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Martin

Advance reservations? How long?

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My second question being a newbie and its probably one that has been asked many times....

How much in advance do you need to make reservations to stay in state and national parks ?

I will be pulling a 35 foot fifth wheel. I plan to travel north from California and then head southeast. I'll be on the road for 9 month or so.

How much in advance do I need to plan?  This is a general question so general advice will be fine.

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Actually, the answer depends on where you are going and when you are going.  For example, the Arkansas State Parks, especially the ones that have AAA sites (H20, Elec, Sewer) allow you to make reservations a year in advance.  This can be helpful if you want to be in a specific place.  The good news is that if your plans change you can move your dates around if the new dates are available.  Our experience is that the policy varies from state to state.   Since you didn't get specific about your itinerary, your best bet is to check the online websites for the states you plan on visiting and see what their policies are. 

National Parks can be a different issue altogether.  This year is the 100th anniversary for GCNP and I had a friend tell me that they were unable to get anything for the time they wanted.  He isn't flexible due to being on a schedule so if you are not, give it a try.  If you haven't made plans for the holiday weeks you may have a difficult time but perhaps some of them have a waiting list and if enough people cancel you might get lucky.  Best of luck.

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We rarely made reservations - too restrictive.  Some national park campgrounds don't even accept reservations such as in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Big Bend, etc.  When you're flexible it's easy to come into the campground early in the day and on other days rather than the weekend and you can then secure a spot. 

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We generally make reservations at state and national parks as far ahead as the reservation systems allow for busy periods and when we have specific site preferences.

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27 minutes ago, 2gypsies said:

We rarely made reservations - too restrictive.  Some national park campgrounds don't even accept reservations such as in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Big Bend, etc.  When you're flexible it's easy to come into the campground early in the day and on other days rather than the weekend and you can then secure a spot. 

I guess it could have changed, but I've always made reservations at Yellowstone. 

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Depends what campground you use in Yellowstone as to being able to make reservations.  Mammoth doesn't accept reservations and there are others. That was our favorite.  We've also stayed in Madison and Bridge Bay by securing a cancelled reservation.  We just pulled up and got a site - early morning.

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1 hour ago, 2gypsies said:

We rarely made reservations - too restrictive.  Some national park campgrounds don't even accept reservations such as in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Big Bend, etc.  When you're flexible it's easy to come into the campground early in the day and on other days rather than the weekend and you can then secure a spot. 

How long have you been off the road?

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1 hour ago, 2gypsies said:

 ...When you're flexible it's easy to come into the campground early in the day...

I disagree, there are places like Yellowstone that are pretty remote and getting to the campground at say 7-8 AM requires finding a spot nearby for an overnite or driving through the night to arrive early. Commercial campgrounds near popular parks are often booked months in advance and there may not be a Walmart or other black top boondocking site nearby. If you are willing to dry camp, the number of opportunities available to you will be greatly increased.

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Exactly, there are lots of national forests around Yellowstone to dry camp. You don't need a campground.  It's doable.

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A great deal depends on where the park is located, how popular it is, and when you expect to arrive. I have been in parks that are never completely full and others rarely have any openings. If you are familiar with the beach parks of CA and with Yosemite, those are very good examples of what you can run into. We hosted at an OR state park near the mouth at the mouth of the Columbia River and there were never more than a few, last-minute spots in early mornings on weekends, but often have openings on the weekdays. In the peak season at Yellowstone, you will need reservations to stay in the campgrounds in the park that are reservable and early arrival at those which are not. There are national forest sites fairly close to the park that usually have a few openings but those can be difficult to locate if you are not familiar with the area and don't generally have hookups. Glacier NP had no openings available at all when we went there in August. Devil's Tower Natl. Monument we have never had a problem getting into. Custer State Park in SD you will need a reservation if in the peak season, probably not if before school is out or after Labor Day. We have never found Nebraska or Kansas state parks difficult to get into while MO parks it depends on which ones and where. 

In short, there really is no certain answer without knowing what parks and when you will be there. Do not overlook the Corps of Engineers parks as they are usually on lakes and often easy to get a site. 

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1 hour ago, Zulu said:

How long have you been off the road?

Exactly!  We've seen some big changes in the 9+ years that we've been full-time. What we were able to do in 2011 and 2012 doesn't work nearly as well in 2019.  State parks especially have gone to reservation systems that often make it impossible to just "drop in" on a Friday or Saturday night. And they are often booked months in advance. 

We don't worry too much about reservations during the week, but try to look ahead to weekends and get something locked in. 

The OP is pulling a 35' fifth wheel and doesn't mention being set up to boondock, so might prefer campgrounds with hookups rather than winging it... 

Edited by mptjelgin

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1 hour ago, 2gypsies said:

Exactly, there are lots of national forests around Yellowstone to dry camp. You don't need a campground.  It's doable.

You should mention that most of your experience camping was dry camping -- ie, no hookups. Not everyone wants to do that.

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5 hours ago, Martin said:

How much in advance do you need to make reservations to stay in state and national parks ?

Typically, we like full hookups (sewer, water, electric), but can go at least 4 days with just electric. Your needs may be different. As others have mentioned, the less you need, the more choices you should have.

I use "Virtual Camping" to pre-plan a trip. For example, I have several "must see' destinations, so I plan a trip to using RVTripWizard. I put in campgrounds I might stay at along the way using distance, price, quality, etc as criteria.

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This year my must-see places are Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Oregon coast campgrounds, Banff, Yellowstone, and Zion. I start booking these must-see sites FAR in advance. For July camping, I booked Banff in January -- Booking Banff.

I try to not to book all the other campgrounds because I want some flexibility, but this year I've had to book more campgrounds as there are more and more people on the road. 

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2 hours ago, 2gypsies said:

Exactly, there are lots of national forests around Yellowstone to dry camp. You don't need a campground.  It's doable.

Yes it is doable, but the Forest Service Rules on dispersed vehicle camping have become more restrictive in recent years. One needs to research the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) for each forest to determine which roads are open for vehicle camping and how far from the roadway you are permitted to park. I have seen the distance vary from 30' to 300' in the same Forest. The rules do not have to be posted. It is the visitor's responsibility to know and abide by the rules. The MVUM can be updated/changed every year. The condition of Forest roads can vary greatly from year to year and even in a matter of days. Experienced boondockers recognize the need to reconnoiter an area before attempting to enter with a large RV.

Edited by trailertraveler

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13 hours ago, mptjelgin said:

We've seen some big changes in the 9+ years that we've been full-time.

While I agree with your point, you don't have to continue as fulltime to keep up on most parts of the lifestyle if you still spend several consecutive months each year on the road. That said, I very much agree with your point about reservations. In busy tourist locations, reservations become more needed every year, or so it seems. 

12 hours ago, Zulu said:

I try to not to book all the other campgrounds because I want some flexibility, but this year I've had to book more campgrounds as there are more and more people on the road. 

My experience matches this one. As much as I dislike being tied to reservations, I find that every year we make reservations as we travel more than the year before. Even when traveling in areas that are less traveled, or in the offseason, we still at the least call ahead by cell phone several hours before we arrive to be sure that we will have a site. On the upside of the changes is the fact that cell coverage continues to improve as does internet availability so it is easier to make those reservations than it used to be. 

 

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There are always two sides to the "book" or "don't book" no matter if you are talking about State and National Parks or private campgrounds.  

It can actually work either way.  If you don't book in advance then you have to be willing to get into the situation where you try to stop and get a spot at 3pm and can't.  There are many parts of the country where there are not camping opportunities every 20 miles to you always take a chance on trying to find a place to dry camp as the day comes to a close or end up driving after dark.

If you book everything months in advance it is true you are more or less tied to a schedule.  However, if you build in plenty of down time in that schedule then it can be modified during the year with no issues.  

It is hard for any of us to tell you which way to go.  I know we are currently in Topsail State Preserve (FL panhandle) right now for 2 weeks and no one gets a spot here unless they go online 11 months in advance and reserves.  

The best advise I can give you is try it each way and see what works for how you want to live/travel.  Also, when reading everyone's advise on this forum you may want to give just a little more weight to current full timers ideas and suggestions.

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I hate booking in advance and have always wanted to keep my travel flexible.  Those days are coming to an end.  National Parks are extremely crowded.  In fact that crowds are so large that some parks are considering a reservation system just to be able to enter the park.  Zion and Arches are two of the worst.  It is common for visitors to Arches to wait hours in a mile long line.  As visitors leave the same number of cars will be allowed in.  My last two visits to Zion were in October and November.  Forget camping.  I could not even pull my truck camper off the road to park and hike.  

Last year was the first time I made a reservation for camping.  I made a reservation 6 months in advance in order to camp in Arches at the end of October.  Even 6 months in advance I got one of the last available sites.  I used to visit Capitol Reef and get to the campground early in the morning and wait for an available space.  No more.  The Park is now on a reservation system.  

State Parks can also be difficult.  Last September I drove down the Washington and Oregon coasts in the beginning of October.  The Oregon State campgrounds are on a reservation system and all sites were filled.  Getting there early and hoping for a cancellation was my only option and that only covered a one night's stay.  It makes it difficult to enjoy a visit when you don't know where you might be able to stay for the next night.  

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Arches needs to start a bus system.  Way too many cars and too much wait.

I rarely make reservations for any park. State parks, especially on Tuesdays, almost always have free spaces.  Dry camping is always best.  The newbies all want hookups, and even if they do dry camp, can't last more than a few days.  

Mesa Verde is a National Park where reservations are not needed and beaucoup dry camp spaces.

Edited by hemsteadc

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4 hours ago, hemsteadc said:

I rarely make reservations for any park. State parks, especially on Tuesdays, almost always have free spaces. 

I've been RVing since 2004 when we started camping in WI state parks. Even back then we reserved summer sites months in advance because weekends booked fast.

 

4 hours ago, hemsteadc said:

Dry camping is always best.  The newbies all want hookups, and even if they do dry camp, can't last more than a few days.  

Oh, you're a "real" camper. Might be the best for you, but not me. Regardless, back packers think RVers are all wusses . . . at least that's what I thought when we back packed the Rockies eons ago.

Edited by Zulu

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On 4/19/2019 at 4:11 PM, 2gypsies said:

We rarely made reservations - too restrictive.  Some national park campgrounds don't even accept reservations such as in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Big Bend, etc.  When you're flexible it's easy to come into the campground early in the day and on other days rather than the weekend and you can then secure a spot. 

 Fishing bridge FHU cg in Yellowstone is closed this year for upgrades, this will make finding a Yellowstone RV site difficult.

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1 hour ago, Ray,IN said:

 Fishing bridge FHU cg in Yellowstone is closed this year for upgrades, this will make finding a Yellowstone RV site difficult.

Possibly, but those that stay at Fishing Bridge want hookups so they'll probably stay outside the park to get them.

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I agree with most that it all depends on where and when.  I always try to book, 4th of July, Labor and Memorial Day anywhere ahead of time  Thanksgiving and Christmas can be tough down south in warm weather destinations.  If you want to guarantee a spot everywhere you go, then book ahead or be able to boondock during those days.

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19 hours ago, hemsteadc said:

Arches needs to start a bus system.  Way too many cars and too much wait.

I rarely make reservations for any park. State parks, especially on Tuesdays, almost always have free spaces.  Dry camping is always best.  The newbies all want hookups, and even if they do dry camp, can't last more than a few days.  

Mesa Verde is a National Park where reservations are not needed and beaucoup dry camp spaces.

Since your signature doesn't describe what rig you are traveling in, or how often you travel, I'm curious about your above statements.

Our rig is all electric with a large battery bank (eight 6v) plus a generator.  Our tanks are normal size.  We can stretch out our dry camping until the tanks have to be dumped.

If you have some secret to be able to dry camp for a couple weeks at a time please share with the rest of us.

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19 hours ago, hemsteadc said:

Arches needs to start a bus system.  Way too many cars and too much wait.

I rarely make reservations for any park. State parks, especially on Tuesdays, almost always have free spaces.  Dry camping is always best.  The newbies all want hookups, and even if they do dry camp, can't last more than a few days.  

Mesa Verde is a National Park where reservations are not needed and beaucoup dry camp spaces.

You do realize that a lot of us don't "camp",  we RV.   I'm not in my 20s anymore, and I don't find sleeping on the ground and campfires the thing to do.   At my age, I want to be comfortable, have MY bed for sleeping at the end of the day exploring an area, with all of my creature comforts.   We have huge tanks and can go 2 weeks without dumping.  But I want  my AC on,  so I can enjoy my evening glass of wine in comfort if it is warm.   I don't enjoy bouncing on gravel roads, etc.     I'm currently parked in a city park (Vineyards in Grapevine, TX) that has been UPGrADED, and is now pretty expensive (for us anyway) overlooking the lake from our site with water, 50 amp power and sewer.  Paved roads, a gate (we have a code) so that we can easily return after spending time with our daughter for her birthday.   

Never assume that how you want to travel is how everyone else wants to travel.  

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53 minutes ago, FL-JOE said:

If you have some secret to be able to dry camp for a couple weeks at a time please share with the rest of us.

Nearby places to get gas, propane and water.. and dump.  I don't break camp in a large 5er to dump, I use a blueboy.  Think Quartzsite. 

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