How to Snag a Campsite
How to Snag a Campsite

How to Snag a Campsite

Campfires, nature walks, smelly dogs wet from a river swim. Summer is here, and with it comes all the joys that only a camping trip can bring. Time to air out that sleeping bag in the sun, make sure your tent seams are sealed, charge those solar lanterns ... and find a great campsite that isn't already booked.

We're excited to see so many folks out camping, but it means it can be a bit more challenging to find the perfect place to pitch your tent this summer. Check out our tips and tricks for finding the spot, and get ready to enjoy some s'mores, stargazing (find those dark skies!), and campfire sing-a-longs.

Get Savvy with Tech

Sure, it may seem counterintuitive to download an app or open your web browser in order to get down with camping, but these days there are lots of helpful online resources that make it easy to find amazing camping options. Here are some of our favorites:

Recreation.gov: Our go-to website for booking in National Parks, this site offers access to over 3,600 facilities and campgrounds. Looking for a cabin? Or a campground with toilets? No problem. You can easily filter by the type of spot you’re looking for. Use the downloadable app version for on-the-go planning or check it out in your web browser for a bigger map view of all the places you could go. Our favorite part? You can book up to six months in advance, making it that much easier to ensure you reserve an amazing spot. (Read more about booking early in one of our later tips!) 

Reserve America: Originally designed to help folks book campsites in state campgrounds, Reserve America now offers access to some federal and company-owned campgrounds as well. (Depending on the campground, it will sometimes reroute you to a different website in order to finalize booking.) Although the app is simple to use, we recommend using the browser version since the map functionality is much better on the web. Our favorite part? If a campground is full or doesn’t allow for online booking, Reserve America offers nearby suggestions that you can book instead.

The Dyrt: Designed by campers, for campers, The Dyrt is an amazing resource for all things camping. From the intuitive map design to the thorough filters, it provides access to booking on federal, state, and some private land. Plus, the user reviews and photos are plentiful, so you can book with confidence. Our favorite part? The Dyrt Pro. For a yearly fee, you can upgrade to the Pro version that provides valuable extra features. Offline map capabilities let you access info even when you’re out of cell range. Map layers make it easy to see what type of land you’re on and if you’re allowed to camp there. (A feature well loved by boondockers and dispersed campers).

a tent with clothes on a line drying

Consider Dispersed Camping

Never heard of it? Until recently, neither had many of us here at KEEN. Dispersed camping is all about finding a spot away from developed campgrounds, services, and amenities to connect more deeply with nature. Sometimes called wild camping or free camping, dispersed camping is a phrase used when setting up camp on public land. If you’re the type of camper who prefers a campsite with a picnic table and a nice flat spot to pitch the tent, this might not be for you. But, if you’re the kind who doesn’t mind a little camping adventure, you should definitely try it out.

Since dispersed camping doesn’t come with a nice campground host to explain the rules, some people may find it a bit intimidating at first. Really it just takes a little extra planning, some additional scouting time, and a bit of adaptability to find the right spot. In most cases, it is completely legal to disperse camp in designated National Forests, unless otherwise marked. Other areas where it is usually allowed are BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), National Grasslands, and WMA lands (Wildlife Management Areas). Not sure how to tell which lands are which? Give the nearest Forest Service Office a call to ask, or download an offline map such as The Dyrt that clearly shows the land boundaries.

Before you head out on your dispersed camping adventure, make sure to read up on The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.

KEEN tip: Love the idea of dispersed camping but just not that into the whole tent part? Check out Boondocking. It’s pretty much the same thing as dispersed camping but instead of setting up your tent, you’re sleeping in your RV or van (making setup a little bit easier). Since there won't be any connections to water, electric, and sewer, you’ll still need to rough it a bit, so be sure to head out prepared.

If You Can’t Go Public, Go Private

Now that you’ve downloaded a couple apps, go ahead and add Hipcamp to your list. Instead of offering access to public lands for outdoor recreation, Hipcamp is an app and website that encourages private landowners to share access to their spaces. Camp spots, cabins, or even treehouses, Hipcamp connects campers with unique camping experiences that not everyone gets to access. Plus, since you book directly with the host, it’s easy to ask questions and get recommendations on nearby activities.

KEEN tip: That farm you go to for the pumpkin patch, or that vineyard you love to visit after your hike? Ask them if you can camp there! Sometimes farms and other businesses offer camping, farmstays, or glampsites, so it’s always worth asking around.

wall tent

Book Ahead

Like way ahead. Booking an outdoor adventure months in advance is the best way to guarantee you’ll get some time in the outdoors. Want to go camping in August? Put a reminder in your calendar in February. For real. Many campgrounds begin their bookings about six months in advance, so if you really want to get that special spot for your annual girls trip or family reunion, you better start planning. Bonus: since you booked so far ahead, when the weekend finally comes around, it will feel like when you find a surprise 10 bucks in your pocket!

KEEN tip: Even if you’re feeling like there could be a chance that you’re unable to make the booking weekend work, go ahead and book anyway. If you need to cancel, last-minute cancelations offer others access to campsites. Added bonus? You can always gift your reservation to a family member or friend and really make their month.

Take a Gamble

If you’re still having a hard time finding a campsite and you’re willing to go out on a limb, consider trying your luck at snagging a same-day booking or an opening due to cancelation. Many campgrounds leave a percentage of sites open for last-minute campers or walk-up campers. There are also still campgrounds out there that don’t take reservations, so if you’re willing to drive up and see what’s available, you might be in luck. If you don’t end up finding an available spot, you can always try out boondocking or dispersed camping. We call that a win-win.

KEEN tip: Consider tapping your social media or neighborhood network to help find a spot. You’d be surprised what can come from a social media post! Maybe someone you know has a reservation they won’t be using. (Or maybe they have a super-secret spot you can check out!)

Got any camping tips and tricks to share to help others get out there this summer? Tag @KEEN and share them with us!

canoe camping

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