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How I scored a National Park campsite on a weekend

I scored a campsite on a weekend in a National Park! How amazingly lucky am I? Two available days at Hot Springs National Park and, get this, with electricity!

Check for National Park campsite cancellations

I wish I could say I had been trying for days but, no, not this time. I just went online and there it was. A cancellation! Truly a gift! This works for crowded national, state, and county parks, too. If the campground you want to stay at is full, keep checking back. This could happen to you, too!

Build trip around campsite availability

As some of you know, I write our weekly Campground Crowding column. I have not heeded the sage advice of our readers and am only now starting to make travel reservations for the year. I have not even tried to make reservations at a National Park a year or two years ahead of time. Starting this late, to score a campsite at a National Park, the trick is being willing and able to build parts of our trip around a few important places. Once I found and booked the campsite, I moved the rest of the trip around those days. In the past, I have been able to do that for several of the National Parks when they have been impossibly booked.

Try the list view

Some online booking sites show list view with their date availability. Once I have determined the sites that are long enough for our motorhome, I can search specifically for those that are available. That also allows me to see other sites that might be available if I am willing to move.

Please cancel your reservations (if you can’t make it)

This extraordinary gift was ours only because somebody took the time and effort to cancel their reservation. Canceling that early, they may have gotten all if not most of their money back. Even if you can’t get any money back, please cancel and do your fellow campers a favor.

Hmmm, I wonder if Shenandoah National Park has any cancellations…

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COD
5 months ago

I booked a weekend in Shenandoah (Loft Mountain) in June just a couple of weeks ago, and there were more than a few campsites to choose from.

Chris O
5 months ago

As a camp host at a popular National Park campground, we are almost always fully booked. But, as the author mentions, there are cancellations-people leave early, or are no-shows, or just change their mind and cancel. We, as camp hosts, frequently cancel no-shows after 24 hours. At our campground, everything is booked through recreation.gov. There are reserved campsites, no first-come, first-served anymore. Other NP CGs may be different. Our campsites are on a 6-month advanced reservation, but there are also many campsites that are on a two-week window. The trick is to constantly monitor recreation.gov and grab a site when it pops up. But-and this is important-as the author suggests if you’re in an RV with a certain length make SURE the site you’re reserving will fit your rig. Because in NPs the CGs are often small, and you probably won’t be able to change sites upon arrival.

Bonnie Muller
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris O

We are planning a trip out west in September. Sites in Signal Mountain CG in GTNP for Sept 12, 13 & 14 were going to be available to reserve on March12 at 10 AM Eastern time. I did a couple of trial reservations a few days ahead to get a feel for the process. On March 12 I had my computer up and running with a list of the sites that were possibly going to be available. Our internet is pretty slow but my reflexes are fast. I pulled up the site I wanted and at 9:59AM clicked on it. By time it went through it was 10AM and took me to my cart to complete the reservation. This worked on the government site but I did not get a site in Yellowstone, through a different website so reserved in Gardiner, MT. I am planning the trip around Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton and now working the reservations on both ends back to the east coast. It was a very exciting morning, drinking coffee, waiting to reserve the site.

Bob Weinfurt
5 months ago

Like a lot of things, it’s all in the timing as it was probably posted less than a minute before you logged on and saw it.

Leslie P
5 months ago

I have found the same thing, if I look at the list instead of the map view, I can chain together a few days. You just have to be willing to move about a bit.

The Lazy Q
5 months ago

I just had to cancel a trip. All but one refunded minus the $10 fee. The one gotcha I had was in Oregon, I had deposited $190, refunded $95 of it, WTH!

Kaeleen Buckingham
5 months ago
Reply to  The Lazy Q

I think this is one of the reasons people don’t bother to cancel their reservations. We needed to cancel a one night stay at a park and it would cost more to cancel than to just not show up!

Tommy Molnar
5 months ago
Reply to  The Lazy Q

To me, that qualifies as robbery! How do they justify just stealing your money?

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  The Lazy Q

Does anybody know if cancellation fees are different for certain Nat’l Parks. According to Lazy Q, she was charged a $95 cancellation fee. That cant be right.

Virginia
5 months ago

There are also certain reservation and booking fees that won’t be refunded.

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