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

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JudyJB

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Just a warning about something that caught me unaware when I first started out. I am from Michigan, and no one in Michigan goes camping on the "smaller" three-day weekends that occur in snowy weather, so I completely forgot about the 3 and 4-day weekends: President's day, Martin Luther King's Birthday, Veterans' Day, etc. I did not make reservations for whichever one fell in November, so I could find absolutely nothing anywhere near Joshua Tree National Park. I ended up driving to Las Vegas!!

Nevada state parks are all first-come, first-served, but that means you need a place to stay the night before so you can show up at 9 am at a state park to find a place!!

And right now, I am desperate for a spot in Illinois south of Chicago or in Northern Indiana on June 26. Got an appointment on the 28th at the Fleetwood factory service in Decatur. I can spend the night of the 27th in their parking lot, but it is too far for me to drive the night before. And I forgot the 26th was a Saturday!!!
 
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JudyJB

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I found a city campground for my south of Chicago night. Just a reminder to also check for regional/county campgrounds and city campgrounds. If these are not listed in the usual spots, go into Google Maps and type in "RV parks" or "campgrounds" for an area. California has horrible, mostly-no hookup, expensive state parks, but some of the nicest county parks I have ever stayed in--expensive compared to other states, however. So do a general search for something like "Riverside County campgrounds."
 

Domo

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We book the key locations 6 months, or longer, in advance. That way we can freelance during the journey between them.
 

Edd505

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Mar 22, 2021
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Elephant Butte, NM
RV Parky & Camp Reviews go to looking for a space, one or two nights are not a problem, weeks yes. Like has been said if your near a major attraction get reservations to insure you have a place to stay. Travel week days and stay put weekends.
 

Dreamsend

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Aug 16, 2016
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go into Google Maps and type in "RV parks" or "campgrounds" for an area.
This is always my first step using "RV camping" as the Google search. Then I switch to RV Parky. I had planned my most recent 2 travel nights (Fri, Sat nights - Father's Day) for Walmart/Cracker Barrel but ended up at the very last minute needing electric hookup to run an O2 concentrator and the AC overnight due to an awful allergic asthma exacerbation brought about by spending 5 weeks back in Indy visiting. The allergies were one of the main reasons I had to leave Indiana in the first place.

From RV Parky I scored a nice, grassy, open site at the Bureau County Fair in Princeton, IL - only person there and a great spot at the Ho Chunk Gaming casino just south of the Wisconsin Dells. Took me 6 tries to find a place around The Dells - all booked, and most of these were in the $70-100 range - Yikes! Nice, nice casino was $45. I have hook-up reservations for the summer from here on out till Aug 19, otherwise it would have been nice to spend a few days exploring the Dells area. Lots to enjoy here I think.

Linda
 

steelmooch

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If you're a couple that doesn't mind showing up at your favorite restaurant (sans reservation) at 6:30 PM on a Friday night and finding a 1.5+ hour wait, then traveling that far without reservations might be fine for you.

Even after being on the board for a number of years, I'm still surprised by the number of people who advise new/inexperienced RVers to just "wing it" with minimal planning.

If you wouldn't in regular life just pull off the road someplace random to sleep in your car...if you wouldn't ordinarily overnight in an isolated and potentially unsafe area...or risk trespassing and having a confrontation by squatting overnight on (someone's?) land...then please consider not doing that on your RV trip, either.

Happy planning and enjoy your trip out west! :)
 

jymbee

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Upstate NY
Even after being on the board for a number of years, I'm still surprised by the number of people who advise new/inexperienced RVers to just "wing it" with minimal planning.
Different strokes for others of course, but I'm with you. The longer you wait, the fewer options you have and you might end up with a "take it or leave it" scenario with respect to site selection.

As for the advantage some have mentioned of having the flexibility to leave or stay as at any point, they must be staying at different parks then us! Very rarely are we able to extend a stay at a site where we've made a reservation well in advance. They're typically booked solid.
 

sadixon49

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Jan 14, 2016
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Fishers, IN
I just completed a 14 day trip out west. 3 nights near Mt. Rushmore, 4 nights in Cody, WY. that's as close as I could get to Yellowstone with a 90 day out reservation, then down to Moab to see Arches and Canyon lands, and then home on I70 across Colorado. People telling you what they did 2 years ago, pre-covid, need a reality check. Even Mom & Pop Campgrounds along the highways are often full midweek. I'll admit I'm a full hook-up guy. I was traveling with wife, daughter, and 2 grand daughters, anything less than FHU was not going to work with 5 people in the coach.
 

Ex-Calif

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People telling you what they did 2 years ago, pre-covid, need a reality check. Even Mom & Pop Campgrounds along the highways are often full midweek. I'll admit I'm a full hook-up guy. I was traveling with wife, daughter, and 2 grand daughters, anything less than FHU was not going to work with 5 people in the coach.
This is really true. Not only has covid changed the way people vacation (more RVs) but more and more boomers are retiring and "getting out there."

I also just did 14 days out west. We didn't always stay where we wanted but we stayed with short reservation windows at FHU places. We were on a destination trip (Lake Mead AZ) so those reservations had to be nailed down.

Again, our style is largely winging it and we easily tolerate a few days off the hook ups.

I think there is still room to do it however one wants but the wingers are slightly more inconvenienced and have to be more flexible and the planners have to plan further in advance.
 

UTTransplant

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Cedar Falls, IA
People telling you what they did 2 years ago, pre-covid, need a reality check. Even Mom & Pop Campgrounds along the highways are often full midweek.
We are 3 weeks into our trip. If you want/need hookups, this is absolutely true. It really isn’t the same as it was pre-COVID. We are very lucky in a rig with big tanks and only two of us so we can dry camp and boondock For 5-7 days. We are still finding that any place with hookups or any popular campground, even without hookups, is booked especially on weekends. We have used Boondockers Welcome and NFS dispersed camping spots plus a county park or two. It is definitely tough out there.
 

RVoorhis318

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Jul 19, 2012
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Florida
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!
With reservations you have the guarantee of space and either payment in full or a deposit to hold the spot. You could lose either if you need to cancel for any reason without proper notice so I really think it's a lifestyle thing. If you prefer more flexibility you can wing it and probably find space or be prepared to boon-dock up occasionally.

As far as pets go, most of us have them as members of the family & travel companions. Just do your homework related to pet policies wherever your destination is. Have fun!
 
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