Camping without Reservations - TIPS?

Discussion in 'Campground / Trip Planning & Suggestions ?' started by CivilizedOne, May 16, 2018.

  1. CivilizedOne

    CivilizedOne Member

    Mar 29, 2018
    It's been awhile since I've been camping, just coming back from 10 years overseas. I'm a 9 to 5'er M-F so weekends are my only option right now. It seems campgrounds are overflowing! At least in the reservations systems I've been looking at. It didn't used to be this way....

    I'm looking for tips and guidance on camping without reservations. Is just showing up without a reservation and hoping for a last minute cancellation a reasonable option? I'm open to boondocking but I am in Kentucky and would prefer to stay in the Appalachian Mountains, but anywhere in the area would be okay. I don't see any BLM land available.
  2. tdiller

    tdiller Active Member

    Aug 25, 2016
    Some public/state campgrounds leave a few sites unreservable for walkins. check for campgrounds and look at their campground maps.
  3. kitphantom

    kitphantom Well-Known Member

    Dec 26, 2009
    Albuquerque, NM
    Welcome. Yes, camping has become a lot more popular over the last 10-15 years, and campsite availability has not grown at the same pace.
    I don't camp much in your neck of the woods, so don't have specific campground recommendations; we do make reservations most of the time. (We know my husband's schedule, and work to eke out the most camping we can. Most of our camping is a 5-9 hour drive away, so looking for a site at that point would not be part of our fun.)
    As suggested, look at the info and map for campgrounds you would like to use. We mostly camp in public ones - state and national parks, US Forest Service, haven't hit a COE one yet, haven't encountered one where/when we needed a site. At some, taking a chance on a site without having at-large camping in the area would be very iffy. At others, there are some sites that are just FCFS (first come-first serve), in at least one case 1 of the loops is only FCFS; there are some campgrounds that are only FCFS. The problem is location and how popular they are, so you'll have to get a handle on how that works where you camp. There are places that we would take a chance on FCFS/cancellations, and others where we would not. (I've seen people luck into cancellations at Grand Canyon, for example, but we make reservations for both Rims on our yearly (separate) visit.)
  4. jmkay1

    jmkay1 2004 Fleetwood/Coleman Utah

    Oct 10, 2013
    Northern Virginia
    Welcome. I'm with the crowd to make reservations. In my experience some campgrounds have few walk in sites available but they can go fast. I've been known to reserve the morning of my trip and hope to find a site somewhere but you sometimes have no choice to do it before then. I found a lot of walk in sites are gone before I get off work and drive up. If I was able to take a Friday off I can usually grab a walk in site early. You have to grab walk in sites before early afternoon in my experience. Most campground usually have strictly tent sites available all the time, but doesn't help those with campers. On a holiday a lot of places fill up fast and some of the more popuplar campgrounds you have to reserve months in advance. I don't know what your area is like for boon docking. Sadly where I live there are few areas.
  5. CivilizedOne

    CivilizedOne Member

    Mar 29, 2018
    Dang. What you guys are saying makes a ton of sense, I'm just not prepared this year. Looks like I've got some work to do.
  6. DJS12354

    DJS12354 Well-Known Member

    With your confinement to weekends, I think you will not be happy with the results of just driving up and asking for an open site. Considering how my down time was valued, I was always happy to risk a cancellation fee in comparison to not getting a site.
    kitphantom likes this.
  7. Halford

    Halford Well-Known Member

    Sep 28, 2011
    Santa Clarita, California
    This comes with a story from a family member of mine: cousin with her husband drove to Myrtle Beach during summer season without reservations. They arrived there and was shocked to see how crowded Myrtle Beach was. The thing was that they did not call ahead to make reservations, it was a spontaneous thing and they did tell me that they were going to beach (I would have warned them). They went up and down the busy beach street, no vacancy signs were up. They gave up and drove 8 hours to Helen, GA and found the only one room available in Helen! The moral of the story is that they learned a lesson and they would always call for reservations.

    Now with camper, it may be harder to find a site during summer season on weekends and even during week. CALL to reserve! Here in California, Federal, State and County park campgrounds are usually booked up several months ahead and even a year ahead in some popular places.

    I had a good luck recently reserving at last minute for Memorial Day Weekend. Got the last available site. Had I not reserve, I would be driving around with popup... no fun doing that.

    So best to call for reservations.
  8. jmkay1

    jmkay1 2004 Fleetwood/Coleman Utah

    Oct 10, 2013
    Northern Virginia
    You can try regional campgrounds or smaller state parks sometimes they don't fill up quite so much. Still may want to call before you leave though. Campgrounds that have fewer amenities and only pit toilets are usually more available. In my experience.
  9. SteveP

    SteveP Well-Known Member

    May 21, 2015
    Best bet in your current situation is to call the campground Friday morning and ask if there are any cancellations you can pick up. it works if you're set up so that you can get going quickly and easily. Hard to plan anything that way though.
    Orchid and PointyCamper like this.
  10. tdiller

    tdiller Active Member

    Aug 25, 2016
    IN all my years as a road warrior traveling for work I never made a reservation. I always asked the people I was seeing where to stay. That is until one day in Detroit during the auto show season. Wound up driving to Ann Arbor. That was when I started to reserve hotels for work. Now for years I never made reservations for camping but a couple of years ago we were headed to Denver form Chicago and I figured we'd find a campground someplace in Nebraska. The first one we pulled into was filled and we had to drive another 100 miles down the road to find a spot. From that day on I try to make reservations when we are going anywhere.
  11. joet

    joet Well-Known Member

    Mar 16, 2011
    Elkins WV area
    Here in West Virginia, there are several CG's located in the National Forest's,
    that are off the beaten paths. In this area there is Spruce Knob, Laurel Fork Area.
    Spruce has a limited number of reserveable sites. There is dispersed camping along roads to both.
    Then there is Dolly Sods also with dispersed camping. The COE has CG's at: 1 at Burnsville, 2 at Sutton and 1 at Summersville.
    Most of the state parks will have empty walkup sites.
    The only time they are filled or close to being, would be on a holiday weekend.
    These are examples of what's in this area, not counting the state parks.
    There must be places like these in KY. We used to fish Grayson Lake, and it had a nice GC.
    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  12. Orchid

    Orchid Sharp Shootin' Grandma

    Here in FL we reserve online via Reserve America, for state parks. Our favorite park is always booked solid 10 months in advance. Yet, every time we camp here (quite often, we are here now,) at least 25% of the sites remain empty.

    I'm assuming lots of people make "just in case" reservations and cancel at the last minute. If I were you, I would call the park you want to visit on Friday morning and ask about cancellations that may not be reflected online.
  13. davekkk

    davekkk Active Member

    Oct 7, 2013
    Around me, even the local county parks last year were sold out on the weekends way in advance which is really bizarre. I ended up having to take a day or two off work and doing a walk in reservation. Even private campgrounds were very full. The days of doing a last minute camping trip are over.
  14. nineoaks2004

    nineoaks2004 Every meal is a picnic and every Day is a holiday

    Oct 15, 2006
    Graceville, Florida
    After almost being stuck 300 miles from home, I always make reservations.
    kitphantom likes this.
  15. Dan from Troup

    Dan from Troup Well-Known Member

    Apr 25, 2018
    Troup, Texas
    We drove the PCH last summer thru Ca. and Oregon expecting to tent camp on part of our trip. Everything was booked and could not camp anywhere except my daughter's back yard in Portland. Being forced to stay in hotels for a month cost a kings ransom.
  16. CivilizedOne

    CivilizedOne Member

    Mar 29, 2018
    I managed to make a last minute reservation this weekend and am camping at a state park. It’s actually pretty nice. I also managed to make a reservation at an rv park outside Gatlinburg for Memorial Day weekend. We will see my wife’s parents who are also staying in the area for the summer escaping the Lower Alabama summer.

    I’ve been following a couple other threads and now have several online resources for camping options, but most need reservations. :-/ however, I am not interested in dragging the camper 100 miles out of the way to find someplace to spend the night.

    Weather is rainy and a but muggy but my white gas stove and lantern I rebuilt last winter are working great, and more importantly, the AC on the camper is too. Although I’m spending more time outside under the canopy soaking it up. Even with the rain, I really missed this. NOT in a tent, but a camper. I love the sounds of the birds, the rain, a soft breeze, the trees...after 10 years surrounded by concrete, glass and steel in a major Chinese city with the required pollution, this is gold.

    I need to find a way to make this a bigger part of my life.

    I also packed WAY too much stuff. But no salt and pepper!
    StaceyB, Orchid and kitphantom like this.
  17. chiefbowes

    chiefbowes Member

    Apr 24, 2008
    Hope and Pray!
  18. Halford

    Halford Well-Known Member

    Sep 28, 2011
    Santa Clarita, California
    To reserve is to prevent uncontrollable cursing.
    DJS12354, kitphantom and Orchid like this.
  19. BillyMc

    BillyMc Active Member

    Mar 25, 2018
    South Carolina
    Weekend camping without a reservation these days is risky at best. I miss the days where you could pack up Friday afternoon and go grab a site and setup. You can still do this if you don't mind not having running water and electricity, but places with that kind of camping are getting harder to find.
  20. Toedtoes

    Toedtoes Well-Known Member

    May 28, 2018
    Being able and willing to boondock if need be will help.

    You can boondock in most National Forests unless specifically prohibited. I believe this is true for grasslands also. So, if you pick up some paper maps of the forests you prefer, you can drop by the local ranger station during the week with your paper map and ask for suggestions on boondock sites. Mark them on your map.

    Now, you can try to snag a campground site reservation online up until you are leaving. If you get one, you're in. If not, head on up and check out campgrounds with FCFS policies and your identified boondocking locations.

    Being able to beat the crowds can help also. If you can, take Friday off and head out Thursday after work. Or leave Friday at noon or 2 pm or head out directly from work. The trick isn't to beat everyone but to not be the 50th person at a 49 site campground.

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