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Plan a Great National Park Camping Vacation

SmarterTravel

For a cheap and fun summer getaway, try a national park camping vacation. Rules and fees for camping vary by location and popular sites can fill up early, so to avoid disappointment, you’ll need to do some advance research.

First, go to the National Park Service website (NPS) and select a park from the list. Then click “Plan your visit,” followed by “Things to do,” and finally “Campgrounds.” In this section you’ll find information about what campsites are available and how to book. Be sure to read the details about what facilities, types of hook ups, and cooking areas are available, as well as minimum- or maximum-stay requirements and other rules.

Many of the more popular NPS campgrounds can be (and in peak months, will most likely be) reserved in advance. Generally, park websites note which months are busiest, so it’s easy to figure when you need to book extra early. In the past, a variety of different entities handled national park campsite bookings—which was quite confusing—but now one site, Recreation.gov, handles all the reservations for federal campgrounds. New booking windows for all parks open up six months in advance, except Yosemite, which opens five months out.

Some NPS-operated campgrounds do not take advance reservations and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. In this case, you’ll simply need to arrive early in the morning to ensure a spot.

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