Understanding how to reserve a campsite in the past wasn’t very important. But today, due to the growing popularity of RVing, campgrounds are at max capacity most weekends. And making reservations in advance has become almost a necessity. Gone are the days of walk-in reservations. But there are apps and tools to help you make that last-minute reservation or grab a cancellation. Let’s learn more!
Do You Need to Book Campsites?
Most campgrounds usually prefer you to book campsites ahead of time. You can usually do this online via the campground website or by calling them and making the reservation over the phone. It is pretty easy to do, however, reserving a campsite means putting a deposit down that may or may not be refundable if you need to cancel your plans or change them.
Some campers like to travel more spontaneously, so booking a campsite might feel like a big commitment. Especially if it is far in advance.
There are forms of camping that don’t require booking a campsite. Boondocking on public land is an example, where you show up and look to see if there is space. Since these are less formal campsites, usually there is plenty of room. When camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land or other federal or public land, you don’t have to make reservations. It’s first-come-first-served.
If you boondock often, you might only rely on campsites in established campgrounds a handful of times out of the year. But if you need full hook-ups and the amenities of a swimming pool, mini golf course, playground, dog park, laundry facility, and clubhouse, then knowing how to reserve a campsite is critically important to your camping experience.
Do You Really Have to Reserve a Campsite in Advance?
You don’t have to reserve a campsite in advance, but it definitely helps. Reserving a campsite weeks or months in advance might even be necessary if you have a particular destination in mind. Times have changed, and just pulling up to a campground expecting an open campsite isn’t likely anymore. The farther in advance you can plan, the more likely you’ll get the desired campsites at your desired campgrounds.
Sometimes you can call ahead a few days before you want to arrive or even the day of arrival, and due to a cancellation, there will be an opening. However, this isn’t a guaranteed way to ensure a spot. Reserving in advance is great for peace-of-mind and solidifying plans. Arriving at a campground only to find their full can cause stress and potentially ruin your camping trip.
We typically reserve out a couple of days in advance to keep our travel plans fluid. However, if we know we want to be somewhere particular for a particular amount of time, we will book weeks in advance.
You can also use campsite notifier software and memberships to grab last-minute availability. These apps will notify you of a cancellation. In locations where reserving a campsite is difficult even in advance – like in the Florida Keys during the wintertime – these memberships and apps are sometimes the only way to find a campsite. Keep reading to learn more about these notifiers.
How Far In Advance Should You Reserve a Campsite?
How far in advance you should reserve a campsite depends on the area’s popularity. For example, if you want to stay in Zion National Park at Watchman Campground during the spring or summer, you’ll have to be on top of the 6-month booking window. This is because it’s a highly desirable campground during peak tourist season. If you want to stay in a Florida State Park during the winter, you’ll have to be on top of the 11-month booking window for the same reason.
Our longest booking in advance was 7 months. We booked our Denali National Park campsite stay for August in January. In this case, we definitely knew when we wanted to be there and planned the rest of our Alaska trip around this stay.
However, if you just want a weekend getaway to a local campground in December in South Carolina, you won’t have to book as far in advance. But your best bet is to make reservations as early as possible, no matter where you’re traveling. Then you still have options available if your first choice is completely booked up.
Why Are Campgrounds So Full?
RVing has continued to increase in popularity. Parents can work remotely, and some choose homeschooling over public education. Thus, traveling is more of an option for families. The technology available for work, school, and play means more people can hit the road now rather than waiting until retirement. Since there are more RVers, campgrounds are full weekend after weekend.
Pro Tip: Can’t find a campsite? Give boondocking a try. Just keep in mind these Important Boondocking Things To Know Before You Go.
How to Traditionally Reserve a Campsite
If you’ve been RVing for any length of time, there are probably three main ways you have reserved campsites in the past. All three methods may still work, but you may also need a little luck on your side.
Book on the Campground’s Website
Booking a reservation via the campground’s website is probably the easiest way to get a campsite. You can easily see what’s available, read about the length and height restrictions, and even see campsite photos. You can also search for availability if you are flexible on your arrival dates. Campground websites make it easy to add a campsite to your cart and check out in minutes.
Call the Campground
If you’d rather talk to someone to reserve a campsite, you can call the campground to ask about availability. Because campground staff members generally have more than one role, this might be more difficult than going online. Staff members may also be responsible for cleaning up campsites after RVers check out, so they aren’t in the office to answer the telephone. If you want to make a reservation after hours, it will also be difficult to reach someone until the next morning.
Traditionally, you could pack up the RV and head down the road to your local campground for the weekend without booking a campsite. This just isn’t the case anymore. It’s unlikely you’ll find availability if you don’t make a reservation ahead of time. So unless you’re extremely flexible and can boondock in a nearby parking lot, don’t plan on just walking into a campground.
RV Hack: Campsite Notifiers and Booking Bots for Last-Minute Campsites
For last-minute camping trips, there are a few campsite notifier programs and memberships that can help you book amazing campsites that usually require reservations months ago. The top two are Campnab and Campsite Assist.
With plans starting at $10, Campnab is a website that will notify you via text message when an available site opens up at a sold-out campground. All you have to do is choose the campground, arrival date, number of nights, and how you’d like to pay. You better move fast if you get a notification, as these sites won’t remain available for long.
Campsite Assist is a similar website that will send text and email alerts when a sold-out campground has availability. With the Specific Scan, you choose the exact date and length of stay for one campground. The Matrix Scan provides availability within a date range. You can pay per scan or buy a pack of scans.
How to Find a Campground
If you’re planning a trip for an extended period, you may run into a problem at some point trying to get a reservation. It’s best to be flexible and have multiple options. Apps, map searches, and boondocking offer several ways to make sure you have a place to lay your head at night.
Use a Campground App
Campendium, Allstays, iOverlander, and other apps are great tools for reserving a campsite. You can search a specific location or search along your route to find an overnight stay. You can also read reviews, search based on provided hook-ups or amenities, or check out campground photos. From the app, you can call the campground directly or visit the campground’s website to make a reservation.
Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Use the iOverlander App to Find Great Campsites.
Google Maps Search
You can also search Google maps to find campgrounds in a specific location. You can search for state parks or county parks in addition to private campgrounds. Like the apps, you’ll be able to read reviews, which are always helpful when determining where to stay overnight.
Boondock If Campgrounds Are Full
If campgrounds are full in your location, you might have to boondock in a parking lot. Although this might be the last resort for some travelers, don’t forget that this is an option. You can also check out memberships like Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome for other boondocking locations near you.
For Stress-Free Camping, Reserve Your Site Ahead of Time
You might not be a planner. You might enjoy the spontaneity of going as you please. But if you rely on hook-ups and amenities like laundry facilities or bathhouses, it’s best to reserve your site ahead of time. Knowing how to reserve a campsite will alleviate stress down the road. This might not be how things used to be, but it’s the reality of today’s camping experience.
Have you ever gotten into a pickle and been without a campsite for a night? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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