Camping used to be easy. You would drive your van to a campground, pay your 10 bucks for a site, and set up your tent. These days, with so many people camping on and off the grid, you have to plan ahead. But here are some tips so you can regain some of the spontaneity of snagging the perfect camp spot.
Reserve Months Ahead
You can check availability and reserve a site by visiting the official park webpage, clicking on reservations, and entering your preferred dates. Not only can you see where all the campgrounds are located, but you can also see when a specific campground filled up on a specific date the previous year. Some campgrounds have limits on the length of RVs, or no room for RVs, so double-check the website.
Go Off the Grid at State Parks
Five-thousand campsites available at state parks are not on the reservation system. For instance, at the Grand Canyon, when the main campgrounds do fill up, you’ll be directed to the park’s Desert View Campground, where the 50 sites are first-come, first-served. Most summer nights that campground is full by 3 p.m. While this campground is 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village, you’ll enjoy the added solitude.
Go Way Off the Grid
Even with the big parks parks booked full on summer weekends, there are still roughly 500 to 600 campgrounds with space over the summer months, and most are located along lesser-known streams, lakes or at wilderness trailheads. Most of these are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and local park districts.
Be Flexible with Dates
Arrive or book Monday and Tuesday to grab a spot. Go in April, May, September and October. Except for the top tier locations, even the best campgrounds have awesome sites available on the shoulder months. Sometimes campgrounds such as Zion National Park are available first-come, first-served, so try and get your dates mid-week and arrive at dawn so you can scope out the campground and watch for people who are packing up to go home.
Check for Cancellations
Even the Grand Canyon and Yosemite have last minute cancellations. When life happens, people do occasionally have to change their plans. Before three-day weekends, the state park website at www.parks.ca.gov often lists campgrounds where sites are available, often because campers have to change their plans. Have your gear packed and be ready to go if one of your favorite campgrounds has a no-show.
Follow the Blogs
There is a plethora of blogs out there written by people who camp full-time, making them experts on finding a spot summer, spring, winter or fall. These campers don’t want to end up sleeping in a Walmart for the night if they can help it. They’re more than willing to share ideas such as finding a spot off the grid in Quartzsite, AZ, or a primo spot in Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. Check out the blog, No Excuses: Go Nomadic and HitchItch, and follow the professionals to the campground.