Make National Park Camping Reservations – No matter how extensively we travel, my kids’ favorite vacations have usually been national park camping experiences.
And I couldn’t be happier.
A national park vacation is appealing to parents, too.
Camping in a national park is affordable, beautiful, and accessible.
Add free perks such as ranger-led nightly campfires and the Junior Ranger program, and you’ve got an educational trip as well.
Here’s all you need to know about how and when to make national park camping reservations.
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How and when to make national park camping reservations
To get the accommodations you want, however, you need to start planning for a summer national park trip early.
The good news: As with many government systems, reserving national park campsites and lodging appears more complicated than it is.
Here’s the simple version of how and when to make national park camping reservations.
How and When to Reserve Campsites
National park and national forest campsite reservations are made through Recreation.gov, which opens their booking window six months out (with a few exceptions).
Many people make the mistake of thinking park campgrounds are first-come, first-served.
Most parks do offer at least one campground that honors drop-ins, in order to keep parks accessible to all, but visitors shouldn’t rely on this.
Who needs the stress, right?
Recreation.gov’s call center opens at 10 am EST, at which time new campsites open up on their site or via phone.
Some campgrounds warrant calling to reserve exactly six months out (if you want a Yellowstone site on the 4th of July, for instance), but in most cases, a spring reservation for a summer’s night is sufficient.
When possible, a good rule of thumb is to book on the day your date becomes available.
According to Recreation.gov, the most popular dates and sites will book within 20 minutes of the call center opening.
Already missed your booking window for a popular weekend?
Consider one of the U.S.’s least crowded national parks!
How and When to Book Lodge Rooms and Cabins
Another misconception is that national park lodges are run by the national parks.
In most cases, lodges within the national park system are run by outside lodging companies.
For example, Aramark is the concessionaire at Olympic National Park, Xanterra at Crater Lake National Park, and Guest Services, Inc at Mt. Rainier National Park.
Booking can usually be made a year in advance, and off-season or last-minute deals can be had.
Hint: It’s worth getting on their (e)mailing lists.
How to Get Wilderness Permits
Even if you don’t plan to stay in an established campground during a national park visit, backcountry wilderness permits for national park backpacking need to be obtained.
Requirements for permits vary, so you’ll have to do your homework.
In most cases, permits can be picked up at the park’s wilderness center the day of departure into the backcountry, but in some cases, lotteries may be implemented, forcing families to be flexible and patient.
If you want to get an early start on the trail, you may want to stay the night prior in a campground or lodge:
Check for walk-in sites that do not require reservations, such as Rainier’s Ipsut Creek, or backcountry programs, such as Yosemite National Park’s, that include a backpacker’s campground for free the night before and after your backcountry escape.
How and when to make national park camping reservations – Plan early!
Once you can figure out which national park to visit and when you can go, start right away to make arrangements.
Making national park camping reservations might seem daunting at first, but the process is simpler than it looks.
You can have a fantastic campground experience. Just be sure to plan ahead!
Channel Islands Camping: Santa Cruz Island
The first thing campers and day-trippers to Channel Islands National Park notice on the boat ride from mainland Ventura, CA, is how quickly one can leave the bustle of Southern California civilization behind.
The ride with Island Packers, the national park’s official transportation, is only one hour and 15 minutes (or 20 nautical miles), but once passengers are deposited in any of the five remote islands that comprise the national park, the sole amenities consist of pit toilets, campsites, and well water (if you’re lucky).
No matter which island you stay on, Channel Islands camping is sure to be an adventure you’ll remember.
If you’re camping with kids, they’ll love the passage over.
On our trip, we spotted dolphins and various boats and oil rigs, and the waves were choppy enough to transform the lower deck into a “splash zone.”
Bring sweatshirts or windbreakers; you can expect blue skies in Channel Islands National Park in summer, but a marine layer of fog is usual in the mornings, and boat rides are windy.
Camping on Santa Cruz Island
On the day of our Channel Islands camping adventure, we set out from Ventura Harbor for Santa Cruz Island, the Channel Islands’ largest and most easily accessed island for campers.
Santa Cruz offers Scorpion Cove Campground, with 24 “walk-in” campsites approximately .2 to .8 miles from the pier where passengers are dropped off.
The sites are relatively set apart from each other, but still arranged in campground style, so you’ll see and hear your neighbors.
The upper campgrounds (with sites 21-24) offer more privacy, but do include several group sites that can get lively.
Amenities at Scorpion Cove include pit toilets, running water, and food lockers to protect your dinner from the island’s native fox population.
Shade is plentiful, though you’ll still feel the ever-present breeze.
The nearby beach adjacent to the pier is perfect for snorkeling (bring your own gear, or rent it at the Ventura Harbor) and sea kayaking.
Island Packers will bring rented or owned kayaks over, or campers can arrange for a guided tour on-island.
We spent our day time enjoying great Channel Islands snorkeling amid the day-trippers on the beach.
If you’re not up for an overnight, a day trip to Channel Islands is worth the time and expense for this purpose alone: we swam with a friendly harbor seal, spotted garibaldi and other marine life, and counted purple sea urchins and sea stars into the dozens.
When you’re not in the water, take in ocean vistas and canyon views from the Santa Cruz hiking trails.
The Cavern Point Trail, a two mile loop, promises both.
Campers will also have time to take the Potato Harbor Road west to an additional beach cove.
Backpacking is also available on Santa Cruz at remote Del Norte Camp, 3.5 miles from the drop-off pier on the west side of the island.
Backpacking on the Channel Islands
If you seek further isolation from day trippers, camping and backpacking is available on the additional four Channel Islands.
On small Anacapa Island, less than a dozen sites are available at Anacapa Island Campground, which is .5 miles from the drop off.
No water is available so be sure to pack in your own for drinking and cooking.
On Santa Rosa, an island known for its sand and driftwood coves, a 1.5 mile hike takes campers to Water Canyon Campground; backcountry beach camping is also available, though no facilities exist.
Santa Barbara Island and San Miguel Island both have limited sites with no facilities.
Bring water, and be ready for the brunt of the open-water wind, especially on exposed San Miguel.
Planning Your Channel Islands Camping Trip
Reservations for Channel Islands camp sites must be made in advance, and fill up quickly in the summer months.
While campers cannot book sites directly through Island Packers, they do have the most up-to-date information on Channel Islands campgrounds, sites, and amenities.
Once you’ve picked the right campground for you, follow the Island Packers links to reserve.
Transportation to the islands is arranged by Island Packers and fare varies by island and whether you’re camping (and carting gear) or day-tripping.
For our overnight on Santa Cruz Island, fare was $75 per adult and $54 per child.
Boats come and go several times daily from Santa Cruz.
We arranged for a 9 am drop off, and a 5 pm pick up the following day, but wished we had arrived later in the day.
Be sure to ask for the day’s schedule to pick your time accordingly.
During busy summer days, Island Packers will not allow for time changes once you’re on-island.
What to Pack for Your Camping Trip
No matter which island or campground you visit, your camping list will include shelter (tents are fine), all food, water containers, and any other standard “car camping” equipment (plus snorkeling gear… you won’t be sorry!).
For sites less than .5 miles from the beach, backpacks are not necessary; gear can be carted from the dock with totes, bags, or boxes.
On Santa Cruz, rangers are available to help transport gear, though it’s not guaranteed.
For the more remote campgrounds, full backpacking gear (plus water) is crucial.
Learn how to pack light before your next trip.
A Channel Islands camping trip is one you will be sure to remember.
Camping at Channel Island National Park is fun for families with children too.
Great Fall Camping Destinations in the United States
For some, Labor Day is the unofficial end to camping season.
However, fall camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors.
As the leaves change, many national parks and campgrounds offer beautiful scenery and the cooler weather makes fall a great time for outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking.
Top picks for great fall camping
Why camp in the fall?
Throughout the summer, popular campsites are often packed with travelers and campers.
But in the fall, most campgrounds are less crowded and you won’t have to deal with pesky bugs like mosquitoes.
If you’re not sure where to go camping in the fall, read on.
Pawtuckaway State Park Campground, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for a place to camp and hike in the northeast, Pawtuckaway State Park campground is a great fall camping spot.
There is mountain biking, boating, swimming, and fishing available.
Many of the campsites offer views of lake, which is beautiful as the leaves start to change in the fall.
Indian Cave, Nebraska
Indian Cave has 22 miles of hiking trails in the park and fall is a great time to explore the beautiful surroundings.
The park hosts a number of events for campers each fall, including an RV decorating contest around Halloween.
This year’s contest runs weekends in October and winners are posted at the park entrance each Sunday.
Allegany State Park, New York
Known for the mountain bike trails and cross-country skiing, Allegany State Park is a great fall camping destination.
There are five miles of paved trails around Red House, one of the developed areas within the national park.
Plus, if you visit during late fall and it’s a bit chilly for a tent, they have more than 150 winterized cabins.
First Landing State Park, Virginia
Open year-round, the site of the first landing of settlers to Virginia has a lot to offer campers.
It’s within minutes of many of the Virginia Beach tourist attractions and has 1.25 miles of beachfront.
First Landing holds a Fall Harvest Festival each year in October with candle making demonstrations, pumpkin carving, kids’ games, and special exhibits.
They also have night hikes and hayrides available.
Chatfield State Park, Colorado
This Denver-area park has abundant wildlife and is known for views of beautiful rolling foothills.
Fall is a great time to visit Chatfield State Park to see the leaves changing and enjoy the crisp weather while hiking on the miles of trails throughout the park.
All of the nearly 200 campsites are within walking distance to the lake.
Del Valle Regional Park, California
Del Valle Regional Park is surrounded by more than 4,000 acres of land that is perfect for hiking, horseback riding, and enjoy scenic views.
It is also the gateway to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, nearly 30 miles of back country trail.
This Northern California park is conveniently located near Oakland and Berkeley.
Or, go a little further and you can enjoy a drive through wine country in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
Chula Vista, CA
We’ve added a seventh mention to our list because we just came back from a four-day trip camping in San Diego.
We visited San Diego in the off season (fall) and had a blast camping. We had great weather and avoided the crowds.
It’s close to the beaches and to the incredible San Diego attractions.
If you’re planning a fall camping trip, remember nights can get cold.
Be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes for layering and add a warmer liner to your summer sleeping bag.
Where are your great fall camping spots?
Where are your favorite campsites?
Best National Parks for Camping in Africa
Camping is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to travel in Africa, and there are wonderful private and public campgrounds across the continent.
I generally stick to national parks because they’re the ideal places to see wildlife while camping, and I especially love camping in Eastern and Southern Africa.
5 best national parks for camping in Africa
Kruger National Park – South Africa
The Kruger National Park in South Africa is a great place to camp because there are over a dozen campsites throughout the park that cater to different types of campers.
If you’re looking for a campsite with amenities like hot water and electricity, you can find that at campsites within the park.
If you would like something a little bit more primitive, there are areas that are less crowded that will fit your needs.
Like many of the national parks in Africa, the most popular activities in Kruger National Park are game viewing and safaris.
Home to the Big 5, this national park is a great place to see a variety of wildlife.
Plus, it’s accessible by car and the majority of the roads within the park are paved and in good condition.
Serengeti National Park – Tanzania
The Serengeti National Park is home to the amazing wildebeest migration that occurs from December to July every year.
The national park is also one of the most famous safari destinations in the world.
The Serengeti takes up more than 5,700 acres and millions of animals call this national park home.
Camping in the Serengeti is definitely an adventure!
While most people head to the Serengeti for game drives, you can also go on hot air balloon safaris and walking safaris.
Camping is very basic in the park.
Many campsites require you to bring everything you’ll need, including your own water.
Etosha National Park – Namibia
Etosha National Park is another great place to camp in Africa.
The rest stops in the park offer a variety of types of accommodation, including camping. Etosha National Park offers excellent game viewing.
This area of Namibia has nice roads and you can reach this national park in a car.
Game viewing is best during the dry season, from June to November.
Many travelers appreciate that Etosha National Park is not in a malaria zone, so while there may be mosquitoes, malaria is not a concern.
Chobe National Park – Botswana
Chobe National Park is located in Botswana, but many campers appreciate how close it is to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls.
There are three camping sites in the park and all have bathroom facilities.
Chobe was established in 1968 and is famous for the large herds of elephants and cape buffalo that call the national park home.
Both are best seen in the winter when they make their way to the Chobe River to drink.
Over 460 bird species have been spotted in the park, so it’s also a wonderful place for bird watching.
The river cruises along the Chobe River are also a highlight.
Of course, if you’re this close to Victoria Falls, the massive falls make a great day trip from Chobe National Park.
You can either cross into Zambia or Zimbabwe from Botswana.
Golden Gate Highland National Park – South Africa
The main attraction at all of the other national parks on this list is wildlife.
The Golden Gate Highland National Park is a bit different.
The park is nestled in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains and offers spectacular scenery.
One of the main attractions of this park is the rock climbing and hiking.
People also appreciate the caves and shelters that display San rock paintings throughout the park.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is close to the Lesotho Border, which make it a great stop on the way to Lesotho.
Camping here is basic, but offers bathrooms and running water.
Be sure to check out the Breathtaking Attractions of Johannesburg South Africa.
If you aren’t able to camp but dream of visiting Africa, make a difference.
There are volunteer opportunities in Africa as well.
Learn about WWOOFing in Africa and Animal Husbandry at South Africa’s Predator Sanctuary Project.
These are the best national parks for camping in Africa.
They are well-maintained and offer amenities geared toward tourists.
Camping at national parks in Africa is an amazing experience, and I’d definitely recommend it. Happy camping!
What to Bring Camping List for Your Next Camping Trip
What to Bring Camping List ~ Camping is one of the best ways to travel green.
Unfortunately, many well intention campers leave behind a bigger footprint than they realize.
In order to have a truly green camping experience, it is important to practice leave-no-trace camping.
One of the easiest ways to do that is to simply buy and bring less gear.
Whether you are a camping newbie or a seasoned backpacker, here’s what to bring on your next camping trip, and a list of camping gear you should leave at home.
Quality Tent With Easy Set-Up
A mid-range, 3-season tent is a good investment before a camping trip.
Purchasing a quality tent that will last is better for the environment — and your wallet — than purchasing a new low-quality tent every few years.
Be sure to opt for one that can be set-up in 10 minutes or less.
At the end of a long day, you will be thankful.
Our Pick: The Kelty Gunnison is a backpacking tent that can technically fit 3 people, so it will fit two comfortably.
We love that it sets up quickly.
At the end of a long day, I am so thankful to crawl into a cozy bed.
While some people can get away without a sleeping pad for a weekend trip, I definitely recommend everyone have a quality sleeping pad for a longer trip.
Our Pick: A self-inflating Therm-a-Rest Luxury Map sleeping pad is a great choice if you are traveling in a vehicle.
We appreciate that there is no pump involved, and that it includes a nylon stuff sack for easy storage.
For backpacking, our pick is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker sleeping pad
Camping stoves are relatively inexpensive and provide a lot of flexibility while camping.
Building a fire and then and cooking over it takes some practice, so a camping stove is great — especially for novice campers.
Our Pick: The MSR Pocket Rocket backpacking stove is a great option because the canisters are easy to find and you can adjust the flame.
On our last camping trip, we brought plates, bowls, cups, coffee cups, and full sets of silverware.
Next time, I would leave all of that at home and bring two things: a shallow bowl that could function as a plate and a cup that works with both hot and cold beverages.
I would also replace a fork and spoon with a spork.
Our Pick: We like this Light My Fire spork and the bowls in this tableware set because they are shallow enough to use as plates too.
We recommend just leaving the plates at home.
Water Bottle with Filter
Rather than lug gallons of water with you on your camping trip, bring one filtered water bottle you can use over an over again.
Make sure the bottle you pick is BPA-free and that it filters out everything you need it to filter.
List of Camping Gear You Don’t Need
Most campsites have both toilets and showers.
If they don’t, it’s often easier to shower in a bathing suit and find a secluded place to do your business.
Portable showers and toilets are often cumbersome, especially if you’re not staying in the same place for more than a day or two.
One of the best examples of a single-use item is a tea kettle.
While it seems like it would be a necessity, you can just boil water in a saucepan instead.
It might take a couple minutes longer, but a big part of green camping is going with less gear.
The same thing is true for sauce pans in multiple sizes; instead just bring one medium-sized pan.
Full-Size Coffee Maker
Coffee makers are another one of those single-use items.
Whether it is percolator or a french press, they end to take up a lot of room. Instead, you can buy a one-cup filter-less coffee maker.
It sits on top of your coffee mug, you add coffee and boiling water, and in the a couple of minutes you have a tasty cup of Joe.
I love that there are no filters to deal with, minimizing waste for your green camping trip!
Adventure Medical Kits
These handy kits are available at camping stores and come with all of the first-aid items already packed in a bag for you.
While you should not skip on the first-aid kit, these pre-made kits are often expensive.
Create your own first aid kit using a check-list and purchase items from your local pharmacy.
Walking through a camping store can cause sensory overload.
While there are definitely eco-friendly gadgets that can be useful on a camping trip, there are others that just end up taking up extra space.
For example, rope can be used instead of specialized clothes lines.
How do you decide what to bring camping?
What is the camping gear you will not leave home without?
Is there anything you brought on a camping trip and wished you would have left at home?