How to Book a Campsite in 2020

You’ve decided that glamping is the perfect way to rough it without, well…roughing it. You have the gear all lined up. Now comes the most important, and perhaps the most underrated, part of a successful glamping trip: figuring out how to book a campsite that will take your vacation from good to glorious.

Next to your accommodation, the campsite is the thing that has the biggest impact on a glamping trip. Choose well, and you’ll enjoy a peaceful evening surrounded by nature and emerge in the morning to spectacular wilderness views. Book the wrong site, and you’ll end up sleeping next to the campground bathroom.

If this is your first time booking a campsite, there’s no need to be intimidated — we’re here to help! The most important thing to know is that the best sites in popular locations can book up quickly; it’s a good idea to start searching as soon as you have dates in mind. Planning a last-minute glamping getaway? We have tips for you, too. After all, the most important part of finding out how to book a campsite is knowing where to look. With our help, you’ll learn how to book a campsite in no time.

how to book a campsite in 2020 campsite in the early morning

What You Will Need to Follow this Tutorial

Learning how to book a campsite is a breeze — to make sure you’re getting the best possible site, make sure to have these items on hand when you start the process:

  • A phone or computer with internet access
  • The measurements of your tent or RV; this is especially important for an RV
  • Information about the vehicle you’ll be driving to the campsite
  • The number of people that will be staying at the campsite
  • Credit card for booking fees

How to Book a Campsite | Step by Step Instructions

1. Check the Major Reservation Sites

As you discover how to book a campsite, your first step is to head to the major camping reservation sites. These websites collect a huge array of campsites on public lands around the United States — that way, you can find all of the options in and around a specific area.

Are you looking to do a bit of glamping in a national park, state park, or national recreation area? Head straight for Recreation.gov, the official booking website for government-owned campgrounds. Here, you’ll be able to research and book more than 100,000 sites in 3,600 campgrounds from Acadia to Yosemite.

Another great place to help as you learn how to book a campsite is Reserve America. It gives you the option to browse both public and private lands; so it’s a great one-stop-shop for research. Keep in mind that while you can research federally owned campsites here, you’ll still need to head to Recreation.gov to book.

2. Book a Private Campground

If you’re looking for a few more perks, why not consider a private campground? In comparison to government-owned properties, private campsites are often available with more luxuries — look for sites with Wi-Fi, full hookups for your RV, or a swimming pool for the kids. Some spots even offer glamping tents, so you don’t even need to worry about setup.

There are a few ways to book a private campground. The most convenient option is to use a website like Campendium, Hipcamp, or Allstays. Just type in the place you want to go, and the booking engines will show you the nearby options.

Many private campgrounds also offer bookings through their own websites. This is a great way to get a discounted rate. When you book directly, the owner doesn’t need to pay fees to the booking site, so they may be able to offer lower prices or other special perks.

3. Check for Cancellations

Are you dying to stay at a specific campground? Don’t panic if the calendar is full — you can always check for cancellations. Other travelers often need to cancel their plans, which means that their reserved campsites suddenly become available.

This method works best if you’re okay with a last-minute booking. All you need to do is start checking the campground website starting about a week before your desired dates. As soon as a previous reservation is canceled, the dates are released back into the system.

The secret to success as you learn how to book a campsite with cancellations? First, check the booking website frequently. As soon as you see an open site, reserve it right away. A full campground means that it’s a popular spot, so your goal is to snap up the open dates before anyone else can get to them.

4. Check for Overflow Areas

Your chosen campground is full. You can’t find cancellations. Don’t worry — it’s not over yet! The final step in learning how to book a campsite is to check for overflow areas.

An overflow area is a collection of campsites that are usually located near or adjacent to a developed campground. When the main sites are full, parks will open the overflow sites to allow extra people to stay. Some campgrounds offer these sites on a first-come, first-served basis; others allow you to book in advance after the main sites have filled up.

It’s a good idea to do some research into the overflow areas to figure out what you’re in for. In many cases, you’ll need to walk to the main campground to use the bathroom or shower facilities. At some parks, the overflow areas are little more than an empty field. Be sure to check the campground policies, as well; usually, these spots are short-term solutions until a spot opens up elsewhere.

booking a campsite online campfire at dusk

How to Book a Campsite | Bonus Tips

1. Consider Camping Outside of Peak Times

As you start learning how to book a campsite, you’ll discover that during the high season — usually, in the summer — the most desirable sites book up fast. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to book six months to a year in advance, consider camping in the shoulder seasons just before or after the peak season.

There are a few advantages to this method. Since demand is lower, it’s easier to find a site with less notice. Plus, the smaller crowds mean that you can enjoy the great outdoors in peace. Depending on where you go, this means that your chances of spotting wildlife or hiking in silence are much higher. In the campground, less traffic and noise leads to better sleep and peace of mind.

2. Check Campsite Details

Not all campsites are created equal, even within the same park. If you’re looking at a campground that allows specific site reservations, it pays to do a bit of research into the individual sites. To start, check the specs in the listing. Is the site big enough to fit your tent? Can you pull your RV through, or will you need to back in?

The campground map is also a great resource — it helps you find the spots that are closest to the water or the hiking trail. If you’re bringing kids, a site that’s a short walk to the bathrooms makes late-night potty runs more fun. Compare the map to a Google Earth view, and you can even pick the perfect spot for sunrise or sunset viewing.

3. Consider First-Come, First-Served Sites

If you’re up for a bit of a gamble as you figure out how to book a campsite, look for campgrounds that set aside some sites for people without reservations. This is a common practice, especially in national parks; it’s a great way to snag a spot in a popular campground. The trick? Arrive before check-out time so you’re first in line as campers leave. Keep in mind that open sites aren’t guaranteed — be sure to have a backup plan.

4. Look for Free Campsites

One of the best-kept secrets of the American camping system is that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers a huge variety of free campsites on public lands. Yes, you read that correctly: they’re completely free!

There are trade-offs, of course. Most free BLM sites are primitive, which means that they don’t offer water, trash collection, or hookups. If you’re cool with that, you can save money and enjoy the wilderness without the crowds.

BLM sites are particularly common in the Southwest; you’ll even find some around the popular outdoor adventure mecca of Moab, Utah. To find options, head to the BLM website, or use a resource like Campendium to learn how to book a campsite for free.

Looking at a campsite from inside the tent

How to Book a Campsite | Final Thoughts

Have you enjoyed learning how to book a campsite? We hope so! Our goal is to make camping accessible for everyone, and when you know where to start, the process is much less daunting. As soon as you start looking through listings, we’re confident that you’ll be able to find the perfect spot. If you’ve stumbled across any other great ways to book campsites, we’d love to hear them — leave a comment to let us know!

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