Making reservations for a campsite at a popular campground is no easy feat. Some of the most popular campgrounds in US National Parks, National Forests, and other major outdoor recreation destinations can be completely booked up weeks, if not months, ahead of time.
When this happens, a walk up campsite might be your best bet. But, what is a walk up campsite, you might ask?
A walk-up campsite is any campsite that’s available on a first-come, first-served basis. These campsites can’t be reserved in advance, so campers can only “walk up” to claim their spot. When available, walk up campsites are a great choice for last-minute trips to popular outdoor locales.
We know how difficult it can be to make a campsite reservation. So, to ensure that you have all the information you need to snag the perfect campsite for your upcoming camping trip, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of walk up campsites and other need-to-know camping lingo.
Let’s get started.
What Is A Walk Up Campsite?
As we’ve mentioned, walk up campsites are any campsites that are available on a first come, first served basis. This means that you can’t make any advance reservations for these sites to secure your spot before you leave home.
Walk up campsites are ideal for anyone that wasn’t able to claim a campsite during an early season lottery or before all the reservable sites were taken. They’re also a nice option if you’re planning a last-minute trip, especially if you’re heading to a popular campground that always sets aside a handful of sites for use on a first come, first serve basis.
Although there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a walk up campsite, even if you follow all of our best practices for getting a walk up campsite (more on that in a bit), these sites should certainly be on your list of potential camping locations.
How Do Walk Up Campsites Work?
Every campsite reservation system, like Recreation.gov and Reserve America, has its own booking practices and destinations, though you’ll often see that they have similar policies and use similar terminology when it comes to walk up campsites.
On Recreation.gov (which is where you can book most US National Park and National Forest campsites), in particular, you’ll see a ‘matrix’ of site availability when you search for specific dates at a certain campground.
The website uses the following classifications for their campsites:
- A = Available. Any campsite marked with an ‘A’ is available for reservation online with Recreation.gov, so book away!
- R = Reserved. If a campsite is marked with an ‘R,’ then it’s reserved for your selected dates and you’ll need to find an alternative site.
- X = Unavailable. Sometimes, campsites are marked with an ‘X,’ which means that they are unavailable for booking. In these situations, either the campsite or the entire campground is closed and is not accepting reservations.
- FF or W = Walk Up. Walk up campsites are either denoted with a ‘W’ or with an ‘FF,’ the latter of which refers to “first come, first served” sites. You can’t book these campsites ahead of time, so arriving at the campsite early is your best bet.
- Not Yet Released. Some campgrounds release campsite reservation availability on a rolling basis (e.g., 6 months ahead of time). In these situations, you’ll see an empty blue and grey striped availability box without a letter marking. If you’re interested in booking one of these sites, read through the campground’s information page to find out when the site will be available for reservations.
If you find that your desired campsite is available on a walk up basis, all you’ll need to do is plan your trip so that you arrive at the campground early in the morning.
However, do remember that just because a site is listed as a ‘walk up,’ it doesn’t mean that it will be available when you want to camp if someone else gets there first.
What’s The Difference Between Walk In And Walk Up Campsites?
Perhaps one of the most confusing bits of camping jargon is the difference between a walk in and a walk up campsite.
At this point, you already know that a walk up campsite is one that’s available on a first come, first served basis.
Walk in campsites, on the other hand, are any campsites that you need to physically walk to from your car. Some of these sites are available on a walk up basis (yes, you can have a walk up walk in campsite) while others are reservable ahead of time.
Most campground campsites have a small parking area next to the tent pad, which makes loading and unloading your gear fairly straightforward. With a walk in campsite, however, you’ll generally park in one spot and then have to walk 100 to 1,000 feet (30 to 300m) to reach your tent area.
Although this might seem like an inconvenience, walk in campsites can be nice for folks that camp with minimal gear but that like a bit of solitude while outside. These sites tend to be a bit more secluded, so they’re a great way to enjoy some solitude in the campground.
Tips And Tricks For Getting A Walk Up Campsite
Planning a last-minute trip and hoping to snag a walk up campsite? Here are some of our top tips for getting a walk up campsite:
- Arrive Early. Arriving at your potential walk up campsite early is your best bet for getting a site for the night. Although there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a campsite, arriving at or before 9 AM is usually your best bet. At the very least, try to arrive before the campground’s designated checkout time so you can grab a spot as others leave.
- Call The Campground Host. While you won’t be able to make a reservation for a walk up campsite over the phone, calling the host and asking about current availability can help you get a better idea of if snagging a walk up site is even feasible. The host can let you know how many sites are open the day before you leave home so you can make an educated decision about where to go in your attempt to find a walk up campsite.
- Arrive On A Weekday. Walk up campsites almost always fill up on weekends, especially in the campground’s busy season (usually the summer). In these situations, arriving on a weekday – particularly Tuesday through Thursday – can increase your chances of getting a walk up site.
- Have A Backup Plan. If your preferred campground doesn’t have any walk up campsites available when you arrive, it’s important that you have a backup plan ready. Consider any nearby locations where you can camp without a reservation, particularly on BLM land where dispersed camping is almost always allowed.
Here are our answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about camping reservations and walk up campsites:
How Can I Camp Without A Reservation?
You can camp without a reservation at any campground which offers campsites on a walk up or first come, first served basis. These sites are not reservable online and they are purposefully set aside for campers that do not have an advance reservation.
If you’d like to camp without a reservation, keep in mind that you’ll need to arrive at your campground early (generally by 9 AM) in order to have the best possible chance of securing a campsite.
What Does Walk Up Mean For Camping?
Walk up camping is any campsite that’s available without the need for a reservation. These spots can’t be booked ahead of time, so you can simply “walk up” and secure your campsite for the night.
What Does Walk Up Only Mean On Reserve America?
Walk up only on Reserve America refers to any campsite that isn’t reservable online. Some campgrounds specifically set aside campsites for walk up campers without a reservation so that folks can still enjoy the outdoors even on a spur of the moment trip.
What Is An Accessible Campsite?
Accessible campsites are campsites that meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for accessibility for campers with disabilities. Generally speaking, these campsites are located close to the bathroom, are fairly flat, have wide parking spaces, and have wheelchair-accessible picnic tables, among other features.
Depending on where you’re camping, you may or may not be able to book an accessible campsite online. Some campgrounds require that campers call the campground manager directly to reserve an accessible campsite.
Can You Get Into Yosemite Without A Reservation?
Generally speaking, you can go into Yosemite National Park without a reservation if you’re planning on visiting just for the day. The park instituted a vehicle reservation system for day visitors and campers during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is believed to be a short-term policy for the duration of the pandemic.
As far as camping in Yosemite goes, there’s generally no requirement that you have an advance reservation. But, if you want to secure your spot during the summer, reservations are highly recommended.