It can be a lot of fun to plan a camping trip, but one mistake campers often make is waiting too long to book their campsites.
Given the increasing popularity of camping and the limited availability of campsites at popular destinations, booking your campsite as soon as possible is key to securing the best location.
If you wait too long, you may not find any available sites at all!
Generally, you should consider booking your campsite at least 3 to 6 months in advance—especially for popular destinations during peak season.
However, some parks have specific booking windows, like Florida State Parks during winter, which require you to be prepared 11 months in advance.
Keep in mind that the booking window can vary greatly depending on the park, region, and time of year, so you need to do your research and plan accordingly.
When making your reservation, be sure to have alternative dates and locations in mind, as campsites can fill up quickly, and flexibility will increase your chances of securing a spot.
And don’t forget to consider weekdays or off-peak seasons for your trip, since they could be easier to find available campsites with less competition from other campers.
Factors to consider when planning to book a campsite
Depending on the campsite you’re looking to book, you may have to book it sooner rather than later for your best chances of securing a spot.
You need to consider:
Park or campground popularity
Keep in mind that popular parks and campgrounds tend to fill up quickly.
One way to tell whether a park or campground is popular is to look at its online reviews.
If it has a lot of reviews and good ratings, chances are it will be difficult to book a campsite there.
You might need to make your reservation well in advance.
For example, you can generally make reservations six months ahead on Recreation.gov.
However, some high-demand parks like Yosemite require booking even further ahead.
Time of year
Another important factor to take into account is the time of year.
Summer months—especially holiday weekends—are definitely the busiest, but you might be surprised at how fast popular parks and campgrounds fill up as early as May or as late as October.
Booking your campsite earlier might be necessary to secure your spot during peak season.
However, outside the peak season, you might be able to make reservations closer to your desired date.
The Minnesota DNR, for instance, offers a 120-day advance campground reservation window.
When booking a campsite, consider the size of your group.
Larger groups may require more specific accommodations, such as group campsites or adjoining sites.
Since these can be more limited in availability, it’s a good idea to make your reservations well ahead of time.
When choosing your campsite, pay attention to the available amenities and hookups.
Tent campers, for example, might be more comfortable in an area without motorhomes and with more privacy.
Ultimately, booking a campsite as early as possible can help ensure you get the spot that best suits your needs.
Keep these factors in mind when planning your next camping adventure and make your reservations accordingly.
Keep in mind that campsite prices can vary significantly depending on the park and time of year.
Some parks also offer discounts for seniors, military personnel, or other groups.
You can check the park’s website or call their reservations office to learn more about their pricing and discounts.
If you’re looking to save money, consider smaller parks or camping in less popular areas.
And if you’re up for a serious adventure, consider camping for free on public land (US) or Crown land (Canada).
Just be sure to research the regulations and any restrictions or requirements for camping in these areas before you go.
Another important factor when booking a campsite is to consider the cancellation policy of the park or campground.
While many parks offer full or partial refunds if you need to cancel your reservation, some don’t.
Be sure to check each campground’s policy before making your reservation so you can make an informed decision.
If you’re set on a specific date range and are confident you’ll make the trip, you should definitely go ahead and book your campsite.
If you’re not sure about your availability, or there’s a possibility something else could come up that conflicts with your trip, it’s probably best to wait and book closer to your desired date to avoid losing your deposit.
To increase your chances of getting the campsite you want, it’s important to have a few strategies in place.
Be sure to research as much as possible before you book and make sure to check for any discounts or special offers that might be available.
You should also take advantage of online reservation systems if they’re available.
These can help you find available campsites and book them quickly before they’re gone.
National and state parks (US)
When booking a campsite at a national or state park, you should take several steps to ensure the best possible outcome.
First, check the park’s website for detailed information about reserving a campsite and any specific rules that apply.
Some parks have limited access or have specific requirements for reservations.
You’ll also want to read reviews and check the park’s social media pages for any updates and information.
Once you’ve done your research, try to book as soon as possible.
Many national parks offer online reservations up to six months in advance, so plan accordingly.
You can make reservations through Recreation.gov for National Parks and each state’s reservation system for State Parks.
Finally, be sure to call or email the park if you have any questions or need additional information.
National and provincial parks (Canada)
Booking a campsite at a Canadian National or Provincial Park is similar to booking one in the US.
First, research the park and read reviews for information about reserving a spot.
Next, make sure you’re familiar with the park’s rules and regulations, such as restrictions on campfires or any other pertinent details.
Be sure to make your reservations as early as possible, since spots may fill up quickly during peak season.
Finally, read the park’s cancellation policy and rules for refunds in case you need to change or cancel your reservation.
Private campgrounds, such as those owned by KOA or independently-operated sites, may have their own reservation windows.
It’s a good idea to check each campground’s booking policies to make sure you don’t miss out on a great spot.
As a rule of thumb, aiming to book at least 3 to 6 months in advance will increase your chances of securing a desirable campsite.
Finding a last-minute campsite might be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
One handy tool to help is the Hipcamp app, which lets you discover and book unique camping experiences on private lands, often with less competition than traditional, public campgrounds.
The app provides a selection of available sites and makes it easier to find last-minute bookings, even during peak camping seasons.
Another cool tool that both Americans and Canadians can take advantage of is Campnab—a site and mobile app that allows you to receive notifications of cancellations made at the park or campground you want to book, so you can grab them instead.
Just a heads up that Campnab isn’t free to use.
Monthly plans start as low as $10 and go up to $50 depending on your needs.
Book your campsite as soon as possible
Finding the perfect campsite often requires some planning and preparation.
In general, it’s a good idea to make reservations up to six months in advance (or more), as popular destinations tend to fill up quickly.
Remember, the earlier you book, the better your chances of getting the campsite you want.
It’s never too early to start planning a camping trip—even if there’s still snow on the ground.
Chances are if you put it off for too long, you’ll miss out on some of the best spots and campsites.
Be sure to print out at least one copy of your permit as soon as you complete your booking, and put it somewhere you won’t forget when you leave for your trip.
Next up: The best time to buy camping gear
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).