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Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping

No reservation? No problem.

08.14.17

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Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping

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  • West Fork Trail Camp, first-come, first-served in Angeles National Forest. Photo by Duke Schillaci via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Water Canyon Cliffside Campsite, 45 minutes from Zion National Park (and available this Memorial Day!). Photo by Kate Wagner via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Camping on BLM land by some not-so-secret hot springs near Mammoth, California. Photo by Julie Kukral.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • We snagged this backcountry site in Zion day-of. It’s still probably one of the most amazing places I have ever camped. Excuse the disposable-camera quality of this photo—but look at those rocks! Photo by Julie Kukral.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • The Rose Garden on the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge in Altoona, Washington. Pup friendly! Photo by Mike Hoderman via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Hammock time at Jb Trading Co. Camp, Arkansas (available this weekend). Photo by Michelle Park via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Robibero's Retreat outside of Poughkeepsie, New York. Still available for a Memorial Day weekend escape from the city! Photo by Tara Schatz via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Camping isn't always easy, but glamping at Ardor Wood Farm sure is! Consider this your perfect Memorial Day getaway from Austin. Photo by Chris Wiley via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • The Riverfront Orchard Camp is a private campsite on the Scott River in Callahan, California. Photo by Lisse Lundin via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • A beautiful secluded campsite at Flycatcher Farms in Dale, Texas. Photo by Shayna Frankenfield via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Morning views from Songdog Ranch, which has been described as camping on the moon! This ranch offers tent, glamp and RV sites in Cuyama Badlands, California. Photo by Ezekiel Gonzalez via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Hard to beat staying in a lavish tepee in Malibu. The Great Spirits Ranch also has an impressive yurt you can stay in. They're both available this weekend! Photo by Ezekiel Gonzalez via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Camping in "true wilderness" at the Hat Rack Ranch, Arizona. Photo by Maddie Minnis via Hipcamp.- Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
  • Creekside camping at the Headwaters Riparian Sanctuary in Vacaville, California, with trails to explore right outside your tent flap! Photo by Sabrina via Hipcamp. - Your Guide to Last-Minute Camping
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Contributor

To all the people who plan for their camping trips months in advance, I applaud you. I, for one, have never been much of a planner, so reserving a campsite even a few weeks before will never be in the cards for me. Nonetheless, I have always been confident in my ability to pull together a last-minute trip of any kind, and camping trips are my specialty.

Don’t bother trying to find a campsite at your favorite park on ReserveAmerica right now, because unless you’re insanely lucky, they’re already filled. But that doesn’t mean you can’t spend your weekend outside! Here are six tips to help you plan a last-minute camping weekend:

1. Try for first-come, first-served spots

Attempting to snag a first-come, first-served campsite is an admittedly risky move on a holiday weekend, but it’s not totally impossible! If you’re able to pull it off, scoring one of these spots can often be the most camp-worthy spots in the park.

Call your park stations before you leave and get the low-down on when the non-reservable sites usually fill up on busy weekends. They’ll probably give you some honest tough love, but you never know—maybe there will have even just been a cancellation! If you’re really keen on getting into a site, consider using up those vacay days and head out a day or two early for the weekend.

2. Adjust your schedule

If you can’t play hooky the few days before the weekend, consider taking off a few days after. Not only will it be easier to secure a preferred campsite or even reserve one in advance, you’ll be rolling up to all the campgrounds just as the hoards of people are leaving on Monday. That means stress- and people-free camping (for the most part).

3. Avoid the crowds, explore a smaller park instead

This may not be the weekend for Yosemite (which has said Memorial Day is their busiest weekend of the year by a long shot) or Yellowstone (it’s still snowing like crazy up in Wyoming, anyway). Avoid the crowds and explore the lesser traveled state parks, recreation areas and preserves near you. For example, Isle Royale in Michigan has half as many visitors all year as Yellowstone does on a typical high-peak day.

3. Camp for free on BLM and National Forest lands

Luckily for all my fellow dirtbags, there are lots of ways you can camp for free that are also 100 percent legal. Large swaths of publicly owned land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service are free to camp on for 14 days at a time. This rule sometimes varies from place to place, so it’s best to do some research before setting up your dispersed campsite for a few nights.

The best part about dispersed camping is that many of your favorite parks are actually neighboring BLM or Forest Service lands, so the chances are you can camp just outside a park for free and with considerably fewer people.

5. Look into backcountry permits

Even at the height of camping season, I have had extraordinary luck getting last-minute backcountry permits in some of my favorite parks, partly because most people don’t know they can ask for them. A few years ago I went to Zion, Canyonlands and Arches during Utah’s public school spring break. Everything I read said this would be one of the busiest times to visit Utah’s National Parks, but we managed to get backcountry permits at every single one just by showing up with a big smile and asking! Maybe we just got lucky, but there’s definitely no harm in calling up some ranger stations and seeing what’s available.

6. Camp on private land

Last year I started working for a company called Hipcamp, which is pioneering the private sector for camping. Besides being the most comprehensive database for public camping in the country, they partner with private landowners that are generous enough to invite campers on their land. Hipcamps are unique for many reasons (like, have you ever camped with baby goats or by your own private waterfall?), but they are especially useful for big camping weekends like these when lots of publicly-owned campgrounds are full. Plus, at any given time a new person could be listing their land on Hipcamp. That means there’s always a chance you’ll find a last-minute campsite when everything else is booked. (The private camps featured in the photo slideshow above are all available to be booked this weekend.)

Head over to Hipcamp to find an array of camping options still available near you and get heck outside!

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Published in collaboration with Hipcamp

At Hipcamp, We don't think finding a campsite should be such a time-consuming, convoluted and confusing process. We are committed to making getting outside fun and easy, as simple as selecting what, when and where you want your camping experience to be.

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