3 tips for booking campsites in National Parks
Updated: Feb 25, 2020
Well over 300 million people visited US National and Recreational Parks in 2019 - that's a whole lot of people hoping to stay at a campground to maximize their time at the scenic locations. California got almost 39 million of those visitors.
The majority of the visits to National Parks happen during late Spring, Summer and early Fall so if you're looking to book for May in January, you might be late - most campsites are available 6 months in advance.
Here are 3 tips for booking national park campsites for the upcoming camping season:
1) Book in advance - spontaneity is not welcomed as almost all campgrounds can be booked 6 months in advance. If you want your best chance to get a campsite on June 15, aim to book on January 15.
2) Aim for weekdays - weekend camping in National Parks can be extremely busy (especially on long weekends like Labor Day and July 4), with spots filling up in minutes. Weekdays are more available so it might be a good idea to take time off work then.
3) Yosemite is special (and very busy) - this national park gets 4 million visitors annually - you are competing with each of them for a few available coveted spots. Because of this crazy high demand, the booking system is different from others. Typically, all Yosemite campgrounds will be booked within 20 minutes the day they go on sale.
For Yosemite National Park campgrounds, here is how bookings work:
If you book on January 15th - you can make a reservation for January 16 through June 14th
If you book on February 15th - you can make a reservation for February 16 through July 15th
If you book on March 15th - you can make a reservation for March 16th through August 14th
If you book on April 15th - you can make a reservation for April 16th through September 14th
If you book on May 15th - you can make a reservation for May 16th through October 14th
If you book on June 15th - you can make a reservation for June 16th through November 14th
If you book on July 15th - you can make a reservation for July 16th through December 14th
If you book on August 15th - you can make a reservation for August 16th through January 14th
If you book on September 15th - you can make a reservation for September 16th through February 14th
If you book on October 15th - you can make a reservation for October 16th through March 14th
If you book on November 15th - you can make a reservation for November 16th through April 14th
If you book on December 15th - you can make a reservation for December 16th through May 14th
From the Recreation.gov website: "At Yosemite, thousands of would-be campers compete for about 500 campsites, and 93 percent of the successful reservations are booked on-line. Lucky campers book 75 percent of the campsites within the first half hour after go on sale (or less)!"
If you can't find a campsite within the national park, dispersed camping is always an option - almost all national parks in the US are surrounded by national forests. All US National Forests, unless prohibited by signs, allow wild camping anywhere within the boundary.