Finding a campsite at your local campground normally isn’t all that difficult. Just show up to the main parking lot and ask somebody for directions to open sites.
Navigating local parks is easy, but we start to run into problems when dealing with the National Park Reservation System. Leave it to the government to make something that should be simple and overcomplicate it.
With any large, complicated scheduling system, you have to try to keep consistent language across 1000’s of national parks. National parks across the country all maintain the same scheduling language. That doesn’t make it any easier to understand.
What is a Walk-Up Campsite?
Throughout the normal summer reservation season you probably won’t find many Walk-Up campsites. However, the fall and spring falls outside the traditional reservations season.
As the name suggests walk up campsites don’t require a reservation. This sounds like it would be awesome until you show up to a popular campground that’s fully booked. The sites are distributed on a first come first serve basis.
Without a reservation, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually get a site. In some state parks, this is also called no-reservation camping.
How Do Walk-Up Campsites Work?
Walk up campsites are reserved on a first come first serve basis. You need to get to the campground early to claim your camp site. Most campgrounds with walk-up sites are going to sell out before lunch on busy weekends.
Typically I like to show up to the campground 1-2 hours before the daily checkout time. Since most campgrounds checkout at 11am I normally show up at around 9am to claim my spot as everybody else leaves.
Remember that on busy weekends all the prime spots sell out months in advance. On popular weekends make sure you take the first spot that becomes available because who knows how many opportunities you’ll have.
Walk-Up vs Walk-In Sites
Walk-in Sites are completely different from Walk-Up sites. Try not to get confused by the similar naming structure.
Some campgrounds have campsites that you have to walk a short distance from the parking lot to access your site. Sometimes there’s just a small path leading to tent-only sites.
As the name implies, sites where you have to walk in, are called walk-in campsites. These sites may or may not require reservations.
Always Book Reservations at Popular Parks
Most of the popular national parks can only be booked through the National Reservation System. Throughout the popular camping seasons most of these parks are reserved months in advance. So what if you can’t reserve a campsite?
You’re always going to have people that don’t realize that they need to make reservations. So some popular parks have a separate walk-up area that doesn’t require a reservation. To get a walk-up spot you better show up early so that you’re the first in line.
Walk-Up During The Peak Season
Throughout the peak reservation season you might see Walk-Up Sites available. The campground needs a couple days to setup reservations, but they can still accommodate walk ups.
So all sites that haven’t been reserved are converted to Walk-Up only. All those sites that haven’t been reserved are first-come-first-serve.
Some Campgrounds are Walk-Up Only
Although it’s rare during peak season, some campgrounds are booked on a walk-up only basis. As the name implies they don’t accept any reservations so make sure you show up early.
Most of us run into walk-up only campgrounds during the offseason when there’s little demand for campsites. When there’s little demand for a campsite(like during the winter) you should be able to get just about any site you want.
3 Tips to Get a Walk-Up Campsite
We all forget to make reservations and before you know it all the sites are sold out. Don’t worry! Show up to the campground early and you’ll probably get a spot.
You can’t just show up to a popular campground and expect to get a site. You’ll need to plan ahead if you want to find a spot.
1) Show Up Early
The only way you’re going to find a spot is if you show up early. Most campgrounds that have walk-up spots are going to sell out before lunch.
Just like at hotels campgrounds typically have a 11:00 AM checkout. Show up early so that you’re the first person in line as the previous occupant checks out.
The first camper to arrive will get the spot. So show up early because popular campgrounds fill up quickly.
2) Stay Flexible
If you’re trying to get a walk-up site you’re going to need to be a little flexible. You probably won’t be able to get a prime spot without a reservation.
Be flexible with your plans and accept the first spot they give you. Maybe you won’t get the perfect spot or have to walk a little farther, but at least you’ll get a spot.
3) Consider Another Campground
Don’t even consider heading to a popular park during peak season. You won’t get into popular parks on 4th of July or Memorial Day. Make sure you have a backup in mind just in case you get turned away.