What is a Walk-up Campsite?

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Are you wondering what is a walk-up campsite and where to find one? Looking for the perfect spot but haven't had time to make a reservation? 

Keep reading to learn about the world of no reservation camping and how to make the most of its first-come, first-serve system.

What is walk-up camping?

Indian Flats Hiker Biker Campsite

Walk-up camping is one method of camping that does not require a reservation but offers campsites on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is a great option for last-minute or spontaneous campers who may not have had the time to go through the usual booking process. 

Fed up with the National Park Reservation System? Many national and state parks, and other beauty spots, will offer walk-up spots - especially during the off-peak season. This allows excellent opportunities for those planning last-minute camping trips or who missed out on the reservation system before all the sites were booked up.

For anyone looking to experience the great outdoors without the need to make a reservation several months in advance, walk-up camping is the perfect option! Avoid the scheduling system entirely and enjoy your trip free from reservations.

How do walk-up campsites work?

As the name implies, walk-up campsites operate on a first-come, first-serve basis - offering spots to those who can "walk-up" and fill a space at the campground on the day.

Rather than having to make reservation months in advance, a camper can simply show up at the site and find a spot to camp. This is a program designed to provide a means of reservation-free camping spots to those who have not have the chance to book prior.

At the kiosk or information desk, you can ask about what walk-up availability they have. If there are any available spots, you will be able to claim one and set up your tent there once you have purchased the space.

During the peak season, some people may be turned away if all of the spaces are filled. To avoid this, make sure to show up early to save your spot, or continue to the next camping site to get a walk-up spot there.

Some campgrounds may have a mixture of both walk-up sites and bookable campsites, this way you can pick which you would prefer for your perfect camping trip. Choosing to go for a walk-up site requires some degree of flexibility but can be a great option for spontaneous trips.

Walk-up site vs walk-in site

There is a significant distinction to be made between "walk-in" and "walk-up" sites as they are two very different things. While "walk-up" campsites refer to the lack of reservations needed and the first-come, first-serve system, "walk-in" campsites refer to the way in which the site can be accessed.

Walk-in campsites are campsites that can only be reached on foot (and sometimes by bike), thus are not accessible by car. They are tent-only campgrounds that do not allow vehicles on the premises.

Some may be situated somewhat near to a parking lot, but others may only be accessed by a walk of a certain distance. This is a great option for hikers and or anyone choosing to travel on foot. If you plan to use your vehicle to camp or are not able to manage the walk to the site, walk-in camping may not be the option for you.

Walk-up camping sites, on the other hand, do not refer to the manner in which the campground is reached. If you are unsure about whether a campsite is accessible by vehicle or not, make sure to check with the management or local authorities to avoid disappointment.

Walk-up vs Walk-in campsites

What are the benefits of walk-up sites?

Sometimes the urge to spend some time out in nature comes along spontaneously without giving you the option to get a site many months in advance. Walk-up campsites are a great option in this case that allows for a more spontaneous and adventurous camping experience.

In peak season, most popular campgrounds will require a reservation made months in advance, making it difficult for spontaneous campers to find a spot. Luckily, many parks will set aside a certain amount of walk-up spots for this very situation.

Walk-up camping allows you to be more flexible in your travel plans - who knows, you may end up having an amazing time at a place you would never have expected!

How to get a spot at a walk-up campsite

Getting a spot at a walk-up campsite can seem daunting at first, but there are a few key tips that all pro-campers know to make the most of walk-up camping:

How to get a spot at a walk-up campsite

Show up early

Unlike reservation camping, walk-up campsites prioritize the people who are physically there on the day and give out camping spots on a first-come, first-serve basis. This means that those who get there early will have the first pick of the best spots, and late-comers risk being turned away.

To avoid coming across this problem, you can look up the campsite's opening hours beforehand to make sure you get the perfect spot. Or, just show up early to ensure your best chance.

It can be helpful to show up a couple of hours before checkout time at the campsite in order to snap up any newly available spots. Being early to the campground is the best way to increase your chances of getting a walk-up spot at the campsite.

Camp outside of peak season

Peak season refers to the time when the greatest number of people will be at a campground. This is usually in the summer months due to warmer weather and school holidays making it easier for families to vacation together.

Therefore, there will be far greater availability at walk-up camping sites in the spring, early summer, and autumn. If you can brave the colder temperatures, it is usually far easier to get a walk-up spot during the off-peak season. Or, get a site on a warmer day that is outside of school vacation time.

Some campgrounds, especially national parks, do not offer walk-up camping during peak season and only use a reservation system during these times. It is important to find out this information beforehand so you know where there are sites available for walk-up camping.

Weekends are also peak time for short camping trips, so if you are able to take time off work and try out walk-up camping on a weekday this will add to your chances of getting a spot.

Be flexible

An important rule for walk-up camping is to be flexible and have other options lined up if your first choice campsite is full. This may mean being aware of other walk-up camping sites nearby to try and always have a backup plan prepared.

Traveling by car or bike is usually best for walk-up camping as it allows for greater mobility in the event that you need to go to a different campground. It is also good to carry camping gear that is not difficult to move around if the need calls for it.

Additionally, you should be prepared to accept a camping spot in an area of the site that you had not expected. Rejecting a spot in the hope that there will be better sites available that day may lead to you losing out on a great camping experience by not getting a site entirely.

How to find a walk-up campsite

Walk-up Campsite

There are many ways to find a walk-up camping site. You can begin by contacting your local or ideal campground to ask if they have walk-up slots or use a menu search on their website to look for this information.

A quick Google search should also turn up results for campgrounds in your desired area that offer walk-up spots. You can also ask around at various campgrounds to find out whether or not they have a walk-up campsite option.

When doing this research, it is always best to check how popular a camping spot is and thus how likely you are to get a space there. Also, be sure to look for nearby walk-up campgrounds that can serve as backups if you do not get a spot at your first choice. 

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