During our road trip this summer, we’re visiting and camping at some of the most popular National Parks in the country. While it’s an amazing experience, camping in National Parks, particularly established campgrounds in popular ones, require advance planning. Given the ground we’re covering in five weeks, we mostly opted to stay in these places both for convenience and quick access to trails. I’m sure at some point in the future, I’ll return to each of these places again and spend more time exploring the off-the-beaten path beauty, including backcountry camping.

In third post of the “Getting Ready for the Road Trip Series,” I’m sharing our experience of making reservations at three popular National Parks (Arches, Glacier and Yellowstone)and the lessons we learned about the process. 

 

Yellowstone Reservation

The famous geysers, abundant opportunities for animal sightings and beautiful hikes makes Yellowstone National Park an extremely popular spot in the summer. In 2017, Yellowstone received over four million visitors making it the sixth most visited park. It also means there is a lot of competition to get a camping spot, much less a perfect spot in a campground. 

The Yellowstone reservation process starts early – almost a year early! On May 1st of every year, all lodging reservations (camping and hotels) open for reservations for the following year. While the most sought after spots will be taken up early, you can still make reservations the winter before your visit. Our plan is to hike the 6.4 miles to and back from Mt. Washburn early in the day and explore some of the popular spots in the park the rest of the day.  While we managed to get lucky with a reservation in February when we began our planning, we had to settle for a campground further away (nearly 45 minutes) from the trailhead than we had hoped. 

What do you need to know about reserving a camp spot in Yellowstone?  

    • There are over 2,000 camp sites across12 campgrounds in Yellowstone. Camping spots are available through reservations at 5 of the campgrounds and the remaining 7 serve as serving as first come/first serve sites. 
    • Each campsite is equipped with varying amenities (e.g. showers, flush toilets, RV hook ups, etc.). Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is the only site open year-round. All other campgrounds open for the spring and summer at varying dates. 
    • Specific information on each campground a list of available amenities and opening dates can be found on the Yellowstone National Park Operating Hours & Seasons Page. 

What is the process for and cost of reservations? 

    • The reservation process opens on May 1 for the following year. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov for each campground open through the reservation process. Reservations can also be made over the phone. 
    • Reservation costs vary by site but generally range between $25-48/per night. The full cost is due at time of reservation through a major credit or debit card. The cost of the first-come/first-serve sites range from $15-20/per night and payable at the campground.  

What tips and tricks can you use to secure a campsite? 

    • As with almost everything related to the National Parks, planning early is the key! 
    • Keep in mind first-come/first-serve sites fill up by early morning, so plan to arrive early on the first day of your trip. 
    • If you can’t make it early on the first day of your trip or you plan to move sites after, you can access up-to-date information, including how many sites are available, on each campground on Yellowstone Live – Campgrounds. 

 

Glacier Reservation

With over 3 million visitors, Glacier National Park was the 10th most visited National Park in 2017. The remaining 26 glaciers and abundant lakes (732 named and unnamed lakes!) makes this an absolutely picturesque and popular place in the summer. As a result, there’s a lot of competition for spots in the several campgrounds inside the park.

Right behind Yellowstone, we prioritized making campground reservations at Glacier which paid off. We secured a campsite our three night stay without much trouble albeit a little further from the Grinnell Glacier trailhead. 

What do you need to know about reserving a camp spot in Glacier?

    • Glacier National Park has nearly 1,000 camp sites over 13 campgrounds. Reservations are available at 3 campgrounds while the remaining 10 are first-come/first-serve sites. 
    • During the peak season (July 1 and Labor Day) camping is limited to 14 days in a single or combined periods. Between Labor Day and June 30, camping is limited to 30 days. 
    • Each campsite varies in amenities and opens on varying dates, largely dependent on when the park can clear snow from roads. Primitive campsites in Glacier are not equipped with portable water, so plan accordingly. You can find the details of each campsite at the 
    • The maximum capacity of each campsite is 8 people and 2 vehicles.  

What is the process for and cost of reservations? 

    • Several of the reserved sites are available for reservations six months in advance. The Apgar Group Site is available for reservation 12 months in advance. All reservations must be made through recreation.gov. 
    • First-come/first-serve sites can be reserved by stringing a plate with the occupants name at the entrance of the site. Within 30 minutes of arrival, complete a fee envelope and include payment in the fee payment tube. There are no refunds on these sites! 
    • The price of reserved sites vary from $20-23/per night. The price of first-come/first-serve sites range from $10-20/per night. 

What tips and tricks can you use to secure a campsite? 

    • As always, the best guarantee for securing camp reservations is planning and making reservations early! 
    • The first-come/first-serve sites fill up quickly, so arrive early on your first day! You can check the status of each campground on the Glacier National Park Campground Status Page. 
    • If you are a hiker or biker without a motorized vehicle inside the park, you can use the hiker/biker only campsites. 

 

Arches Reservation

Although this wonderland of natural stone arches made of red rocks didn’t make into the top ten most visited National Parks in 2017, finding a camp site within Arches National Park can be extremely challenging. 

Reservations open six months in advance of your stay. We missed the six month window by a few days and as a result we were not able to secure a campsite at the Devil’s Garden Campground, the only one within the park grounds. Not to worry if you don’t secure a spot, Moab (the nearest town to Arches) has many campgrounds near the park. Most of these are first-come/first-serve. If you were like us, on a short timeline, and traveling in between places, not able to arrive early or would prefer the peace of mind of a reservation, check out the Dead Horse Point State Park. The reservations cost are comparable and the campground is less than a 30-minute drive from Arches. 

What do you need to know about reserving a camp spot in Arches?

    • The single most important thing to know about camp reservations inside Arches National Park is that there’s only one campground, the Devil’s Campground. 
    • While the campground is open year round, between March 1 and October 31, reservations are required for the 51 sites in the campground. 
    • Camping is limited to 7 nights in any 30-day period or 14 nights per year. 
    • Water is scarce inside the park and is limited to refilling water bottles and jugs only and there are no services inside the Park. 

What is the process for and cost of reservations? 

    • Reservations can be made six months in advance at recreation.gov. Standard individual sites cost $25/per night while group site rates vary from $75-200/per night. 

What tips and tricks can you use to secure a campsite? 

    • Because there is only one campground, reservations book within hours, so it’s important to plan early! 
    • If you are planning on arriving later (evenings or night), you should consider making hotel reservations. 

Written by Nalini

I love adventures that take me away from the hum drum of my regular life! Mine are usually filled with funny stories of common sense mistakes and miscalculations and involve the open roads, getting dirty, sleeping in tents and sweating and panting my way to the top of mountain peaks.

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