After more than 40 years of camping, here are four realities I’ve learned when it comes to booking late in the season.
Your odds of finding an available campsite or cabin increase if you schedule your trip during weekdays.
Privately owned campgrounds tend to be lesser known—and harder to find online—than campgrounds inside the most popular state or national parks. As a result, the latter campgrounds book up first, while privately owned campgrounds might still have vacancies. Many of these sites can serve as base camps to get you close to where you want to be. They also tend to have more amenities, which members of your camping party might appreciate. (Looking for a campground? Didn't plan ahead? You may be able to score a last-minute campsite at these 10 campgrounds.)
Not all campgrounds can be reserved online. For example, some Forest Service sites can't be booked online, particularly in the Sierra. These are available only on a first-come, first-served basis, and this means you might still have a chance of finding a scenic spot, such as around Rock Creek Lake or McGee Creek, even in summer. You pay for them the old-fashioned way—by putting a check or cash into a yellow envelope with your name, license number, and campsite number, and dropping it into a metal box near the campground entrance. A ranger or camp host will stop by at some point to verify payment. Keep in mind that most of these campgrounds have limited amenities. Check recreation.gov to see if any of these campgrounds are close to places you’d like to visit.
According to the KOA-sponsored "2018 North American Camping Report," camping is getting more popular in the U.S. That means campgrounds will fill up earlier and earlier in the year. So next year, plan four to six months ahead of your vacation to create the camping trip of your dreams.
No single website lists every campground in California or any other state. But these five essential websites collectively can help you locate your perfect campsite.
Jeff Crider is an avid camper and outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about camping and RVing in California and across the country for 25 years.
Jazz up your campfire meals with these 4 gourmet recipes.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, please check to see if local authorities, hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, and restaurants are open and have issued health and safety-related entry requirements or restrictions. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.