Make the Most of RVing to National Parks
Some of the best places to go camping are our nation’s national parks. These beautiful places offer a whole host of things to see and do. Best of all, most have campgrounds right on site. This means you won’t have to do a lot of driving back and forth between your lodging and the park.
10 Best Tips For Making National Park Camping Reservations
All that said, there are some things you should know before attempting to book national park camping reservations. Keeping the following ten tips in mind will help ensure you get a campsite that works well for you and your family.
1. Plan your visit first
The first thing you should do before booking your national parks camping reservations is to plan your visit. This might seem backwards, but knowing what you want to see and do within the park will help you choose a campground in close proximity to those attractions. Considering how large and spread-out some national parks can be, this can save you a whole lot of time and fuel.
Research the campgrounds on RV LIFE Campgrounds and see what other RVers are saying about the location. Use a trip planner for RV-safe directions and check out the Street View and Satellite View to get a better idea of the back roads.
2. Are camping reservations accepted at national parks?
The next step? Making sure national parks camping reservations are accepted at the site you wish to visit. While most NPS sites do have at least one campground that accepts reservations, there are a few that only offer camping on a first-come, first-served basis.
If the campground you wish to visit only offers first-come, first-served camping, be sure to arrive a little before checkout time on the day of your arrival. This will increase your chances of finding a site. Having a small rig that can fit into any site is also helpful, as is arriving on a weekday.
Of course, having a backup plan is recommended since many of these NPS campgrounds are very difficult to get into.
3. Know when is the best time to book reservations
Once you’ve confirmed that the campground you wish to visit accepts reservations, you’ll want to find out when you need to book.
In most cases, campsites can be booked six months out. For instance, those wishing to camp the night of June 1st could book as early as January 1st. We recommend booking as soon as that window opens, especially if you’ll be visiting a more popular national park.
The one exception to the six-month booking window is found at Yosemite National Park. Here, the campgrounds open reservation windows in one-month blocks. These are released on the 15th of the month, five months in advance.
As an example, someone wishing to visit Yosemite on June 14th would be able to book on January 15th. Meanwhile, those looking to arrive on June 15th would book on February 15th.
Because Yosemite reservations fill up within 20 minutes after becoming available, you will want to plan to book at 7am PST on the day your booking window opens.
No matter where you’re headed, we recommend setting a reminder so you don’t miss your booking date.
4. Double-check RV size limits
Before that booking date rolls around, double-check size limits, making sure your rig will fit into the sites at the campground. The reason we recommend this is because many NPS campgrounds only have space for smaller rigs, such as short Class Cs and Class B RVs.
If your top pick cannot fit your rig, consider renting a smaller RV. Other options include tent camping, or picking a different campground within (or just outside of) the park.
5. Know what’s included
It’s also important to know what you’re getting with your national parks campground reservations. Since you’ll be in a hurry to book when your booking window opens up, be sure to do your research beforehand.
Check out what amenities are included at the campground you’re considering. Know that most campgrounds in national parks do not include RV hookups of any kind. Many do have showers, dumpsters, dump stations, and freshwater fill stations though.
6. Understand Cancellation Policies
Another thing to research before booking are the cancellation policies at the campground you’re reserving. While nobody plans to cancel their vacation, you never know what might come up between now and then. Knowing what to expect if you do need to cancel is a good idea.
7. Book online
Most successful Yosemite campground reservations are made online rather than over the phone. For this reason, we highly recommend booking your NPS RV site on the Recreation.gov website for the best chance of snagging the site you want. Ensure you have a decent internet connection and device. This will help you avoid frustrating connection lag that could cost you your reservation.
8. Start early
In addition to hurrying to book online, we also recommend hopping on a bit before 7am PST. This allows you to go through the first few steps in the booking process before the booking window even officially opens up. It gives you a little bit of a head start and raises your chances of nabbing one of the more coveted national parks campground reservations.
9. Be prepared to pay
When making national parks campground reservations, you will be expected to pay right away rather than paying when you arrive at the campground. Therefore, you will want to have your credit or debit card handy when making your booking.
10. Save money with park passes
Finally, if you’re looking to save a little bit of money on your national parks campground reservations, you might be able to do just that.
If you qualify for a Disability Access NPS Pass or a Senior NPS Pass be sure to obtain a card. This will make you eligible to receive a 50% discount at some government-owned campgrounds. Be sure to ask if you’re entitled to a discount at the campground you’ll be staying in.
You may also want to consider obtaining an America The Beautiful Pass, which covers all day-use fees in all of our national park sites.
Read more about Recreation.gov – Your Gateway To National Parks, Forests, And Other Federal Recreation Sites.
Chelsea Gonzales is a full-time RVer, freelance writer, and roadschooling mama who loves sharing her expertise about RVing with kids, roadschooling, and full-time RVing. The entrepreneurial and free-spirited author is also artistic director of the Aistear Mobile Irish Dance Academy, and currently travels with her family in a 27-foot travel trailer. Chelsea’s informational articles about full-time RVing, raising children on the road, camping, and destination features appear on her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander. throughout the RV LIFE network, and in RV industry media outlets such as Outdoorsy, Coach-Net, and RV Share.
Richard Hubert says
Actually show up for your reservation, or cancel if your plans change.
We were discouraged to see last summer, after saying in several different National Forest & National Park areas the number of sites which were clearly marked with a reserved date to which no one ever showed. This was very discouraging because there were many last minute RV arrivals who could have used the spots if they had been freed up.
Richard Hubert says
Make sure that your desired campground offers cell service if that is one of your requirements, as it is for many.
When staying in Grand Teton National Park last summer we found that Colter Bay offered absolutely 0 cell coverage, but the Gros Ventre campground further South did have enough full service to enable us to use our Weboost booster with a Verizon hotspot .
Corey Anderson says
Yosemite books within seconds. I can never get a spot there even if I am on within a millisecond of their opening the reservation system. The Director responded to a complaint I lodged a few years ago about this and said “You must realize we have 40,000 people wanting to book for Yosemite when it opens.” Great. So they create a bottleneck on the 15th for the whole opening month instead of every seven days.
And we were supposed to get 25 new sites as a result of negotiations about the park years ago. No new sites at all. What is happening to my beloved park???
I still don’t have any answer to a very basic question. If I want to arrive on June 15 and the sites are released on a rolling basis how can I book my departure date that is not released yet. I had this happen with Acedia. Wanted to book 5 days but only got 2 because the other dates weren’t released and when I logged back on the next day I got shut out.
Edward Cresap says
thanks for the update. It would of helped us this year if we know this. 6 months out.
William H. Campbell says
Worst reservation system ever. Very discouraging. It is so random. If you mis-step at all along the process you are excluded. Even the call back que system will cut you off with in seconds if you don’t respond in less than a few seconds.
PK Davidson says
Making reservations on the Recreation.gov website is a joke. While trying to make a reservation for a popular park, we looked the night before for availability and found 34 sites that showed available. By 7 o’clock only 9 were available, and at 8:00 when the booking opened they were all gone. I can understand I was not fast enough at 8, even though I had my site selected, and pushed send at exactly 8:00. But the other 25 sites booked without the booking window officially open. Why? How? I then watched it for the next few days with similar results. I agree with Richard Hubert’s comments, during a stay at a park last month, booked at capacity, 1/3 of the sites around us were not occupied. I asked the host, and he could care less, less work for him. Said “they were paid for” Other campers would have loved those sites. The privileged make reservations, and don’t care it they use them or not. Should be some penalty for not using them.
Kent Gardam says
Articles like this would have more value if proofread for mistakes. The author says book six months ahead and then gives an example of booking January 1st for a June 1st site. That’s only five months. If you want June 1st you need to book December 1st.
John Connaughton says
On the passes and discounts for camping, does anyone know if the new Military Lifetime Passes also give you these discounts?
Oh, and I agree the booking systems for many of the National Parks can be quite a hassle. Needs to be re-thought out and then re-worked.
Rick Neighbors says
Sounds like we may just scratch National Parks for now. Lots of State Parks in Texas. 🙂
Yosemite reservations fill up within 1 second after becoming available, you will want to plan to book at 0701hrs PST on the day your booking window opens.
Recreation.gov is a joke, think people are using BOT system to get their reservations