to get a camping reservation this summer. You can listen to the podcast in the player below.
Or keep scrolling down for a video version – in which he demonstrates just how to use the Internet to get a camping reservation. There's also a full transcript of the interview, so keep reading!
How to Get a Camping Reservation: Tips from Mark Koep
First, here's a video of the interview in which Mark demonstrates how to get a camping reservation this summer:
Here's an edited transcript of the Interview:
To help us get into the right possible groove for finding those difficult-to-locate open campsites is our friend Mark Koep, of CampgroundViews.com. First of all. Hi Mark. How are ya?
Hey, Mike, doing good. How are you doing?
The camping season is here. People are out moving about and I thought, there's no one better suited to help us learn how to navigate the challenges of finding open reservations than my friend Mark Koep. So Mark, let's talk about your site for starters.
I know we have a big surprise that we'll have coming up in a few minutes, but first of all, a lot of people are in the planning mode right now and they hear all these stories, “We can't find a spot. We can't find a spot.”
How can we help them with finding a spot? And maybe we can actually bring up your site and show them.
How to get a Camping Reservation: Get Creative
Yeah, Mike, it's going to be a busy camping season, flat out. We did a survey last week of 2000 campground owners. And 50% of them said that their advanced bookings are up significantly over average, everybody's just going camping.
But Mike you've been camping long enough. I've been camping long enough to know that this is true.
You can find a campsite anywhere you go as long as you're willing to travel a little bit to go do it. And the best example-
And do a little research.
I'm looking at your site. Walk us through. We see a map, what are we looking at?
How to get a Camping Reservation: Widen your search area
The first example I'm going to pull up is Yosemite Valley. And the reason I do this is that there are only four or five campgrounds on the Valley floor in Yosemite.
And everybody will say Yosemite is full.
But if you notice my default radius is set to 50 miles and Mike, how many campgrounds are there within 50 miles of Yellowstone National or Yosemite national park?
Probably 75, a hundred?
107 campgrounds within 50 miles of Yosemite Valley floor.
So within that, you can figure the average campground has 60 sites in it. That means there are 6,000 campsites within 50 miles of Yosemite National Park.
I guarantee you can find a campsite any night of the year, as long as you're willing to do a little bit of research and go find them.
How to get a Camping Reservation: Alter your expectations
So the trick, the first rule at finding a campsite, and it's going to be nutty all summer long, everything's to be full up, is to remove your expectations of staying in one designated campsite in one campground, and open your horizons to a little bit wider radius.
If you want to find another cool trick on this, you can click on this big map button up at the top of the screen here. I'm going to click on that. It'll take a second to load.
This is actually pulling our entire database within CampgroundViews.com, which has 16,000 campgrounds.
You'll notice all these icons going, and you can actually zoom in on the icons and then drag the Google map around to see all the campgrounds. And as you can see, this opens up your entire opportunities.
You click on the little icons and the icons will bring up whatever that state park or campground is. You click on the name and that takes you in to get more information to book that site or whatnot. And be able to go ahead and go camping, even though everything is “full.”
50 miles around your destination is the radius you should search for campgrounds
So the first rule is that set your radius to about 50 miles around the attraction that you're going to see be it a national park or maybe a certain city. 50 miles is not a bad commute these days, and look what we found around Yosemite, which was pretty amazing.
I knew there were a bunch, but when I see it on the map like that, and again, the folks listening to the podcast, be sure you go back and look at the show notes and watch the video that we will embed.
That's pretty impressive.
Yeah and if you notice all you have to do once you're on a search page is update the search terms to change your location.
So I can quickly bounce around all over the country and see the different camping spots and campgrounds that are within a certain radius of all sorts of different locations.
You want to go to Tampa, Florida, you just type it in and it'll automatically update the map over here. And if you want to look around even more, so you drag this map, once you drag it, simply click “search this location.” That'll update your search result and be able to take you into that radius area to see the results.
Let's talk about Yellowstone and let's see what we can find around Yellowstone. And we should pick a date, maybe. What do you think? We'll pick, yeah, I don't know. How about the second weekend of May? Something like that.
So we don't pull data because the problem you have with any date-specific searches is that the different reservation engines are different.
So from recreation.gov we don't pull any data information, but we'll give you the park information.
Mike a lot of people go to Yellowstone as their first camping trip for the summer. It's their big trip. They bought the new RV. They want to go there.
How to get a Camping Reservation: Search a wider area for mega-popular camping locations like Yellowstone
Some key things, if you've never been to Yellowstone is that Yellowstone is absolutely massive. If you want to drive the grand loop, it's like 150 miles just for that loop of driving, you are going to be driving in Yellowstone.
So we actually encourage people to open the radius up to about a hundred miles around Yellowstone to really get a lot of campgrounds, such as the campgrounds in West Yellowstone, the Island Park area, over in Cody, to the East up North to Red Lodge.
And as you see right now, most of the search results are the National Park campgrounds that are within Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. But this year there's been an important change for these campgrounds, all of the campgrounds are now on the reservation system, the recreation.gov reservation system in those two parks.
How to get a Camping Reservation: Try Forest Service Camping
So you have to book them in advance. There are, though, a lot of forest service campgrounds located around Yellowstone. So for example, up in the Northern part, up near Gardiner, Montana, there are a number of forest service campgrounds just outside the gate that people are unaware of.
Also, our little hidden spot if you're coming from the West like from LA or California or something like that, there's a town called Island Park, Idaho. Most people have never heard of it. But it actually has the longest main street in America. It's a 25-mile long main street for Island Park.
There are a ton of forest service campgrounds in this region. Absolutely beautiful. And you're only about a 45-minute drive from the entrance of Yellowstone of which you'll be driving 150 miles inside of it anyways. So that's our insider spot to go.
And then there's also the north end. We always have gone around Silver Gate up on the northeast entrance to Yellowstone.
Nobody ever goes to that area, right? So that's always a nice, quiet camping area.
We do, that's why we go there. Yeah. In the heat of summer, when everybody's there, we've always been able to find a pretty great spot within just a few minutes of the North Gate of Yellowstone by camping in this area, up in the North.
Plus you can go then out to Red Lodge, the Cooke City, Silver Gate area. You can also go back down the Beartooth Highway.
It'll run from the North end over to Cody. It's a spectacular drive. I don't know if I'd take it in a Class A, but I would take it in a C and certainly a B. And I would do it in a small towable.
You must be flexible on camping locations
We're making the point here of not having such tunnel vision that we think we have to be in one location only because chances are, you're not going to find that.
And that's going to be the key to camping this year: Not to fixate on a certain location, but to fixate on the journey.
If there's one thing that RVing has taught me, it's not so much about the end destination. It's about that journey. And if you can find some interesting spots to stay along the way, like for example, you ever been to Lander, Wyoming, Mike?
I have, I have indeed.
And Lander's awesome because Sacajawea's grave is at this Fort Washakie right here. You would never know that if you had never stayed in Lander, Wyoming.
How to get a Camping Reservation: Expect Surprises!
And you go tour the gravesite, there's this cool statue there. And then they also have a river or a Canyon. It's a state park called Sink and Rise State Park. And the river actually crashes into a rock, vanishes, and then pops out of the ground a mile later down downstream.
And you can actually see this whole river and it's not a creek, it's a river. It vanishes, goes underground, and pops out on the other side. And that's an example of getting all these really cool destinations that you can find when you go camping.
There's another area there that we have stayed on the way to Tetons in Dubois, Wyoming, which is a beautiful little cowboy town. In fact, we liked it so much, we ended up there spending our wedding anniversary there and stayed there an extra three days, and delayed going into Yellowstone and Teton because it was such a great town.
Walk us through what we can find out about a campground from campgroundviews.com.
Another example of how to get a camping reservation
Well, we'll use the Dubois example. So we'll have information on the campground, their name, their address, basic stuff like that. We'll have written reviews. We will have videos. So videos shot by other campers that you can actually click play on and go through and see that. And these aren't viral videos. These aren't going to get your kids excited. These are for you and me.
Why don't you roll that video right there, if you can.
All right. I'll mute it. It's 30 seconds long. And the whole intention is simply to give you a look at the campsite and the campground.
There we see it's flat. There are some trees around it. By the way, I think this is the ranch that we stayed at. I think this is the campground that we actually stayed at that we liked, but look how nice it is.
You've got some cottonwood trees and you can see that the site is flat. You've got your picnic table. All of that stuff is just really helpful when you're booking a site. Okay. So say I want that site and a couple of other sites I like. I want to go there. What do I do then from campgroundviews.com?
So we'll have their phone number directly here, or a link to their website. You would then go to their website and go ahead and complete the booking.
Wow, and that is, and look at there it is. It talks about its location. It tells you where they are and that they're taking reservations right now, you can check all the amenities that they have. That's it. The Longhorn Ranch Campground.
Was that the place you stayed, Mike?
That is the exact place we stayed. Yeah. Yeah. It's was great. And that's Dubois, which is an actual real cowboy town. A real cowboy town. And we had a great time there.
A sneak peek at the future of how to get a camping reservation
I want to really go through to the secret stuff, the secret sauce of campgroundviews.com. I've known Mark for a number of years now. And I know Mark has been working on this with a whole team of data analysts. We have hinted about it before, but I think we're going to actually be able to see it now.
This is coming soon. This is the next phase of technology. When you are going to book a campground, you saw how nice it is in that video. We brought up with the campground to see it, but it gets even cooler. And Mark, I don't want to steal the thunder but show us what's coming and how people can even become early adapters to this.
Mike, I appreciate it. And you actually hinted at the problem we were trying to solve. So CampgroundViews.com is great. You can find campgrounds, but are the sites available?
Is the site I want available? We've heard all that, right? And when I say we on CampgroundViews, we've heard from you that you wish you knew what sites are available.
360-degree views of camping spots with real-time reservation info
We've been playing around with 360 video for a while, and we like it. It's like Google Street View. You can go through the campground and see the sites.
Let me hit play. What you're about to see here. If you're watching this on video, if you're listening to it on the podcast, what you're about to hear is literally the future of the way you're going to make camping reservations at campgrounds and campsites in the not too distant future.
This is utilizing 360 video, and as I hit play, you can see we're moving through space. One of the things I'll point out is that I'm able to drag the screen and look around, just like Google Street View, right?
I'm now seeing the whole road, the campsites. I can see everything that's going on. But if you notice something here, Mike, there's a little red icon floating over here.
If I click on that icon, my place stops. And I now get this information is being pulled straight from the reservation engine on campsite number two that I'm looking at. I know all my check-in times.
This is live reservation info?.
It's live data. It's a recorded video but live reservation data. I'm now looking at the site. So now I can see how big that site is. I can see the roadway. Can I easily back in or pull into that site?
So if this site was available during these days, this would have been green. And I could click “book now”. And it takes me immediately to be able to book that particular site at the campground.
Mike, your readers, your listeners, and viewers have all done this. They go to a campground they want to stay at and they ask to drive through it so they can take notes, say, “Hey, site 10, site 12, and site 15 will fit us. We like those sites.”
No more guessing in choosing a campsite
You don't need to do that anymore. We have this. And over this last season, we went out and we captured 400 locations for the States of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada.
We have all the recreation.gov properties. And we are working hard to bring this experience for all of those recreation.gov properties so that we all can stop guessing and actually start seeing the campsites.
So you would go through a campground and look at the sites and look for green, right? A green that would show that it is available. And then you can actually book it.
You'll be able to set your dates of when you want to stay at this campground and it'll automatically update the information on these sites so that the sites that are available during your stay, those will be green, the ones that are available.
Wow. That's an amazing thing. Now, of course, we're all planning to do our RVing this year. Is this a pipe dream, Mark? I know you got the demo working great. When can people have this available?
When will 360-degree Camping Reservations be available?
We are currently pre-selling. So the way people are going to access this is via membership. So Campground Views will continue to be free, but to access the 360s, there'll be a membership. We're pre-selling those memberships with our goal to have the 400 videos by July of this year, all of them up and live for you to experience.
So if you're booking for May, sorry, we don't have it ready yet. But if you're thinking a little bit ahead and you want to take advantage of this, you can lock in now and support us as we build in literally changing the way we will find campsites.
Then this summer, there are some people saying, “What about California? What about Washington? What about Oregon?”
I'm from California, originally. It was on fire last year and it had COVID. So we couldn't get there to film last year, this summer we're capturing all the rest of the recreation.gov properties. And by the end of this season, we should have everything up for you.
I can't wait to actually get ahold of it myself. Frankly, July and August, and September are my favorite times anyway. That's what we're looking for.
Well, that's a sneak peek. They can get lots more information at campgroundviews.com. Campground Views is absolutely free. You can learn about how you can be an early adapter of the 360 videos. It's just an extra option, but it all is explained on the site. Is that right?
It's all explained on the site to simply click on the “support the site” up at the top, and you'll get more information. At a minimum, you'll get a box, it asks for your email address. Sign up for the free account. We'll keep you in the loop as things are going along. And when you want to jump on, you can jump on.
This technology will change how to get a camping reservation this summer!
But we're excited about this. I'm excited about this because I believe that this solves the biggest problem any of us campers have, which is where the heck am I going to camp?
And tell me about how long you've been working on this, Mark.
The idea was two and a half years ago, and we have been plugging along pretty steadily since then. I've always heard that entrepreneurs are not overnight successes and I can absolutely attest to that. This has definitely not been an overnight thing.
You know it, Mike. You know behind the scenes how hard we've been working on this thing. And I'm committed to it because I know it's going to make everybody's life better, right? If you make people's lives better, you've at least done something good for this world. So that's our goal.
Well, it is the future. I think of RV reservations and our folks who watched the YouTube video actually saw it. Those of you listening to the podcast, again, go back to the show notes for this episode. And you'll be able to actually listen to the interview and watch it all embedded as a video.
Mark Koep has been our guest. Mark is a longtime friend of the RV Lifestyle. And Mark, we'll see you out there on the roads. And we'll tell everybody as soon as this is available, but they can get, did I hear right? That they can get special pricing right now if they sign up in advance?
Yeah, exactly. We're giving them 50% off of what the membership cost will be in the future. So, if you want to see this thing really happen, join.
Okay. CampgroundViews.com. Mark Koep, our guest. Thank you so much, Mark.
How to Find RV and Camping Adventures
There are so many awesome adventures just waiting for you out there! We've written a whole library of RV travel ebooks that guided exploration of scenic regions of the US that we’ve explored and think would make an excellent RV trip.
In each location, we provide a suggested route and itinerary (7 stops in each guide, one for each day of a week trip!) as well as links to multiple campgrounds and boondocking spots, local tips, and interesting things to do at each location.