Browsing NPS online reservations, I was out of luck scoring a camp spot for the rest of the year. In fact, most parks are booked years in advance… but I already packed the tent, so I was going to just wing it.
I picked up my niece Joelle from her home in Nevada, and headed to Zion National Park without any reservations hoping for the best. The nice park service gal let me know it is first come, first serve and tent camp sites fill up first thing in the morning. Glancing at my phone, it was 11am.
We arrived about noon and the Zion National Park campsite was indeed full. However, a quarter mile down the road I had spotted a Quality Inn with camp sites. Worst case I'd pay $100 for the night. We pulled in and she grinned and offered me a tent camp spot. Yes, it was double the cost of the NPS site, but $40 for laundry, hot showers, cafe, and easy access into the park was great!
After hiking the Narrows, crying at the splendor of the weeping wall, and barely escaping with our lives as we tubed down the ankle deep Virgin River we headed 600 miles north to the infamous Yellowstone.
This being the National Parks Service 100th year anniversary, and peak Summer season on the absolute busiest day of the year, the Fourth of July we rolled into the park without reservations, yet again.
This time, we knew the camp site would be full as we were driving all day and would arrive in the evening. We called a couple camp sites and found an open cabin. We rented it for a night for $80. The ranger told us that half of each National Park campsite is reserved for campers like us that are looking to grab the first come first serve spots. Anytime before 10am should be alright as checkout time is 11am. What, did I hear him right? I had been planning a 5am wake up call!
We booked 7 nights in the Grand Tetons Colter Bay site, which is 2 miles south of Yellowstone. During our stay we had all sorts of people camping next to us. None stayed more than two nights, proving that an early start will surely score you a spot.
*Arrive midweek around 7 or 8am incase you find yourself having to check multiple sites.
*First come, first serve camp spots are for tent campers only or RV’s but generally no hookups.
*Back country camping is an option in most parks with a permit, but I prefer a toilet to a tree.
Places we camped spontaneously: