How to Get Reservations at a Popular Campground

Photo by Barbara Sheldrake on Pexels.com

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!

Step One

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.

Yellowstone

For our 2022 Yellowstone trip, the website to make reservations is:

https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com

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.

Grand Teton

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

A woman with her hand on a computer.
Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

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.

Yellowstone

Close up of a bison's head.
Photo by David McClure on Pexels.com

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.

Grand Tetons

Road with mountains in the background and tall evergreens on each side.
Photo by Zach McGee on Pexels.com

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

A wooden bridge leading to a forest of evergreen pines with mountains in the background.
Photo by Vitu00f3ria Lago on Pexels.com

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

28 comments

  1. I LOVE your planning! I am like you in that respect. Mike and I are quite opposites- he used to love throwing me in the car with an overnight bag and just taking off for the unknown. I never did love that. I didn’t even like it.

    But I’m excited to watch your travels! I’m interested in how you prepare to go . . . and come home.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am definitely the planner. RV travel is so popular these days, the campsites – especially on weekends – go to the planners. As far as the trip home, I have ideas. But we will just have to see how we feel after all that adventure and time away from home! Hope you have a great week!

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      • I’m glad you were able to reserve, and your process sounds very similar to mine. Although I’ve not used Campendium so that’s something I’m going to explore. We made reservations for early September to visit the Tetons. Rec.gov and somehow all three of our family groups were able to secure full hook up sites very easily, all next you each other. I couldn’t believe it! We’re at I think Headwaters which is between Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Now if only fuel prices would go down by then. 🙄😞😳. Colter and Fishing Bridge seem to be the most popular camping areas, so good job, Betty!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow! You all were really lucky, especially being right next to each other. Headwaters looks like a beautiful campground. I am sure you will have a wonderful time. Campendium is a website, not an app. I’ve had a couple people ask me recently about that. Thanks for reading and your comment, and enjoy your day!

          Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds great! I will have to see where that General Store is located. We aren’t there until late Summer, so it will be awhile before we are there. Enjoy your time there! It sounds really fun!

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  2. As a devoted fan, I read this post even though I do not camp or RV (the one-time excursion with my cuz was an exception) and I still enjoyed it–big high five. Since I am fairly street-savy (at least in the boondocks), I know what boondock and Wal-doc are, but I am at a loss for Barrel-doc. Wait, a flash of insight occurs! Is that Cracker Barrel docking? In my younger days, I was known to stand in line for well over an hour or even two to get into the Swedish smorgasbord in Dallas…but that phase passed. I admire your planning and dedication to getting what you want–it is how people get what they want.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the big high five! You are correct in that Barrel-docking is parking overnight at a Cracker Barrel. My understanding is that once permission from the manager is given, the campers park in the back. I like the security of a campground, and Dan likes the full hook ups. I would enjoy eating breakfast at the Cracker Barrel though. I wonder if that Swedish smorgasbord is still in Dallas; my son lives there. We try to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets, but we do make an occasional exception. Thanks for reading even though you don’t camp. I still smile though when I think about your trip with your cousin. If she upgrades her camper, maybe you’ll take another trip with her. Maybe to Yellowstone? 🙂 Maybe to Echo Bluff? For now, enjoy your day at home in Mississippi!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh you are talking about my “backyard”! There are a lot of campgrounds outside of the park, too, which are easier to get spots at. Or, if you’re like us, you can just camp at a non-campground site in the national forests all around the park as long as you are self contained. I do hope everyone has a chance to see Yellowstone at least once in their life. It’s magical.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I suppose after reading your post I need to up my game. Your comment about the best sites go to the planner is mostly true, but not always. Many of the best sites with the best views, especially in the west, are off-grid and free. For me, over planning takes away from the joy and freedom to meander and explore at one’s own pace. However, the steady growth of new campers does make it more challenging to find spots. So I understand the need to make reservations. We have started making some reservations for later this summer. I am excited for Dan and your trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. It is an amazing part of the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you and Grammi have camped in some absolutely beautiful areas – that were off-grid and free. We could boondock with our camper. But there are two issues. One, I am a worry wart and have concerns about safety. I would not sleep well; I know. Two, at Dan’s age, he wants the full hook-ups. I admire you and Grammi for your sense of adventure and all the travels you have taken. Since we are likely only going to make this trip once, we wanted to stay long enough to do and see most of what we want. I can see the appeal of unplanned traveling, but these days, the weekends are just brutal for finding reservations. With our annual family trip to Michigan, we wouldn’t get in the state park campground if not for my focused efforts. We might grab a cancellation, but likely not for how long we want to stay. Like your family camping trips, this annual trip is a long held, cherished tradition to spend time and make memories with the ones we love. Dan and I will probably only see a fraction of what you and Grammi have seen and done. But I so appreciate what we have done and will do. Your posts are always so inspiring, and they encourage me to travel, explore and appreciate the great beauty in this country. I hope you have Grammi have some great adventures this summer. Is it time to go yet? 🙂

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      • First come- first serve was usually available in the National Parks until last year. Most are headed toward all reservations. The problem with that is people make reservations before they actually make plans to go resulting in large numbers of no-shows. We are amazed to see half empty campgrounds that are supposedly booked.

        We like having full hook ups when we can, too. But we also like saving money on free or cheap campsites. We see camping with full hookups as an expensive luxury. Also, boondocking opens up a lot more options, especially during those busy weekends. We have never felt unsafe before and if we did we would not stay. I am not trying to convince you to try it. Just explaining my view.

        We returned yesterday from a three day weekend trip. You would call it a shake down trip. We head out Thursday for three weeks to include Georgia and South Carolina. I am so ready. Well… not really. I have a lot to do before then. I will be posting about it soon. Have a great day.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know you are not trying to convince me; I always enjoy your perspective. It adds to the discussion. If it’s only me talking, it gets boring pretty fast. 🙂 As you know, we like the COE campgrounds – $12 or $13 for FHU! I believe Michigan state parks have a policy if you don’t show in 24 hours, they can give someone else your campsite. I agree with this policy. We see very few empty spots there. I look forward to reading your posts about Georgia and South Carolina. We leave next week for Gulf State Park with a couple stops each way. Safe travels and Happy Adventures!

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  5. Our favorite campground in Florida opens up reservations 11 months in advance. It then becomes a check-every-day-until-you-get-something process. Thanks for the tip about Campendium; I’ll have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We camped at Jonathon Dickinson State Park in Florida and loved it! You are right about the check-every-day process. It’s worth it though, isn’t it? 🙂 Hope you have a great week!

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  6. It’s crazy what you have to do to get a site at national parks! I had thought we would stay at more national parks, but so often they don’t have hookups or wouldn’t accommodate our 34-ft 5th wheel. The hint to save favorite parks in Campendium is not one I’ve thought of, so thanks for that.I’ll look forward to reading about your adventures this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is crazy! Next year, we hope to go to the Smoky Mountains NP, but we will not stay in the park – for one of the reasons you stated. No full hook-ups in the park. The nice thing for us RVers – there are so many choices. There are wonderful state parks, private campgrounds and COE. I enjoy reading about your adventures, too. Safe travels!

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  7. I enjoyed reading this even though we don’t travel in the RV any more. I planned and made reservations almost exactly like you. We liked to follow the 3-3-3 ruled whenever possible: no more than 300 miles a day, stop around 3:00, stay 3 nights. Back when we were traveling, we usually didn’t made reservations between destinations until the day before. We also didn’t plan our return trip until it was time to head home. Happy trails to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The 3-3-3 rule is a good rule. We may not follow the third “3” if we are on our way to or from somewhere, but otherwise, we do follow it. This is the first time we don’t have reservations for the way home. So, we will see how it works out! I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post. Hope you have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Total respect that you put yourselves through this agony for a campsite. It is vaguely reminiscent of trying to reserve an appointment for a Covid vaccine back in January. I remember getting up at 5:30 to log onto the official website using multiple devices. Within seconds all available spots were taken in multiple counties across our state. It took five days before we were successful. I am glad your persistence and know-how paid off and you have secured your reservations. Have a beautiful trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It was kind of therapeutic to write this post. 🙂 I can see how this would remind you of those Covid vaccine days! Thank heavens those days are behind us now! Enjoy your day!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Now why didn’t I just give you my list of places to visit this year and let you plan it all out! Because planning is really half the fun. I use RVTripwizard for my planning. It allows me to set mileage limits and then looks for RV parks within what is specified. I generally try to keep between two and three hundred miles. And like you always try to be off the road by three in the afternoon. I’ve also had my share of those wonderful “ready, set, get ready to click” moments. I’ve also learned even when no sites show, sometimes it pays to call for a reservation. Sometimes, not always they know of a cancellation before it shows up on the web site. Enjoy your trip west, we have yet to do that leg. When you get back you can let me know how it all worked out. Have a great week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a good idea to call a place when all else fails. After all, there’s nothing to lose but a little time. And people cancel (or no show) all the time! Our trip west isn’t until late summer, so we have some other adventures before then. Hope you have a great week, too!

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  10. Great informative post, Betty. You’ll love Grand Teton/Yellowstone. We’ve not camped there but have driven through the area a couple of times and it’s a stunningly beautiful area. I’ll be anxious to read your post. I got the RVillage app a couple of years ago. It’s a very useful app that also includes campground info, etc. There are many forums for everything from campground reviews to RV repairs and everything in between. Everyone there is extremely helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Terry. I had heard of RVillage. I went ahead and downloaded the app. Sometimes in Campendium, a campground may not have reviews. So, it’s nice to have a backup resource. We’re anxious for GT/Yellowstone, but we have some adventures before then. It just took so long to plan!! Glad you are back, safe and sound. Looking forward to your posts again!

      Liked by 1 person

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