What is walk up camping? It really just means camping at campsites that are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Walk up campsites are perfect for last-minute trips. They can also be useful if you are on a longer trip and just need somewhere to stay for a night.
This article will detail everything you need to know about walk up camping to ensure you find the right campsite for your next trip.
What is Walk Up Camping – Understanding the Terminology
Walk up camping is popular at many campgrounds. The most common are National Parks, State Parks, National Forests, State Forests, other Federal lands, and some private, local campgrounds.
Campgrounds often provide multiple methods for reserving a campsite:
- Advanced Reservations – You can reserve your specific spot in advance online with credit card payment.
- Walk-up Camping – No reservation required. Remaining campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis
Walk-up camping is great if you are taking a last-minute trip and the campgrounds are full. Here in Minnesota, much of the camping in the northern part of the state is walk up camping.
As you can imagine, it can be quite stressful driving hours to your destination and not finding an available site. We’ll discuss some of the tips we use to help increase our odds of landing a great walk up only campsite.
Walk Up Camping – 8 Tips for Securing Walk Up Campsites
As we mentioned above, the risk with walk up camping is that you may arrive to find that there are zero sites remaining at your chosen campsite.
Or you may find that the camp sites do not have the specific amenities that you were hoping for. This is why it’s always important to have a backup plan.
8 Tips for Securing Walk Up Campsites
1. Call Ahead
While you cannot reserve these sites via phone, you can check with the park rangers or campground host to understand remaining availability. This can help you understand the likelihood of a spot being available upon your arrival.
2. Start on a Weekday
Most campgrounds are busies Friday night through Sunday. If you start your camping trip on Thursday, you have a much higher likelihood of finding a great site.
3. Arrive Early
Arrive early in the morning. Many campers will be coming after work on a Friday. If you can get to the campground before the crowd, you will have a better chance of landing a spot.
4. Travel Farther
Campgrounds closes to cities fill up fast. Look for campgrounds further from major cities and tourist destinations. They are often just as nice but far less busy.
5. Sleep in a Tent
RV camping has become extremely popular post-COVID and walk-in RV camping sites are hard to come by. Tent-only campsites are often available without camping reservations. Be forewarned that many are remote site, and you could end up with a basic campsite without many amenities.
Research multiple campgrounds in a particular area and rate them best to worst. That way, if one is full, you can go down the list until you find one that works.
7. Understand Primitive Camping Rules
Many National and State forests allow for dispersed camping, which means you can camp anywhere. It is a good idea to know where you could set up camp in an emergency, just in case all the public campgrounds are full.
Some primitive campsites will require a backcountry permit in place of a traditional campsite reservation.
8. Avoid the Peak Season
Some campsites, like those at busy national parks, have clearly defined busy seasons. Take Yosemite National Park, for example. It is extremely busy during the summer months, but then tapers off in late spring/early fall.
Walk-Up Camping FAQs
What is the difference between Walk-Up Campsites and Walk-in Campsites
Walk-up sites are campsites that cannot be reserved ahead of time. They are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and you have to see the campsite host or park ranger up on arrival.
Walk-in campsites can be available for advanced reservations or on a first-come, first-served basis. Walk-in means that the parking lot or parking spot is not right next to your campsite. These sites require a short hike from the car to the campsite.
What is a cart-in campsite?
In Minnesota, we also have cart-in campsites, which are campsites that are a short distance from the parking area and that the State Parks allow the use of push carts to bring in your gear.
Are walk-up campsite amenities different from reservable campsites?
It depends. Many walk-up campsites have the same amenities as a reservable campsite, as they are often located in the same part of the campground. Common amenities include:
- Fire Ring
- Picnic Table
- Tent Pad
- Running Water
- Electricity Hookup (RV sites)
That being said, at some campgrounds and state and national forests, the walk-up campsites are primitive, meaning the amenities are not as great. Often they will not have running water and will have vault toilets instead of flush toilets.
Can I Camp without a Reservation?
Yes, you can camp without a reservation at any campground that offers walk up campsites or those available on a first come first served basis. These sites are not reservable online, so cannot be horded by other campers.
National Forests and other public land often allow dispersed camping that does not require a reservation.
What Does Walk Up Only Mean on Reserve America?
Walk up only on Reserve America refers to campsites that are not available for online reservations. Some campgrounds set aside a specific number of campsites for walk up campers.
What is an ADA Accessible Campsite?
An ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) campsite is one that meets their requirements for access by campers with disabilities. Some key considerations are:
- Is the campsite located near a bathroom?
- Is the campsite relatively flat?
- Does the campsite have wide parking spaces?
- Does the campsite have wheelchair-accessible picnic tables?
Some campgrounds do not allow online reservation for ADA Accessible campsites, so you may need to call directly.
How do I book a Walk-Up Campsite on Recreation.gov?
www.recreation.gov, which is where you book most US National Park and National Forest campsites, has a clear classification system for their campsites:
- A – Available for online reservation
- R – Already reserved for your selected dates
- X – Unavailable for bookings of any type
- FF or W – First Come, First Served or Walk up sites. Cannot be booked ahead of time
- Not Yet Released – Reservations for your date have not yet been released for dates
While you cannot book a walk-up campsite on Recreation.gov, you can see how many campsites at a particular campground are available on a first-come first-served basis, which can help you plan.
How do I book a Walk-Up Campsite on ReserveAmerica.com?
ReserveAmerica.com does not use a standardized booking site like Recreation.gov. It provides detailed information for each campsite, but bookings are all done via third party websites.
To see what sites are available as walk-up campsites on Reserve America, you will need to check each individual campsite, which all use different codes! Look for codes like W or FF that indicate the sites are on a first-come, first-served basis.