Camping has boomed in popularity in recent years, with both seasoned tent campers and RVers vying for sites alongside plenty of first-timers. But since national and state parks have a limited number of camping spaces, it often seems that no sites are available, especially during summer, when travelers are out in full force. However, a little preparation can go a long way toward finding a place to pitch your tent.
1. Have a back up plan.
Sure, riverside camping in the heart of Yosemite Valley sounds ideal, but such coveted campgrounds typically book out months in advance. If your preferred location is already full, seek out lesser-known campgrounds in the surrounding areas that may still have open sites, suggests Jorge Moreno, public information officer for California State Parks. The booking site Recreation.gov is a great source for this: It provides reservation services not only for national park campsites but also for those in national forests and state recreation areas, so you can see all the options near your ideal location. Also check the California Department of Parks and Recreation's web page dedicated to first-come, first-served campgrounds.
Smart Tip: Caswell Memorial State Park, Colusa–Sacramento River State Recreation Area, and Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park are just a few of the many California state parks that tend to be less crowded for camping.
2. Be flexible with your time.
Campsites fill up most frequently on the weekends, especially during peak season (May to September). If possible, try to book a site earlier in the week, as campgrounds typically start getting busy on Thursday and Friday. Shoulder seasons (typically fall and spring) are also ideal for avoiding crowds.
Last-minute cancellations do occur, so if you have your heart set on certain dates, always check the reservation system. The California State Parks reservation system, ReserveCalifornia.com, also has a “notify me” option: If a site reopens for your preferred dates, they’ll send you an alert email.