Are you pulling your hair and yelling, “Why can't I get a camping reservation?!” You're not alone. Here's why and what you can do about it.
If you have been having trouble finding a reservation, there is a good reason for it. Public and private campgrounds are busier than ever!
The surge of popularity in camping has led to many people snatching up campsites even several months in advance. There are more newbies than ever before, so even we experienced RVers are having a hard time getting reservations.
You may know all of the tricks, yet you’re still left with nowhere to go! Here’s why, and what you can do about it.
Why Can't I Get a Camping Reservation?
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States in March of 2020, people suddenly found themselves at home for many weeks.
As the pandemic wore on, cabin fever started setting in. An influx of people found themselves wanting to get outdoors and travel, but as safely as possible.
Camping offered many a great opportunity. People that had never even gone camping before realized the appeal compared to being stuck at home. Plus, those who never had the time before, suddenly had more time than they knew what to do with it.
RVs sales increased, with many dealerships selling out of all their stock.
State and national parks have become busy and crowded. Privately owned campgrounds are booked up several months in advance.
Due to camping’s increased popularity, it has become increasingly difficult to make a camping reservation.
Will Things Go Back to Normal?
Many people predicted that once the pandemic wound down, people would return to their jobs and normal lives. In turn, camping reservations would become more available.
But people are now transitioning back to normal lives, and campground reservations are still hard to find. So, what gives?
Well, it’s more so that not enough time has passed. There’s going to be a lag between people returning to work and campgrounds becoming available because, remember, people have had to make reservations several months in advance for more than a year now.
I expect there will be an influx of cancellations at the end of this year and the beginning of next. Once people get closer to the dates they reserved months ago, their normal life will get in the way as it once did and they’ll have to cancel.
Or, there’ll switch their camping plans for the type of travel they preferred before the pandemic.
However, I don’t think reservations will ever be as easy to find as they were pre-pandemic. Why? Because lots of people surely caught the camping bug!
We’ve all fallen in love with the RV lifestyle, so it’s not surprising that others will have discovered and stick with their new passion.
And if gas prices go up to around the $5 mark, this might put a hamper on some travel and camping plans. In that case, you might be able to find some good camping spots.
How to Get a Camping Reservation
Alright, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but what about getting a reservation now? Or what about once things calm down but it’s still harder to get a reservation than before?
State and National Parks Reservations
State and national parks have experienced record-breaking numbers during the pandemic. The pandemic made it possible for many to finally check this off their bucket list. Plus, inexperienced campers would of course think of these popular destinations first.
Most of these parks can be reserved six months in advance. And most of them fill up on the day the campsites go live!
For the most popular destinations, you need to be on your computer in the early morning hours. As soon as the campsites go live, you have to try and score a site.
You have to be like a nerd trying to get tickets to comic-con. Have you and your travel companions ready on separate devices, clicking on ‘Book now’ as soon as it goes live.
With luck, you’ll get a spot.
But what if you are not six months out? There are ways to still book.
One thing you can do is search for last-minute campsites. Many people cancel reservations due to illness or when other obligations pop up.
Go to Reserve America or recreation.gov to find out if there are open reservations at a campground you want. You can also search for openings in federal or state-managed campgrounds near you. You may find an opening at a place that you didn't even know you wanted to visit!
Privately Owned Reservations
Privately owned campgrounds are all different. One may offer rural, dry camping. While others, like KOA, are nationwide and offer many amenities.
If you want to visit a state or national park, do not overlook privately-owned campgrounds. Many are located near these iconic areas, and even offer shuttle services to get into the park.
You can find regular campsites, and even some very unique places to stay, on Tentrr, Harvest Hosts or Hipcamp.
Other apps, like The Dyrt and Campendium, show available campsites on useful maps. But you cannot book a site using their app.
First-Come, First-Served Camping
If you can’t book a campground in advance, you can always try for a first-come, first-served campground. These are places that do not grant reservations ahead of time.
In fact, many state and federal campgrounds do not offer reservations. Or hold back some for people that are trying to find a place to stay on the same day.
The following tips can help you score a spot at a first-come, first-served campground:
- Come on a weekday, not a weekend: Weekends fill up much faster than weekdays. You’ll have better luck coming mid-week.
- Arrive early and scope it out: Does it appear that anyone is packing up? The later in the day you come, the more likely someone else will snag that spot.
- Try to visit during the off-season: If possible, visit during the off-season when there are fewer crowds. That means less competition for those coveted campsites.
- Have two people go to two different campgrounds if possible: Are there multiple campgrounds near the same area? If you can swing it, split your party to try and nab a spot at two different campgrounds. You will double your chance of getting one.
- Bring cash: Many campgrounds still only accept cash. Bring it just in case they will not take your credit card.
- Be flexible: Understand that you may not get the best spot in the campground. Be flexible, and go with the flow. Allow yourself to relax and wait for a little bit while seeing what opens up.
Dispersed Camping (a.k.a. Boondocking)
If none of the other options sound appealing to you, or just do not work out, you can always go dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is staying on public land for free, outside of a designated campground. It is dry camping, as there are no services available to you.
There will be no picnic tables, restrooms, dumpsters, or potable water available to you. And you will need to pack out everything that you pack in, This type of camping is not for everyone.
But some people love to feel truly off the grid. They find solace and relaxation being alone in nature.
Dispersed camping takes place on land that is managed by one of two entities: the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.).
To find dispersed camping in National Forests, you can visit a fed guide map to various locations.
For B.L.M. camping information, you can visit their website.
Want to Try Boondocking? (Dispersed Camping?)
Want to learn how to boondock?
We created a PRINT version of our most popular guide to help you with the most common boondocking problems. We get a ton of questions from our subscribers about how to get started boondocking that range from where to go and wild animals to water conservation to what equipment to use and more.
Throw off the shackles of traditional RV Parks and campgrounds, stop paying high fees every night that you spend in your RV, and experience the boundless amounts of nature while boondocking!
You’re done with the noisy RV parks, the 3.5 feet of room you have squished in between two other RVs, and other people’s kids running through your campsite?
You’ve ditched the hookups, the concrete blocks and have replaced them with self-leveling and Navy showers?