Why Now is the Time to Book Your National Park Stay for Summer 2022
It might still be cold outside, but camping season is actually just around the corner, and that means it’s time to start planning your RV adventures. This is especially true if you’re planning a national park camping trip. Why? Because national parks vacations are more popular than ever, and the national parks campgrounds will book up fast.
Lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place! Below is everything you need to know to book the campgrounds and national park activities you wish to experience this year. Use these tips and we’re betting you’ll have an amazing national park adventure you won’t soon forget.
Why Go RVing at National Parks?
Not sure national park camping is for you? There are a lot of reasons we think you might love an RV trip to a national park.
For one thing, national park camping allows you to make yourself at home in some of the most beautiful places on earth. On top of that, you are surrounded by things to see and do, and RVing in a national park is totally affordable.
Finally, we should mention that because RVing is a safe way to travel when it comes to your health, 2022 is definitely the year to try your hand at RV travel.
When to Make National Park Camping Reservations
Clearly, RV national park camping is a great way to vacation. If you think it sounds like something you would enjoy, you might be wondering when you need to start making your national park camping reservations. Depending on when and where you want to go, the answer might be right now!
The vast majority of reservable national park campgrounds open their booking windows six months in advance. This means that those looking for Yellowstone National Park camping in June should book in January; those hoping for Grand Canyon National Park camping in July should book in February; and so on.
Because the campgrounds at the more popular national parks do book up quickly, it’s best to reserve a site as soon as your booking window opens.
The Yosemite Exception
The exception to the typical six-month booking window can be found in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite National Park booking opens in one-month blocks, five months in advance on the 15th of each month.
This makes things a little more confusing. It means that a person who wants to arrive on July 14th would want to book on January 15th, but a person looking to get to the campground on July 15th should reserve their site on February 15th.
No matter when your Yosemite booking window is, make sure you are online and ready to book at 7am PST on the day your window opens. These campsites fill up within minutes, and you really have to know what you want, have all of your info put in, and be ready to click “Reserve” as soon as that window opens in order to get one.
Keep in mind, you will be expected to pay for your site at the time of booking!
Where to Make National Park Camping Reservations
Of course, if you’re going to book a site as soon as your booking window opens, you have to know how to go about doing that. Many people choose to call to book. Unfortunately, this can decrease your chances of snagging the spot you want, especially at popular parks. For this reason, we highly recommend making your campsite booking online.
To make an online national park campground booking, you will need to go to recreation.gov. From the homepage, you can search for the campground you’re hoping to book and select a site. Make sure the site you choose can accommodate your rig! You will also want to ensure you have a good internet connection to avoid losing a spot due to slow internet speeds.
What to Know About National Park Camping
Before you book your national park campsite, you will want to make sure you understand what you’re getting into. Keep these things in mind as you decide which—if any—national park campground is for you:
- National parks can be huge. Plan what you will do in the park so you can choose a campground near the things you wish to see. Otherwise, you may find yourself driving for hours every day.
- Campsite size can be limiting. If you plan to take a big rig, you might find you can’t even fit in the national park campground of your choosing. Fortunately, there are always options outside of the parks if you find your bigger RV just won’t fit.
- Most campgrounds located in national parks do not offer hookups. Some do have showers, water fill stations, dump stations, and dumpsters, but you will want to know what you’re getting with your reservation before you book.
- You might be entitled to a discount. The campgrounds run by the NPS—as well as a number of other government-run campgrounds—offer a 50% discount to those with a Disability Access NPS Pass or a Senior NPS Pass. Unfortunately, this discount does not apply to those with the annual “America the Beautiful” pass.
More National Parks Camping Options
Can’t find a reservation within the national park you plan to visit? One option is to try getting a spot in a first-come, first-served (FCFS) campground. Of course this is a bit risky, as these also fill up fast. If you plan to give it a try though, we recommend having a backup plan and arriving with plenty of time before check-in in order to be at the front of the line to get in.
Let’s say your RV is too big for the national parks campgrounds, or maybe you just prefer to camp with full hookups, or you don’t want to risk not getting an FCFS site. In any of these cases, you don’t need to worry. There are always plenty of camping options outside of the national parks.
One of our favorite alternatives to national park campgrounds is boondocking. Because national forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land are often found just outside of national parks, this option often lands you very near the park. In many cases, extraordinary views are available for campers, and boondocking on government-owned lands is absolutely free.
Of course, if you are one of the many campers who prefer to have electric and water hookups, boondocking is not the best alternative to national parks campgrounds. In this case, we recommend looking for a state park or privately owned campground near the national park you plan to visit. Fortunately, because national parks are such popular destinations, RV parks are almost always easy to find nearby.
Other National Parks Reservations You’ll Want to Make
Depending on the park you plan to visit and what you want to do there, a campsite might not be the only thing you have to worry about reserving. Many national parks now require timed entry tickets. Additionally, there are certain hikes and other experiences that require you to book in advance.
Timed Entry Parks and Areas
- Rocky Mountain National Park between May 27th and October 10th. Booking opens May 2nd.
- Arches National Park between April 3rd and October 3rd. Booking opens 3 months in advance.
- Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park between May 27th and September 11th. Booking opens in March.
- Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park between June 28th and September 11th. Booking opens January 10th.
- Sherry Chalet in Glacier National Park between July 9th and September 11th. Booking opens January 10th.
- Cadillac Summit Road in Acadia National Park between May 25th and October 22nd. Booking opens 90 days in advance.
- Haleakalā National Park from 3:00 AM to 7:00 AM.
- Angels Landing in Zion National Park requires a permit year-round beginning in April. Booking opens April 1st.
- Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park between March 1st and November 30th. Booking opens February 1st.
- Muir Woods National Monument requires timed entry year-round. Booking opens 90 days in advance.
- Half Dome Hike in Yosemite between late May and mid-October. Lottery opens March 1st.
- Phantom Ranch Hike in Grand Canyon National Park requires a permit year-round. Lottery opens 14 months in advance.
- The Wave Hike requires a permit year-round. Lottery opens 4 months in advance.
Can’t get a reservation for the park you wanted to visit? There is still hope. Many parks release more tickets and permits closer to the date they will be used, so you might have another chance to snag one then (although no guarantees there).
Additionally, many parks only require timed entry tickets between certain times and in certain areas, meaning you might be able to see and do most things by planning evening visits and seeing things that are off the beaten path during the more crowded daytime hours.
Yes, national park RV camping is definitely an amazing experience. That said, it does require more planning than many people realize. Now that you know about the reservations you need to make and when to make them, you have a much better chance of having a successful trip.
Set reminders now so you don’t miss the day your national park camping booking window opens up!