Before we discuss what is walk-up camping, let’s highlight some of the reasons why you should even consider this option in the first place. If you’ve ever tried booking a campsite you know how frustrating it can be.
Sure, your local campground might give you a spot with a few days’ notice but once you start approaching National Parks it’s a whole different ball game. If you want access to a really popular park or you’re looking to camp outside of the peak season, then you’ll probably dabble with a little bit of walk-up camping.
Unfortunately, national campsites are all wrapped up in government bureaucracy which has led to an unnecessarily complicated booking process. All national parks are signed up under the National Park Reservation System whose website you must visit in order to reserve a camping spot.
Most of the parks use a similar scheduling system but you almost always come up against the same annoying questions. Read on to find out more about this type of camping and how you can use it to your advantage.
What Does Walk Up Camping Mean?
Well, during the summer season, walk-up campsites are virtually nonexistent due to the high demand on national park campgrounds. But, if you travel during the off-peak season that includes spring and fall then you might get lucky.
Walk-up camping is so called because it doesn’t require a reservation. The only caveat is that you might walk into a fully booked campground because the sites are meted out according to a first come first serve basis.
How Does a Walk-Up Campsite Work?
As we mentioned, walk-up campsites operate on an “early bird gets the worm” type of arrangement. Whoever gets there first gets the best or available sites depending on how busy the campgrounds are. Most campgrounds that operate on this policy typically sell out by early afternoon, especially on the weekends.
For best results, you should get there at least two hours before the campsite’s traditional checkout time around 9 am. That way, you can set up just as the previous day’s campers are leaving.
Keep in mind that during peak season, the best camping spots will have sold out months in advance. Popular weekends are the same story but you might still get lucky with a few available spots if you leave home early enough.
Walk-Up vs Walk-In Camping
Walk up and walk-in sound like the same thing but they’re actually two different methods.
For instance, certain campsites require that you park a considerable distance away from the campsites to avoid having a car in close proximity to the tents. This means you’ll walk through a path that takes you to the tent-only area. This is called walk-in camping and it’s perfect for avid hikers.
The walk can be challenging at times depending on the location but the views are always worth it. Walk up camping, on the other hand, allows you to park your car anywhere, even next to the campsite.
Why You Should Book at Popular Parks
You can only book quality national parks through the National Reservation System. Most of these sites require a reservation during the peak seasons and if you need to make a reservation, consider the following.
Most parks have a walk-up area that’s separate from the regular check-in area. This is made for people who don’t know about the reservation policy and it’s perfect for anyone that hasn’t planned in advance. But, you need to show up super early to benefit from this provision.
How to Practice Walk-Up Camping During High Season
Walk-up sites are sometimes available during peak season. While most campgrounds take advance reservations, there’s still a chance that you might get lucky and find one that accommodates walk-ups for unreserved sites.
This tip works great for procrastinators like me and it’s pretty easy to follow.
Get There as Early as You Can
Showing up in the late afternoon won’t help your efforts to find a campground spot. You should always try to arrive as early as possible if you don’t have a reserved spot.
Most campgrounds sell out before lunchtime on weekends, especially if the weather is nice. The check-out is typically around 10 to 11 am so if you arrive an hour earlier then you’ll increase your chances of getting a spot.
The later in the day you arrive at the campsite, the more likely you are to get a less than favorable campsite. Plus, if you haven’t reserved a site in advance, then you’ll probably have to settle for what you can get.
That means taking a site even if it’s next to the port-a-johns. You never know, maybe that’s the last available site for the day. The point is that you have to be flexible and understand that since you didn’t plan in advance you have to take what’s available, even if that means being far from the action or camping in a less-than-ideal spot.
Have a Backup Plan
Looking to get a site during peak season? Then you should set the bar low. Way low. Popular parks are always in-demand during the peak season, which decreases your chances of getting a favorable spot.
That’s why you should always have a backup plan so you don’t end up stranded when you can’t find a spot in your first or second choice of campground. The good news is that there’s always a park available to welcome campers. You just have to be patient and creative in your search.
Now that you know what is walk-up camping, we hope you’ll take this information and use it to find the perfect camping spot.
While a spontaneous trip is always fun, it’s always a good idea to plan your trips in advance as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
Remember to show up early in the morning around 9:30 am and follow all the tips provided in this article. Good luck!