Pro tips for last-minute camping at no-reservation campgrounds
When to go: For the best availability, plan your camping trip early in the week (most campgrounds clear out on Sundays by noon) or mid-week. Weekends are the riskiest choice; no-reservations campgrounds may fill up by early Friday afternoon on summer weekends, so plan to arrive at your destination campground before noon on a Friday to snag a campsite. For the most popular campgrounds, especially those in state parks and national parks, your safer choice is to start your weekend camping trip on a Thursday.
Pack early: You’ll probably want to leave the house at the crack of dawn to grab your campsite. For all the outdoor fun, camping is a heck of a lot of work, even more so with kids in tow and without concrete reservations. Ease the stress of packing by having everything ready and in the car at least by the night before your departure date. Make sure the car has a full tank of gas and you’ve planned out your route. Pack snacks and fun books or games for the kids so you won’t have to make many pit stops.
Have a plan B: When you opt for no-reservations camping, you swap predictability for flexibility, so there’s a risk of being turned away at a chock-full campground. If your preferred campground is full when you arrive, you’ll want to have a few other nearby campgrounds in mind or even a cheap motel.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated for 2021.