If you’re the type of person who loves spontaneous camping adventures — where plans are made on the go and surprises lie around every corner — then walk-up campsites will be right up your alley. Walk-up campsites offer a unique and flexible camping experience. If you usually don’t know where you’re going to stay until the exact day then they are perfect for impromptu adventurers like you.
If you’ve never heard of walk-up campsites before, then keep reading to learn about the ins and outs of walk-up campsites, exploring what they are, where to find them, and valuable tips to secure your spot in these sought-after last-minute camping areas.
What is a walk up campsite?
A walk-up campsite is a camping area where campers can arrive without a prior reservation. You don’t have to literally walk up to the campsite, but often you may need to arrive on foot if they don’t allow people to drive to there. They’re called walk-ups because you must arrive in person to get a spot. For example, in Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, you cannot drive directly to where you would secure a campsite for the night.
Instead of booking a spot in advance, campers can walk up to the campsite and check for availability on the spot. You can’t lock in your spot without physically being there.
Allocated first-come, first-serve
Walk-up campsites are typically allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and availability may vary depending on the campground’s capacity and demand.
More flexible for last minute travelers
It provides flexibility for campers who may not have planned their camping trip in advance or prefer to decide on the spot where they want to camp, which is a great way for busy popular areas to accommodate those who did not plan ahead.
How do walk up campsites work?
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.
Walk up campsites mean you can camp without a reservation at campgrounds that allow it. Sites are not reservable online and they are purposefully set aside for campers and travelers without advance reservations.
However, just remember that just because a site is listed as a “walk up,” it doesn’t mean it always has spots available.
Where can you usually find them?
You may have heard of some famous walk-up campsites like Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Half Moon Bay State Beach Campground, or those in the Inyo National Forest in the Sierra Nevadas, offering places to stay for those looking for a last-minute place to rest.
Walk-up campsites can be found in many outdoor recreational locations including:
Many national forests offer walk-up campsites in addition to reservation-based sites. These are often more primitive and offer a rustic camping experience.
Some national parks have walk-up campsites, especially in less crowded areas or during the off-peak season. However, popular national parks may have limited walk-up availability, so arriving early is recommended.
Many state parks have walk-up campsites available for campers without reservations. These parks often offer a range of amenities and facilities.
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land
Some BLM-managed areas provide walk-up camping opportunities, especially in dispersed camping areas or simply do not have a registration system at all, making them an ideal place to camp at the last minute.
Various campgrounds on public lands, managed by agencies like the U.S. Forest Service or the Department of Fish and Wildlife, have walk-up campsites.
Some private campgrounds may also have walk-up sites, especially if they have a mix of reservation-based and first-come, first-served sites.
Regional or County Parks
Local regional or county parks often offer walk-up camping options.
Tips for successfully getting a walk up campsite
It’s important to note that the availability of walk-up campsites can vary depending on the specific campground, the time of year, and the level of demand.
Reach the campground early in the day time to increase your chances of snagging a walk-up campsite before they fill up. It’s a good idea to arrive early in the morning, especially during busy seasons, to secure a spot.
Go On a Weekdays and Off-Season
Using a walk-up campsite on weekdays or during the off-season can mean campsite availability is typically higher and increase your chances of getting a spot.
Check the Website and Online Reservations Just in Case
Check the campground’s website or online reservation system to see if they provide information about walk-up availability or contact the park office in advance to add to your odds of getting a space.
Make Sure to Scout Alternative Campgrounds
Have a backup plan by researching nearby campgrounds that offer walk-up sites in case your first-choice campground is full or plan to stay on BLM or Public Land walk-up sites that do not require reservations or have campground hosts.
Talk to the Campground Host
If there is one, speak with the campground host by phone beforehand if possible or simply go in the morning to ask about available walk-up campsites and get tips for how to secure your stay.
Travel in a Small Group
If possible, travel in smaller groups, as walk-up sites often have limited space. It’s always easier to find a spot with fewer campers.
Learn the Rules
Familiarize yourself with the campground’s rules and regulations to ensure an easier and successful check-in.
If the campground appears full upon arrival, be patient and wait for any early departures or check again later in the day for potential openings.
The next time you find yourself yearning for a wild and unpredictable camping escapade or are stuck in a bind with nowhere to stay, remember to check for walk-up campsites. Whether you’re a last-minute planner or simply enjoy the excitement of not knowing where you’ll rest your head at night, walk-up campsites might be the perfect fit for your next outdoor camping trip.
If you embrace spontaneity, and venture into the unknown with a last minute plan, you never know what adventures might be ahead. Adventure awaits those bold enough to sleep under the stars, no reservation required.