As all you campers know, getting a campsite reservation at a popular California State Park or National Park has become uber-competitive. With the demand for campsites far exceeding the supply (during the high season), most campgrounds are sold out within a few minutes of when they become available to reserve. Those that are successful at reserving a campsite generally have a plan, are quick on the click and a little lucky. This article outlines the ground rules and tips to improve your chances of reserving a campsite next camping season.
The Ground Rules
The California Department of Parks & Recreation recently changed their reservation system for booking campsites at California State Parks. The big change is that now you make your camping or lodging reservation six months in advance from the current date. For example, if you wanted to reserve a campsite starting on July 1, you’d make your reservation 6 months to the day prior, or on January 1. If you wanted to arrive on July 15, then you’d try to make your reservation on January 15th, and so forth. Your reservation could be for as many consecutive days as the park allows.
There are two ways you can make your reservation at California State Parks:
For most National Parks, a campsite can also be booked 6 months in advance (from the arrival date). So, if you want to arrive August 4th, you’ll want to make your reservation on February 4th starting at 10 a.m. EST.
Notable exceptions include (but are not limited to) Yosemite National Park.
Here’s the reservation schedule for Yosemite:
||RESERVATIONS OPEN (10 a.m. EST)
|Jan 15 – Feb 14
|Feb 15 – Mar 14
|Mar 15 – Apr 14
|Apr 15 – May 14
|May 15 – Jun 14
|Jun 15 – July 14
|Jul 15 – Aug 14
|Aug 15 – Sept 14
|Sep 15 – Oct 14
|Oct 15 – Nov 14
|Nov 15 – Dec 14
|Dec 15 – Jan 14
You can make your reservation online or by phone for National Parks:
As pointed out earlier, trying to get a campsite reservation is very competitive … but fear not! The staff at CampsitePhotos.com have spent years practicing and fine-tuning their skills and we’d like to pass along our campsite reservation tips!
- Have a plan. Without stating the obvious, nail down what days you want to camp (arrival date and the # of nights), and of course research what state park or national park campground you’d like to visit. Trying for mid-week, non-holiday or off-season improves your chances.
- Research the best campsites. The easiest and best way to do this is to visit the campground page on www.campsitephotos.com to look at all of the photos of each campsite. Our campsite photos are high-quality, accurate and large (no thumbnails please). And (BTW) CampsitePhotos.com has photos of each campsite at every California State Park and many National Parks.
- Get organized and assemble your “reservation team” (the more people trying for your reservation the better).
- About 20 minutes prior to when the reservation window opens (8 a.m. PST for California State Parks and 10 a.m. EST for National Parks), have everyone on your reservation team go to www.reservecalifornia.com (for CA Parks) or www.recreation.gov (for National Parks). Then find your campground, enter your arrival date and # of nights.
- If you can view multiple windows on your monitor – open up the reservation site (all cued up for your campground/dates) and minimize each window so just the “RESERVE” button for the campground is showing. Also open up a separate (new) window and search for “current time” (by the second). Keep this window open so you can watch the clock tick!
- At 1 second before the reservation window opens click the “RESERVE” button and wait to see if there is availability. If so – get after it! If you have multiple windows open – start with the first window and click 1 second prior, then go to the next and next (clicking on the RESERVE button. You can try for the same campsite or have different campsites chosen for each window.
- If you don’t get your campsite, then keep checking for other campsites and click to reserve if available. All sites at popular campgrounds will sell out within minutes. If the campground sells out – keep checking for several minutes because people that managed to get multiple campsites may start canceling some of their site reservations.
Hope this is of some help in your adventures of trying to reserve a campsite. Please leave a comment, question or other suggestions. And let us know if you were able to get a campsite!
Regards, Park Ranger