Do we need campsite reservations for a long trip out west?

The friendliest place on the web for anyone with an RV or an interest in RVing!
If you have answers, please help by responding to the unanswered posts.

Space Cowgirl

New member
Joined
Jun 16, 2021
Posts
4
Location
Arkansas
My husband and I and our three dogs are planning a 2-3 month trip out west (starting in Arkansas). We plan to leave late August, and come back whenever. We have a small camper and a big truck, both of which we've had and used for a few years, so we're not worried about equipment. We plan on getting roadside assistance for this trip, although we're both really handy in general. What I'm worried about is planning.

All our other trips have been less than two weeks to places that aren't that far away. We want to do a big loop, take in the major national parks and the west coast (we know the dogs are going to be an issue in the parks, so if anyone has suggestions on that I'd be happy to hear them.)

Can we just...leave and make it up as we go, follow the weather? Or are we going to be screwed if we don't have reservations months in advance near the big parks? We'd prefer to stay flexible, but I don't want to be too stranded if everything is going to be booked.


Any thoughts, tips, encouragement would really help. Thanks!
 

Larry N.

Well-known member
Joined
May 26, 2010
Posts
7,879
Location
Westminster, Colorado
Welcome to the forum.

Things seem to be changing a bit, in the last year or so. Pre-COVID I'd have said reservations in campgrounds of major attractions, but except on major holidays you could probably have found something in the area within a day or two before.

But reports are indicating that that's not quite as possible as it used to be. Even so, chances are you won't be "stranded," but may be further away from the attraction than you'd like. Major holidays almost anywhere will likely be booked well in advance, though.

So I expect some folks will be along to amplify this with their more recent experience.
 

jackiemac

Site Team
Joined
Feb 22, 2016
Posts
6,097
Location
Scotland
Welcome to the forum!

We do 6 month trips and we don't usually book more than a day or two in advance unless we absolutely know when we will be somewhere and know we need to book. Yellowstone for example.

We love the spontaneity of driving somewhere and seeing a great place and finding a spot nearby to camp. We can stay as long as we like (within campground restrictions) if it's a first come place. Or if we don't like an area or weather deteriorates we can leave.

As Larry says things have been different over the last year so I am not up to date as we could not get there.

I think you can often get cancellations or a site that may not be as close as you'd like but hopefully it's not unmanageable. If you are flexible that helps.

Dogs can be a problem so you may need to find day care or only go where they are allowed. Remember the wild animals are plentiful in some places and you probably would not want your dogs anywhere near them.
 

Isaac-1

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 3, 2016
Posts
4,697
Location
SW Louisiana
This is a really hard one to answer, I have not traveled out west since Covid hit, our last trip out west to the Grand Canyon (as far west as we have traveled), etc. was in October of 2019 for that trip we were able to snag 3 nights at Mather campground at the Grand Canyon booking about 6 weeks in advance, though to get them we did have to change up our route a little. (Mather is dry camping and has a 30 ft max length limit). Having said that my general feeling is you probably will not have too much trouble finding some place to spend the night away from the big national parks, but near or in the parks may be another matter. Having said that there are lots of so called second tier destinations that are really worth seeing out west that get overshadowed by the likes of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone where I suspect you could easily find places to stay, particularly if you are open to dry camping, which is not bad at higher elevations even in August.

p.s. just for the sake of curiosity I took at look at the reservations page for Trailer Village (the full hookup campground at the Grand Canyon), and as of now they have openings for much of the last part of August, picking some random dates the last week of August they had up to 50 ft sites available, though September is almost fully booked with only 4 or 5 days open the first week of September and then only for a 28 ft site.
 
Last edited:

Space Cowgirl

New member
Joined
Jun 16, 2021
Posts
4
Location
Arkansas
You guys are great, thank you so much! I'd really like to keep it flexible, and I don't care about being at "top tier" destinations. We specifically want to do some boondocking (which will be a first for us). I've never been west of Texas except for flying through Seattle, so I'm super excited about this little adventure.

Our camper is a 22' hybrid, so it's pretty easy to get a spot that fits. (It's still comfortable to sleep in with the tent-ends closed, so we'll be okay in areas that require hard-side campers. Two of the dogs are small and lazy and happy to hang out in the camper all day, one is bigger and young, and we may have to board him for a few days while we visit Yellowstone. We'll see.

Really appreciate the replies!
 

Isaac-1

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 3, 2016
Posts
4,697
Location
SW Louisiana
As long as you are prepared for a 70+ mile commute to the entry gates at Yellowstone I suspect you will be able to find a spot, though it may take some searching and be off the beaten path. The problem with Yellowstone is that it is BIG, and that other than at West Yellowstone, there are no real communities near the entry gates, with Cody being about an hours drive to the east of the east gate where much of the land is National Forest (though with some dry camping sites)
 

Space Cowgirl

New member
Joined
Jun 16, 2021
Posts
4
Location
Arkansas
As long as you are prepared for a 70+ mile commute to the entry gates at Yellowstone I suspect you will be able to find a spot, though it may take some searching and be off the beaten path. The problem with Yellowstone is that it is BIG, and that other than at West Yellowstone, there are no real communities near the entry gates, with Cody being about an hours drive to the east of the east gate where much of the land is National Forest (though with some dry camping sites)
It sounds like I need to really start researching Yellowstone. Do you have any specific resources you'd recommend? I know its hard after this covid shakeup.
 

Isaac-1

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 3, 2016
Posts
4,697
Location
SW Louisiana
If you are looking for perhaps less well know public dry camping options try Ultimate Campground Guide (either the app or the web site)
 

garyb1st

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 31, 2010
Posts
3,921
Location
Southern California
Things have changed considerably over the past 2 years. Our travel style is similar to Jackies. We just like to go and stop when we feel like it. We've done this for the 12 years we've been RVing and rarely had a problem. We only book ahead when we absolutely must have a spot at a specific location. That has changed significantly since our last big trip, pre-Covid. So much so we are returning to our home after 6 weeks of what was to be a 4 or 5 month travel.

To be honest, a big part of the reason we're returning is the heat. Finding a park with 50 amp service is a must when running 2 air conditioners during a heat wave with temps hovering between 100 - 120º. And spending a night in a Walmart or Rest Area without AC is not an option. I don't like to run the generator at night if the Genturi is not connected.

Another ongoing change at the public campgrounds we like to stay at is the need to reserve. Previously we'd find a National, State, Forest Service or Corp park with no problem. This is changing as most of the parks we're familiar with now require reservations for most sites. On this trip, for the campgrounds we looked at, almost every weekend was booked. So finding more than 3 or 4 nights was challenging. Very few had first come first served sites and with only a few available it's a risk that we didn't want to take.

Today is the first time during the past 2 weeks when we have had 50 amp service. At our last park, we only had 30 amp service and with one AC running continuously the inside of the RV was 87º. Outside it was maybe 90 - 92º so not much improvement. Fortunately we were at 6500+ feel altitude so after 1 or 2 AM things cooled down enough to sleep. Now we're at 3500 feet and have two AC's running. Temps in the motorhome are about 80º. Outside is 107º. As a senior senior, I don't do well in extreme heat.
 

JudyJB

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 6, 2010
Posts
1,664
Yes, you do need to make reservations, at least in or near the big national parks. Late August used to be past the busiest times, but rules have changed about busiest times. September and even October are now busy times.

Being flexible and looking for a spot at the last minute sounds like a good idea, but I have been all over the west in the past year and have seen very few campgrounds that are not full early in the day. I personally like to stay right in national parks so I always make reservations long in advance, and now it is even hard to do that far in advance. I have talked to a lot of people who have called 15-20 places trying to find a last minute place and have ended up in places where they really have not wanted to be. Do you really want to spend a couple of hours each day on the phone or driving around looking for a spot?

Also, your problem is going to be hotter weather and needing electric service for AC to leave the dogs alone during the day. In addition, campsites in national or state parks are much farther apart than they are in commercial campgrounds, so it will be much easier to leave dogs alone when they do not hear people coming and going within a few feet next door, as they will in a KOA, so you will want sites that are spread out and have electric so they do not bake.

If you really do not want to make reservations, you should at least make them for the places you really care about seeing so you don't have to drive that 70 miles each day to commute to.
 
Last edited:

Dreamsend

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 16, 2016
Posts
580
If you wish to stay in NP or State CGs, or private parks near them, then YES you need reservations. While it is easier with two of you. i.e. one to drive and one to be searching on a phone or tablet, do you really want to be out at 6-7 AM driving through FS or BLM CGs looking for someone's spot who is leaving? Weekdays later in the "season" you may have more opportunities, but weekends are still gonna be booked even now. Out west, you're gonna run into hunting seasons (not IN NP per se) and weekends will be busy. The parks out west are typically surrounded by NF, where hunting is allowed. Anytime past mid-September, the potential for snow at elevations above 5-6000 feet increases a bunch. Remember, you're competing with locals who know all the "spots". Many private, NP and FS CGs around higher elevation parks close between Sep 30 and Oct 15 which also limits choices.

Maybe do this. Get Labor Day weekend reserved now. Then look at reserving for weekends at least in Aug/Sept. Fill in with weekdays at those locations, or see what looks like it would be available weekdays at another location you wish to visit. I realize this means having an itinerary, as opposed to wandering. Last summer/fall was crazy, which is how every private park operator I asked described things. This year is worse. Just anecdotally even on this forum, the number of folks posting as new owners appears to have increased 3-4 fold since the 2017 to 2019 timeframe.
Linda
 

Larry N.

Well-known member
Joined
May 26, 2010
Posts
7,879
Location
Westminster, Colorado
Just anecdotally even on this forum, the number of folks posting as new owners appears to have increased 3-4 fold since the 2017 to 2019 timeframe.
Yes, the number of new folks appearing on this forum in the last couple of months (even six months and more, but especially this spring) seems to be drastically more than we're used to seeing.
 

Ex-Calif

Well-known member
Joined
May 15, 2020
Posts
1,540
I would say it doesn't have to be "all or nothing" - In May we did 2+ weeks back and forth to lake mead in Arizona. I blinked and did not get where I wanted to be for that 6 night part of the trip. We were about 40 minutes from where we wanted. Going to and from we stayed at 3 other parks on night each and weren't too picky about where they were we basically made those reservations like a day or two in advance based on when we figured a need to dump and fill. We also stayed about 4 nights "overnighting/boondocking" at rest stops etc.

You could book the "popular" places well in advance and then be flexible working up to the date you have reserved.

Some folks want every detail planned like the D-Day invasion and some folks just point the hood ornament in a general direction. I think you can do both in a hybrid fashion.

I am super easy going, however, and if I don't get in where I "want" to be I don't really complain about it.
 

Space Cowgirl

New member
Joined
Jun 16, 2021
Posts
4
Location
Arkansas
Okay. Whew. So, looking at availability of reservable spots in Yellowstone late august early September, it does seem like there are random days here and there, but we'd be moving a lot. There are also a lot of first come first served spots, which sounds like a pain, but may be our best option. Average temps around that time look to be in the low 70s during the day, so I think we'd survive that.

I'm going to take the advice to try to get someplace for Labor day, and maybe a few other weekends, and hope for the best. Looking at all the restrictions, I'm very glad we don't have a bigger camper!

Anyone had luck with the FCFS lots?
 

Larry N.

Well-known member
Joined
May 26, 2010
Posts
7,879
Location
Westminster, Colorado
Average temps around that time look to be in the low 70s during the day, so I think we'd survive that.
Just to minimize the potential surprise, that's an average, but since there can sometimes be snow in September it also means there can be 90º days, and everywhere in between. Usually snow that early isn't a severe problem, but it can certainly be cold, especially evenings and nights.
 

Seon

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 30, 2011
Posts
376
Location
Lake Camanche, CA
Here in CA the local campgrounds are reservations only and some requires 14 days prior to the camping date. UNBELIEVABLE.
 

Ex-Calif

Well-known member
Joined
May 15, 2020
Posts
1,540
Here in CA the local campgrounds are reservations only and some requires 14 days prior to the camping date. UNBELIEVABLE.
When last season started I could not get reservations sometimes 3 weeks in advance.

We were "weekenders" and I wanted to camp at least twice a month. I then booked all the summer weekends I wanted in one go. I avoided "all" the 3 day weekends because a) I have vacation time and made all my weekends 3 days and b) I don't like the crowds.

Any reservation I could not use I cancelled at least a week in advance. I think that only happened twice.

It's the reality of the situation...
 

CatLightning

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 2, 2021
Posts
70
Location
Georgia for 23 more days
We are headed West from GA for August- September. I can tell you first hand that if you don't book some stops well in advance, you may be a regular at WalMart overnight. I say that because it has been quite challenging to make sure we have a good place to stop... most everything is fully booked from Nebraska to CA. What I had to do was book 1 night stops until I could find something that had 3+ nights available. Not to mention gas stops in between.
We wanted to be able to chill and wander, but I have up and settled for longer stays when I could find them available.Screenshot_20210618-181353.png
I use RV Parks free app, and it has been invaluable!
 
Top Bottom