So you’re trying to plan your camping trip and you’ve come across some walk-up camping sites. But what is walk up camping? In this post, you’ll learn what it is, plus 12 tips to help you get a site.
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Guide to Walk Up Camping
So, what is walk up camping? Is it the same as walk in camping? And how do you reserve a site? Let’s talk about that.
What is Walk Up Camping?
Walk up camping is done without making a reservation. It’s a type of first-come first-serve campsite availability. You don’t make a reservation in advance, you show up in-person and take what’s available on the spot.
Sound scary? Don’t worry, we’ve got some tips that’ll help.
3 Ways to Reserve Camping Sites
Many campgrounds and national parks offer a few ways to reserve a campsite. Both online and by phone.
- Months in advance: Most people book at least 6 months in advance. And that’s probably the least stressful option because reserving a site is getting more competitive all the time.
- Cancellation reservations: If that’s not possible and everything is booked you could wait and see if there have been any cancellations. This may enable you to still book a couple of weeks or longer in advance, depending on what you can find. But what if that’s not an option either?
- Walk up camping: Then there is walk up camping. This may be a good choice for spontaneous/flexible campers. Or people that have some unexpected free time on their hands and would like to spend it camping if possible.
Keep in mind that not all campgrounds or national parks offer walk up camping.
But first, let’s talk about how to go about “reserving” a walk up campsite.
How to Reserve Walk Up Camping Sites
As mentioned earlier you don’t reserve a walk up campsite in advance. It’s more of a grab-what’s-available kind of thing.
You arrive at the campground ready to camp. You’ll drive up to the kiosk and ask if there are any walk up camping sites available. If there are you take what’s offered and set up your site, if not you wait, or try a different campground.
Some campgrounds offer some sites that are only available by walk up reservation, you can’t book them in advance. These are called walk up only campsites.
And some camping areas only offer walk up camping at certain times in the season.
What Does Walk Up Availability Mean?
Walk up availability means whether or not the campground/national park offers walk up camping.
If there is no walk up availability it means that they either don’t offer it or there is none available at that time in the season.
If there is walk up availability it means that if you show up you may get a walk up site if there is one empty/available.
Walk-In vs Walk-Up Camping
Is walk-up camping the same as walk-in camping? No, they are actually quite different.
Here are the differences:
- Walk in camping means you’ll need to physically walk to, and carry your gear to your site. Walk in sites may be located a short walk from a parking area, perhaps through a field. Or perhaps a short hike through the woods. Either way, you’ll need to park and carry your camping gear some distance to your site.
- Walk up camping is when you show up day-of and take any available site. This happens on the spot without an advanced reservation. Some walk in sites may be available to walk up campers.
12 Tips For Walk Up Camping
While you could snag a walk up, or last-minute site anytime during the week, or season – some things can increase your chances.
Here are some tips that could help:
- Camp in a tent. Tenters are more likely to get a site because they require a smaller site. The larger sites are in higher demand and are often booked up. So find yourself a great tent and up your chances of getting a site.
- Camp mid-week. You may be more likely to get a site in the middle of the week because a lot of people reserve for the weekends. It’s also great to arrive mid-week because once you have your walk-up site you’ll be able to stay through the weekend.
- Have a flexible attitude: You’ll probably need to be willing to take a less than perfect site when you’re going walk up camping.
- Make a campground shortlist. Have a few campgrounds lined up in case your first choice doesn’t have any walk up camping availability.
- Show up early. Show up a little before the kiosk even opens so you can beat the rush and get any available site.
- Be willing to drive/travel. The farther you are from a city or large center the more likely you’ll get a walk up site. The closer a campground is to a city the faster it books.
- Do your research. Check campgrounds online to find out if they offer walk up camping. If you can’t tell from their site send them an email or give them a call. While you’re at it see if they have any tips that could help you get a site.
- Travel with a group. Some group sites may be available when single sites are not. This could be risky because if there’s nothing available there are more people involved. But if you’re a camper you’ve probably noticed a group site or two empty when everything else is full, I know I have.
- Be willing to walk. Walk in sites may be available when all the drive up sites are taken. So for walk up camping, be willing to walk in as well. Just remember that this means you’ll need to carry your gear to your site. Best to pack light camping gear.
- Camp in Spring. Sometimes walk up sites are available in early Spring but not in Summer.
- Camp in Fall. The same goes for later on in the Autumn. Sites may be available that were not during peak season. For Spring and Fall camping you’ll probably want to bring a tent heater.
- Camp on Federal lands (crown land). Recreation sites are located on Federal lands (crown land in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain). This is land owned by the government, and are first-come first-served free campsites. You’ll be roughing it because they usually don’t have electricity, running water or flush toilets, there may not be any toilets at all. In Canada, search for websites like this one – but for your area. And sites like this one for dispersed camping in the United States
3 Cautions About Walk Up Camping
Walk up camping can be a great option given the right circumstances. But there are some things that could throw things off with this type of camping.
Here are a few things to keep in mind that may be helpful.
- If you don’t take the site they offer because you would like to wait and see if a better site will become available – someone else might book it in the meantime and you may miss out altogether if nothing else becomes available.
- If you don’t arrive with all your gear and prepared to camp you may lose the available site while you go home to pack. If you live nearby you could at least pack your tent, set it up and while someone relaxes on the site the others could go back and pack the rest of the gear.
- Walk up camping may not be available at the area you want to camp at. Not all campgrounds offer it, and some only offer it at certain times in the season. Make sure to do your research.
Best Time for Getting Walk Up Camping Sites
The best time for getting a walk up campsite has to do with time of day and may also include time of year.
To get a site it’s best to show up early in the day. Perhaps even before the kiosk opens. That way you’ll be first in line for the walk up sites, they are first come first serve.
Some campgrounds may offer walk up campsites during the low or off-season, think early spring late fall. Sites may not be available during high or peak season but may be available during that time. So make sure to do your research before showing up.
If you like cold weather camping check out these winter camping tips.
Will You Try Walk Up Camping?
With walk up camping you are taking your chances both with availability and site location, but if you really love camping you may feel it’s better to try than miss out altogether.
And really if you’ve got time on your hands and the weather is fine, why not give it a try? Your chances might be pretty good – especially if you apply the tips from this post.
Do you think you’ll give walk up camping a try? Or perhaps you have and would like to share some tips. Please join the conversation by commenting on this post.
You may also enjoy reading about some of the best places to camp in the United States.
- About the Author
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Dena Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outdoor gear and guides.
She loves being outside and has hiked the Galapagos, explored the Andes Mountains, and camped and explored her province’s backyard.
She also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Storyteller Tech. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company she started with her husband, Bryan.