Tricks for camping in National Parks without a reservation

Tricks for camping in National Parks without a reservation

By Bob Difley

 

When campground usage is up, reservations become harder to nail down. It’s a real problem for those who procrastinate, make last-minute travel decisions, or find themselves wherever their RV leads — most of the time without campground reservations. But don’t let that discourage you from visiting the national parks. You just need to practice some tricks and tips for increasing your odds of securing a campsite.

Many national parks are often by national forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. These are great alternative camping options. Use their campgrounds for first night camping with the goal of securing a national park campsite the next day.

It’s nearly impossible to get a campsite in a National Park by arriving in mid-afternoon or later, since most parks fill well before noon, even on weekdays. A primitive campsite or boondocking on public lands will probably be your best bet, since most private campgrounds are generally on private land far away from national parks and also often fully reserved with few, if any, last minute sites.

These tips can up your chances of getting a campsite.

  • Research close-by public lands for campgrounds and dispersed camping areas — easy if there’s a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) available for download. Find which national park campgrounds have sites large enough for your rig and confirm that some of them are held for first-come-first-serve campers.
  • Plan to arrive on a weekday instead of a weekend and visita Forest Service or BLM office on your way in to see which campgrounds have available sites.
  • No sites available? Ask about boondocking outside of an organized campground (dispersed camping areas). Ask for a MVUM (for now only available in NF) that will map those areas. If there is no MVUM you can camp anywhere that you can get off the road providing you are not within a mile of an organized campground and where not otherwise prohibited.
  • When you have your site, figure out if it will work for a few days, is in easy reach of the National Park, and whether spending time to secure a national park campsite is worth the time and effort. If not — stay where you are.
  • If you want a site in the park, rise with the birds the next morning and plan to arrive in the campground very early — before 10 a.m. if possible — and get on the list for a campsite.
  • No sign up list? Roam around the campground looking for signs that someone is leaving, then hang out until they do and leave something in the campsite — a camp chair or “Taken” sign — to reserve it until you retrieve your rig.

Each park has its own policy on campers without reservations. Get what information you can from its web page or phone the visitor center so you are prepared. That should increase your odds of finding a campsite.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.

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