Now, I’m one of those strange people who loves to plan. Parties, vacations, projects… you name it, I probably like to plan it. However, the RV lifestyle has lead me to be a lot more overwhelmed.
Every couple of weeks, we need to plan where we’re camping, what we’re doing, and how we’ll get there. And because of the constant planning, I’ve found a tendency to procrastinate until the last minute to find a campsite.
Luckily, a few websites make finding campsites easy. In fact, some of our last minute camping decisions lead us to find the best campsites we’ve ever stayed at!
Whatever experience you seek, whether it be tent camping or RVing, we’ve compiled a list of tools to help you find the perfect place to pitch your tent.
Five websites and apps to find the best campsite:
This website is our go-to resource to find great camping! Input a location and get a wide variety of campground options: National Parks, National Forests, RV parks, free camping, parking lots… you name it, it’s on the list.
Campers add reviews and pictures. And if you can’t find a particular park, you can submit a request to add it. As a result, the website is very camper driven!
I enjoy the photos because it gives me a sense of what the campsites might be like.
The people who post reviews on here tend to be RVers, but have no worries tent campers: this site was still a go-to during our tent camping days!
When we want to book a stay on our public lands — National Parks, Forest Service, Army Corp of Engineers, or BLM — this is the site we use.
Each campground shows reservable spots on a map and on occasion each campsite has pictures. I love this feature because it’s easy to scope out the best campsite before you even arrive!
Recreation.gov also shows activities, parks, and trailheads in the area. Bonus!
However, this resource only contains information about federal lands, and it’s not exhaustive. If we can’t find public lands to camp at here, we’ll move on to….
Another website I use to find campsites on public lands, and it has the addition of State Parks (for most states). I noticed they started to add private campgrounds as well, so be sure you read listings carefully.
The website is similar to Recreation.gov, so if you like using that site, you’ll love this one too!
Sometimes, Lucas and I want a much more natural experience and that’s when we learned about free camping. Expect no luxuries, no hookups, no water… if you’re in an RV, expect to run the generator if you don’t have solar.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, besides saving a bit of dough. You get treated to campsites like this…
And, your closest neighbors are often a bit further away, or even non-existent. We’ve come to look forward to the added bonus of privacy and quiet while free camping.
With pictures from other campers, reviews, and tips on how big of a rig will fit in those free sites — this has become a great resource when we want to find the best free campsite!
5. The National Park website for the location you’re visiting!
Now I know what you might be thinking: “Sarah, why would I look there when recreation.gov has me covered?”
Well, sort of… I’d say they get you about 75% of the way.
The reasons you might want to visit the park’s website for camping are for backpacking permits, or if a 3rd party vendor manages the park’s campgrounds.
For many national parks, there’s often a formal process to obtain permits for backpacking. The park’s website will give you instructions on how to obtain a permit ahead of time, or how to get a permit the day of your arrival.
Remember, in the bigger parks… plan ahead. Some parks’ permits are sold out months ahead of time. If you did wait until too late, there are a couple of options you can try:
- Choose a less popular area of the park to camp in. You’d be surprised how easily we camped in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer season because we chose the Grand Lake side of the park.
- Try your luck in getting a permit the day of. We do advise if you go this route during peak season, get there an hour or two before the backcountry office opens. I’d also recommend calling ahead to discuss with a Ranger.
3rd Party Vendors
If you can’t find a campground on Recreation.gov for your intended destination, camping might be managed by a third-party vendor.
Xanterra Parks runs the campgrounds at Yellowstone. Camping options don’t show up on recreation.gov for reservations, so you’ll need to go to the NPS site… which will redirect you to Xanterra Parks for booking.
I know it’s a massive pain in the rear, but many of the larger parks have gone this route because it’s too much for them to manage the thousands of park guests staying at hotels and campsites in the parks. This way, they can focus on your experience in the park itself.
I Feel Less Stressed!
With these websites, I’m a lot less overwhelmed when it comes to finding a place to camp. Even when we procrastinate on major holiday weekends, we always find a place to park the RV.
We hope these resources help you find the best campsite and create the best camping experience possible!
Have any recommendations for awesome apps or tools? Let us know in the comments below!