Reserving a good campsite in one of the most popular national parks can be an exercise in frustration … as I experienced firsthand on our first major #roadtrip west. We had no idea if we even wanted reservations, preferring to travel with no set agenda, allowing us to linger in spots we enjoyed the most.
However, experienced #RVers discouraged that approach for the most popular campgrounds saying we’d be lucky to get in and maybe miss the experience if we didn’t have reservations. So we made reservations in 2 National Park campgrounds and 2 State Park campgrounds (out of 19 total).
Of course, you can always go “boondocking” – camping in forest service or BLM lands where no reservations are needed. The best way to do this is to simply stop at a ranger station in the area and ask. The rangers are usually more than happy to give you directions to the best spots.
Since we were newbies, while the boondocking idea appeals to us, we chose to go the reservations route. All were the same basic process, so here are 10 Tips:
1. In order to reserve the best campsite, first you have to know the sites that are the best … and the most desirable campgrounds.
Online resources like RV Park Reviews and even Trip Advisor are invaluable. Often there will be photos posted and likes/dislikes about particular campgrounds, loops and site numbers. There are other resources as well for example RV Net Open Roads Forum has a section for campgrounds and reviews. And don’t forget TrailerTraveler.net! 🙂
2. Visit the park website and click on camping. The example I’ll use is Zion National Park, but the process works the same for all the parks. Once you have a few ideas (I had 3 or 4 specific campsites picked out), click on the specific campground link for more information about if they take reservations, when and where. The campground link is generally where it will state “Reservations for campsites at Watchman Campground for camping from March 2015 through November 2015 may be made six months prior to your arrival date online at www.recreation.gov or by calling….” In this case, it’s Recreation.Gov. The other major one is ReserveAmerica.com.
3. Clicking on Recreation.gov gives me more information about the campground including a Facility Map. Look at the map, if you found recommended site #’s take a look and pick your site (with alternatives). We prefer spots on the outside of loops relatively close to a restroom/shower house. Put in your dates. The map or listing will indicate if those dates are available or reserved and also if you’re within the date range to reserve the site. If you’re outside the date range, it will tell you the date the site will be reservable. But that’s not quite enough information.
4. Once you’ve picked your preferred spots, CALL RECREATION.GOV well in advance of the six month window (or 4 month or whatever the time window is – keep in mind it varies) and find out more about the exact date AND TIME reservations open.
Let’s say reservations open at 10 AM on a specific date. If you don’t know that and just go online to reserve your spot sometime during that day, you’re likely not to get your preferred spot.
5. Once you know the specifics get registered for Recreation.Gov or ReserveAmerica.com in advance. You don’t want to be filling in your address and contact information while everyone else is already reserving the spots you wanted. You can register for an account in advance, so do it!
6. Reserving online is always quicker than by telephone because by the time you get through the phone menu – after the phone system opens at the appointed time, say 10 AM EST, the best spots are already gone. Reserve online, have your spot picked out and your credit card ready (you can tell which spots are available on the map) and click away.
7. So what happens if the spots you want are already reserved and you’re left feeling frustrated and unhappy? Then call. You never know, the people on the other end of the phone usually go out of their way to make suggestions that will be similar to the sites you had your heart set on.
8. Once you have the reservation, make sure you receive a confirmation e-mail and save it!
9. I also call a week or so after the reservation is made just to make sure when I give the reservation number that the park folks know what I’m talking about. And then I call again a week or two in advance, just to reconfirm because I’m way too anal about details.
10. Then show up and enjoy that perfect spot that you worked hard to get! ENJOY & Happy Camping!
Any other suggestions on how to find the perfect campsite? Please leave a comment and share! Cheers! Jan