NPS reservations

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fpotus

Active member
Joined
Apr 24, 2021
Posts
35
Location
Swansboro NC
The older I've got the shorter my attention span has got. I feel like the process of figuring out if I can get into a park, and what I need to do, is a freaky circle on these sites. I keep going around and around without accomplishing much. A lot of advice on here says don't worry about reserving sites and I'm fine with that. But what about access to the parks? I'm not understanding something I guess which is normal.
 

Dreamsend

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 16, 2016
Posts
563
Making reservations for NPS or FS or State campgrounds does take some getting used to. You write "access" to parks, but I assume you mean getting a camp site. You didn't state your particular problem, but I'll take a stab. As a 2.5 year full-timer in the West, I will share that reservations in the Western parks are a MUST! Caveat = some campgrounds also keep first-come, first-serve sites for which you have to get in line VERY early (like 6 AM) and hope someone leaves. The feds use recreation.gov and states appear to use reservation.gov more often, many states have their own system. But they all work the same.

Get to the .gov page for your chosen CG. For NP, there will be a link under the camping info at the Park's website. Many parks have more than one CG. Enter your arrival and departure dates. Use the filter function to specify type of RV, length, what kind of hookups, etc. Then hit "search". Here's where you simply need practice of how to read the results. There is usually a "list" view and an "availability" view so choose which you want. I use the availability mostly because it shows me a 2 week calendar of what nights all the compatible sites are open. Sometimes 4 of the 5 nights I want are open for one site, another site will be open 3 of my 5, or any combination. Sometimes only FC FS are open. You just have to look at all the details.

There is also a map view so you can see where a site is in relation to roads, trails, bathhouses, water, etc. You have to read, read and read more. If a site is marked as available, click on the Detail view and read! Is it long enough, is it shaded or sloped, restrictions?

I have spent probably close to 100 hours using the online reservation sites, so I get the logic now. But I know what you mean about going around in circles. Use the back buttons on the SITE, not your browser back buttons. When all else fails, close the site and re-access, go back to the beginning - where you enter desired dates and then take the next steps. All you really need is practice, practice and patience till you get the hang of it. It can be frustrating till then.

Now the bummer news. At this point, getting NP reservations out West for this summer is a lost cause. FC FS may be a choice if you want to take a chance. In fact, NPS reserved sites usually fill up within a day or two of the 6 month advanced window. I notice now that SPs and private campgrounds are also filling sooner. I have had reservations for my travels up through Jan 15, 2022 since the end of April 2021. This includes NP, FS, COE, SPs and private CGs. And I had to put in a lot of effort to get all that together because of lack of availability at public CGs, full private parks, etc. Others may choose to travel differently, especially if they have smaller rigs.

Linda
 

Gary RV_Wizard

Site Team
Joined
Feb 2, 2005
Posts
73,527
Location
At our Silver Springs FL home
The need for reservations depends on where you go and when. Popular locations are often booked well in advance, and of course weekends and holidays are typically crowded wherever you go. If you wish to avoid reservations, you will have to adjust your itinerary to avoid crowded places and times. Otherwise, follow Dreamsend's advice.
 

shorts

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 19, 2015
Posts
255
Location
Indiana
The older I've got the shorter my attention span has got. I feel like the process of figuring out if I can get into a park, and what I need to do, is a freaky circle on these sites. I keep going around and around without accomplishing much. A lot of advice on here says don't worry about reserving sites and I'm fine with that. But what about access to the parks? I'm not understanding something I guess which is normal.
Are you referring to just getting access to park entry? I know some National Parks now require reservations in order to even enter the park due to crowd. If you are able to get camping reservations, that allows you entrance to the park without a separate entry reservation. If you don’t have camping/hotel/tour reservations, then you have to go to the park’s website and make entrance reservations selecting specific days and times. Some (if not all?) charge a small fee (I think $2) in addition to the park entry fee/or pass (if you have one).
HTH Vicki
 

fpotus

Active member
Joined
Apr 24, 2021
Posts
35
Location
Swansboro NC
Are you referring to just getting access to park entry? I know some National Parks now require reservations in order to even enter the park due to crowd. If you are able to get camping reservations, that allows you entrance to the park without a separate entry reservation. If you don’t have camping/hotel/tour reservations, then you have to go to the park’s website and make entrance reservations selecting specific days and times. Some (if not all?) charge a small fee (I think $2) in addition to the park entry fee/or pass (if you have one).
HTH Vicki
Yes. This is one of the main things I'm concerned about. Getting access to the park without a CG reservation. I've read some forums, and the reviews of recreation.gov app, and people say they can't get access passes.
 

fpotus

Active member
Joined
Apr 24, 2021
Posts
35
Location
Swansboro NC
Making reservations for NPS or FS or State campgrounds does take some getting used to. You write "access" to parks, but I assume you mean getting a camp site. You didn't state your particular problem, but I'll take a stab. As a 2.5 year full-timer in the West, I will share that reservations in the Western parks are a MUST! Caveat = some campgrounds also keep first-come, first-serve sites for which you have to get in line VERY early (like 6 AM) and hope someone leaves. The feds use recreation.gov and states appear to use reservation.gov more often, many states have their own system. But they all work the same.

Get to the .gov page for your chosen CG. For NP, there will be a link under the camping info at the Park's website. Many parks have more than one CG. Enter your arrival and departure dates. Use the filter function to specify type of RV, length, what kind of hookups, etc. Then hit "search". Here's where you simply need practice of how to read the results. There is usually a "list" view and an "availability" view so choose which you want. I use the availability mostly because it shows me a 2 week calendar of what nights all the compatible sites are open. Sometimes 4 of the 5 nights I want are open for one site, another site will be open 3 of my 5, or any combination. Sometimes only FC FS are open. You just have to look at all the details.

There is also a map view so you can see where a site is in relation to roads, trails, bathhouses, water, etc. You have to read, read and read more. If a site is marked as available, click on the Detail view and read! Is it long enough, is it shaded or sloped, restrictions?

I have spent probably close to 100 hours using the online reservation sites, so I get the logic now. But I know what you mean about going around in circles. Use the back buttons on the SITE, not your browser back buttons. When all else fails, close the site and re-access, go back to the beginning - where you enter desired dates and then take the next steps. All you really need is practice, practice and patience till you get the hang of it. It can be frustrating till then.

Now the bummer news. At this point, getting NP reservations out West for this summer is a lost cause. FC FS may be a choice if you want to take a chance. In fact, NPS reserved sites usually fill up within a day or two of the 6 month advanced window. I notice now that SPs and private campgrounds are also filling sooner. I have had reservations for my travels up through Jan 15, 2022 since the end of April 2021. This includes NP, FS, COE, SPs and private CGs. And I had to put in a lot of effort to get all that together because of lack of availability at public CGs, full private parks, etc. Others may choose to travel differently, especially if they have smaller rigs.

Linda
Can I just hire you as my concierge for handling passes and parks? I spent 30 minutes looking at the system for reservations, after reading several articles and watching some videos about it, and my mind went numb. Platform seemed very cumbersome.
 

jackiemac

Site Team
Joined
Feb 22, 2016
Posts
6,012
Location
Scotland
Yes. This is one of the main things I'm concerned about. Getting access to the park without a CG reservation. I've read some forums, and the reviews of recreation.gov app, and people say they can't get access passes.
You can buy an annual National Park pass which gives unlimited access to these parks. However due to covid and high usage a few parks need reservations.

I know that Zion and Yosemite needed reservations and may still do so. Zion and Yosemite main Valleys are quite small, so if overwhelmed with visitors I'd say it becomes almost impossible to enjoy them. Zion looked pretty horrendous over Memorial weekend with 2 hour waits for the shuttle which also needed reservations.

If you let us know where you are thinking of going specifically we can offer some advice.
 

fpotus

Active member
Joined
Apr 24, 2021
Posts
35
Location
Swansboro NC
You can buy an annual National Park pass which gives unlimited access to these parks. However due to covid and high usage a few parks need reservations.

I know that Zion and Yosemite needed reservations and may still do so. Zion and Yosemite main Valleys are quite small, so if overwhelmed with visitors I'd say it becomes almost impossible to enjoy them. Zion looked pretty horrendous over Memorial weekend with 2 hour waits for the shuttle which also needed reservations.

If you let us know where you are thinking of going specifically we can offer some advice.
So. A rough break down of my anticipated trip. Eastern NC to Rushmore to Yellowstone to Bryces to Horseshoe Bend and back home. That's a very rough outline with hitting spots thru out. We are not in any rush and have up to 2 months. But the length of the trip will depend on how long I can last with 3 kids.
Again, I'm not in a rush. My kids' boredom will probably push us along faster than anything else. I know reservations are out of the question for most places. Back when I used to camp I never booked anything and it always worked out. And that's the advice I've got on this forum too. I'm just concerned mainly about YStone and Zion access (and any others that are limited). Advice on access is appreciated.

I am thinking about doing Harvest Host just for the novelty while traveling. I want kids to see as many farms and landscapes as possible.

And I'm looking to do some isolated boondocking with them too. My son was in awe when we camped over night on the boat at The Dry Tortugas and the fact that we were so isolated. I want my girls to feel that some while camping on this trip.
 

jackiemac

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Joined
Feb 22, 2016
Posts
6,012
Location
Scotland
OK I would say that Zion will potentially be the biggest issue for access. Yellowstone is busy but unless things change they are not limiting access to there. Campsites might be your issue but you can get spots further out from the park which means a little bit more driving, but I guess that wouldn't be a big problem.

When are you going?
 

UTTransplant

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Joined
Jul 20, 2014
Posts
2,651
Location
Cedar Falls, IA
A friend of mine was at Rocky Mountain National Park and didn‘t know about the entry reservation. He just went in really early before they monitor. For a crowded park, I always recommend getting really, really early anyway, like 6:00 am or so.
 

Oldgator73

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 28, 2017
Posts
3,225
I don’t like crowds. I can’t understand why somebody would want to Times Square in NYC on NYE. I really don’t want to visit these NP’s if there are tens of thousands of other folks there trampling all over the landscape, throwing their trash around. Our son graduated HS in 1997 and got a summer job at Grand Tetons NP. We drove out to pick him up with our 5th wheel and stayed in the park. There was hardly anyone there. We had our pick of campsites. same With Yellowstone. We took the kids to Yellowstone in the mid 80’s when I was stationed in Idaho. There were no crowds and if I’m not mistaken we got a cabin with no reservations. This was a summer trip. I have no desire to visit these places these days. Too many people.
 

SRGuy

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2021
Posts
22
Location
Austin, TX
I gave up on the whole NP/SP RV reservation scene long ago, after reading about how illegal campsite brokers operate the same way as ticket scalpers. I found the official reservation sites frustrating as hell, and I refused to use scalper con artists to get sites.

In the long run, I find private, roadside RV parks a much better deal, far easier to check into, on a moment's notice. If we want to check out a government park, we unhitch, and drive to the park.
 

memtiger

Active member
Joined
Nov 25, 2020
Posts
37
Location
Franklin, TN
I don’t like crowds. I can’t understand why somebody would want to Times Square in NYC on NYE. I really don’t want to visit these NP’s if there are tens of thousands of other folks there trampling all over the landscape, throwing their trash around. Our son graduated HS in 1997 and got a summer job at Grand Tetons NP. We drove out to pick him up with our 5th wheel and stayed in the park. There was hardly anyone there. We had our pick of campsites. same With Yellowstone. We took the kids to Yellowstone in the mid 80’s when I was stationed in Idaho. There were no crowds and if I’m not mistaken we got a cabin with no reservations. This was a summer trip. I have no desire to visit these places these days. Too many people.
I agree, I booked a trip this fall to Shenandoah in hopes to see some great fall colors and my son is hoping to do some hiking. I am hoping there are not 5 million people on the trail with us. Spots were getting scarce and we had to change the week we wanted to go just to be able to have a place to camp.
From what I heard newest NP New River Gorge has been flooded with people since it changed over and the park was never setup to handle that many people and they were not handed any money to make changes to accommodate the masses.
On the flipside I am encouraged a little bit that so many people are now getting out to see the beauty that America has to offer.
 

SRGuy

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Joined
Jun 9, 2021
Posts
22
Location
Austin, TX
I agree, I booked a trip this fall to Shenandoah in hopes to see some great fall colors and my son is hoping to do some hiking. I am hoping there are not 5 million people on the trail with us. Spots were getting scarce and we had to change the week we wanted to go just to be able to have a place to camp.
From what I heard newest NP New River Gorge has been flooded with people since it changed over and the park was never setup to handle that many people and they were not handed any money to make changes to accommodate the masses.
On the flipside I am encouraged a little bit that so many people are now getting out to see the beauty that America has to offer.
You left out, in your last sentence...."and then destroying it, with trash and their inconsideration!"
 

fpotus

Active member
Joined
Apr 24, 2021
Posts
35
Location
Swansboro NC
OK I would say that Zion will potentially be the biggest issue for access. Yellowstone is busy but unless things change they are not limiting access to there. Campsites might be your issue but you can get spots further out from the park which means a little bit more driving, but I guess that wouldn't be a big problem.

When are you going?
Looking at leaving eastern NC June 28th and slowly heading that way. I'm fine with staying outside of the parks (not that I have much choice) and I'm fine with winging it on camp sites. Just turning into a lot of work figuring out what to see, where to see it, and if I can get access.
 

jackiemac

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Feb 22, 2016
Posts
6,012
Location
Scotland
So. A rough break down of my anticipated trip. Eastern NC to Rushmore to Yellowstone to Bryces to Horseshoe Bend and back home. That's a very rough outline with hitting spots thru out. We are not in any rush and have up to 2 months. But the length of the trip will depend on how long I can last with 3 kids.
Again, I'm not in a rush. My kids' boredom will probably push us along faster than anything else. I know reservations are out of the question for most places. Back when I used to camp I never booked anything and it always worked out. And that's the advice I've got on this forum too. I'm just concerned mainly about YStone and Zion access (and any others that are limited). Advice on access is appreciated.

I am thinking about doing Harvest Host just for the novelty while traveling. I want kids to see as many farms and landscapes as possible.

And I'm looking to do some isolated boondocking with them too. My son was in awe when we camped over night on the boat at The Dry Tortugas and the fact that we were so isolated. I want my girls to feel that some while camping on this trip.
Here are some areas you can look into that are a possibility on the route. Maybe get the kids to look at each of the places and see what/where they might like to stop at... I haven't been to Wind cave but have visited the rest. If you need any info on those please ask. Haven't been east of SD.

Charlotte NC
Badlands NP
Custer SP
Wind Cave NP
Mount Rushmore
Crazy Horse NM
Lead
Deadwood
Devil's Tower
Little Bighorn Battlefield NM
Cody WY
Yellowstone NP
Grand Teton NP
Flaming Gorge
Dinosaur NM
9 Mile Canyon Wellington
San Rafael Swell Green River
Capitol Reef NP
Bryce Canyon NP
Kanab - various things to see
Page & Horseshoe Bend
Monument Valley
Moab - Arches/Canyonlands
Colorado NM
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
NC
 

jymbee

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Joined
Feb 20, 2018
Posts
1,218
Location
Upstate NY
I gave up on the whole NP/SP RV reservation scene long ago, after reading about how illegal campsite brokers operate the same way as ticket scalpers. I found the official reservation sites frustrating as hell, and I refused to use scalper con artists to get sites.

In the long run, I find private, roadside RV parks a much better deal, far easier to check into, on a moment's notice. If we want to check out a government park, we unhitch, and drive to the park.
My experience couldn't be any more contrary to yours. We stay at national, state, or county parks exclusively and only stay at private parks as a last resort. Having used sites such as reserveamerica and dozens of state and local reservation systems all over the country, I can't say as we've ever had a single issue of any significance.

Who are these "illegal campsite brokers" you're referring to??
 

SRGuy

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2021
Posts
22
Location
Austin, TX
There are online articles about bots that snap up reservation dates as they become available. There are, also, many articles that deny their existence.

I'm very happy that you're so enamored with the existing system.

Perhaps you choose parks that others aren't interested in. Great.

As a test, here, just list a few major parks you've recently stayed in, after reserving sites on Reserve America. I'd like to try and reserve some sites to see if the process is as hassle free, now, as you wrote. My experience has been the opposite.

Here is an article that denies the existence of bots, while freely admitting that its company makes money by letting you know when sites are available:


Here's another interesting article:


I'm glad you are so happy with the existing system. I think it stinks, and I'm not alone.
 

UTTransplant

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 20, 2014
Posts
2,651
Location
Cedar Falls, IA
I am not sure if your issue is with lack of availability or the way the website operates. Regarding the website, I have had the same experience jymbee has with recreation.gov (federal areas) and reseveamerica.com (state parks). I have had trouble with a few state websites that don’t use reserveamerica though (looking at you California!). Availability? We all wish campsite numbers increased as fast as rigs sold, but they don’t. I figure this year will be the absolute worst with so many other vacation options shuttered. At least I hope so!
 
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