Yellowstone National Park has to be one of the most popular places to visit and to camp.
Dan and I are headed to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks later this summer. We will enjoy 14 nights in our travel trailer at campgrounds which offer full hook-ups located inside each of the national parks.
This post will describe what it took to get that all set up. I am writing this because it may be helpful to somebody planning a similar trip. I will describe our steps as they pertain to our 2022 Yellowstone/Grand Tetons National Parks trip, but in general, these steps can be applied for any camping/RVing excursion.
I know many of you, my dear readers, are quite adept at making campground reservations. If so, please feel free to skip this post, or you could read it, leaving your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments. This is how we did it; I know others may do things differently. If you have questions, please feel free to put them in the comments below. Okay, let’s go!
Once a destination is decided, the next step is to find a campground. I use Campendium to help figure this out. I search to find campgrounds that offer full hook ups, and I definitely read the reviews. We have a bias for Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds followed by state parks. After that, we are likely to choose a KOA.
As a side note, I keep track of my favorites in Campendium. If I read about a great place or someone tells me about a campground which sounds good, I mark it as a favorite. This information is kept in my profile, so I can always refer back to it. The list of favorites can also be searched by state.
Once the campground is chosen, the following information is needed:
- The arrival date and when the reservation window opens for that date
- The length of stay. Most campgrounds have some kind of limit, so be aware of that limit.
- The website for booking the reservation
Knowing when the reservation window opens is key. These days, the campsites go to the planners; A few go to those who are lucky enough to snag a last minute cancellation. In general, any sites booked through Recreation.Gov can be reserved six months in advance. Some state parks can be reserved a year in advance; others are six months out. Each one should be checked well in advance.
For our 2022 Yellowstone trip, the website to make reservations is:
When we booked our Yellowstone camping reservations, everything opened on June 7, 2021 for the entire Summer 2022 season. However, this policy has changed. It is more of a rolling policy. See the website above for specifics.
For our 2022 stay at Grand Tetons, the website to make reservations is: www.recreation.gov.
For the Grand Tetons campground, the reservation window opens six months prior to the date of arrival.
The Great Mouse Click Race
I usually begin stalking the campground’s website a few days before the date my reservation window opens. This way, I can see what campsites are likely to be available and have a good idea of the ones we would like.
Besides knowing the date the reservation window opens, be sure to know the exact time the window opens. For popular campgrounds, the available campsites may be all taken within seconds. Not minutes, seconds.
Sometimes the reservation window opens at midnight. Sometimes it is the start of the business day. For example, Michigan state park reservations open at 8 a.m. Eastern time during the week. However, it opens one hour later on the weekend. Remember to adjust the time for whatever time zone you are in.
For our Yellowstone campground, I could not find the exact time the reservation window opened on the website. So, I called the Yellowstone reservations phone number, waited on hold for about 45 minutes and talked with a live person. He informed me that the window would open at midnight Mountain time which is 1 a.m. Central time, our time.
I remarked that I’d be getting up at 1 a.m. The phone rep said, “Aw. You don’t have to get up at 1 a.m. You can just make the reservation first thing when you get up in the morning. I’ve been doing for this a long time. It’ll be fine.”
I didn’t feel comfortable with that strategy.
Dan and I got up a bit before 1 a.m. on the date the reservation window opened. Then, right at 1 a.m., we clicked to reserve. We had wanted to stay two weeks in Yellowstone, but all we saw open was one ten day block, and those ten days were about one week before we had wanted to arrive. Even so, we grabbed it.
By the time our reservation was processed, we saw the campsite grid again. All that was left were a few single nights scattered throughout the month. We were successful. Now all we had to do was to wait eight months before trying to tack on some camping nights at Grand Tetons National Park before our arrival in Yellowstone.
Dan and I wanted to spend four nights camping at Grand Tetons before our time in Yellowstone. Even though we really only wanted four nights, I wanted to “practice trying” for the reservation. If we got one or two extra nights, that would be okay.
But no luck with my first two tries. Before the time even switched to 9:01, the campground was full for the day. I needed to get more precise on my clicking.
So, I called the Reservation Line phone number listed on the recreation.gov website. I asked if there was a clock I could display which shows the seconds counting down. Michigan’s DNR website does this, so I know exactly when to click. I click one second before the time goes to the :00 mark.
The phone representative told me the Recreation.gov site uses the world clock, and most cell phones run on the world clock.
Since I couldn’t display a clock with seconds on my Chromebook, I held my cell phone in one hand, looking at the clock with the seconds feature turned on and counting down. Then with my other hand, I clicked on the Chromebook the second before 9:00 a.m. to reserve our campsite.
I got it!
We now had reserved four nights at Colter Bay RV Park in Grand Tetons National Park before our ten nights at Fishing Bridge RV Park in Yellowstone. I was ecstatic.
Mapping Out the Route
Now that we knew the exact dates we were to arrive in the Grand Tetons, we had to plan the route. Dan likes to drive about 300 miles each day, not much more. This way, we arrive in the daylight and avoid any rush hours. Also, we are not too tired when setting up or making our dinner. We also usually have some time to get some walking in which is important for our health.
I use a combination of Google Maps and Campendium to figure out our stops. Dan and I choose the main route using Google Maps. Once we have the route, I mark off sections of about 300 miles. I then search for campgrounds. We don’t boondock, Wal-dock or Barrel-dock.
Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
For this trip, we are taking four days to get from our home to Grand Tetons.
Sounds like we’re all set, right? Not quite yet.
Tours and Excursions
With the popularity of the National Parks these days, it is crucial to get reservations for any tours or excursions made in advance. Earlier this week, I received an email saying the Yellowstone National Park Lodges were now accepting reservations for Summer activities.
A while back, I had joined the “yellowstone National Park” Facebook group and had been reading about different activities. I wasn’t sure what, if any we wanted to participate in. Reading the posts in this group gave me an idea of the park’s activities.
The Summer Activities offered by the lodge website were classified into three types of adventures: Land, Water and Wild West. After I reviewed all the various tours and activities offered, Dan and I discussed what we wanted to do. We went ahead and made the reservations. This was done in the evening of the same day I received the email. Based on all the comments I saw on the Facebook group, we were wise to get this done right away. We chose four adventures.
Dan and I have said that this trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park will likely be the only time we make the trip there. It is far; it is costly; and, there are many other places we want to see, too. As such, we are planning to make the best of it. We have not yet made the reservations for the trip home. We may extend the trip a bit, or we may just head home.