Spring is here, and that means prime camping season is upon us. Unfortunately for those of us who aren’t big on the whole “planning” aspect of camping, the popularity of outdoor recreation has skyrocketed in the COVID era, and about 99.999% of all campsites at major national parks are already booked for the rest of the year. Don’t let that outrageous fact get you down, though: Here are a few of our favorite alternatives for booking campsites online all across the U.S.
Hipcamp.com pioneered the online campsite booking industry and was the first third-party booking site to feature real-time availability data for both public and private campgrounds. Nowadays, they’re one of the best in the business, featuring everything from state parks to private ranches in all 52 states. Hipcamp is our go-to for finding off-grid car camping opportunities and unique stays on private lands. Think: Booking a weekend getaway in a treehouse or organizing a group camp along a private stretch of river.
Campspot.com is a service similar to Hipcamp but with a more focused approach. Campspot works as an all-in-one booking service for a massive collection of privately owned campgrounds. These places can be as simple as rustic ranches with a slew of handbuilt cabins or as complex as massive family camping getaways like Jellystone Park and Camp Fimfo resorts. Campspot is probably the best resource for RV campers on the internet, and it’s also a great place to search for family campgrounds.
Speaking of RV camping, HarvestHosts.com is one of the coolest ways to find unique RV camp spots out on the road. Harvest Hosts is a yearly membership service available to RV campers that leverages a network of roughly 3,000 hosts across the US, Canada, Alaska, and even down into Baja.
These unique sites are provided by farms, museums, ranches, wineries, breweries, and distilleries and aim to provide RV campers and road warriors a unique camping experience rather than the dreaded overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot. Two things to note here: These stays are typically limited to 24 hours and are only available to self-contained RVs/campers. That means if your rig doesn’t include a toilet, water tank, and an inside cooking setup, it isn’t eligible. Still, it’s a fun way to link to stops together out on the road, and most of these locations will throw in a tour of the grounds while you’re there.
Recreation.gov is the official government-designated website for campsite reservations on federal lands. It’s also the go-to for things like hiking and parking permits on public lands and keeps up-to-date info on availability and campground closures in most parks via partnerships with organizations like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Technically, this is your only option for most U.S. national park bookings, and because most parks use either a 6-month or a 12-month advance booking window, chances are just about everything is already booked up for the warm months. The site still has its uses, though.
For instance, although booking a weekend inside Yosemite National Park is about as likely as you spontaneously combusting in a swimming pool, Recreation.gov can still help you plan a camping trip to the park. That’s because the site lists both reservation availability and information on first-come-first-serve campsites. So if you find a fair amount of “FF” sites available in a particular part of the park, the site can help you strategize exactly when and where you need to show up to snag your spot.
Ever notice that even when a national park is booked solid, there always seem to be dozens of wide-open spots inside that are “reserved” but clearly not being used? Sadly many of these spots fall victim to “no-show” campers who aren’t courteous enough to cancel their reservations, but for a lucky few, last-minute cancellations do happen, and being prepared to jump on them as they pop up can make or break a weekend in the wilderness.
Back in the day, you had to constantly bird-dog sites like Recreation.gov, obsessively refreshing the page and praying for a new opening to pop up. Lucky for all of us, the folks at Campnab.com got tired of playing that game a few years ago and designed a program that automatically scans park databases for cancellations, then sends you alerts in real time when they pop up. Their service costs a small fee to use, but you can set up multiple alerts for multiple destinations throughout the year. You’ll still have to be prepared to log in and book the site at a moment’s notice, but it’s a serious leg up on the competition for snagging coveted spots.
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